10 Completely Misunderstood Symbols

10. Jesus Fish (ichthys) is a Vagina


That little Jesus fish symbol you see plastered on the bumpers of cars and minivans across the country may not mean what you think it means. In the bible, there is a story of how Jesus fed a mass of people with just a loaf of bread and a fish through sorcery and special effects. He is also known to have told his disciples that he will make them a “fisher of men” aka the Most Dangerous Game. It is probably because of these tales that the fish is associated with Jesus. As the most powerful symbols are the simplest ones, the Ichthys is commonly associated with Jesus. In fact, like many other facets of Christianity, this was stolen from an earlier religion(s). The fish was a pagan symbol for fertility and sexuality. When rotated ninety degrees, you can see how the “fish” represents the womb and vagina. Quite the opposite of “Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter,” or “Jesus Christ the Son of God, Saviour” which is what ICHTHYS stands for. 

9. Peace Sign = “Human being in despair” – Gerald Holtom.


There are a couple of ways to interpret the ubiquitous peace symbols gracing the rusted bumpers of VW buses around the country. Many people never really stop to ask themselves what the collection of geometric shapes stand for but they would be surprised to know that it’s just a sad little man inside that circle. Gerald Holtom, the creator of the peace symbol (and idiot for not copywriting it) explains that it was meant to represent a “human being in despair” with his arms down by his side. Another, more popular, interpretation is that based on the international flag waving alphabet, the symbol is composed of the directions for N and D which, obviously, stand for Nuclear Disarmament. But that’s wrong.

8. Barber’s Pole = Bloody Bandages


Whenever you see that red (and sometimes blue) striped pole spinning outside a shop on Main St, Every Little Town In America indicating a barbershop, know that it’s roots aren’t a clean as that shave you’ll be getting. Back in the day, a common cure for almost any ailment, from chicken pox to acne to tuberculosis, was blood letting. Obviously if you were sick, it was your blood that was the problem and that stuff had to be removed immediately. The doctors of the time thought themselves above such trivial procedures and so the job fell to the other profession handy with a blade, the barber. The red stripe circling the pole signifies the red bandages left over from these blood lettings. Whether they were hung on poles to dry for the next customer or just part of an odd advertising campaign, the symbol stuck and over time, we forgot the connection. But now you know.

7. Inverted Cross – mark of St Peter.


Open up any angsty teen’s Trapper Keeper and you’re likely to find an inverted cross. These misguided souls associate this symbol with the antichrist as anything turned upside automatically means the opposite. Obviously these troubled youths don’t pay much attention to the papal furnishings of the head of the Catholic religion. If they did, they would notice that this symbol adorns the throne of the Pope. And he’s the most pro christian guy in Italy. Originally the inverted cross was the mark of St Peter. It was said that when he was being crucified, he asked that his cross be inverted because Christ did it right way up and he was not fit to die in the same direction as the savior. For some reason, his killers honored his request and the upside down cross became the symbol of humility. And the sideways cross has already been taken by Sweden and Finland so Antichristians will need to find something else to hang over their beds.

6. Swastika = Hindu Symbol


Oh Hitler, you had such a great way of ruining good things. The image of a Swastika has become known as the symbol for evil and hate for most of the civilized world. But before the Germans started decorating their armbands with it, the Swastika originally was a Hindu symbol for eternity. Other religions have also used it to represent a variety of positive meanings, none of which were anti-semetic. It has been the sun cross, the image of rebirth, and was even used by Christians and Jews, long before the Third Reich. Fun Fact: The Swastika is banned in Germany and is a pretty big offense.

5. Fleur de lis = Represented Royalty


While the Fleur de lis is now the official symbols of about a dozen college sororities (also the key and the owl) as well as the image most often associated with New Orleans, it was originally a sign of nobility. It’s not hard to imagine why modern groups would want to also be associated with lofty families, like the crown on a bottle of Corona or a tiara on a girl’s 21st birthday.

4. Caduceus – Mercury was the god of thieves and liars.


The wing topped rod surrounded two intertwining snakes is the ubiquitous symbol of the medical community. The staff was originally held by the Greek messenger god Hermes. When the Romans conquered the Greeks and assimilated their culture into their own, Hermes got turned into the god Mercury. However, Mercury did not translate into such a good guy. Among other roles, he was the guide of the dead and  the protector of gamblers, liars, and thieves. None of these should be associated with a profession that should be keeping you from dying. A more cynical interpretation would be that this is spot on since many doctors give bad advice, take ill advised chances, and charge way too much. Just depends on your experience on how accurate this symbol is.

3. Starbucks logo – Siren that lures you in and kills you.


Even though it is probably sitting on their desk or in their trashcan right now, few people ever stop to look at the Starbucks logo. When the Seattle based company first started, they wanted to illustrate their ties to the community and their city. At the time, Seattle was a major fishing hub (still is) and so some idiot suggested they use a mermaid. Unfortunately, the mermaid is based off of the myth of the sea sirens. Most notably found in Homer’s The Odyssey, these beautiful women would sing tantalizing harmonies, luring sailors closer and closer until they were dashed upon the rocks. The reasoning for this was never explained. Maybe the sirens would eat the sailors or maybe they were just jerks. But the connotation of attracting innocent people with a tempting product only to take advantage of them and end the relationship only with death might be an apt correlation to the coffee company.

2. Pentacle = Not satanic, actually the opposite


You may think of satanic rituals when you see a pentacle but actually, it dates back to at least 3500 years before Christ. It is one of the oldest symbols in existence and also one of the most misunderstood. It was originally the sign of the heroic dairy farmer. Not really. But its use has been found in many ancient cultures including India, China, Greece, Egypt, Babylon, and the Mayans of Central America. It has been the sign for the five elements, the five wounds of Christ, the five books of Judaism, and a goat’s head (not a joke). So next time you see a pentagram, you could be walking into a church or a sacrificial worship. Or both.

1. Cross


Like so, so many aspects of the religion, the Christian cross was stolen from a previous religion. Originally it was the sign of the pagan sun god. But Roman emperor Constantine, who was pretty full of himself and even executed his own mother because she wouldn’t convert, decided to associate it with the device on which his people killed/martyred the savior and namesake of Christianity. Why somebody would want a symbol of death to be a symbol of their religion is unknown but it is and can be seen around the necks of Sunday worshippers around the globe.

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