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Arrows are a graphic symbol mostly used to indicate or point towards a particular direction. Arrow symbols can be found everywhere. In fact, if we look closely, we can spot them all around us, in shopping malls, street signs, and even clothes and jewelry.
Because they are seen so often, people pay little attention to their meaning and significance. But surprisingly, even the simplest arrow designs are heavily loaded with a symbolic meaning carried and transferred from ancient cultures.
In this article, we will be exploring the origins of the arrow, their meaning in ancient civilizations, significance in world religions, and their contemporary uses.
Origins of the Arrow
The earliest arrows are said to be found in South Africa, almost 70,000 years ago, and appear in Eurasia 48,000 years ago. In ancient cultures, they were primarily used as weapons, either to hunt animals or for people to defend themselves from warring tribes. Early cave paintings and manuscripts are etched with drawings of warriors armed with bows and arrows.
In the 19th century, around the time of the industrial revolution, the arrow lost its meaning as a weapon and gained a new symbolic meaning. The drawing of the shaft and point was discarded to leave only the arrowhead.
Henceforth, this triangular shape was used to denote directions. These simplified forms were first put to use by the artist Paul Klee and cartographer Emil Reich. Today, the symbol of the arrow is used around the world to point out directions.
Meaning of Arrows
Because arrows were widely used since ancient times by most cultures, the symbol acquired different meanings based on the culture it was in.
- The Native Americans
Many historians claim that arrows were originally given a symbolic significance by the Native Americans, who were the original inhabitants of the United States. For the Native Americans, the arrow was not merely a tool for hunting, but was also venerated as a symbol of life because it protected the people from wild animals and the harsh natural world. Arrows have also played a significant role in the aesthetic sensibilities and cultural life of Native Americans.
- Greeks and Romans
Arrows can also be traced back to Greek and Roman mythology. In ancient Greece and Rome, arrows were used for warfare and conquest, but they carried an even greater meaning in the hands of Cupid, also known as the god of love and desire. The arrows of Cupid have been considered very powerful because those who were struck by them fell deeply in love. Even today, from cartoons to Valentine’s day posters, the image of a heart struck with an arrow is very popular.
Bows and arrows in the ancient Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharatha are symbolic of strength and perseverance. The wielder of the bow and arrow stands as not only a symbol of physical strength but also an emblem of psychological prowess, courage, concentration, and a sharp mind.
In the Ramayana, Rama uses his bows and arrows to defeat the king of Lanka, who had captured the beautiful queen Sita. Additionally, in the Mahabharatha, Arjuna, who was known as the worlds most skilled archer, won the hand of Princess Draupadi in an archery tournament. He also helped his family win the Kurukshetra War by wielding his bow and arrows. Even today, Hindus considers the arrow as an important icon of bravery and strength.
The Buddha narrates a story to one of his disciples, using the symbol of arrows. In the Buddhas story, arrows represent problems and obstacles. The Buddha asks his disciple if he would be hurt if he were to be struck by an arrow. The disciple answers yes. The Buddha then asks if it would hurt again if he was struck a second time. The disciple answers that it would be more painful. The Buddha disagrees and says that the second time we have a choice to react differently. By using the symbol of arrows Buddha preaches that our reactions are more important than the obstacles itself.
Arrow Symbolism in Jewelry and Fashion
Arrows can be found in necklaces, bracelets, earrings, inked tattoos, t-shirts, dresses, and other attire and accessories. However, the symbolism of arrows can differ depending on how it’s depicted. Here are some common ways that arrows are portrayed, and the meanings attached to them.
1- A Bow and Arrow
An image of an arrow about to shoot from the bow.
- This is a symbol of moving forward. It means the person is ready to go into the future and is willing to take on new adventures and dreams.
- As the arrow is still attached to the bow, there is also anticipation and curiosity for what the future path might hold.
2- An Arrow in Motion
An image of an arrow that looks like a circle.
- This arrow looks like it is in motion. It symbolizes dynamism and vibrancy. There is movement and effort to achieve one’s goals and purposes.
3- An Arrow with A Loop
An image of an arrow that has a loop in the middle.
- This type of arrow is symbolic of overcoming struggles, problems, and conflicts. It is up to us to have the will and courage to surpass hurdles and achieve what we set out to.
- The arrow straightens out at the other end to imply that anything can be overcome.
4- The Infinity Arrow
This image has both the arrow and the infinity symbol.
- An infinity arrow means that there is no end, and that there are numerous possibilities waiting for you. It is a symbol of opportunities and chances, waiting at your doorstep.
5- Two Crossed Arrows
This image has two arrows crossing each other.
- The symbol of the crossed arrows is used to denote a deep affection or friendship.
6- A Heart with An Arrow
This image has a heart struck by an arrow
- The symbol of a heart-struck arrow is used to denote strong love, passions, and deep emotions for a loved one.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring arrow symbol.
Gifting Arrow Jewelry
There is nothing better than giving a loved one something beautiful to wear – a gift that they can always carry with them and proudly show off to others. Gifting arrow jewelry carries more significance than plain, ordinary pieces because of the symbolism attached to them. The examples below will illustrate why arrow jewelry can be the perfect gift.
For a friend:
Arrow jewelry for your friend, ideally with two crossed arrows, would not only look beautiful but will also symbolize long lasting trust and friendship.
For a lover:
- An arrow with a heart for your partner or lover will convey deep messages of love and passion.
For a young loved one:
- The arrow in motion and the infinity arrow will be a perfect gift for a nephew or a cousin who is about to start college, a new job, or move to a new place.
- By giving this, you will tell them that they have new paths awaiting them, and an endless number of possibilities at each turn.
For a struggling friend, parent, colleague
- The arrow with the loop can be given to a struggling friend, parent, or even colleague.
- This will serve as a constant reminder that they will overcome the problems that they are facing now, and that no sadness or sorrow is permanent.
Arrow jewelry is sure to be a precious gift to your loved ones because it transcends the material and reaches out in a symbolic and spiritual way with its heavy, hidden meanings. An arrow gift will not only be valuable but also have a deeper message that can be remembered by them for the rest of their lives.
The arrow symbol is very much a part of our daily lives. Its historical meaning and significance have changed in recent times, but are by no means lost. By using arrows in new and innovative ways, we continue to carry forth the cultures of ancient civilizations and religions.