From ArticleWorld

A symbol is usually taken to mean a mark or character that represents an object, idea or process. It is also widely used in psychology, particularly Freudian and Jungian, to analyse hidden meanings or representations of thoughts and feelings.

Symbols can be an object, the shape of which is taken to be a representation of a thing. For example, a cross is a symbol of Christianity. It may be a detail, pattern or colour but it is more likely to be a written sign. There are symbols in mathematics, currency designations and chemical elements among others.


Symbols can also be sounds, words or gestures. The ringing of a school bell, the wave of a hand and the wink of an eye are all symbolic in that there are meanings which have been attached to them, usually arbitrarily. Any natural language is composed of words which are symbols for all the concepts to be found in that language. They can be culture, religion or discipline specific but there are also some which could be considered international.


It is in their manipulation of symbols that human beings are able to delve into ideas and qualities and explore concepts. Research into these areas is called semiotics, which looks into the ways meanings are made and understood and semantics which is the study of words and their meaning.

Symbolism is used widely in literature, which is dealt with in literary semiotics as well as in religion and metaphysical texts, which is known as esoteric symbolism. Alchemists made use of symbols in their attempt to understand the nature of things and central to the psychological theories of Freud and Jung is the symbolism underlying dreams.