If you love history and etymology as much as I do, then this list of popular symbols with totally strange origins is going to be right up your alley. We use symbols every day, for hundreds of different things, and never really stop to think about where they came from, right?
Right. Which is exactly what makes these 7 – that you see on a regular basis – so intriguing. Because they pretty much mean the opposite of what we’ve come to accept.
#7. The Inverted Cross
Horror movies and serious practitioners of the occult would have us believe that there is no symbol as evil or dangerous as the inverted cross. Their way of thinking makes sense – the opposite of good and holy must be evil and unholy, right?
Saint Peter chose to be crucified on an inverted cross as a way of symbolizing his unfitness to die in the same way as Christ. As a result, many Christians view the inverted cross as MORE holy that the upright one – in fact the Pope has an inverted cross carved onto the back of his throne.
The skinhead culture today is associated with Nazi imagery and other symbols of hateful intolerance, but it actually began with the Mods of 1960’s England. The Mods were a stylish group of minimalists influenced by Jamaican music culture – meaning that they loved Bob Marley. Indeed, black skinheads were once common.
As they turned toward Nazi worship and hate, they ousted all members of different races and descended into the cultural blight we suffer with today.
#5. A Rabbit’s Foot
Okay, so this one has always seemed oogy to me. I mean, who carries around the severed foot of an adorable, harmless creature and rubs it in order to procure lottery winnings or a big promotion or whatever? So I wasn’t surprised to learn that the practice’s origins are decidedly dark.
In the past, people commonly believed that witches would transfigure themselves into rabbits in order to move around freely and practice their magic without arousing suspicion. Therefore, to claim her foot meant to steal her dark power.
Oh, and for maximum power? You had to cut it off a live rabbit, in a graveyard, on Friday the 13th. Yikes.
#4. The Swastika
In 1871, the swastika symbol was discovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in Troy, where it adorned artifacts dating back thousands of years. It seemed to him to indicate good fortune. Before the end of his career, Schliemann found the symbol in the ruins of several other ancient cities, as well. In the early 1900s, the symbol decorated everything from Coca-Cola bottles to American military gear.
But then in 1920, the Nazi party officially adopted the image saying that the ancient nature of it represented the roots of the “master race,” and, well, you can take it from there.
#3. The ‘Shaka’ (AKA the ‘Hang Ten’ Gesture)
Adopted by the Pacific surfer culture, this universal hand gesture tells others you’re a laid-back ambassador of peace and goodwill. Which is weird, considering the hand gesture was arose in early 20th century Hawaii for the sole purpose of mocking a man disfigured in an industrial accident.
After Hamana Kalili lost his three middle fingers, he was transferred to a job guarding the train that delivered sugar cane to the factory and mill. Local teenagers loved to jump on and off the trains mid-trip (for funsies, I guess) and part of Kalili’s job was to prevent them from accidentally killing themselves.
They took issue with that (because teens) and would mock him with the ‘shaka.’ They also used the hand gesture to signal each other when he was nearby.
#2. The Jesus Fish
Christians have used this simple drawing of a fish to symbolize their faith almost since its inception, but like many other Christian traditions, it finds its roots in pagan culture. And guys? One of it’s original uses was as a representation of the vagina of the deity Venus, known by other names as well. Her genitals – the famous ichthus – symbolized fertility.
That bit of knowledge should give you something to smile about the next time you find yourself sitting in traffic and staring at a gaping vagina on the bumper in front of you.
#1. The Heart
The symbol of the heart (which obviously looks nothing like an actual heart) has been the symbol of love and romance and Valentine’s Day commercialism for centuries. But where did it come from?
Well…it has always symbolized love, but, in the beginning, it signaled love of quite a different variety.
In Ancient Rome, people tended to be much freer with their sexuality. Bi-sexual relations were common and not typically frowned-upon, and orgies were commonplace – among the elite, particularly. They weren’t so different from us when it came to unwanted pregnancy, however, and to prevent it, the Romans turned to an herb called silphium to keep things casual. In fact, the method was so popular that they ate the plant into extinction.
The seedpods were – you guessed it – shaped like hearts. You can see them on some Roman currency, and over time subsequent cultures latched onto the symbol to represent romance instead of a way to practice safe, casual sex.
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