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Brotherhood is defined as an association or community of people linked by a common interest. It’s also the relationship between brothers – strong, familial, and lifelong.
Throughout history, brotherhood bonded people together and allowed them to strive towards greater goals. These communities are often represented by certain meaningful symbols.
During the Hellenistic age, the Stoics were the first to introduce the idea of brotherhood of all humans, advocating the idea that all humans were equal. Over time, the concept of brotherhood evolved, with various groups established. These brotherhoods make use of signs and allegories to recognize each other.
However, not all such societies are positive. The Aryan Brotherhood for example, which is a neo-Nazi prison gang, is described by the ADL as the “oldest and most notorious racist prison gang in the United States”.
So, brotherhoods can be positive or negative. Here’s a look at different symbols of brotherhood across the world.
The term blood is commonly used to denote family ties or race, but it can also refer to people who aren’t related by birth. In some cultures, blood is spent as a symbol of brotherhood, with two men cutting themselves and mixing their blood together.
The proverb blood is thicker than water is one of the most famous misquotes in history. In fact, it originally meant that the blood of the covenant or the bloodshed in battle is much stronger than the water of the womb or family ties. Regardless, the idea is that family ties are stronger than other types of relationships.
Roman writers asserted that blood was sacred to the Celts and was used in rituals. Blood brotherhood was also a tradition in the Scottish Isles, where the blood of animal sacrifices was smeared on trees in sacred groves.
In some cultures, salt is seen as a symbol of brotherly covenant. In the ancient East, it was a tradition for a stranger to be invited for a meal that included a ritual of eating bread and salt.
In Arabic countries, the phrase there’s salt between us is a way to unite people against any pain or harm between them. It’s also associated with purity, fidelity, and good things in life.
Cheetahs are known for creating alliances to face challenges in life, associating them with brotherhood. Before the 1980s, they were thought to be solitary creatures, but it was seen that these animals could form coalitions—or lifelong unions of male siblings.
In some instances, cheetahs are even said to accept other males as brothers. Living in a group gives them benefits, as male cheetahs are good at holding their territories and are successful hunters. It’s also thought that these majestic animals hunt and share meals with others.
What’s more, the coalition of cheetahs is composed of members with equal position in the group, and leadership can be shared in a group. If one male becomes the leader, he can decide which direction to move and how to catch prey.
The Symbol for Brothers
Native Americans place a high priority on familial relationships, which is evident from their pictographs and symbols. The symbol for brothers represents loyalty and unity of two people, either by blood or by alliance.
It depicts two figures that are connected at their feet, suggesting that the brothers have a shared journey in life. In some interpretations, the line symbolizes equality and connection between people.
The Celtic Arrow
While there isn’t a specific Celtic symbol for brotherhood, the Celtic arrow is commonly understood to represent the bond of men as brothers. The symbolism is likely related to the Celts who were known as warriors. They fought for personal glory and believed in brotherhood gained by going to war. In some interpretations, it also represented the struggle and victory they shared with fellow warriors.
The oldest fraternal organization in the world, Freemasonry emerged from a guild of skilled stoneworkers in the Middle Ages in Europe. As cathedral building declined, the lodges welcomed non-masons in their brotherhood. In fact, famous Masons can be found throughout history, from George Washington to Winston Churchill, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
However, Masons don’t set out to teach the skills of stonework, but they use the work of medieval stoneworkers as an allegory for moral development. No wonder, many of their symbols are linked to building and stonemasonry. The Masonic level represents equality and justice, as they’re said to meet on the level, where all of them are brothers regardless of their status in society.
Originally a tool used in brickwork for spreading mortar, the Masonic trowel symbolically cements brotherhood and spreads brotherly love. It’s said to be an appropriate working tool of a Master Mason who secures their members in their place and binds them together. The symbol also unites all the members of the Masonic family across the world.
Several societies use grips and handshakes as greeting, but their meanings vary in different cultures and organizations. In fact, the gesture has existed since ancient times as a symbol of peace and trust. In a 9th century BCE relief, the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III was depicted sealing an alliance with a Babylonian ruler with a handshake.
In the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, Greek gravestones portrayed deceased persons shaking hands with a member of their families, suggesting that the handshake symbolized the eternal bond between the living and the dead. In ancient Rome, it was regarded as a symbol of loyalty and friendship and was even depicted on Roman coins.
It’s not surprising that the handshake is also seen as a symbol of brotherhood in modern times. Another interesting piece of trivia regarding the Freemasons, it’s said that they base their handshake on one’s rank within the organization:
- Boaz or Grip of the Entered Apprentice
- Tubulcain or Pass Grip of the Master Mason
- Lion’s Paw or Real Grip of a Master Mason.
Each Masonic rite is also said to have its own handshake.
A five-pointed star drawn in a continuous line, the pentagram was used by the Pythagoreans as a symbol of their brotherhood. They called it health. Scholars believe that the pentagram’s association with health was derived from the symbol of Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health. The 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian also mentioned that the Pythagorean greeting Health to you was suitable for both body and soul.
Devoted to the study of mathematics, the Pythagorean brotherhood is believed to have been founded by Greek mathematician Pythagoras of Samos in 525 BCE. The group was almost cult-like that it had symbols, prayers, and rituals. They believed that numbers are the basis of everything in the universe, so they also gave numerical values to many objects and ideas.
The pentagram is also closely related with the pentagon, as when you connect each angular point of the pentagon, you will create a pentagram. The center part of the star also creates a smaller pentagon, and the repetition continues infinitely, associating it with the golden ratio. The Greeks also believed that each point of the pentagram represents the four elements—earth, water, air, fire—and the spirit.
Skull and Bones
The Skull and Bones secret society was founded at Yale University in 1832, featuring the emblem of a skull-and-bones with the number 322 beneath it. It’s said that the number was derived from the year 322 BCE, commemorating the death of Greek orator Demosthenes, who defended Athenian and Greek political freedom against Philip II of Macedon.
Male members of the Skulls and Bones are called Bonesmen, and their headquarters are known as the Tomb, located in New Haven. Females weren’t allowed to be part of the secret society until 1992. Some of the popular Bonesmen included former U.S. presidents William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
Brotherhood symbols can represent familial love between brothers or close family members, as well as the interests and values of groups of people. These symbols of brotherhood promote mutual support, loyalty, respect, and affection among members—and most of them extend beyond geographical and cultural borders.