This Halloween CryptoVille would like to share with you a fascinating conversation that, I bet, many of us didn’t know was occurring. It seems that graveyards can speak, if you know what to “listen” for. Read on and you’ll learn how to decipher these cryptic messages!
I know one day I’m going to spend a LONG time in a graveyard, somewhere, but I feel that until then, the less I see of them, the better! Yet I know some people love to stroll through them either looking at historic graves (the term for this ever popular past time is taphophilia), or searching for all manner of ghostly things. I’m happy to leave them to it!
So you can imagine how surprised I was to learn that those who have gone before us have actually been communicating with us for a long time. The key lies in the decorations on the gravestones themselves. It seems each one means something special, like a unique cryptic code.
Would you like to learn this code? Then keep reading …
Categories of Codes
The folks over at TheCemetaryClub.com have neatly organized most of these symbols into several categories which I’ll list below:
Flora (trees and flowers)
Let’s take a look at some in each category.
Bats – These creatures represent the underworld and all that is dark and scary in that world.
Cobra – Definitely represents death with an Egyptian twist to it.
Dragon – Two very different opinions on this one. In the Eastern cultures, the dragon protects souls from evil influence and endows fertility, good health, and joy on its people. But in the West, it’s viewed as a dangerous, depraved symbol. Remember St. George and his dragon? By defeating the creature, St. George represents triumph over sin. I don’t know. I still think I’d like to have one of these on my gravestone, but then again, you may have noticed I’m partial to these beasties. 🙂
Fox – These animals represent cruelty and cunning. Not a nice way to be remembered, and by the way, I like foxes. Someone has given them a bad rap!
Mermaids – These lovelies were seen as messengers of the ancient Roman goddess Prosperina and part of their duties was to transport dead souls to Hades. The Puritans popularized this symbol in New England.
Phoenix – This is the bird with open wings and its head facing to the side. The Greeks saw it as the symbol for resurrection as well as “beauty of [the] soul, immortality, … incorruptibility of flesh.”
Anvil – Represents martyrdom.
Quiver of Arrows – A warlike person, perhaps someone who had been in the military.
Angels – An obvious representation of heavenly life, angels are God’s messengers. Also seen as guardians. Michael the Archangel carries a sword while the Archangel Gabriel holds a horn. If the angel is blowing a trumpet, that means the day of judgment has come (for the deceased). If the angel is carrying a soul, it’s meant to symbolize the angel carrying the dearly departed to Heaven. Cherubim guard sacred places and represent divine wisdom or justice. If an angel is flying, it represents rebirth. And if it’s weeping, it symbolizes grief and an untimely death.
Bones – No surprise here. These objects represent death and decay. (And perhaps a pirate? 😉 )
Chain – This is an interesting one. Chains represent the truth. I’m wondering if that means one had to be chained up so they could beat the truth out of someone? I don’t know. But it’s strange to me.
Cherubs – Symbols of the graves of children.
Cornucopia – This is a happy symbol; it means a fruitful life.
Coat of Arms – These symbols mean the deceased was part of a family/lineage that was highly regarded socially, of high social standing.
Crescent moon – Represents a virgin.
Fingers – Here’s another strange object to put on a gravestone, but people did. If the finger is pointing upward, it’s pointing to Heaven, if it’s pointing downward, it represents God reaching down to Earth to pull the soul to Him; also, a sudden death.
Heart – Another nice symbol, but its meaning may surprise you. Instead of romantic love, it represents charity. It can also mean the soul in bliss when in love with Christ.
Hourglass – Means the passing of time, the shortness of life. If it’s lying on its side, it means time has stopped for the deceased.
Lighthouse – This could literally represent a lighthouse keeper, but also someone with “inspired vision.”
Moon – This simply represents death and rebirth.
Rope – Symbol of eternity, binding, and connection, probably based on the ancient Egyptian belief that a knotted cord represented a man’s name and was the very symbol of his existence.
Scallop – The Puritans gave us this one too. The scallop represents one’s journey through life from birth to resurrection. It was inspired by the Crusades and their pilgrim journeys.
Scythe – Remember the grim reaper? His weapon of choice was the scythe, symbol of death and the divine harvest.
Torch – When lit, these symbols represent life (presumably eternal life since this is a gravestone), and when it’s turned upside down or the flame is extinguished, it represents death.
Winged Globe – The Victorians popularized this one. They believed it was symbolic of the “power that can recreate” (aka, God), and with wings, it meant “God, Lord over all, the Creator.” The symbol actually comes from the Egyptian sun god Re, but that didn’t stop the Victorians from adapting it to their own meaning.
Flora (trees and flowers)
My favorite category! Here goes:
Acorn – Because tall oaks grow from such small acorns, this image symbolizes potential. In Norse and Celtic cultures, the acorn represents life, fertility, and immortality. In the Amish and Mennonite cultures, acorns represent protection and natural abundance.
Apple – No surprise here, this image represents sin and the first mother, Eve. Of course, why would anyone want that on their gravestone?
Asphodel – Ahh, remember Professor Snape (in Alan Rickman’s dreamy voice) uttering the word asphodel? On gravestones it represents death because the name means “field of ashes” or “the beheaded.” The beheaded link seems to come from the fact that if you drink enough of the liqueur made from this flower, you feel like your head has left your body the next morning.
Buttercup — A lovely sentiment! It symbolizes cheerfulness.
Cypress Tree – Symbolizes hope or deep mourning.
Daffodil – Represents the death of youth, as well as desire, art, grace, beauty, and deep regard.
Dead Leaves – No surprise here. These represent sadness and melancholy.
Evergreens – These long lasting plants symbolize immortality.
Forget-me-nots – Symbols of remembrance.
Ivy – Represent “memory, immortality, friendship, fidelity, faithfulness, undying affection, and eternal life.” Good for just about anyone, I’d think.
Hawthorn – Another lovely sentiment. This tree symbolizes hope, merriness, and Springtime.
Lily – These lovely flowers are typically associated with death and grieving. They also symbolize majesty, innocence, purity, and the resurrection.
Poinsettia – No surprise here. These flowers represent a death around Christmastime.
Poppy – These beautiful flowers, known for the sedating qualities they give the world through opium, also symbolize peace, rest, sleep, eternal sleep, and consolation in death.
Rosemary – This beautiful herb represents remembrance.
Tree – If you see a tree stump, that represents a life interrupted. If the stump has ivy growing around it, that represents the head of a family as well as immortality.
Wheat – Symbol of a long life, reaped at a ripe old age.
Skull and Crossbones – Either a pirate has been there, or it’s a traditional symbol of death.
Hands – These represent leaving. Clasped hands may represent marriage, but they could also represent a farewell. If the grave is for a married couple, the uppermost hand will be that of the spouse who died first, as if they are reaching down to draw their beloved up to Heaven with them.
The position of the hands is highly symbolic too. If it points downward, it means mortality or a sudden death. Pointing upward? That means the “reward of the righteous, confirmation of life after death. Heavenly reward, ascension to heaven.” If the hands are praying, that symbolizes devotion.
Circle – This ancient symbol represents eternity and everlasting life. If you see two circles, one atop the other, that represents the Earth and sky. If you see three circles joined together, that represents the Holy Trinity.
Pyramid – This structure represents eternity. Its shape supposedly prevents satan from laying back on the grave.
Stars and Stripes around an Eagle – No surprise here, this symbolizes eternal vigilance and liberty. Popular on military markers.
Square – Seen on a gravestone, this represents the Earth and our Earthly existence.
If you’re one of these professions, you may want to add your symbol to your gravestone!
Barbers – Symbolized by a bowl and razor.
Farmer – Symbolized by a hoe, a flail (threshing tool), swingletree (tool to beat flax), or a stalk of corn.
Gardener – Symbolized by a rake or spade.
Mason – Symbolized by a wedge and level.
Mariner – Symbolized by an anchor, sextant, or cross staff.
Merchant – Symbolized by the scales.
Minister – Symbolized by a Bible.
Shoemaker – Symbolized by a leather cutter’s knife, nippers, sole cutter, and awl.
Smith – Symbolized by a crown, hammer, and/or anvil.
Weaver – Symbolized by a loom, shuttle, and/or stretchers.
Writer – Symbolized by an inkwell and quill.
I wanted to share some modern gravestones with you, so you can compare the antique ones with today’s creations. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Write Your Own Message
Apart from the few modern gravestones I shared, one thing stands out about the rest of these symbols – they’re very old fashioned. The Victorians were deeply into symbols especially those pertaining to flowers and trees. I suspect a lot of these symbols come from that.
But I think we need some new symbols for today’s industries and lifestyle, don’t you? And I’m not talking about making a big cell phone or putting a teddy bear on a gravestone – few people can afford that.
I mean the little, subtle messages, like a pineapple meaning a good host, and a buttercup meaning cheerfulness.
What symbol(s) would you create for your occupation or your life?
You may also enjoy this article about a graveside mystery: