Gravestone Symbols

What do those symbols on gravestones mean?

Most every paranormal investigator has spent time in a cemetery doing some form of investigation.  Have you ever noticed the various symbols that are found on headstones?  They all have a traditional meaning.  We have put together a list of the more common symbols found on grave markers for your reference.


Anchor – seafaring profession; Hope; wrapped in vines it represents firm Christian faith.

Angel – Flying it would mean rebirth or resurrection; Trumpeting means resurrection; Weeping symbolizes grief and mourning. An angel is the messenger between god and man.

Ankh – Reincarnation, peace, eternal life.

Arches – Victory in death.

Arrow – Mortality; martyrdom.


Bible – Wisdom; divine word of God; personal accomplishment. Two holy books on a Mormon grave indicates the Bible and Book of Mormon. Three holy books on a Mormon grave indicates the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine & Convenants.

Bird – Eternal life. If it’s flying, it stands for eternal life.

Bouquets of Flowers – Mourning of life; renewal of life; condolences; grief; sorrow.

Broken Column – Loss of the head of a family; end of life; sorrow; a life cut short; the eventual ruin or decomposition of us all.

Broken Ring – Family circle severed.

Buds or Rosebuds – Mourning of life; the renewal of life.

Bugles – Resurrection; the military.

Butterfly – Short lived; an early death.


Caduceus – (Two snakes entwined around a staff) The symbol of a physician or a healer.

Candle being snuffed – Time; mortality.

Chain links (3) – The divine trinity.

Cherub – Angelic; young child.

Coffin, Father Time, Picks and Shovels – Mortality.

Columns – Heavenly entrance.

Corn – Ripe old age.

Crescent Moon – Virginity; rebirth; victory.

Cross – Emblem of faith.

Crossed Swords – High-ranking military person.

Crown – Glory of life after death; righteousness.

Cup or Chalice – The Sacraments.


Door – Heavenly entrance.

Dove – Purity; devotion; innocence; gentleness; peace; the holy ghost.

Dragon – Imperial power; universe; chaos.

Draped Urn – Sorrow; mourning.

Drapes – Mourning; mortality.


Eye of God – God sees all.


Flame or Light – Life; resurrection.

Flower – Fragility of life; with a severed stem it represents a shortened life.

Flying Birds– Flight of the soul.

Freemason Symbols:

  • Laurel Leaves and Branches – represent special achievement and distinction.
  • The Square – represents morality.
  • Chain Links – are the Goodfellows organization symbol.
  • Eastern Star – a member of a Freemason group for women.

Fruits – Eternal plenty.

Full-blown Rose – Prime of life.


Garland – Victory in death.

Grim Reaper – Death personified.

Gun – Served in the Military


Hands Pointing Up – pathway to heaven; heavenly reward.

Hands Clasped – the goodbyes said at death.

Hand of God Chopping – Sudden death.

Handshake – Farewell; friendship; unity; partnership.

Hand on the Neck – Sacrifice.

Hand and Eye – Clairvoyance.

Hands Praying – Prayer; hope for the afterlife.

Hands Holding – Marriage, farewell.

Harp – Praise to the maker.

Heart – Love; love of god; seat of the soul; mortality.

Horns – The resurrection.

Horse – love of horses; horseback riding.

Hourglass – The swift passing of time. If flying- time flies, short life.

Hummingbird – Wisdom; joy; happiness.


IHS – Found often on Celtic crosses, IHS is taken from the Greek “in hoc salus” which literally means “there is safety in this”. In the Middle Ages, this was incorrectly interpreted as meaning “Jesus Hominum Salvatore” or “Jesus Savior of Mankind”, since the first three letters in the Greek spelling of Jesus are IHS.

Imps – Mortality.

Inverted Torch – Extinction of life; death.

Ivy – Immortality, Friendship, Faithfulness.


Lamb – Innocence; purity; gentleness; sacrifice; most often found on the graves of children or stillborn babies.

Laurel Branch and Leaves – Special achievement, distinction; success; heroism.

Lily or Lily of the Valley – Virgin; innocence; purity; resurrection.

Leaves – regeneration; immortality; friendship.

Lion – Courage.

Lotus – Purity; resurrection; evolution; potential.

Lyre – Harmony and heavenly accord; music and song in praise of god.


Morning Glory – Beginning of life.


Oak Leaves or Acorn – Maturity; ripe old age.

Open Book or Bible – Deceased teacher or minister.


Pall – Mortality

Palm Tree or Branch – Victory; rejoicing; righteousness; resurrection; martyrdom.

Pick – Death; Mortality.

Pine Cones – Full long life with children.

Poppy – Sleep.

Portals – Passageway to eternal life.

Pyramid – Eternal life, resurrection


Rod or Staff – Comfort for the bereaved.

Rooster – Awakening; resurrection.

Rose – Completion; brevity of earthly existence; perfection.


Scythe – Death; the divine harvest.

Seashell – Resurrection; life everlasting; life’s pilgrimage.

Sextant – Navigator; explorer.

Sheaf of Wheat – Ripe for the harvest; divine harvest.

Ship – Hope; seafaring profession; faith will carry you through life.

Scimitar and Star – Divine presence; enlightenment; human aspiration.

Skull and Urn – Mortality.

Skull with Crossed Bones – Death.

Skeleton – Life’s brevity.

Snake Swallowing Tail – Everlasting life in heaven.

Spade – Mortality; death.

Stars and Stripes around an Eagle – Eternal vigilance; Liberty.

Sun – Rising means renewed life; Shining means life everlasting; Setting means death.


Thistle – Scottish descent.

Thistles – Remembrance.

Tomb – Mortality.

Torch – Inverted it represents death and a life cut short. Right side up it represents life, truth, intelligence and regeneration.

Tree – Life.

Tree Trunk – Brevity of life.

Tree Trunk Leaning – Short interrupted life.

Tree Stump – Life interrupted.

Tree Stump with Ivy – Head of family; immortality.

Tree Sprouting – Life everlasting.

Trumpets – Heralds of the resurrection.


Urn – Immortality

Urn with Blaze – Undying friendship.

Urn with Wreath or Crepe – Mourning.


Weeping Willow Tree – Perpetual mourning; grief; Nature’s lament.

Wheat – The divine harvest; reap what we sow.

Willows – Earthly sorrow.

Winged Face – Effigy of the deceased soul; the soul in flight.

Winged Skull – Flight of the soul from mortal man.

Winged Sun Disk – Life giving power of the sun; spiritual attributes of the heavens.

Woman with Anchor – Masonic symbol of hope.

Wreath – Victory.

Wreath on Skull – Victory of death over life.

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