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Top 15 Symbols of Understanding With Meanings

Top 15 Symbols of Understanding With Meanings

Symbols of understanding and wisdom can be found in many of the world’s regions and cultures. While some of these symbols are extremely well known, others are specific to certain regions where they were first realised. The power of symbols cannot be underestimated. Symbols portray abstract concepts, meanings and ideas and carry them on in their original form. 

Many historic symbols still have modern relevance, while other symbols have had new meanings read on to them as cultures have evolved. Symbols can constitute many things. They can be hand gestures, objects, signs, words or even signals. Symbols hold recognizable meanings and can be shared across society. Symbols can both be modern or historic. 

Symbols of knowledge and understanding have been significant historically. These symbols hold vital importance, and knowledge – understanding and wisdom is the requirement of a modern world.

Let’s consider the Top 15 Symbols of Understanding below:

1. Owl

Beige and brown owl on top of a tree log.
Beige and brown owl on top of a tree log
Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels

Strong symbolism is associated with these mysterious creatures. Owls are often talked about with wonder and intrigue. They represent many things. Owls are linked to knowledge, wisdom and transformation. They are also linked to change and intuitive development. Owls also represent new beginnings as well as an evolved perspective. 

They also symbolize a higher understanding and a sharpened intuition. One may also feel spiritually active when sighting an owl. Many cultures have thought of owls as messengers of the spiritual realm that know the truth and understand the various mysteries of life. [1]

2. Light Bulb

A Light Bulb.
A Light bulb
Image by qimono from Pixabay

Remember your cartoon-watching days? Whenever a character got an idea, a light bulb would go off in their heads? That’s because since they were created, light bulbs have represented knowledge, understanding and new ideas.

Light bulbs are popular symbols of knowledge because a light bulb gives us light. And to see the light means to understand and comprehend or to know the truth. Hence the symbolic significance of light bulbs. 

3. Books

Timeless Books.
Timeless Books
Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Books are a popular symbol of knowledge and wisdom. They represent understanding and enlightenment. Through books, you can gain knowledge and insight about any subject you desire.

When one dreams of a book, it often implies one’s desire to learn something new. At times books can also represent judgement or truth. Many important religions throughout the world have their specific book of enlightenment. [2]

4. Lotus Flower

A lotus in the water.
A lotus in the water
Image Courtesy:

The Lotus flower can have many meanings. They can imply understanding and spiritual enlightenment as well as purity, fertility and compassion. Lotus especially symbolizes reaching that state of heightened awareness and enlightenment.

An open lotus flower especially represents this. The yellow lotus flower is also specifically reserved for representing the intellectual pursuit of spiritual growth and understanding. [3]

5. Mandala

Mandala painting - Circle of fire.
Mandala painting – Circle of fire
Rubin Museum of Art / Public domain

The Mandala is a unique symbol of understanding. The Mandala itself is a symbolic diagram used in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is used as a tool of meditation and to perform sacred rites and rituals.

The Mandala reflects understanding because it visually represents the universe. There are two different types of Mandalas used in China, Tibet and Japan. They represent different aspects of the universe. [4]

6. The Norse God Mimir

In Norse Mythology, Mimir is the wisest of all gods within the Aesir tribe. The Aesir sent Mimir as a hostage to the rival gods (the Vanir). But Mimir was decapitated, and his head was returned to the Aesir.

The all-mighty god Odin embalmed Mimir’s head in herbs and sang magical enchantments on it. Odin consulted Mimir’s head during times of difficulty and received wisdom and counsel from it. Mimir was supposed to be the wisest of gods and the councillor of the gods.

The Vikings thought of Mimir as the god who helped to retain ancestral tradition. This served as an invaluable guide for the actions of the Vikings. [5][6]

7. Spiders

Spider on its web.
Spider on its web
Image from

Spiders are steeped in meaning and symbolism. Spiders are great representatives of understanding and can teach you how to effectively communicate needs and desires. Spiders show you how to weave solutions to challenging situations.

Spiders demonstrate that anything you do is worth doing if you do it correctly. Spiders prove that enlightenment cannot be rushed. It can only be achieved through methodical steps and diligence. Through spiders, you learn to examine your imperfections from different perspectives.

You learn to transform from within and reach new heights of accomplishment. [7]

8. The Hindu Goddess Saraswati

Saraswati Mata.
Saraswati Mata
अजय शिंदे, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of learning, knowledge, wisdom, and art. Saraswati is part of the Trivedi of three goddesses, Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Saraswati’s influence has remained steady since the Vedic times to modern Hindu traditions.

Saraswati is generally depicted to have four arms and sitting on a lotus near the river. She is mostly adorned in a white sari. She is shown holding a rosary, a book and a water pot. Hindus celebrate the festival Saraswati Jayanti or Saraswati Puja on the fifth day of spring.

They start the festival by teaching little children the first letters of the alphabet. [8]

9. Diya

Diya, an oil lamp.
Diya, an oil lamp
siddarth varanasi, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A ‘Diya’ literally translates to a ‘lamp.’ A diya is an apt symbol of understanding because lighting diyas implies eliminating darkness and stepping into the light. This can mean comprehending or understanding truth or reality.

Diya’s also symbolize purity and goodness. Diyas also symbolize enlightenment, prosperity, knowledge and wisdom. [9]

10. The Owl of Athena

Owl of Athena imprinted on silver coin.
Owl of Athena imprinted on silver coin
Xuan Che via   / CC BY 2.0

Within the realm of Greek mythology, the Owl of Athena represented the wisdom of the virgin goddess Athena. Athena was also known as Minerva in Roman Mythology. Due to this association, the ‘owl of Athena’ or the ‘Owl of Minerva’ symbolizes knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

The reason why Athena was linked to an owl is still unclear. Some historians believe this may be because of the characteristics of owls, as they are wise and are able to see in the dark. Some historians also suggest that this link may be due to a large number of small owls present in the region. 

11. The Oak Tree

Oak tree on hill.
Oak Tree on a hill
Image Courtesy: Max Pixel

Oak trees have held an important position in European paganism. Even though oak trees are mostly known for their long life, size and strength, they were avidly worshipped throughout ancient Europe. Just like old age is linked to wisdom and understanding, similarly so is the wise oak.

In many European cultures, tribes met near ancient oak trees to make important decisions. They thought the wisdom of the ancient oak would help them make a sound decision. Oak trees are also linked to nobility, honor and understanding due to their massive size and long life.

Some say Oak trees are living legends as they can easily cross 300 years in age. Oak trees represent understanding, wholesomeness, stability, and nobility. [10]

12. The Scarecrow

Scarecrows in Japan
Makara sc / CC BY-SA

In ancient Japan, the scarecrow represented an ancient Japanese deity, Kuebiko. Kuebiko was the Shinto deity representing wisdom, understanding and agriculture. It was thought that even though the scarecrow didn’t have legs to walk, it still knew everything.

It stood as a guard over fields all day and observed everything and anything around it. Hence it was full of wisdom and understanding.

13. The Bodhi Tree

The ‘Tree of Awakening’ or the Bodhi tree in Buddhism.
The ‘Tree of Awakening’ or the Bodhi tree in Buddhism   
Neil SatyamCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bodhi tree is an ancient fig tree located in Bihar, India. This tree is known as the ‘Bodhi’ tree after the Buddha. It was thought that Siddhartha Gautama reached enlightenment under this tree.

The Bodhi tree is also considered a symbol of awakening, enlightenment and salvation within Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama meditated under this tree, after which he attained supreme knowledge. As this tree sheltered Buddha, its symbolic significance is revered by Buddhists. [11]

14. Wisdom Eyes

Wisdom Eyes.
Wisdom Eyes
Prakat Shrestha, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wisdom Eyes, also known as ‘Buddha Eyes’ are painted on Buddhist shrines or Stupas in Nepal. It seems these eyes are looking in all four directions and represent the all-seeing nature of the Buddha.

These eyes represent looking beyond material things and seeing the truth. [12]

15. The Pen and Paper

Pen and paper.
Pen and paper
Image from

The symbol of the pen and paper symbolize literacy, wisdom and understanding. However, the symbol of the pen and paper has ancient symbolism attached to it. The ancient cultures of Babylonia, Assyria and Sumer all worshipped a god named Nabu.

Nabu was the god of writing and vegetation. One of Nabu’s symbols was the clay tablet, hence the association of the pen and paper with wisdom and understanding. 


Symbols of understanding are present in different cultures, era’s and regions of the world. They have held unique importance, and some still do in present times.

Which of these top 15 symbols of understanding were you already aware of? Let us know in the comments below!


  8. “Vasant Panchami Saraswati Puja”. Know India – Odisha Fairs and Festivals

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