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Unity is one of the keys to maintaining lasting harmony and peace. As the famous quote goes, “We’re only as strong as we’re united, as weak as we’re divided”. Here’s a look at the different symbols of unity, and how they helped bind different groups together towards a common goal.
The Pythagoreans gave certain numbers mystical significance—and the number 1 became their symbol of unity. It was regarded as the origin of all things, since all other numbers can be created from it. In their system, odd numbers were male and even numbers female, but the number 1 was neither. In fact, adding 1 to any odd number makes it even, and vice versa.
One of the oldest symbols in the world, the circle became associated with unity, completeness, eternity and perfection. In fact, most tradition, such as talking circles or peacemaking circles, were derived from its symbolism. In some religions, believers would gather in a circle to pray, which is called a prayer circle. Circles bring individuals together in a way that creates trust, respect, and intimacy. By forming a circle, people create a sense of unity, where participants can share and hear stories.
An alchemical and gnostic symbol, the Ouroboros depicts a snake or a dragon with its tail in its mouth, continuously devouring itself and being reborn from itself. It’s a positive symbol that represents the unity of all things and the cyclic nature of the universe. The word Ouroboros originated from the Greek that means tail-devourer, but its representations can be traced back to ancient Egypt, around 13th and 14th centuries BCE.
Also called Othala or Ethel, the Odal Rune is part of the alphabet used by Germanic peoples from Scandinavia, Iceland, Britain and northern Europe from the 3rd century to the 17th century CE. Corresponding to the o sound, it’s the symbol of family unity, togetherness and belonging, often used in magic to promote harmonious family relationships.
The Odal Rune is also regarded as the rune of heritage, which could refer to literal ancestral land of the family. In ancient Scandinavia, properties had to be passed down from generation to generation, in order to keep families and cultural traditions rooted in place. In modern interpretations, it can also represent the intangible things we inherit from our family.
The ancients Celts used ogham sigils to symbolize certain shrubs and trees. Eventually, these sigils developed into letters, used from the 4th to the 10th century CE. The 20th ogham letter, Iodhadh stands for the unity of death and life, and corresponds to the yew tree. Throughout Europe, the yew is the longest-living tree, and became sacred to various divinities like Hecate. It’s said that the symbol represents the dual nature of endings and beginnings at the same time.
A symbol of unity after wars, the Tudor Rose was created by Henry VII of England to represent the unification of the royal houses of Lancaster and York. The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought over the English throne from 1455 to 1485, preceding the government of the Tudors. Both royal families claimed the throne through descent from the sons of Edward III.
The wars earned its name because each house had its own emblem: the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York. When Richard III, the last king of the House of York, was killed by the Lancastrian Henry Tudor in the battle, the latter was declared King Henry VII. After his coronation, the king married Elizabeth of York.
Their marriage ended the wars of the two royal families and gave rise to the Tudor Dynasty. Henry VII introduced the Tudor Rose, merging the heraldic badges of Lancaster and York. The Tudor Rose, recognized by its both red and white colors, was adopted as the national emblem of England, and a symbol of unity and peace.
The Cross of Lorraine
The Cross of Lorraine features a double barred cross, somewhat similar to the patriarchal cross. In the First Crusade, a double-barred cross of this kind was used by Godefroy de Bouillon, the Duke of Lorraine, in his standard when he took part in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. Eventually, the symbol was passed down to his successors as heraldic arms. In the 15th century, the Duke of Anjou used the cross to represent the national unity of France, and it became known as the cross of Lorraine.
Eventually, the cross of Lorraine evolved into a symbol of patriotism and freedom. During World War II, it was used by General Charles de Gaulle as a symbol of French resistance against Germany. It became linked to French heroine Joan of Arc, whose origin was in the province of Lorraine. Today, the symbol is commonly seen on many French war memorials.
The Northern Knot
In Northern Nigeria, the Northern Knot is a representation of unity in diversity. It was adopted by politicians, including Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, when the Nigerians were preparing for political independence from Britain. It has been used as a design element in their currency, coat of arms, paintings, and walls of both the old and new palaces.
The raised fist is common in protests, representing themes such as unity, defiance, and power. As a symbol of political solidarity, it’s significant to people who have made a commitment to challenge a situation of injustice. In The Uprising by Honoré Daumier, the raised fist symbolized the fighting spirit of the revolutionaries against the European monarchies during the French revolution in 1848.
Later, the raised fist was adopted by the anti-fascist movement in Europe. By the Spanish Civil War, it was used to represent the Republican government’s opposition to the future dictator Francisco Franco. For the Spanish Republic, it’s a salute of solidarity with the democratic peoples of the world. The gesture became associated with the Black power movement in the 1960s.
The Masonic Trowel
A symbol of Freemasonry’s unity, the Masonic trowel cements brotherhood among men. The trowel is a tool used to spread cement or mortar, which binds bricks of a building. In a figurative sense, a Mason is a builder of the brotherhood, who spreads brotherly love and affection.
The Masonic trowel serves as a reminder to spread the moral cement in their daily lives, uniting separate minds and interests. The symbol is commonly featured in Masonic jewels, lapel pins, insignias, and rings.
The Borromean Rings consists of three interlocking rings—sometimes triangles or rectangles—that cannot be separated. The symbol is named after the Borromeo family of Italy who used it on their coat of arms. Since the three rings are strong together, yet fall apart if one of them is removed, the Borromean rings signify strength in unity.
Since its discovery in 1858, the Möbius strip has fascinated mathematicians, philosophers, artists, and engineers. It’s an infinite loop with a one-sided surface, which cannot be defined as internal or external. Due to this, it’s seen as a symbol of unity, oneness and solidarity, as whichever side of the Möbius you start on, or what direction you go, you’ll always end up on the same path.
As we have seen, these symbols of unity are significant as representations of oneness towards a common goal. The circle has been a universal symbol of unity that transcends different cultures and religions, while others serve as representation of family unity, political unity, and unity in diversity in specific regions.