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Like gemstones, natural elements, philosophical concepts, animals, and virtually anything else in the world, metals have also been given different symbolic meanings over the millennia. Often, those meanings are related to the metals’ properties or color and sometimes are based on the type of tools crafted out of them. And other times the symbolism seems almost arbitrary.
Metal played crucial roles in human civilization, as well as in metaphysical domains such as Alchemy. Each metal was seen as corresponding with a planet, and believed to hold symbolism, as well as philosophical meanings, and metaphysical connections.
This article covers the symbolism of some of the most popular types of metal.
As unique as it is famous, gold has rich symbolism in every culture that managed to mine this precious metal out of the ground or rivers of their land. Soft, malleable, and gorgeous, gold is usually associated with royalty and prosperity.
It’s also often viewed as a symbol of flexibility and life. Wisdom, vitality, health, radiance, eternity, and unification are all concepts that have also been viewed as core to gold in many cultures. Gold and the sun are often associated with each other.
The celestial symbol of silver is almost always the moon, regardless of which culture you look at. Similarly malleable to gold and almost as precious, silver is also viewed as a prestigious and precious metal. One of the three base metals in alchemy, silver is given many philosophical attributes such as inner wisdom, intuition, truthfulness, and contemplation.
One of the most abundant metals not just on Earth but in the universe as a whole, iron is also extremely useful. Most notably, iron has been used to craft weapons of war from the moment it was first dug out of the ground. So, it’s not surprising that the celestial symbol of iron is Mars, the planet named after the Roman god of war. Symbolically, iron is most often associated with people’s primal urges and inner power and rage.
Represented by the planet Saturn in the night sky, lead is a metal with a bad reputation. Alchemically, it’s viewed as a metal of death and transformation. Because of its toxic nature, it represents the impure side of humanity and sins. Burning lead is often viewed as a purification ritual. When combined with silver, lead would create the so-called “Philosophic Mercury” which is a purified element in alchemy.
As one of the first metals to ever be discovered by humans, bronze has always been viewed as incredibly important and useful. It typically symbolizes strength and support and is also viewed as an especially beautiful metal. It may be less popular or beloved today, but historically it was viewed as a warm and inspiring metal that was also associated with loyalty, stability, and inspiration.
This soft, red-colored metal has rich symbolism in most cultures across the globe. Typically associated with the planet Venus and with the female side of humanity, copper symbolizes love, beauty, and creativity. It was a widely used metal in alchemy as well as by ancient craftsmen and artisans. Copper is believed to bring balance to whatever it’s added to or used for.
Beautiful, bright, non-corrosive, and ductile, platinum symbolizes several positive traits and concepts. Because of its endurance and durability, platinum was sought after by alchemists. Even today, it’s highly sought after for the advantages it provides as a metal for jewelry and other purposes. This metal has historically been associated with completion, determination, and longevity. Things made out of platinum are built to last and this can be seen in its symbolic representations as well.
Very ductile and malleable, tin is beautiful but not exceptionally durable. The celestial body that represents this metal is the largest planet in the Solar system – the gas giant Jupiter, named after the chief deity in the Roman pantheon. The main concepts associated with tin are life and breath – in fact, this metal is often called “the breath of life”. Tin also often symbolizes flexibility and collaboration as it often needs to be combined with other metals to be functional but it also boosts a lot of the properties of other metals when put in alloys with them.
This soft and unique metal is represented by the planet of the same name – Mercury. One of its many fascinating features is that it actually exists in liquid form at room temperature while most other metals require extreme temperatures to melt down into a liquid. As it is toxic, mercury is often viewed as a metal of death, transformation, and mystery, similar to lead. However, it also symbolizes mobility, travel, and long journeys which is why it bears the same name as the Roman messenger god Mercury.
Antimony is technically a metalloid or a half-metal but it’s often grouped with other metals when it comes to its symbolism and importance. More often than not, antimony is viewed as a symbol of people’s animalistic side and qualities. It’s also associated with cooperation because it works very well with other metals, especially bronze, brass, and lead.
Easily corroded but with a beautiful silvery-white color, magnesium typically represents eternity, the ascension of the soul into a higher plane of existence, and the infinite fire of the universe. This is largely because magnesium is very easy to ignite when cut into fine flakes and is then very difficult to extinguish. Because of this unique property, it was also one of the most popular metals in alchemy.
Brass is known as a “problem-solving” metal. It’s often thought to symbolize the vitality of the human mind and the regaining of one’s mental capabilities. Brass is said to help “keep the mind young and youthful” and to “prevent conservatism”. Brass is also a very beautiful metal with a nice, golden color so it also symbolizes positivity, beauty, and the simplicity of life.
Since ancient times, metal has played important roles, so much so that whole periods of civilization are named after certain metals, like the Bronze and Iron ages. Metal meaning and symbolism were crucial in Alchemy and in Astrology, and various other aspects of human life. Each metal has its own symbolism, with some viewed as extremely negative, while others are seen as beneficial.