"Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? -- planting rue?"
-- "No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
'It cannot hurt her now,' he said,
'That I should not be true.'"

"Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?"
-- "Ah, no: they sit and think, 'What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death's gin.'"

"But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? -- prodding sly?"
-- "Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.

"Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say -- since I have not guessed!"
-- "O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?"

"Ah yes! You dig upon my grave...
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog's fidelity!"

"Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place." 

~~ Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928

Gravestone Symbolism

This excellent piece on gravestone symbolism was created by Beth Santore of the paranormal group Grave Addiction, based in Ohio.

Agnus Dei Agnus Dei Represents the Lamb of God.
Alpha and 
Omega Alpha and Omega First and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Symbolizes the beginning and the end.
legion American Legion Found on graves of people who were American Legion members, an organization for veterans.
anchor Anchor Hope or eternal life. Often on sailors' graves. Anchors are also a Masonic symbol for well-grounded hope, therefore they are often found on Masons' graves.
Angel Angel A guide to heaven.

Saint Matthew, one of the four evangelists, was often represented as a winged man.
Ankh Ankh An Egyptian symbol of eternal life.
Anvil Anvil Symbolizes the creation or forging of the universe. Also found on blacksmiths' graves.
AOUW A.O.U.W. Ancient Order of United Workmen, a fraternal benefit society. Click here for more information (offsite link).
apples Apple Apples represent salvation, sometimes sin.
Arch Arch The passage to heaven.
arrow Arrow Arrows symbolize mortality and martyrdom.
artillery Artillery Artillery, such as cannons, on a gravestone usually represents military service.
Bahai Baha'i Symbol of the Baha'i Faith, a monotheistic religion. For more information, please visit their official website.
beehive Beehive Often used by the Freemasons. It symbolizes faith, education, and domestic virtues.
bell Bell Often symbolizes a church bell, and therefore religion.
Bible Bible or Book Often used on the gravestones of ministers or clergymen. However, it is sometimes found on gravestones of very devoted religious people also. Books may also represent a person's good deeds and accomplishments being recorded in the book of life.
bird Bird Peace, messenger of God. The most common birds found on gravestones are doves.
bones Bones Death, decay.
boat Boat A voyage; crossing over to the other side.
Elks B.P.O.E. with Elk B.P.O.E. stands for Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, a fraternal organization.
broken bud Broken Bud or Branch Someone who died an untimely or premature death. Usually seen on a younger person's gravestone.
broken chain 
link Broken Chain Link Symbolizes a loss in the family.
wheel Broken Wheel Symbolizes the end of life; a break in the circle or wheel of life.
BRT BRT with a Train Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. A fraternal organization for men who worked as trainmen.
Butterfly Butterfly Symbolizes resurrection, and also the soul leaving the body/flesh.
calla lily Calla Lily Flower that represents beauty.
Legion The Canadian Legion of British Empire Service League A Canadian organization formed in the 1920's for war veterans and their dependants. Usually seen with a maple leaf.
plant Century Plant Represents immortality; everlasting life.
circle Circle Eternal life - no beginning, no end.
hands Clasped Hands Farewell to earthly existence. Also unity. Deborah, a website visitor, told me that in the Native American culture clasped hands represent a Delaware grave.
clock Clock Mortality, death; the passage of time.
coffin Coffin Symbolizes mortality and death.
Hands Cohanim Hands Hands with thumbs (and sometimes forefingers) joined. This is a Jewish symbol that represents members of the priestly tribe of Aaron.
column Colonial Daughters of the 17th Century An organization for women who descended from an ancestor who rendered service in the Colonial wars from 1607 to 1699.
column Column Mortality. A draped or broken column represents the break in earthly to heavenly life. The draped arch also symbolizes mourning.
corn Corn Rebirth, fertility.
cornucopia Cornucopia Also known as the "Horn of Plenty." Symbolizes an abundant, fruitful life. Also a symbol of the harvest, which in turn symbolizes the end of life.
crooks Crooks Shepherds crooks, usually found on graves of Independent Order of Odd Fellows members (a fraternal organization). Symbolizes the opening of earth to the heavens.
cross Cross A cross represents Christianity.
crown Crown Victory or triumph over death.
crown Crown and Cross Symbolizes both victory and Christianity. Also, this symbol sometimes denotes a member of the York Rite Masons.
daisy Daisy Symbolizes innocence; usually found on graves of young children.
D.A.R. D.A.R. Daughters of the American Revolution, a non-profit women's organization for the descendants of American Revolutionary War veterans.
dog Dog Loyalty, fidelity, watchfulness, and vigilance.
drapery Drapery Mourning.
eagle Eagle Eagles are often seen on gravestones of Civil War veterans.

Saint John, one of the four evangelists, was often represented as an eagle.
eagle Eagle, Double-headed A Masonic symbol, part of the Scottish Rite. It symbolizes the 32nd degree in this Rite.
Order of Red Men Eagle with FFC Symbol of the Improved Order of Red Men, a patriotic society. Their motto is Freedom, Friendship, and Charity.
Fraternal Order
 of Eagles Eagle with FOE Symbol of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a fraternal organization.
Improved Order
 of Red Men Eagle with TOTE Symbol of the Improved Order of Red Men, a patriotic society. TOTE = Totem of the Eagle.
lily Easter Lily Purity, Chastity.
eucharist Eucharist The body and blood of Christ. Usually found on graves of priests and nuns.
eye Eye Usually found in a triangle or within a sunburst. This is a masonic symbol.
Foresters of 
America F of A Foresters of America, a fraternal society founded in 1895 that provided life and disability insurance to its members. Usually contains an eagle, crossed flags, and a deer. Their motto was Liberty, Unity, Benevolence, and Concord.
fallen tree Fallen Tree Mortality, Death.
FATAL F.A.T.A.L. (with five-pointed star) Motto of the Order of the Eastern Star; stands for "Fairest Among Thousands, Altogether Lovely."
statue Father Time and the Weeping Virgin Masonic carving. The carving consists of a weeping virgin holding a sprig of acacia in one hand, and an urn in the other hand. A broken column is in front of her. Father Time is behind her, attempting to untangle the ringlets of her hair. It symbolizes that time, patience, and perseverance will accomplish all things.
Knights of
 Pythias FCB with Shield and Suit of Armor Symbol of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization. FCB stands for Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence.
F.C.L. F.C.L. Motto of the Women's Relief Corp. Stands for "Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty."
fern Fern Humility and sincerity.
fish Fish Symbolizes Christianity.
flag Flag Usually found on veterans' graves.
flame Flame or Torch Eternity. An upside down torch represents the end of life.
FLT FLT in Chain Links A symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization. Stands for Friendship, Love, and Truth.
GAR GAR Grand Army of the Republic. A fraternal organization for men who fought and were honorably discharged from the Union Army during the Civil War.
garland Garland Victory in death.
gate Gate Passage from earth to heaven.
grapes Grapes Blood of Christ.

Greek Catholic Cross Also Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox. They have three bars that symbolize the cross Christ was crucified on:
 *Top Bar - Title Board
 *Middle Bar - Board on which the Lord's hands were nailed
 *Bottom Bar - The footrest
For more information, please click here (offsite link, will open in new window).

Derek R., a website visitor, sent me the following information about this symbol:
In Russia, the slanted bottom section represents St Andrew's cross. Often there are crosses with another straight cross above the slanted cross (total of three straight and one slanted) that represents St Peter's cross.
hammer Hammer A hammer symbolizes the power of creation. It can also represent the person's profession.
hand holding
 heart Hand Holding Heart The hand holding a heart is a symbol used by the I.O.O.F (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) and Masons, both fraternal organizations. It symbolizes charity.
finger Hand Pointing Up Hand pointing up to heaven.
finger Hand Pointing Down The hand of God descending from heaven.
Hand writing Hand writing Writing names in the book of life. Can also be found on writers' graves.
praying hands Hands Praying Pious devotion.
reaching Hands Reaching Usually the hand of God reaching down from the heavens, and the hand of the deceased reaching up to grab it in greeting.
harp Harp A harp symbolizes praise to God. They are often carved with a broken string, representing a break in mortal life.
heart Heart Person's spirit or soul. Sometimes the sacred heart of Christ.
Letters Hebrew Words Hebrew words for "Here Lies."
horse Horse Death. White horses represent good, while black horses represent evil.
hourglass Hourglass Passage of time.
hummingbird Hummingbird Often found on infants' gravestones. Usually just decorative.

IHS Sometimes looks like a dollar sign. IHS stands for the first three letters of Jesus' name in the Greek alphabet.

Here's another meaning for IHS, contributed by Jim Miller:
This symbol also stands for "in hoc signo", Latin for "by this sign we conquer", referring to the cross. It is actually more involved than that, and apparently also has some fraternal applications.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for this phrase:
IOM I.O.M. Independent Order of Mechanics. Fraternal organization formed in 1868. Their symbols include Jacob's Ladder and an ark.
ivy Ivy Friendship.
Jr. OUAM Jr. OUAM The Junior Order of United American Mechanics. It is the oldest fraternal order that is still active in the United States. It was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1853. For more information about this organization please see the official website.
Keystone Keystone with letters HTWSSTKS The Masonic Keystone, which is the Masonic mark of an Ancient Grand Master. HTWSSTKS stands for "Hiram The Widow's Son Sent To King Solomon."
knot Knot A tied knot symbolizes marriage and unity.
K of C K of C Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization for Catholic men.
KOTM KOTM Symbol of the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal organization.
L.A. to 
B.R.T. L.A. to B.R.T. Symbol of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
lamb Lamb Lambs are often seen on children's gravestones. A lamb represents innocence.
lamp Lamp Wisdom, faithfulness.
laurel Laurel Laurel represents the "evergreen" memory of the deceased.
lily of the
 valley Lily of the Valley Purity, innocence, virginity.
lion Lion Strength.
Lotus Lotus Symbolizes creation and rebirth. Often seen on gravestones and mausoleums with an Egyptian architecture style.
lyre Lyre Often have a broken string, symbolizing the end of life. Lyres are usually found on the graves of musicians.
Time Man with Hourglass and Sickle Father Time. An old man with a beard, holding a hourglass and/or sickle.
Menorah Menorah A menorah, which is a candelabra with seven branches, is a Jewish symbol. It usually marks the grave of a righteous woman.
moon Moon Rebirth. A crescent moon and star symbol like the one pictured here is also a symbol of Islam.
moon Moon with Seven Stars, the letter "R", and a dove Symbolizes a member of the Daughters of Rebekah, the female auxiliary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
glory Morning Glory Symbolizes the Resurrection; also beauty, youth, and love.
mortar and 
pestle Mortar and Pestle Usually found on the gravestones of pharmacists, and sometimes doctors.
music Music Usually found on the graves of musicians. The music can be from a song the musician wrote, or it could be the deceased person's favorite hymn.
MWA MWA MWA stands for Modern Woodmen of America. This was the original name for the Woodmen of the World organization.
oak leaf Oak Leaf Longevity (long life). Deborah, a website visitor, told me that in the Native American culture an oak leaf represents an Algonquian grave.
OES OES, 5-Pointed Star Order of the Eastern Star, a fraternal organization for women.
O.S.C. O.S.C. Order of Scottish Clans. A fraternal and benevolent society that was founded in 1878. They provided life and disability insurance to Scottish immigrants and their descendants. They became a part of the Independent Order of Foresters in 1971.
owl Owl Wisdom, watchfulness.
Ox Ox Patience, strength.
Grange P of H Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the National Grange. An agricultural organization.
palette Palette and Brushes Usally found on artists' gravestones.
palm tree Palm Tree or Frond Victory over death.
Moose P.A.P. with Moose Loyal Order of Moose (LOOM), a fraternal organization. P.A.P. stands for their motto: Purity, Aid, and Progress.
flower Passion Flower Symbolizes Christ's passion.
piano Piano Most likely symbolizes someone who was fond of playing the piano.
pitcher Pitcher Often found on graves of prohibitionists. Represents virtue and control.

If it is found on a Jewish grave, it symbolizes a Levite, a person who was responsible for cleaning the hands of the Temple Priest.
PLEF PLEF, sometimes with crown and shield Symbol of the Pythian Sisters, a fraternal organization for women. The letters PLEF stand for their motto: Purity, Love, Equality, and Fidelity.
Plow Plow A plow symbolizes the harvest; the reaping of life.
poppy Poppy Poppies symbolize eternal sleep.
portrait Portrait Usually a portrait of the deceased.
rabbit Rabbit Humility, gentleness, self-sacrifice.
rifle Rifle Usually found on the graves of military members and hunters.
Rooster Rooster Symbolizes an awakening, or calling attention to the person's death. It also symbolizes vigilance.
Rosary Rosary Almost always found on Catholic gravestones. Symbolizes devotion to Mary and constant prayer for the deceased person.
rose Rose Symbolizes beauty.
Aldemar Saint Aldemar Commandery A Knights Templar organization. Masonic.
SAR S.A.R. Sons of the American Revolution, a fraternal society that was organized in 1899 for male descendants of American Revolutionary War veterans.
scales Scales Often marks the grave of someone who was in the legal profession. Sometimes seen with a statue of Saint Michael, which symbolizes his duty of weighing the souls of the departed.
Scarab Scarab An Egyptian symbol of spontaneous creation. Also symbolizes the renewal of life.
scroll Scroll Symbolizes the scriptures.
Seal of 
Ohio Seal of Ohio Ohio's state seal.
shell Shell Baptism or rebirth.
Shih Tzu of
 Fo Shih Tzu of Fo Guardians of Buddah.
ship Ship Ships are usually found on the graves of sailors. Many times they are found on graves of people who died at sea. They sometimes symbolize Noah's Ark, the ship that weathered the storm against all overwhelming odds.
shoes Shoes Empty shoes symbolize the loss of a child. Usually one shoe is overturned.
sickle Sickle Reaping of life.
skull Skull Death and mortality. A winged skull symbolizes the ascension into heaven.
and crossbones Skull and Crossbones Mortality, Death.
child Sleeping Child A sleeping child is a Victorian symbol for death.
snake Snake, hooped Symbolizes eternal life - no beginning, no end.
snake Staff entwined by two snakes A caduceus, which is a short herald's staff entwined by two snakes (serpents) in the form of a double helix. Symbolizes someone who worked in the medical profession.
snake Snake wrapped on a cross with "In Hoc Signo Vinces" The Masonic brazen serpent, a symbol of the 25th Degree Masons.
on horse

Soldier on Horse A soldier's grave. If the horse has both front legs in the air, the person probably died in battle. If only one leg is raised, the person probably died as a result of wounds. And if the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person probably died of natural causes.

Stacey, a website visitor, contributed additional information regarding this symbol:
Traditionally, in statuary, when a figure is seen atop a horse in memorial, there are the three meanings: two or more feet raised - death in battle. One leg raised fully off the ground - death from wounds suffered in battle. Standing square or at rest - death of natural causes. This is typically the accepted formula for any equine statue/carving offered in memory of a deceased.
sphinx Sphinx Guardian; represents strength and protection.
Mason Square and Compass Usually have the letter "G" in the middle. Found on gravestones belonging to members of the Freemasons (Masons).
star Star A five-pointed star represents the Star of Bethlehem.
A six-pointed star represents creation.
Shrine of Jerusalem Star, Cross, and Shepherd's Crook Symbol of the White Shrine of Jerusalem. Often seen with the phrase "In Hoc Signo Spes Mea," which translates to "In this Sign (the Cross) is my hope." A society for women who are related to (through birth, marriage, or legal adoption) to a Master Mason in good standing. Founded in 1894.
Star of 
David Star of David Divine Protection.
sun Sun A sun symbolizes the soul rising to heaven.
sunburst Sunburst with star and cross, Monstrat Viam. Symbol of the First Corps of Cadets, now the 211th Military Police Battalion. "Monstrat Viam" is Latin for "It Points the Way."
sunflower Sunflower Devotion to God.
SV SV Sons of Veterans of the United States of America, a group formed in 1881. They changed their name to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War in 1925.
swords Sword Swords represent martyrdom. Crossed swords are often seen on the gravestones of veterans, especially officers.
Shriners Sword, Crescent, and Sphinx Symbol of the Shriners (The Imperial Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine). The group was founded in 1872, and can be joined once the member has become a Master Mason.
tablets Tablets Usually two tablets joined. This symbolizes the Ten Commandments.
tent Tent A symbol used by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The tent symbolizes their encampments, which are the three highest degrees attainable before reaching the highest branch.
thistle Thistle Thistles represent earthly sorrow. Also, the thorns on a thistle symbolize the crown of thorns and the Passion of Christ. In addition, it is found on many Scottish gravestones.
tree trunk Tree Trunk/Stump Usually marks the graves of Woodmen of the World members. Also, they usually contain other symbols such as anchors, lilies, vines, etc. Broken braches on the tree symbolize a life cut short.
York Rite Triangle with square, spade, and keys Symbolizes the York Rite of Masonry.
Sons of 
Temperance Triangle with a star in the center Symbol of the Order of the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal organization that promoted the temperance movement (abstinence and prohibition of alcohol). Usually seen with their motto: Love, Purity, Fidelity.
RAM Triangle with three T's joined at base Symbol of the Royal Arch Masons (RAM). Click here for more information about this fraternal organization.
tulip Tulip Symbolizes love and passion.
Druids U.O.A. Druids United Order of Ancient Druids, a fraternal organization.
urn Urn The soul.
UVL UVL Union Veterans League, an organization for Union Civil War veterans.
vacant chair Vacant Chair Usually symbolizes the death of a child.
Veteran of
 the Cross Veteran of the Cross A veteran member of the Methodist Church.
WBA WBA Woman's Benefit Association, a club for women that provided life insurance. Part of the Order of the Maccabees.
WC WC Woodmen Circle, the female auxiliary to the Woodmen of the World.
weeping woman Weeping Woman Mourning, sorrow.
wheat Wheat A sheaf of wheat represents harvest, usually found on older peoples' gravestones.

Willow Tree Sadness or mourning. Deborah, a website visitor, told me that in the Native American culture a willow tree represents an Iroquois grave.

In May 2008, Peggy Wang sent me some additional information regarding the weeping willow symbol:
The first half of the 19th century was quite interested in the Greeks and Romans because they were republics and we were a new democracy. There was a great interest in Greek architecture during that time as well, up till around middle of that century. So naturally, gravestones reflected this. The urn and willow, as you probably know, was very popular. The urn was used by Greeks to keep the ashes of the cremated, but why the willow? Well, it was a symbol of the Underworld goddesses, mostly notably Persephone. Also, Orpheus, when he went to the Underworld, brought along a willow branch. This apparently helped him get his gift of speech because, as you might know, Orpheus was a famous poet.
lion Winged Lion Represents Saint Mark, one of the four evangelists.
winged ox Winged Ox Represents Saint Luke, one of the four evangelists.
Solar Disk

Winged Solar Disk An Egyptian symbol that represents the journey of the sun and the spiritual attributes of the heavens.

Derek R., a website visitor, sent me the following information about this symbol:
This is a Zoroastrian symbol symbolizing many things. As a whole, it symbolizes the soul without physical form. It is also a symbol of divine power. If there is a human figure rising out of the disk, it represents either god or the person who died. The human figure is usually aged indicating wisdom. The three rows of feathers represent good words, good thoughts, and good deeds. If there is a tail, it will have three rows representing bad deeds, bad thoughts and bad words positioned underneath symbolizing rising above these things. If there are two streamers, feet, or snakes, they represent the spirit of good and the spirit of evil with the human soul in the middle constantly having to choose between the two.
Rock of Ages Woman Clinging to Cross Usually found with the verse "Rock of Ages cleft for me" or "Simply to the cross I cling." Symbolizes faith; A person or soul who is lost in the sea of sin, whose only hope is to cling to Christ's cross (the Rock of Ages).
Hope Woman Holding Anchor Represents hope.
Faith Woman Holding Cross Represents faith.
Woodmen of 
the World Woodmen of the World Seen on the gravestones of Woodmen of the World members, a fraternal organization.
W.R.C. W.R.C. Women's Relief Corp. It is the female auxiliary for the Grand Army of the Republic.
wreath Wreath Victory in death.
XP XP, overlapped The Chi-Rho, one of the oldest Christian symbols. XP are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ.
reprinted with permission, graveaddiction.com, copyright 2012




back  to Decoding Graveyard Symbolism


About Grave Addiction:
Visit this excellent site at www.graveaddiction.com

Beth writes:  "This is a list of symbols I have seen on gravestones while cemetery exploring. More symbols and explanations will be added over time.   **Please note - all the photos below were taken by me. If you'd like to know which cemetery they were taken at, please e-mail me."

Part 1: Decoding Graveyard Symbolism


copyright 2012

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