Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Symbols Used For Ethnic Groups

On the Ethnicity Online website, we have used symbols to represent each of the ethnic groups. This page gives a brief explanation of the origins and meanings of some of these symbols.

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  • The sun represents the idea that everyone 'under the sun' is equal and entitled to equality in their healthcare, personal interactions and so on.
  • The bright colours – red and orange – are often found in Asian cultures as holy colours, or colours that are thought to be pleasing to the gods. In paganism and some branches of Christianity, blood is a ritually significant fluid (the Blood of Christ, pagan sacrifice) and so red is a colour rich in symbolism.

Buddhism

8 spoked wheel

  • The eight-spoked wheel is one of the most common symbols used to represent Buddhism. It is properly called the Dharmachakra or Wheel of Truth/Law.
  • The wheel can be said to represent many things, depending on what lesson is to be learnt from the discussion. Most often it is said to represent the turning wheel of life and fortunes, where nothing remains the same for long, but is part of a bigger cycle.
  • Sometimes the wheel is shown with three different colours swirling in the centre of it; these then represent the Buddha himself, the Sangha and Dharma.
  • The hub may represent the discipline of Buddhist practices, the spokes the wisdom that needs to be sought and that grows from the application of rigorous discipline, and the rim is the concentration that binds it all together.
  • Buddhism is rich in symbols because they were often used to teach complex arguments to illiterate communities. Lotus flowers, deer, bodhi trees and even the Buddha himself are also common symbols and emblems used in Buddhist teaching and life.

More information about Buddhism symbols

Christianity

Christianity cross

  • The Christian cross is a familiar religious symbol of Christianity. Its significance lies in the belief that Jesus Christ was executed on a large wooden cross.
  • Although the cross is often depicted in different shapes, sizes and styles, the traditional form of the Christian cross (shown here) is known as the Latin cross. It has equal arms and a longer foot.
  • The cross may be shown either empty or with the body of Christ nailed to it; in the latter case, it is typically called a crucifix.

Hinduism

ohm

  • The symbol Om, Ohm or Aum is believed to be the sound that was spoken to create the universe and life.
  • It is made up of three separate sounds, and saying these together makes Om the ultimate mantra.
  • Saying the three sounds together in the right way helps to awaken the inner self, the atman, which is a spark from the divine Brahman. When said in this way, Om is called Pranava, the sacred sound (sacred humming).
  • It is the representation of Brahman, who is unreachable and unknowable. By using the symbol (or saying the word), Hindus can approach Brahman in both the mystical and earth-bound planes.
  • The symbol has huge significance in Hindu life, appearing everywhere – on temples, on amulets worn by almost everyone and even painted onto the tongue of newborns using honey, to welcome them into life.

More information about Hindu symbols

Islam

chand sitara

  • The adoption of the crescent moon (with or without a star) is a relatively modern tradition. In Mohammad’s time, Muslims did not have a collective symbol as such, usually carrying either the flags of their tribe, or a simple coloured flag.
  • It is thought that the crescent may have been adopted by Muslims after they secured Istanbul (Constantinople) in the 1400’s. The city used the crescent moon as their flag, and this was then taken by the invading Muslim force as a token of Allah’s approval.
  • Since then, the symbol has been used in the flags of many nations that are either officially Muslim (e.g. Turkey and Pakistan) or have a large Muslim population.
  • The use of the star has been explained as a representation of the five pillars of Islam; however, not every country uses a star in its flag, and not all stars used are five-pointed.
  • The first sight of a crescent moon is used as the traditional start point for many celebrations and holidays in Islam, such as the official start of Ramadan. It may be that this has reinforced its use as a symbol for all Islam.
  • The symbol (above) that is generally used to represent Islam is called the Chand Sitara.

More information about Islamic symbols

Judaism

star of david

  • As with the use of the crescent moon in Islam, the use of the six-pointed Star of David in Judaism is a relatively new phenomenon. It does not appear at all in early literature.
  • The correct name for the symbol is the Magen David. It is thought that it may be a symbol of the House of David – however, there is little historical evidence to support this.
  • The symbol came into popular usage and became associated in the general public’s mind with Judaism during the 17th century. At this point synagogues began to use it on the outside of their buildings to identify them.
  • The early Zionist movement adopted the symbol in the late 19th century, and it was later used as the flag for the new state of Israel.
  • Popular folklore has explained the symbol in many ways; one triangle reaches upwards towards G-d, the other downwards to reality; the two triangles are interwoven just as the Jewish peoples are; the six points represent G-d’s rule over the Universe in all six directions (up, down, north, south, east and west). However, there is no consensus on a historical explanation for the use of this symbol.


More information about the Star of David

Sikhism

khandha

  • The emblem of Sikhism is called the Khanda, and is made up of three separate elements that represent Sikh beliefs.
  • It is named after the double-edged sword (a Khanda) that runs down the centre of the symbol. This represents the Supreme Truth of God, and the ability of Divinity and divine knowledge to cut through anything, separating Truth from Falsehood.
  • The central Khanda is surrounded by a circle called a Chakra (Chakar). As a circle has no beginning and no end, this represents the unity and eternity of God. It can also be said to represent the circle of the Khalsa and the fact that they have to live within the limits of God’s laws.
  • The third element is the two swords (Kirpan), crossed over at the base of the emblem. These are named peeri and meeri after the swords of one of the Gurus (Guru Hargobind), and represent spiritual power and political power, respectively. They emphasize the equal emphasis that a Sikh must place on spiritual aspirations as well as obligations to society.

More information about Sikh symbols

 

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