Home » Information » Symbol of Light – Meaning and Significance
Table of Contents
- Meaning of the Symbol of Light
- The Symbol of Light in History
- The Symbol of Light in Different Cultures and Beliefs
- The Symbol of Light in Modern Times
- In Brief
Have you attempted to make your way around a pitch-dark room? What relief light brings! Literally and figuratively, light is the opposite of darkness. Throughout history, it has been used as a metaphorical symbol across world religions, traditions, and societies. Here’s what to know about the symbolism of light and its significance in different cultures.
Meaning of the Symbol of Light
Light has been used to represent different ideas and concepts in life, philosophy, and spirituality. Metaphors relating to light abound in the English language, signifying the symbolic meanings of the concept. Here are some of these meanings.
- Symbol of Guidance
Light is strongly associated with our ability to make right decisions, contrary to darkness, which is the state of being lost, or on the wrong path in life. In many philosophical teachings, a lost soul will often follow a path of light for guidance. You may have experienced a situation that can be likened to darkness, but you eventually saw it in a new light and gained a better perspective on it.
- Symbol of Life
Many people look to the light of the rising sun for its life-giving energy. The expression it’s good for the eyes to see the sun may also mean it’s good to be alive. In religious contexts, light is associated with creation, as God created light before anything else. All life on earth is also dependent on light.
- Symbol of Hope
Light has been regarded as an emblem of hope and an assurance of brighter days to come. We often hear the saying, light at the end of the tunnel, which serves as hope for people dealing with hardships and challenges. When the sun, moon, and stars do not give their light, it signifies calamity.
- Morality and Virtues
When referring to someone with good morals, you’ll often hear reference to their inner light. The symbolism of light is often contrasted with the connotation of darkness, where light is symbolic of good, while darkness as a representation of evil.
- A Symbol of Truth
To shed light on something means to reveal the truth. Light will be visible during darkness, associating it with the motto the truth prevails. It also allows for openness and transparency, but when someone hides something, everyone else is in the dark.
- Joy and Happiness
As the opposite of gloom, light may denote cheerfulness, optimism, and happiness. Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, just like happiness that never decreases by being shared. For some, light is also a symbol of progress and excitement for the future.
- Spiritual Enlightenment
Light is often associated with wisdom, as the term enlightenment means understanding of spiritual knowledge. For some, it’s the symbol of spiritual strength, as it’s the opposite of ignorance and spiritual darkness.
- The Embodiment of Divinity
In religious artwork and paintings, the concept of light suggests the presence of a divine being. It’s mostly associated with spirits and angels as beings of light. In Hinduism and Buddhism, angelic beings are regarded as minor gods called devas, which means shining ones. Also, it’s widely believed that apparitions and other miraculous events often feature light in mysterious ways.
The Symbol of Light in History
When used in art, light serves as a visual language for interpreting a scene. The symbolic sense of light is also evident in architecture and in literary classics.
In the Arts
In the 15th century, light was used as a form and symbol in some paintings. By shining a light on certain elements in a painting, a story is constructed. Leonardo da Vinci was the first to study the nature of light, in order to create shapes and perspectives in paintings—evident in his The Last Supper. In fact, this masterpiece represents a lifetime of scholarly pursuits in the fields of optics and light.
By the 17th century, light began to be used as a subject and symbol in paintings. In Willem Claesz Heda’s Banquet Piece with Mince Pie, the candle in the scene has been blown out, which many associate with the transience of worldly existence, or even the abruptness with which life can end.
Dutch painter Jan Vermeer made light a part of his paintings, especially in the Woman with a Pearl Necklace.
The symbolism of light as the embodiment of divinity has played a huge role in structures of gothic cathedrals. The Gothic style originated in 12th-century CE France pioneered by Abbot Suger. He renovated the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the first-ever gothic cathedral, with the intentional use of light.
Suger believed that a brighter church would also brighten the minds of the people, so he eliminated any obstruction to the flow of light throughout Saint-Denis. Eventually, his intentional use of light in the gothic cathedral became an architectural technique itself.
In the 1818 novel Frankenstein, light serves as a symbol of knowledge and enlightenment, but it’s contrasted with fire, which represents harm. In the story, Victor Frankenstein’s knowledge led to creation, but the monster he brought to life killed everyone he loved.
In the novel and film The Great Gatsby, the green light symbolizes Jay Gatsby’s American dream and his quest for Daisy. However, it’s also symbolic of money and greed. Even though the story is set in the Jazz Age, the symbolism of the green light remains relevant in our modern society.
Usually, the symbolism of light is used in conjunction with darkness, where light represents life or hope, while darkness represents death or the unknown. In some instances, the candles, the sun, the moon, and stars are used as embodiment of light.
The Symbol of Light in Different Cultures and Beliefs
A significant amount of symbolism is associated with light in cultures around the world. In several mythologies and beliefs, it’s represented by the sun, gods and goddesses.
In Ancient Sun Worship
Throughout history, the Sun has been the embodiment of light and warmth. Ancient civilizations had sun cults, and the most elaborate were those of Egypt, Central America, and Peru. In ancient Egypt, Khepri was worshipped as the god of the rising sun, while the sun god Ra was the mightiest of all. In Aztec religion, human sacrifice was demanded by sun gods Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli.
As the source of light, the sun has been associated with enlightenment. It’s not surprising that solar worship was prominent in the ancient times, as the sun also enables all things to thrive and grow. In some cultures, it also occupied an important place in mythologies. The ancient Greeks worshipped Apollo, the god of the sun, while Dagr was regarded as the Nordic god of the light.
In Astronomy and Astrology
The early astronomers regarded the sun, the moon, and the stars as lights in the sky, shining like beacons in the dark. They even associated them with the divine influence and supernatural forces. No wonder, they also named the planets after the gods of Ancient Rome—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Nowadays, many still believe that these celestial bodies have connection with people, and can influence a particular day of the week.
In Mysticism and Divination
In esoteric teaching, the white light is the space within the universe that houses positive energies. It’s thought to be called upon by anyone for protection and healing. Mystics, prophets, and sages are even called lights.
In divination, the crystal ball is symbolic of the divine light and celestial power. It’s believed to concentrate the light or rays of the sun, so the diviner gazes into the crystal to receive the flashes of insights from the future or the past.
In Jewish Culture
In Jewish tradition, light has been used as a powerful spiritual metaphor and enduring symbol for God. It serves as a symbol for the human soul, Torah, and mitzvot, which are the commandments and laws in their sacred texts. The light and burning candles of the menorah also remind them of God’s presence in their lives.
The Symbol of Light in Modern Times
Several holidays use the symbolism of light as a marking in celebrations. One of the major festivals in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, the Diwali or the Festival of Lights is celebrated with lamps, lanterns and fireworks. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word dipavali that means row of lights, as people light up their earthen oil lamps, or diyas, during the festival.
Diwali represents the victory of light over darkness. By lighting their lamps, the Hindus welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and purity, to bless their homes. Some also regard the festival as the birthday of the goddess, as well as a celebration of her marriage to Vishnu. For the Jains, it commemorates the enlightenment of Mahavira, the reformer of Jainism and the last of the 24 Tirthankaras.
During Hanukkah, a Jewish Festival of Lights or Feast of Dedication, families light the menorah and say prayers. It’s often celebrated between late November and early December, which corresponds to the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev. The holiday reaffirms the ideals of Judaism and reminisces the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival observed on May Day, celebrates light and the coming of summer. The term is derived from the name of Celtic sun god Bel, which also means bright fire. Throughout Europe, it’s celebrated by cutting of green boughs and flowers, and Maypole dances.
One of the oldest and most meaningful symbols, light has special significance in almost every culture and religion. As a symbol of life, hope, guidance and truth, it has inspired several works of art and gothic architecture. In many cultures, festivals of light commemorating the victory of light over darkness are celebrated.
What is the symbolic meaning of light? ›
Across cultures, light is an ancient symbol of understanding and intellectual thought: it is the opposite of ignorance, or darkness. Almost universally, the dark is considered to be frightening and sinister, associated with things we cannot understand. Light is said to conquer darkness and to bring order out of chaos.What does light mean in spirituality? ›
In theology, divine light (also called divine radiance or divine refulgence) is an aspect of divine presence perceived as light during a theophany or vision, or represented as such in allegory or metaphor.What does fire and light symbolize? ›
Fire and light symbolize God's power working within and through the created world. Sometimes that power manifests in fierce and seemingly destructive ways.What is the most common symbolic meaning of light? ›
Light is the symbol of joy and of life-giving power, as darkness is of death and destruction. Therefore, in religion, light is often associated with immortality and a higher power. For example, in the Jewish Holy of Holies, a cloud of light symbolized of the presence of Yahweh.What is the true meaning of light? ›
: something that makes vision possible. : the sensation aroused by stimulation of the visual receptors. : electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength that travels in a vacuum with a speed of 299,792,458 meters (about 186,000 miles) per second.What are the two meanings of light? ›
Light is a source of illumination, whether a natural one (like the sun) or an artificial one (like your lamp). Like light itself, the word can take a lot of different forms — it can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb, and it can mean "bright" or "not heavy".Who is my angel of light? ›
Lucifer, also known as the "Angel of Light"What is God's light? ›
“God is light” is a recurring theme in the Bible. Genesis says that “and God said 'let there be light' and then there was light”. It is very close to although not quite same as saying “I will be the light”. In fact, according to some Biblical verses, God has more explicitly said that He is indeed light.How can light be spiritual or divine? ›
From the beginning of time & across the vast majority of faith traditions, “Light” has been associated with the Divine Holy Being; God our Creator. We read in the book of Genesis that “Light” was the first thing God created & itself is often used as a metaphor for God, who illuminates all seasons of our life for us.Why is light a symbol of God? ›
In the Bible, light has always been a symbol of holiness, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, grace, hope, and God's revelation. By contrast, darkness has been associated with evil, sin, and despair.
What is the Native American meaning of light? ›
For Aboriginal cultures, light is a physical and spiritual guide.What symbolizes light and hope? ›
Light has been regarded as an emblem of hope and an assurance of brighter days to come. We often hear the saying, light at the end of the tunnel, which serves as hope for people dealing with hardships and challenges. When the sun, moon, and stars do not give their light, it signifies calamity.What is the symbol for healing? ›
A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing. A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing. The staff belongs to Asklepios, the mythical Greek god of medicine.What does light of life mean? ›
: a person someone loves very much and who makes him or her happy. His daughter is the light of his life.What does love and light mean spiritually? ›
Love And Light. Therefore, When You Are Offering Someone “Love And Light,” You Are Offering The Ideal Energy Of The Universe And Wisdom. On That Energetic Note, I Am Sending You Love And Light! May You Grow Stronger Each Day.What are the 5 main characteristics of light? ›
Photography is “writing with light.” So, let's build our conversation about lighting on five fundamental characteristics of light: Direction, Intensity, Color, Contrast, and Hardness.What is the spiritual meaning of light and sound? ›
Light and sound are the two primary manifestations of God. It is said that when God desired to bring about creation, a current emanated from Him. That current manifested as light and sound. It was a divine stream that brought all creation into being.Is light a symbol of truth? ›
At other points in scripture, light is used purely as a symbol—a sym- bol of truth, wisdom, power, and righteousness.Is light is a form of energy? ›
Light energy is a kind of kinetic energy with the ability to make types of light visible to human eyes. Light is defined as a form of electromagnetic radiation emitted by hot objects like lasers, bulbs, and the sun. Light contains photons which are minute packets of energy.What does light mean in philosophy? ›
Light is what allows man to experience reality and interpret its beauty with our own eyes, giving us the freedom to live appreciating its magnificence without limiting life to a struggle for survival.
What is the nature of light? ›
Light is a transverse electromagnetic wave that can be seen by humans. The wave nature of light was first illustrated through experiments on diffraction and interference. Like all electromagnetic waves, light can travel through a vacuum.What does seeking the light mean? ›
The human journey is about reaching for the Light, the goodness that each soul strives for, regardless of their religion or spiritual beliefs. Goodness is the end goal and when every soul can strive for goodness, then humanity will have crossed the abyss and the need for suffering will end.What is the meaning of light in life? ›
It's often agreed that without light, there would be no life. Light is also symbolic of wisdom, divinity, hope, good, and truth and these powerful meanings show how central light is to our everyday life and should not go unnoticed.