You searched for:


Mistletoe’s (Old English, “Misseltan,” meaning, “missel twig”) standing as an icon of the winter holiday stems from very ancient beliefs. How did this rather ugly, poisonous plant became so popular?

The answer lies in ancient sun worship, particularly of the Celtic Druids. The mistletoe has several qualities that made it attractive to these tree revering ancient Celts. The Celtic Druids were skilled in herbal medicine and magic; mistletoe was by far the most sacred of their magical plants. It grew amongst the branches of the sacred trees, seemingly without sustenance. Having no roots, and thus no connection to the earth, it was considered the sacred plant of the sun.

A tree that hosted a mistletoe plant was a tree marked as particularly sacred by the gods. With its golden color, and growing high off the ground without roots, it was naturally associated with the sun. Most specifically, it was considered to be the sperm of the solar deity Taranis, the promise of the sun God’s rebirth.

It was believed that mistletoe took on the properties of its host tree (this has much truth to it, as mistletoe feeds on its host tree), containing its essence and power. The most powerful mistletoe, of course, grew on the sacred oak. (The name Druid is believed to be a compound of two words, Dru and Vid, strength and wisdom- oak and mistletoe!)

Old Norse tales of mistletoe’s origin blame the plant for the death of the sun-god Baldur, who is felled by a dart made of mistletoe, the only plant his mother neglected after a prophecy of the god’s death; some versions of the story tell that the plant became a tree-dweller after the wrathful goddess flung it there. druids

Cutting the Mistletoe at the Solstice

When the weather turned cold the leaves dropped from deciduous host trees, revealing the sacred leaves and waxy white berries- a promise of the return of the sun. During the period of the Winter Solstice, branches were harvested with great ceremony and used for a variety of magical and medical purposes- protection from lightning and fire, curing of poisoning, etc. Branches would be cut from the trees on a day sacred to the moon, and sacrifices of livestock offered in return for the precious gift. Belief in the magical powers of mistletoe has long outlived the Druids.

In medieval times, the plant was called allheal, and used medicinally for a variety of ailments, from epilepsy to cancer. Sprigs were hung in stables to protect livestock from the mischief of fairies, and over cradles to protect babes from the vexation of witches. In Scandinavia, its branches were fashioned into dowsing rods to search for treasure. An old English superstition held that as long as a sprig was retained in the home, so would love be retained. It became popular in some households to insure that a fresh sprig was installed in the household every year, and this is probably where the origin of the kissing ritual can be found.

A Druid priestess

A priestess with sickle and crown of mistletoe

The uniquely English tradition involved hanging clumps of the plant in halls and doorways, where it served as a bit of a love charm- and as an ice breaker between interested couples. As the superstition went, one who wasn’t kissed would not be married within that year- an incentive for the romantically inclined to be sure to find themselves underneath a sprig at a convenient moment. According to this same tradition, the plant was burned at the end of the season, to prevent the charm from backfiring and creating enemies rather than friends. As late as the early twentieth century, a sprig of mistletoe was believed to bring dreams of a future husband when placed under the pillow of a hopeful young woman.


Also known as: Hrungnir’s heart, heart of the slain, Heart of Vala, borromean triangles

The emblem at left found on old Norse stone carvings and funerary stelés, is sometimes called “Hrungnir’s heart,” after the legendary giant of the Eddas. It is best known as the Valknut, or “knot of the slain,” and it has been found on stone carvings as a funerary motif, where it probably signified the afterlife. The emblem is often found in art depicting the God Odin, where it may represent the gods power over death. Some versions of the valknut can be drawn unicursally (in one stroke), making it a popular talisman of protection against spirits.

The Valknut’s three interlocking shapes are suggestive of related Celtic symbols of motherhood and rebirth- it may have been a goddess symbol at some point in history. The nine points suggest rebirth, pregnancy, and cycles of reincarnation. The number nine also suggestive of the Nine Worlds (and the nine fates) of Norse mythology. Their interwoven shape suggests the belief of the inter-relatedness of the three realms of earth, hel, and the heavens, and the nine domains they encompass.

The symbol’s nine points have an obvious correlation with childbirth; the placement of the symbol on funeral monuments mark it as a sign of rebirth of reincarnation. The Valknut is also an important symbol to many followers of the Asatru religion, who often wear it as a symbol of the faith. A variation called an “open” valknut, due to the looser, non-unicursal design:

Another, less common version of the Valknut, called a triceps, resembles a cut-away triangle, or a triangle formed of three diamonds (three ‘othala’ runes interwoven):


The triceps was used into the middle ages as a magical sign of protection.  The othala rune signifies the home and one’s ancestors.

valknut3 vikingsymbolshorntriskele

More valknuts

Related Symbols:
Nine worldsJormunganderTriqueta


This Mjolnir, or Thor’s Hammer, is an ancient Norse symbol, a stylized representation of the legendary magical weapon of the Norse God Thor. “Mjolnir” means “lightning,” and symbolized the God’s power over Thunder and Lightning. The Hammer Mjolnir was said to always return after it had been thrown.

The Thor’s Hammer amulet was worn frequently by believers as a symbol of protection- a practice so popular it continued even after most of the Norse population had converted to Christianity. In modern times, is often used as an emblem of recognition for members of the Asatru faith, and as a symbol of Norse heritage.

A later form of the Mjolnir is called the Wolf’s Cross, or Dragon’s Cross, and was associated with early Norse Christianity:

Related Symbols:


Some caveats here.  Meanings are derived from Celtic mythology and folklore.

Spiral: life,  eternity, rebirth, walk of life

Tree: life, family/ancestors, shelter, sustenance, endurance, strength

Shield knot: Protection

Dragon/serpent: healing, wealth, authority

Salmon: wisdom, prophecy

Raven: death, afterlife, communication

Triskele/triskelion: rebirth, pregnancy

Bull: fertility, wealth

Deer: motherhood, lost love, transformation

Stag: Transformation, protection

Swan: love, hope

Dogs or hounds: friendship, loyalty, companionship, honor

Horses: parenthood, prophecy, clan or tribe

Boar: courage, cleverness, fearlessness, overcoming obstacles

Claddagh: friendship, loyalty, love

Bride’s cross: fertility, good fortune, new life, female strength or authority

Shamrock: luck, fortune, a charm against evil, the trinity, earth, sea, and sly

mermaid: vanity, femininity, dual nature

Celtic cross: Celtic heritage, time, the four corners of the earth

Cauldron or cup: fertility, wisdom, abundance, prophecy, happiness, artistic inspiration


The Celtic Ogham alphabet dates from the fourth century. The alphabet is named for Ogmos, the Celtic god of knowledge and communication. Ogmos was associated with the Gaulish Ogmios and the Greek Hermes.

The alphabet consists of twenty letters, each named for a different tree believed sacred to the Druids. Each letter is made up of one to five straight or angled lines incised on a straight base line. Because the number of letters, and the number of lines that make up each letter, some scholars have theorized that the ogham may have originated as a system of hand signs.

Examples of Ogham writing have been found all over the British Isles, and even as far away as Spain and Portugal. All surviving examples exist as stone carvings, usually on tombstones and road markers.

Although it is commonly used by modern Druids and other NeoPagans as a divination system, there is no real relationship between modern and historical divination systems. When used as a divination method, the letters are usually notched into straight twigs and used much like runes. In this case, I’ve provided a print version (MS Word) you can print and cut into small cards if you wish to try a simpler way of divining with ogham:A B

The following table gives the characters of the and their modern divinatory meanings:

Stave: letter: name: modern divinatory meaning:
Birch/Beth Purification, cleansing, new beginnings
Rowan/Luis Protection, instinctual knowledge
alder F Alder/Fearn Decisions to be made; contact with the spiritual world
willow S Willow/Saille Equilibrium, attaining balance
ash N Ash/Nuin Restriction or limitations
hawthorn H Hawthorn/Huatha temporary limitations; obstacles
oak D Oak/Duir Strength, endurance
holly T Holly/Tinne unity; courage; guidance
hazel C Hazel/Colle Creativity, energy, “flow.”
apple Q Apple/Quert Choices, a fork in the road
vine M Vine/Muin (blackberry) Insight, spiritual growth
ivy G Ivy/Gort tread carefully; caution
reed Ng Reed/Ngetal disturbance, disruption, surprises
blackthorn St Blackthorn/straif confusion, strife
elder R Elder/Ruis endings, timelessness
elm A Elm/Silver fir Foresight, perspective
firze O Furze/Onn Discovery, abundance, goals met
heather U Heather/Ura Rest, suspension, hibernation
poplar E White Poplar/Eadha endurance; speech or communication
yew I Yew/Idho change, endings, maturation



Part one- the history of the Rune alphabet




More of this Feature• Part Two-Divination with Runes

According to the Eddas, the poetic saga of the Norse Gods, the Runic alphabet was a gift from Odin. The word ‘rune’ means ‘whisper,’ or ‘secret wisdom.’ A selection from the Eddas tells of their discovery. Odin hangs for nine nights upon the world tree, wounded, without food or water; finally, he sees the reflection of the runes in the water:

“Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows For nine long nights, Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odhinn, Offered, myself to myself The wisest know not from whence spring The roots of that ancient rood.

They gave me no bread, They gave me no mead, I looked down; with a loud cry I took up runes; from that tree I fell.”

The runes originated around 200 B.C.E., as magical symbols engraved in stone; they were developed into the first Rune alphabet, the “elder” Futhark (‘futhark’ being a transliteration of the first six letters), an alphabet of twenty four characters. Many permutations and revisions over the years produced several variants, including the ‘elder’ and ‘younger’ futhark, and the Danish “short twig” script. Eventually, the sixteen character alphabet became the most commonly used.

An epic “Rune poem,” written in Old English around 1000 C.E., outlined the metaphorical and divinatory meanings of the characters, which at that time numbered at thirty three.

The following table gives the characters of the Elder futhark and their divinatory meanings:

Rune: name: divinatory meaning:
Money, finances, possessions; material goods or wealth
Strength; virility
thurisaz Thurisaz Gateway, beginning
ansuz Ansuz A message or signal, a secret; speech
raido Raido Travel, sojourn, movement
kaunaz Kaunaz Openings, shedding light on something, fire
gibo Gibo A gift or blessing, partnerships
wunjo Wunjo Joy; happiness, illumination
hagalaz Hagalaz Disruption, chaos, shattering of illusion
nauthiz Nauthiz Pain, confinement, limitation
isa Isa Inaction
jera Jera Fertility, harvesting, returns; reaping what you’ve sown
eihwaz Eihwaz Protection, defense; also withdrawl or barriers
perth Perth Secrets, initiations, occult or hidden things
algiz Algiz Defense, protection
sowelu Sowelu Completion, perfection
teiwaz Teiwaz (Tyr) Victory, conquest
berkana Berkana Renewal, rebirth, new beginnings
ehwaz Ehwaz Overcoming barriers, movement, progression
mannaz Mannaz The self, humanity
leguz Leguz Water, sea, motherhood; intuition
inguz Inguz Fertility, birth, beginnings
dagaz Dagaz Sunlight, enlightenment
othela Othela The home, hearth, possessions



The unicorn is one of the most ancient mythological beasts.  Although in modern times it is most often depicted as an ethereal white horse, it has been variously described as an antelope, sheep, goat, or as a composite creature akin to a griffin or sphinx. Then, as later, the unicorn was a symbol of power and virility.

The oldest description of a unicorn occurs in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and in Mesopotamian art it is depicted a a great beast with a ringed neck and long, curving horn.  The earliest mention of the unicorn in the West comes from a Greek account of a fearsome beast with a red head and blue eyes; it’s horn is ascribed the properties later given to the bezoar stone: protection against poisons and disease. Later, Aristotle was to describe the unicorn as a type of antelope.

While the Indian creature was almost certainly a fancifully described Rhinoceros, scholars today believe the Mesopotamian creature to have been a giant aurochs (a now extinct species of buffalo). It is this beast which is described in Old Testament accounts, and probably identical to the mythical ‘Bull’ of Ninevah. A mistranslation of the name (Re’em, ‘horned’) led to the legend of the one-horned beast, to which the strength of God is compared. Jewish legend linked the unicorn to the lion, describing them as fierce enemies, an image carried over in heraldic art.

In the middle ages, the unicorn was described as a small, goat-like creature who was nonetheless very fierce, and whose capture could only be accomplished by a virgin, whose virtue attracted the beast. Although many of these stories tended to be quite adult oriented, the obvious parallels to the legend of Christ and his virginal mother, the virgin who was chosen as the only suitable vessel to contain the incarnation of God.

The virgin and the Unicorn, Leonardo Da Vinci

Gilgamesh and the unicorn

Related Symbols:



The Trinacria ( “Trincaria” means triangular), a three legged design resembling a triskele, is a symbol of the Isle of Sicily.” The three points represent the three capes of Sicily, also known as Trinacria in ancient times.

The gorgon in the center implies the protection of the Goddess Athena, the Patron Goddess of the Isle. (In early mythology, Medusa was the destructive aspect of Athena, and later, a monster slain by the hero Perseus, who adorned Athena’s shield.)


Related Symbols:



Maori amulets are traditionally carved from whale-bone or nephrite (a jade-like stone), although modern copies in jadeite and cow-bone are common.  Some of the more popular motifs are illustrated below:

The images below are popular representations of mythical bird-headed beings from Maori mythology called Manaia. Manaia are spirit guardians and messengers of the gods, and are depicted in many forms, from large wood-carvings to small amulets.

This design is called Hei Matau, after traditional heirloom fish hooks. It is worn as an amulet of protection, especially on water. The hei matau (literally, ‘fish hook necklace’) and Manaia figures have some overlap and are often indistinguishable:


The figures below are varieties of the koru, which represents the unfurling shoots of the koru, a vine native to New Zealand. The latter intertwined is called pikorua:


These generally have meanings of renewal, interrelatedness, growth, and kinship. The pikorua is sometimes given as a friendship gift.

Related Symbols:


{ 1 comment }

A fetish head representing Eleggua, the Santeria Orisha of doorways and crossroads. These effigies are made of items sacred to Eleggua, with cowries for facial features. They are most commonly placed behind or near doors for protection, or kept on altars to receive offerings (ebo) made to the Orisha.

To learn more about Eleggua: Eleggua

Eleggua Image Gallery

Pronunciation: Vayv or vay-vay • (noun)

Related Symbols:

{ 1 comment }

A fetish head representing Eleggua, the Santeria Orisha of doorways and crossroads. These effigies are made of items sacred to Eleggua, with cowries for facial features. They are most commonly placed behind or near doors for protection, or kept on altars to receive offerings (ebo) made to the Orisha.

To learn more about Eleggua: Eleggua

Eleggua Image Gallery

Pronunciation: Vayv or vay-vay • (noun)

Related Symbols:


Humanity has always had a close relationship with bees, whose honey has have been a food staple since before the dawn of civilization. As a symbol, the bees’ lifestyle mimics that of the human social order- a cooperative, productive social hierarchy.

In fact, beekeeping is one of the earliest markers of civilized society- bees provided many of the necessities of advancement, providing not only food, but wax for metalworking, cosmetics, and medicines, as well as the ever-important pollinization of fruit trees and other food crops.

Hieroglyphic Bee symbolising the Kingdom of Lower Egypt

The cultivation of honey was a sacred charge often imbued with ritual symbolism and associated with the mother goddess, whose nurturing protection of mankind was symbolized by the the abundance of honey provided to bee society under the reign of the queen bee.

As it was widely believed that bees were born spontaneously, they were widely viewed as symbols of chastity and purity. The Bee’s never-flagging labors made them an emblem of hard work, industriousness, teamwork, perseverance, charity, selflessness, and constancy. These virtues are recalled in many heraldic emblems and personal seals, as well as in the emblems of Freemasonry, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and in countless trademarks.

Masonic Beehive emblem

Observances of the annual hibernation of the hives also resulted in the belief that bees died and were reborn annually, and this, along with their coloring, made them a natural solar symbol- and later, an emblem of Christ in to Christian believers. Greek followers of the goddess Demeter believed her priestesses would be reincarnated as bees; the priestesses of the Ephesian Diana wre called melissae- bees.

Minoan Bee Goddess

Bee-headed Goddess medallion, from Knossos, Crete, 1500 BCE

Related Symbols:

Labrys, sacred axeSkull and Bones (crossbones)Minoan Bee Goddess

Related Links:

Related resources:

  • Bee, Beehive View more artist’s renderings of the Bee, Beehive.


This symbol consisting of the intertwined letters A and M, is called Auspice Maria, a monogram of the Virgin Mary. Auspice Maria is Latin for “Under the protection of Mary” and is commonly found in Catholic religious art, on churches, and inscribed on jewelry.  It is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to or used as a stand-in for the salutation “Ave maria.”

Related Symbols:

Fleur de Lis


Adinkra (sometimes, andinkra) symbols are the small symbolic pictures used by fabric designers in Ghana to decorate a special colorful patterned cloth . Designs are made by cutting patterns into pieces of calabash gourd, then stamping them on fabric with black ink made from iron oxide pigments.  The fabric is woven in varied colors and patterns, and used for funerals, weddings, and other special occasions. Adinkra cloth is not used for everyday purposes because it cannot be washed.

The name Adinkra comes from the legendary King conquered by the Ashante people,who, according to legend, wore luxurious patterned fabrics. Adinkra means “goodbye,” and the special cloth was reserved for funeral garments.

Adinkra fabric is now used for a variety of special occasions, and there are dozens of adinkra symbols used to impart a variety of meanings to the finished cloth. Many symbolize virtues, folk tales and proverbs, animals, and even historical events.  Most are very old, having been passed down through generations of craftsmen.

The list below shows some of the more popular symbols and their meanings. Adinkra was not developed as a divination system, but like the Celtic Ogham, it lends itself easily to the purpose.

Symbol: Name: Meaning:
Aya, fern
defiance, independence, resourcefulness
Kojo Baiden (rays)
Cosmos, omnipresence
Gya Nyame Presence of God, or “God alone” (Not, as some have suggested, “Only God can judge me”)
Fihankra, house Security, safety
Osrane ne nsoroma (Ram’s horns) Wisdom, learning, humility
Ohene (king) Foresight, wisdom
Kuntenkanten (arrogance, pride) Humility and modesty
Bin nkabi (None bite another) Do not seek revenge, avoid conflict
Krado Law, authority
Funtunfunafu (crocodiles sharing one stomach) Need for unity, working together
Gyawu (Hair of the hero Kwatakye) Valor, Respect, leadership
Akoko Nan (Chicken’s claw) Protectiveness, loving discipline
Sankofa (return and get it) Mistakes can be rectified, look to the past for solutions. Sankofa is also depicted as a backwards-looking goose.
Duafe (comb) Feminine virtue, everlasting love
Odenkyem (crocodile) Defense, protection
Adwo Peace, calmness under pressure
Akoben (war horn) Willingness to take charge
Nkyinkyim Endurance, grace under hardship
Wawa aba (Wawa seed) Overcoming barriers, movement, progression
Osrane Nsorama (Sun and moon) Marriage, fidelity, patience
Kramobone One bad makes all look bad
Pagya (flint for fire making) Bravery, striking out
Nkontim (hair of the Queen’s servant) Loyalty, Readiness to serve
Owuo Atwedee (ladder) Fate, inevitability


Buddhist, one of the ashtamangala (“eight auspicious signs,” symbolizing the eight-fold paths of Buddhism. The canopy symbolizes preservation and protection of the dharma against suffering and sorrow. The parasol is an ancient emblem of wealth and status, patterned after the decorative canopies which have been traditionally used to protect and cover royalty. The parasol can also be viewed as a sort of axis mundi, a symbolic tree of life, and can be likened to the sacred Bodhi tree.


A fairly typical image of Jizo, a Japanese form of the Buddhist Bodhisattva* (Bosatsu) Ksitigarbha. He is depicted throughout Asia as a simple, childlike monk, but he is especially venerated in Japan as a protector of the souls of children and the unborn. It is common to see Jizo figures all over Japan, especially along roadsides and paths. Offerings are left with the icons, most commonly caps or bibs, flowers, and stones, often pleas to reduce the suffering of children. Jizo’s staff (shakujo) is a traditional monk’s walking stick, hung with metal rings, ostensibly to warn away animals on the road for the mutual protection of man and creature alike.

*A Bodhisattva (Sanskrit, “essence of enlightenment”) is a highly spiritually developed being who stops short of Buddhahood in order to aid others in attaining enlightenment.


Related Symbols:



The symbol and the idea for the International Banner of Peace were both composed by artist, mystic, and activist Nicholas Roerich. Drawn from various historical symbols, the figure was meant as a cultural equivalent to the Red Cross. The banner, meant to be flown over cultural landmarks, was conceived as a symbol of the “Roerich Pact,” a treaty between nations designed to protect historical, cultural, and artisitc heritage. The circle represents the unity of human culture; the three circles represent art, science, and religion- the three main vehicles of culture. The pact, signed in the presence of Franklin Roosevelt, guarantees the protection of cultural sites even in times of war- museums, scientific institutions, schools, galleries, and the like are to be considered neutral and protected even during conflicts.
Madonna Oriflamma, a painting created in 1932 to promote the Roerich Pact.
Similar Symbols:
DruidCrescent moon


sglossaryagla A protective magical talisman, inscribed “AGLA,” designed for the reverse of the Sigil of Ameth by Dr. John Dee, under the [supposed] direction of the angel Uriel. It is a common form of an amulet already in use for several hundred years. (The image at right is a facsimile from Dee’s handwritten notes)

sglossaryaglaAGLA is a notariqon (kabbalistic acronym) of the biblical phrase “Ateh Gibor Le-olam Adonai,” “The Lord is mighty forever.” AGLA was considered a name of God by magicians of the middle ages and appeared in magical formulas for everything from protection to flying. By Renaissance times, the formula was a common inscription for amulets and talismans.  AGLA is used in its short form in a number of apotropaic circle-making formulas. The Golden Dawn used it as the “God Name” of the North quarter in the “lesser banishing ritual,” representing Earth, and in the GRP to represent the passive elements of water and Earth.

Agla also appears in Masonic  lore, and some Masonic scholars have suggested that AGLA was a substitution for the “Word which was lost,” a primordial name of God or magical incantation which may represent the tetragrammaton.

glossaryagla spacer glossaryagla
A magical square from Reginald Scott’s “Discoverie of Witchcraft,” with God-names Detail from the 1427 “Ghent altarpiece” by Jan van Eyck; AGLA inscription in the floor tiles
Related Symbols:


This glyph represents the planet Saturn, and it corresponding alchemical metal, lead. The image mimics the scythe of Saturn, the god of the harvest and time.  The qualities of Saturn include limitation, protection, and restraint; lead is therefore used historically where these qualities are required- it is still common to see lead-lined caskets, and it is traditional to keep scriptures and religious relics shielded in lead reliquaries.

Alchemically, lead was the prima matera, or primal matter, and represented the putrefaction and decay necessary for new life.

The sigil is similar to the Hebrew letter Tau, which also has associations with time and death.

Saturn, from a medieval book of hours
Related Symbols:
Coptic Cross


Chnoubis is an Egyptian Gnostic solar icon, found most often on gnostic gems, and amulets for protection against poison and disease. It is a composite figure with the head of a lion and the body of a serpent, usually with seven rays emanating from the head, sometimes, with the twelve zodiacal signs. Chnoubis is an aspect of the Gnostic Demiurge, Yaldabaoth, and is associated with Abraxas. Images of Chnoubis are most often found inscribed on gnostic gems, small talismans made from semi-precious stone, that date from the first century onward.


The lion’s head represents the solar forces, enlightenment; the serpent, the lower impulses, earth. The rays represent the seven planets, the seven Greek vowels,* and the seven colors of the visible spectrum.


*An important part of ritual formulas

Related Symbols: