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Top 12 Ancient Symbols of Rebirth and their Meanings

Two infinite knots symbolizing karma, rebirth, and interconnectedness.

The theme of rebirth always surrounds us.

Over time, through cultivation, we learned that plants that die in winter come alive in spring, symbolizing death and rebirth.

Our ancient ancestors have also recognized themselves in this pattern of nature, believing that human beings, too, are reborn in some form when they die.

Below are 12 important ancient symbols of rebirth, mostly from Egyptian times:

1. Lotus (Ancient Egypt & Eastern Religions)

Pink lotus flower

The ancient Egyptians considered the lotus flower to be a symbol of rebirth.

It also holds a prominent position in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to attain enlightenment by transcending the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Since the lotus blooms and seeds at the same time, it was used by Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha) as a symbol encapsulating cause and effect.

A Japanese sect in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, established on the Lotus Sutra, began in Japan in the 1200s.

Practitioners here chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” which is mainly interpreted as an amalgamation with the mystic entity of all phenomena concomitantly repeating cause and effect. (1)

2. Triskele (Celts)

Triskele Symbol
XcepticZP / Public domain

The triskele is a triple spiral symbol that is composed of three interlocked spirals, commonly linked back to the idea of infinity.

It is also a standard aspect of Celtic art, depicting the Mother Goddess.

An ancient Celtic symbol, the triskele symbolizes the sun, afterlife, and rebirth.

In reference to the Neolithic “tomb” at Newgrange, the triskele was a symbol of life and pregnancy as the sun completes a spiral every three months.

Similarly, the triskele represents nine months- the approximate time it takes for childbirth.

Since this symbol is a continuous line, it reflects the continuity of time. (4)

3. Easter and the Resurrection

Resurrection of Christ
Bopox / Public domain

Easter and the Resurrection in Christianity symbolize rebirth.

Their roots travel deep into the pagan vernal equinox festivals, like the Celtic Beltane and Oestre / Ostara- the Anglo-Saxon fertility Goddess possessing German roots.

This dates back to the Zoroastrians in Babylon approximately 4,500 years ago.

In their efforts to convert pagans, the founders of the Church were influenced by their festivals and holidays and started to integrate pagan customs, myths, and symbols of spring, for example, rabbits, eggs, and lilies into Christianity.

Modern Christian Easter has also vastly been influenced by the Egyptian Festival of Isis.

The story of Isis, Osiris, and Horus carry the themes of trinity, resurrection, and rebirth. (1)

4. The Myth of Bacchus (Ancient Greece)

God of harvest – Bacchus
Hendrick Goltzius (naar Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem) / Public domain

Bacchus (Dionysus to the Greeks) was the God of harvest.

He was presented with mysteries of resurrection by his grandmother, the Goddess of Cybele.

The myth of Bacchus has been linked to rebirth.

Bacchus became famous for bringing grape cultivation and the art of winemaking to the lands of Egypt and for hosting grand parties. (1)

5. Phoenix

Phoenix bird and fire
Craftsmanspace / CC0

A mythological bird with a colorful burst of feathers and a multi-colored tail, the phoenix has an approximate lifespan of 500-1,000 years.

At the time of its death, it makes a nest around itself, which then combusts into flames.

The bird burns and dies, along with the twigs and branches used for the nest.

Nothing remains but its ashes.

However, it doesn’t end there.

A baby phoenix rises from its past ashes and continues to live a new life.

This pattern continues for an unlimited period of time. (1)

The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

It symbolizes the start of a new life.

It can also be seen as a metaphor for how you need to rid yourself of some qualities to allow the birth of a brand-new, more mindful guise.

Even though the word “Phoenix” is Greek, this symbol of rebirth can be found by multiple names in Japan, China, Tibet, Russia, Iran, and Turkey. (2)

6. Wheel of Fortune (Ancient Egypt)

Wheel of fortune – Tarot Card
Image Courtesy
pxfuel.com

The Wheel of Fortune is a busy card symbolizing the endless wheel of life and karma that assists the earth, universe, and life itself.

The card’s orange-golden color is a representation of the strength of the sun, which is integral in giving us life.

Another circle lies in the center of the bigger circle that symbolizes the elevation of the moon.

The Wheel of Fortune also features a snake, jackal, and sphinx.

The snake, like the Ouroboros, is a symbol of death and rebirth.

It refers to the snake shedding its skin in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and in Ancient Egypt.

When the God of Abraham was in control of the world, the snake became a symbol of terror and fright.

In the right-hand corner of the Wheel of Fortune lies the jackal that has the body of a human.

It is related to the ancient Egyptian God, Anubis, who was the God of mummification.

He would host a heart ceremony where a heart would be placed on one side of the scale, and the other would be weighed down by the feature of Ma’at– the Goddess of Justice.

If one’s heart balanced on the scale, he could continue living in the underworld.

If it tipped, his soul would be devoured by jackals of the underworld.

The topmost seat of the wheel is reserved for the sphinx, who sits with the sword of judgment.

This goes back to the feather of Ma’at and the heart ceremony.

A sphinx rises from its ashes to be reborn, making it the perfect symbol of life, death, and rebirth. (3)

7. Ouroboros (Ancient Egypt, Greece & Norse)

Ouroboros eating its own tail
https://openclipart.org/user-detail/xoxoxo / CC0

The Ouroboros is a snake that eats its own tail. It is the ultimate symbol of the cycle of life, death, and eventual rebirth.

Deeply rooted in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Norse traditions, the Ouroboros is correlated to Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and alchemy.

Interestingly, Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist, and psychiatrist who founded analytic psychology, thought of the Ourobouros as an archetypal symbol of individuality based on its ability to swallow itself whole and rebirth. (1)

8. Salamander

Salamander crawling in water.
Jnnv / CC BY-SA

The salamander, belonging to the reptile family, symbolizes immortality and rebirth.

There are associations of the salamander with fire in the Talmud, and in the writings of Aristotle, Pliny, Conrad Lycosthenes, Benvenuto Cellini, Paracelsus, Rudolf Steiner, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Salamanders are born from fire and even bathe in fire.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) looked upon the salamander as a spiritual guide and wrote that it has no digestive organs.

Instead, it gets nourishment from the fire, which continuously renews its scaly skin. (5)

9. Dharma Wheel (Eastern Religions)

Yellow dharma wheel
Shazz, Esteban.barahona / CC BY-SA

Symbolizing the Buddhist life, the Dharma Wheel portrays a never-ending circle of birth and rebirth.

Also known as the Dharmachakra and the Wheel of Law, Its roots can be found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Buddha’s first sermon, “Turning the Wheel of the Dharma” represents the teachings of Buddha.

The wheel contains eight gold-colored spokes, which are linked to the noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

There are three shapes in the center of the wheel that are similar to a Yin Yang symbol, a wheel, or a circle. (6)

10. Djed (Ancient Egypt)

Djed (The Backbone of Osiris)
Jeff Dahl [CC BY-SA]

An ancient Egyptian symbol, the Djed is also known as “The Backbone of Osiris.”

The Djed pillar is the oldest symbol of the resurrected God and is of religious importance to the Egyptians. (7)

It is a representation of God’s backbone and his body.

The Legend of Osiris says that Osiris’s body became concealed in the trunk of a majestic tree.

However, a King comes and chops the tree which hides the body of Osiris.

The whole tree trunk is made into a pillar for the King’s house, enclosing Osiris’s body. (8)

11. Ajet (Ancient Egypt)

Ajet hieroglyph – depiction
Kenrick95 / CC BY-SA

Ajet, an Egyptian hieroglyph, portraying the horizon and the sun, is symbolic of sunrise and sunset.

The symbol of Ajet is guarded by the Aker- God of the underworld.

It portrays two lions with their backs turned against each other that symbolize the past and the present.

They encompass the eastern and western horizons of the Egyptian underworld.

The Ajet symbol has been accompanied by concepts of creation and rebirth. (9)

12. Scarab Beetle (Ancient Egypt)

Scarab beetles on a necklace that was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun
ddenisen (D. Denisenkov) / CC BY-SA

A symbol of death, rebirth, and great power, the Egyptian scarab beetle was represented on amulets worn by people, living and dead, for hundreds of years.

In ancient Egyptian religion, the sun god, Ra, enters the sky each day and transforms bodies and souls.

During this time, the scarab beetles roll dung into a ball to be used as food, and also create a chamber in it to lay their eggs in.

When the larvae hatch, they are immediately surrounded by a source of nourishment.

Hence, the scarab became known as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. (7)

Concluding Note

Do you believe in rebirth and resurrection?

Which symbol of rebirth did you most like? Let us know in the comments below.

Be sure to share this article with others in your circle who enjoy ancient cultures.

References:

  1. https://www.psychicgloss.com/articles/3894
  2. https://tatring.com/tattoo-ideas-meanings/Tattoo-Ideas-Symbols-of-Growth-Change-New-Beginnings#:~:text=Phoenix%20Tattoos%3A%20Symbol%20of%20Rebirth,which%20then%20ignites%20into%20flames
  3. http://tarotheaven.com/wheel-of-fortune.html
  4. http://symboldictionary.net/?tag=rebirth
  5. https://allaboutheaven.org/symbols/salamander/123
  6. https://www.onetribeapparel.com/blogs/pai/meaning-of-dharma-wheel
  7. https://www.cleopatraegypttours.com/travel-guide/important-ancient-egyptian-symbols/
  8. https://www.pyramidofman.com/osiris-djed.html
  9. https://www.cleopatraegypttours.com/travel-guide/important-ancient-egyptian- symbols/

Header image courtesy: Ms Sarah Welch / CC BY-SA

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The editors of Give Me History work with specific content that they’ve had considerable expertise within academic projects or study. The contents of this article have additionally been reviewed by external experts before publishing.

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The Editors of Give Me History, "Top 12 Ancient Symbols of Rebirth and their Meanings," Give Me History, July 23, 2020, https://givemehistory.com/ancient-symbols-of-rebirth.

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