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The Power of Symbols



Lectures are one of those things at university which you either hate or love- they can excite you or bore you to tears- like marmite you'll fit into one or the other. Thankfully I am one of those lucky few who enjoys lectures- and since coming to University, I am so glad they are as interesting as promised.


Last week, our tutors topic was on the power of symbols, and how that all over the world, symbols have come to mean so many different things- whilst an okay hand sign to us in the Uk might mean everything is fine, in other countries is can be considered deeply insulting- in arabia, my tutor explained it was in fact considered a curse as it showed the evil eye. I found it fascinating that like mythology and legends, where monostories are consistently found (literally every culture has a great flood and a judgement day!) symbols also have repeated meanings across the globe.

Aside from culture, where you grow up and who taught you also effects how you percieve symbols- when you see an arrow what do you imagine? A sign on a motorway? A knight pulling a bow back? Its with this simple example my tutors and lecturer opened my eyes to realise just how much of the world around us is compacted into such tiny, seemingly insignificant designs.


For me, the most interesting point of this lecture, was her moving onto a slide with the infamous Nazi Swastika on it- all of us instantly reered away from it, repulsed by what it represented, and hating what it symbolised. We all knew what that symbol had been the banner for- countless innocent civilians taken and slaughtered for being something as simple as jewish, or homosexual, or even born with a disability or mental health condition- if you were different, this symbol and its people would consume you like wolves, greedily ravaging our world to fill an appetite longing for justice after the repurctions of WW1. The story behind this flag is ,to the say least, well known. But what is less well percieved is that this symbol of hate is in fact born of a symbol of hope. Taken by the Nazis during the 40s, it was twisted at an angle, and its meaning similarly contorted to suit the maddened ideology it now was forced to represent. Although most well known as a symbol for hatred, it is in fact a icon used by cultures including Hinduism and Buddhism to represent luck and good fortune- whilst for one it represents day when angled clockwise and night anticlockwise, the other believes it shows the wondering steps of Buddah himself. That the Nazis took this for their own and tainted it with their black hearts just made the room hate them even more- that arrogance in believing you could just steal and take something which means so much to so many cultures- it just summed up the vile nature of this group.


When we then asked why she had showed us this, she said it was because nowadays, alot of our lives our led by what we see online, and in particular, the research we use shall also be effected by this. She was trying to teach us not to take things on at face value- the stories behind the objects, people and iconography your looking at could be deeply affected by where the photo was taken, when it was captured, and most importantly, whose within it- just because something means this in one group dosen't mean it will in another.


I left feeling shocked at just what these supposedly insignificant symbols meant in our everyday lives- I hadn't realised how embedded they were in my brain, nor that they would be interpreted differently elsewhere within the globe. As soon as I got home, I noted all that I could remember of this lecture down, because its one of those rare opportunities where thoughts are changed forever.