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Top 23 Symbols of Health & Longevity Through History

Red Cross BlurrPin

Since the advent of time, societies have associated certain images with the idea of health and medicine to encourage feelings of care and protection.

In ancient Egypt, practitioners of medicine would use snakes as a symbol of protection during their magical rituals of healthcare. 

Today, there are many internationally recognized symbols that are used all over the world. One of the greatest examples is the red cross, which is used on first aid kits.

These symbols have different origins and have helped mankind throughout history. 

Below are 23 of the most important symbols of Health and Longevity throughout history.

1. Serpents

A twelfth-century limestone capital featuring interlaced serpents.Pin

A twelfth-century limestone capital featuring interlaced serpents
Ethan Doyle White, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Egyptian culture, these animals were used as common symbols of good health. The legendary goddess, Wadjet, was the protector of the whole of Lower Egypt, as well as the pharaohs. 

She was represented as a cobra on several occasions or as a woman with the head of a cobra. Goddess Wadjet was portrayed as a symbol of protection, health, and healing. 

Even though serpentine symbols have a variety of representations in Egyptian culture, they are also commonly associated with health and shelter. 

Another instance is seen in the Biblical book of Numbers in the Hebrew culture. Here, Moses makes a snake of bronze and sets it on top of a pole when guiding the Israelites from imprisonment. 

According to the divine text, if a snake bit someone, the person only had to lay eyes on the pole, and their health would return. It is likely that this was an influence of the Egyptian culture as the Hebrew culture does not use the serpent as a representation of health very often.

2. Red Cross

A symbol of the red cross.Pin

A symbol of the red cross
Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay

The red cross is internationally recognized as a medical symbol that is used in association with nonpartisan health services for victims of any creed, race, or military alignment. 

You will often find the red cross on a flag outside health and medical services. The origin of the red cross symbol lies with Jean Henri Dunant (1828-1910), a Swiss entrepreneur. 

In 1859, the Battle of Solferino was fought between France and Sardina, where 40,000 soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded. Dunant bore witness to this tragedy, and seeing that most of the wounded were left unattended, he began to formulate an idea.

 “A Memory of Solferino” was published in 1862, where Dunant described vivid details of the event and spoke about the wounded. He proposed that a nonpartisan organization should be formed that tended to the wounds of people, regardless of their military alignment. 

A year later, the Geneva Society for Public Welfare came into being. Here, they discussed the idea of such a platform. Soon, the society’s name was changed to the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. 

By 1864, the first Geneva Convention was attended by the US, Brazil, Mexico, and the whole of Europe. Together, these countries wanted to lay down terms for such relief organizations, as discussed by Dunant. 

For these organizations to be successful, they needed to be easily identified by the masses. As a result, the red cross was adopted as a medical symbol of health. This symbol gained popularity all over the world and soon started to be recognized internationally. 

In 1867, the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

3. The Caduceus- Winged Rod with Interwoven Serpents

Caduceus / A symbol of the winged rod.Pin

Caduceus / A symbol of the winged rod
Navarretedf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Caduceus is amongst the most common health symbols used in American culture. It consists of a staff that is winged and has two snakes twisted around each other.

It is common for Caduceus-symbolized pins to be passed out at convocations of medical schools and colleges. 

The use of the Caduceus does not match its Greco-Roman roots today. In fact, in the 19th century, the Caduceus symbol was misused by the American army, which is why its presence is widespread today. 

In Greek mythology, the winged rod was used by different deities as part of different cultures, including Hermes in Greek mythology, Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology, and Mercury in Roman mythology. 

In each of these representations, the serpentine staff was a symbol of negotiation and commerce as the two intertwined snakes showed balance. In Egyptian and Greco-Roman societies, the winged rod was not thought of as a sign of healing or safety. 

By the middle of the 19th century, the Caduceus was used by the American army as a symbol of health, usually stamped on uniforms. 

This was a result of some mix-up between the winged rod and the Rod of Asclepius, both of which look similar. The Rod of Asclepius served as a symbol of health in Greco-Roman society. 

The misinterpretation of the Caduceus was not noticed for years to come, which is why it eventually was adopted as a symbol of health and medicine in America. 

4. The Rod of Asclepius- Rod with a Single Twisting Serpent

Rod of Asclepius / A rod with a serpent wrapped around it.Pin

Rod of Asclepius / A rod with a serpent wrapped around it.
Rod of Asclepius by David from the Noun Project

The Rod of Asclepius, not to be confused with the Caduceus, is a plain staff with a single entwined snake. It is a symbol of health and medicine in the Greco-Roman culture.

In Greek mythology, the staff was adopted and associated with Asclepius, the god of medicine, health, and healing. We do not know whether the staff is symbolic because of the deity’s contribution or vice versa.

According to Egyptian culture, the serpent is a symbol of health and medicine. This is why physicians in ancient Greece often used non venomous Aesculapian snakes in healthcare practices.

These snakes were left in hospitals, wards, and rooms where sick patients lay as it was believed that they would absorb their sickness. 

5. Cho Ku Rei 

Cho Ku Rei / A Reiki symbol.Pin

Cho Ku Rei / A Reiki symbol
Juan Camilo Guerrero, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A power symbol, the Cho Ku Rei, is often used in Reiki. Even though reiki energy will flow when it is not touched, when you use it, it is believed to cause a burst of energy within you.

Think of it as changing a light bulb. First, the light bulb was of mere 50 watts, but with the Cho Ku Rei, it is suddenly of 500 watts, brightening up your very existence. 

This symbol is used whenever health and energy are needed or in medical rituals. It is commonly used to increase strength in the physical body.

6. Eye of Horus

Eye of Horus.Pin

Eye of Horus
ID 42734969 © Christianm | Dreamstime.com

According to Egyptian myth, the Eye of Horus represents health, protection, and restoration. Legend has it that while in a fight with Seth, Horus lost his eye.

However, the eye was later restored by Hathor, which is why the Eye of Horus became a representation of health, healing, and wholeness.

This is why you will find the Eye of Horus often used in amulets. It is said to promote health and inner healing.

The Eye of Horus is also linked to wisdom, prosperity, spiritual protection, good health and is said to protect against the evil eye and against thieves.

  1. Red Crescent
Red Crescent / A red half-moon.Pin

Red Crescent / A red half-moon
Justfixingawrongnumber, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

From 1876 to 1878, wars took place between the Serbians and Ottomans, and the Russians and Turkish.

During this time, the red cross was replaced by the red crescent, presenting itself as a symbol of health and medicine.

This was because the Ottoman Empire believed that the cross was insulting to Muslim soldiers due to its similarity with the cross of Christ. Hence, the red cross was unofficially recognized as the new symbol of health.

By 1929, the red crescent was fully and officially recognized as a symbol of health and medicine at the Diplomatic Conference, where the Geneva Conventions were revised.

The red lion and sun, symbols used in Iran, were also recognized as representations of health and medicine.

Even though the red crescent became an internationally recognized symbol of health, today, its use has mostly been replaced by the red cross. 

8. Sei He Ki 

Sei He Ki.Pin

Sei He Ki
L orlando, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sei He Ki is usually used in association with mental and emotional health, protection, purification, clearing, and balancing.

It is believed to locate the core of the disease, which can be found in the subconscious part of the mind (emotional body) or in the conscious part of the mind (mental body).

Legend has it that when the body is burdened with disease, it is often sending a message that there is something deep inside that requires attention and love.

The Sei He Ki is said to balance the emotional and mental health of the right and left side of the brain.

9. Dai Ko Myo

Dai Ko Myo / A Reiki symbol.Pin

Dai Ko Myo / A Reiki symbol
Stephen Buck The Reiki Sangha, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The phrase “Great being of the universe, shine on me, be my friend,” is commonly associated with the Dai Ko Myo symbol.

The light found in the depths of the heart is the main essence of its existence.

The Dai Ko Myo symbol is associated with wisdom and strength- both of which are crucial elements when it comes to the health of the soul.

10. Abracadabra

Abracadabra triangle.Pin

Abracadabra
Image courtesy: denstoredanske.lex.dk / Public Domain

A phrase commonly used in magical tricks, Abracadabra is an ancient symbol of alchemy that was used to cure deadly illnesses and became a symbol of health.

It is derived from the Hebrew initials of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The word “Abracadabra” was written in the form of an inverted triangle, often attached to amulets, which were then worn by the patient. 

This cabalistic amulet was said to promote health in the sufferer by making the sickness disappear. An Aramaic phrase associated Abracadabra with the word, “I create as I speak.”

11. Red Crystal

The Red Crystal.Pin

The Red Crystal
Justfixingawrongnumber, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

To calm the religious conflicts that occurred because of the discontentment on the red cross and red crescent, the red crystal was proposed by the US at the Geneva Diplomatic Conference in 2005 as the third and final symbol of health and medicine.

The aim of the red crystal was to shed any type of religious associations that may have been adopted by the last symbols.

Moreover, the red crystal was also a versatile representation of health and medicine as it allowed any of the two symbols, the red crescent or the red cross, to be placed within it. 

Over the next two years, the changed symbol became a legal and international representation of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

12. Shaman’s Hand

Shaman’s Hand / Healer's Hand.Pin

Shaman’s Hand / Healer’s Hand

An ancient symbol of health, healing, and protection, the Shaman’s Hand, is also commonly known as the Healer’s Hand.

It represents a hand with a spiral pattern on the palm that is said to be associated with the Native American solar hieroglyphs, usually found in the south-western part of the United States.

In some traditions, the spiral on Shaman’s Hand is a symbol of eternity and represents the deity or Holy Spirit. When the solar spiral forms the shape of the hand, the result is believed to be loaded with healing energy that ensures health.

Hence, the Healer’s Hand is believed to be associated with the powers of a Shaman.

Today, Shaman’s Hand is linked to new age spiritual healing rituals, including Reiki. Reiki is the common practice of healing people physically, emotionally, and mentally by allowing the force of life to enter through the use of powerful symbols.

The Reiki practitioner holds the symbol in his hand and moves it over the body of the patient in special motions.

Shaman’s Hand is also commonly used in reiki practices as it is said to emit energy and health. It is also commonly referred to as the Reiki Hand. It is believed to attract good health, good luck, happiness, and an abundance of wealth.

13. Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen

Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen / A Reiki symbol.Pin

Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen / A Reiki symbol
Juan Camilo Guerrero, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen is a powerful Reiki symbol that has the ability to transmit a lot of energy across space and time.

The energy produced by the Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen has no limits- it can travel across towns, oceans, rooms, and continents. 

The Hon Sha Ze Sho Nen promotes physical and mental health and transcends distance and time. It nurtures the ability to connect time in the past or the future.

14. Lotus Flower

Pink lotus flower.Pin

Pink lotus flower
Hà Phạm via Pixabay

There are two types of lotus usually found in ancient Egypt- the white and the blue. Both these lotus flowers were used as a representation of the unification of the two Egyptian kingdoms.

In fact, the lotus was used when manufacturing perfumes in ancient Egypt. Lotus flowers were commonly found soaked in some form of fatty substance in order to produce fragrance.

The lotus flower is also known to have an analgesic-colored antispasmodic and is believed to aid health as it heals infections. 

15. Gnosa

Mosaic of the Reiki symbol Gnosa.Pin

Mosaic of the Reiki symbol Gnosa
Illustration 29973746 © ErthosDreamstime.com

The literal meaning of Gnosa is the secret knowledge that comes from the practice of meditation and is used to gain a connection to the divine.

People in history have used Gnosa to connect with the higher deity, absorb new information, concepts, philosophies, and symbols.

Gnosa is said to help improve communication, internal and external health, and spoken, written, and artistic forms. Gnosa is also believed to heal the nervous system, the mightiest internal communicator. 

Gnosa helps man clear his mind from all the clutter that plagues him. The conscious and subconscious mind come together, opening chakras and encouraging awareness.

As our understanding increases with this symbol, so does our health. It helps us connect the dots and realize the origins of our pain, trauma, and suffering.

We can then work to release the pent-up frustration and live healthier, more peaceful lives. 

16. The Eight Immortals

A wood carving of the eight immortals.Pin

A wood carving of the eight immortals
dbfedbf via Pixabay

The Eight Immortals are known to be superior elements of the Taoist Legend. This symbol consists of six men and two women who are believed to have led entirely different lives and achieved immortality due to different circumstances.

However, legend has it that each of these individuals tasted the nectar and peaches of immortality.

The Eight Immortals symbol is said to bring good health, happiness, and fortune, especially for those people who keep paintings of figurines of the Eight Immortals in their homes.

17. Sun Face

Sun face symbol for the Zuni people.Pin

Sun face symbol for the Zuni people
Amber Avalona via Pixabay

An important cultural symbol of the Zuni people, the Sun Face, is a representation of the Sun Father, who was one of the principal deities.

You can find the Sun Face in different Zuni art objects, including jewelry, rugs, and pottery. The Zuni, just like other Native American tribes, had an excellent knowledge of the relationship the crops shared with different seasons.

They were aware of the importance of the sun and its mighty impact on agricultural crops. 

For the Suni, the sun was a symbol of abundance, stability, positivity, health, wellness, hope, happiness, and peace. It was correlated to the warmth that was needed to foster life.

The Zuni also believed that the sun encouraged happiness in children and brought good fortune to families. Hence, worshipping the sun was a massive part of Zuni culture.

The Zuni also included the sun in their jewelry as the Sun Face. Usually made from turquoise, mother-of-pearl, red coral, and jet, the traditional Sun Face that was ever made was a representation of Zuni artistry and craftsmanship.

Turquoise is a spiritual stone that represents oneness and unity, not just with oneself but also with the spiritual world. Mother-of-pearl is a symbol of imagination, intuition, sensitivity, adaptability, and decision-making.

Lastly, coral is thought to be soothing and healing, while the black jet is a representation of stability and protection. 

The Sun Face is presented as a circular symbol whose center is the face of the sun. The forehead of the symbol has a line drawn to divide it as one part portrays the existence of the person as an individual, while the other shows his existence among his family.

These two sections come together to symbolize the endless cycle of sunrise and sunset. This aspect is also represented in the lower part of the Sun Face that shows rectangular eyes, while the mouth suggests how life will always continue.

18. Halu

This Zonar symbol is represented in the form of a pyramid, which helps protect man from negative influences and powers.

Physical aggression can manifest because of emotional exploitation, manipulation, and of course, as consequences of the “evil eye.”

The Halu symbol is known to create a field of protection around whoever visualizes it, along with their superior chakras.

It helps get rid of any mental or energetic interruption, promising good health. The Halu symbol is also associated with the angel of light, joy, praying, and healing.

Archangel Raphael is known to be the superior of all doctors, nurses, healers, and therapists. His energies and presence can be called upon using the Halu symbol, especially in self-treatment, meditations, or when performing the treatment of others.

19. Shou 

Shou symbol.Pin

Shou symbol
CC BY-SA 3.0 / wikipedia.org

A Chinese symbol, Shou, represents long life and good health, some things that everyone wishes for. It is common to give the Shou as a present on birthdays, especially to the elderly.

Shou is made up of beautiful calligraphy, which is attractive to look at. Moreover, it is a common decorative symbol used in objects made of ceramic and furniture. It can also be used as a brooch or wallpaper!

Shou is associated with Canopus, the star god of the south pole. In Chinese customs, it is believed that Canopus can control the life span of all mortal beings.

Legend has it that each person’s lifespan is determined as soon as they are born. Only Canopus has the power to change the digits of one’s lifetime and perfect his health. 

One tale talks about a boy who had a lifespan of 19 years. One day, a fortune-teller told the boy to serve wine and food to the two old men who were playing chess in the forest.

However, he was told not to disturb them. The boy did as he was instructed. It turns out; these old men were divine deities who were very impressed with the boy’s behavior.

As a reward, they increased their lifespan from 19 to 91 years. The boy went on to live a healthy life till 91 and died a peaceful death.

If you ever get invited to a Chinese party, you can gift them some items with a Shou product- we promise you will be entitled to lots of love and well wishes.

20. Tortoise

Tortoise.Pin

Tortoise
Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

One of the four celestial creatures that exist today is the humble tortoise. Not only is the tortoise a symbol of long life, but a live tortoise is also said to ensure that the head of the family remains healthy and lives a long life.

The tortoise is associated with protection, support, wealth, and prosperity.In feng shui it is associated with the protective hills of the north.

If you want to attract good health and prosperity, place a figure or picture of a tortoise in the north corner of your home or office.

21. Bamboo

Bamboo sticks.Pin

Bamboo sticks
Image courtesy: PublicDomainVectors.org

Long thought of as a symbol of longevity because of its ability to withstand all four seasons, especially the winter months, the spiny bamboo is an evergreen symbol.

It is associated with long life that is passed on to generations. The solid stemmed bamboo, on the other hand, represents a life that is devoid of any illness or disease. Hence, it is associated with good health.

22. Fu, Lu, Shou

Fu, Lu, and Shou.Pin

Fu, Lu, and Shou
ProjectManhattan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Together, the triplets Fu, Lu, and Shou make powerful Chinese symbols. They are used in combination to represent complete and ultimate good luck, best wishes, and perfect health. 

When put together, these three symbols represent not only fortune but also careers and health.

23. Wu Lou

Wu Lou.Pin

Wu Lou
Photo 185298477 © 2bearsDreamstime.com

A bottle gourd, Wu Lou is a symbol of long life, good health, and fortune. Sau, the god of longevity, holds a staff with a bottle gourd that is believed to hide the elixir of immortality.

The shape of this symbol represents a bridge between heaven and earth in miniature form. While the top part of the Wu Lou is heaven, the bottom is earth.

Legend has it that placing a Wu Lou symbol beside the bed of the sick is helpful as it gets rid of their illness and promotes good health.

All these symbols of health and longevity have been used throughout history, each of them holding their own relevance and importance in different generations and cultures today.

Some of these symbols are still universally known and have helped unite man in his quest for good health.

References

  1. https://healthahoy.com/ancient-medicine/health-medical-symbols/
  2. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/6333255712521879/
  3. https://www.ancient-symbols.com/healing_symbols.html
  4. https://www.tutormandarin.net/en/chinese-symbols-meaning-behind/
  5. https://www.ancient-symbols.com/symbols-directory/sun_face.html
  6. https://www.wofs.com/8-great-longevity-symbols-for-the-home/

Header image courtesy: Alexander Mueller via pxhere.com / (CC BY 2.0)

The Editors of Give Me History

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.

Cite this article

The Editors of Give Me History, "Top 23 Symbols of Health & Longevity Through History," Give Me History, January 18, 2021, https://givemehistory.com/symbols-of-health.

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