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Nature Symbols, Mythology & Human Psychology

Nature symbols have powerful impacts on the human psyche. Nature artwork has been proven in scientific studies to foster stress recovery by eliciting positive responses in blood pressure and muscle tension. Nature art speeds recovery, lowers heart rates and assists in emotional and psychological wellness.

Nature symbols help to create comforting and peaceful interiors for homes and offices. In many cultures, landscapes are endowed with religious and philosophical meaning. For example, mountains are often symbols or strength, endurance and spirituality.

Many cultures have developed systems for creating optimal interior environments using nature symbols. One recognized system is Vastu, the Hindu science of architecture and interior design. This article also takes a look at nature symbols relate to the principles in feng shui.


Sun & Moon: Original Nature Symbols

The impact of sun and moon art is universal: these are the most prominent nature symbols in our worlds. Images of the sun and moon have graced interior environments since the time of the cave dwellers. The sun and moon have been personified extensively, creating a pantheon of sun and moon gods around the world. Each have their own mythology and unique creation stories. 

The symbol of the sun brings hope, cheerfulness and optimism. The sun is one of the first things children draw spontaneously. The sun is associated with positivity, clarity, confidence and power. The sun is generally related to masculine energy, growth and higher consciousness.

The symbol of the moon is associated with mystery and the hidden side of life. The moon is viewed as a force that establishes a rhythm due to its changing phases. There are numerous moon deities. The moon has sometimes been viewed as masculine though more often it has feminine associations. Moon goddesses sometimes represent only one phase of the moon.

The moon is closely associated with human emotions and the water element. Dreams of the moon are typically related to intuition or that which is hidden. This can be a positive association such as hidden talents. The moon can also represent anything which has a strong pull, reflected in the way that the moon affect ocean tides. For a deeper dive into the significance of these prominent nature symbols, see the article Sun & Moon Art: History, Symbolism and Religions.

Sun and Moon Art Table of Contents

The Galaxy: Ultimate Nature Symbol

Symbols of the galaxy represent freedom, expansiveness and endless vistas. These are positive values that can be a daily source of inspiration. Galaxy art dramatically shifts naturalistic perspective into infinite possibilities.

Stars, comets and constellations have been used as powerful symbols as far back in history as images have been created. Early civilizations marked time by the movement of the signs in the sky. The importance of this is evidenced by the many megalithic sites of large stone configurations all over the earth.

We are endlessly fascinated by the stars. Common idioms indicate how much we value the lights of our night sky. A person who is successful in any endeavor is a “star” as well as celebrities of all kinds. Stars have marked the birth of great leaders and the shifting of large epochs. 

The galaxy is the largest nature symbol imaginable, extending our mental, spiritual and psychological reach into the vastness of space. More about the evolution of galaxy symbols and art can be found in Galaxy Art: Creating Space with Design Psychology.

Mermaids in Myths and Legends

Mermaids have figured in myths and legends for just about forever! They have been associated with sea goddesses including Calypso, Amphritrites, Thethys and Ran (Norse). They are also associated with love goddesses like Aphrodite and Venus. According to Beatrice Phillpotts in her book Mermaids, these mythical creatures beckon to the adventurous and promise both risk and forbidden desires.

Mermaids symbolize love, beauty, mystery, allure, sensuality, untamed femininity, persuasion and perception. Mermaids are often shown holding a comb made of fish bone. The fish bone is an ancient nautical symbol of control over the sea and nature. Other mermaids are shown holding a mirror, a symbol of their somewhat narcissistic personalities.

Mermaids in Ancient Cultures

Mermaids appear in every culture on earth. The first recorded half-fish, half-human creature is Oannes, a Babylonian God from the 4th century BC.  In Germany mermaids are called Meriminni, in Iceland they are Marmenill, in Holland they are Maremind, in Ireland they are Merow and so forth. Mermaids also figure in eastern lore in both India and China.

Mermaids are elusive, only appearing in the light of moon between dawn and dusk and only to the true of heart. These are magical times when sight and perception are malleable.

Sirens are powerful sea-dwelling mermaids that are both fascinating and dangerous. Sirens figure in Greek mythology as beguiling creatures with voices so sweet that they lure sailors into destroying their ships upon the shore or rocks. They are said to entice mortal lovers to follow them beneath the sea.

Mermaids in Nature and Culture

Mermaids can also be likened to the undines, an elemental spirit said to inhabit all types of water and to ensoul this aspect of nature. Undines are one of four types of elementals. The others are the fiery salamanders (fire elementals), sylphs (wind elementals), and gnomes (earth elementals).

Some historians believe that mermaids are the fictionalized versions of manatees. In fact, the scientific name for manatees is Sirenia. Manatees are large, slow-moving sea cows with little real resemblance to the fabled mermaids. Christopher Columbus is credited with the first modern sighting of a manatee during his 1492 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Mermaids and mermen continue to figure in modern literature and movies, including the lake-dwelling merpeople in the Harry Potter series and Disney’s Little Mermaid. In addition, mermaids call to us from almost every corner in urban America as the emblem of Starbucks.

A Walk in the Forest by Kathleen Karlsen

Forest Walk by Kathleen Karlsen
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The Symbolism of Forests

Forests have deep-rooted symbolic meaning in virtually every culture on earth. They are viewed as the abode of the nature spirits, especially pixies, trolls and wood elves. Furthermore, they have paradoxical significance: they are both a refuge from danger as well as a source of dangerous wild animals including bears, wolves and mountain lions.

Each tree, in turn, has its own symbolic meaning. For example, oak trees are symbols of strength and endurance. Cedar trees represent healing, cleansing and protection. Apple trees are symbolic of magic, youth, beauty and happiness.

The types of trees determine the type of forest. They fall into the following major categories: tropical, sub-tropical, Mediterranean, temperate, coniferous and montane. The many types are also designated by their distance from the equator and their altitude.

Trees are generally harvested to create fuel and paper. Many individuals are making an effort to use electronic recording means for documents rather than paper to reduce the need for harvesting trees. About half of the wood around the world is used for heating homes and other buildings. Forests are so important to the economy around the world that they are usually managed by local or national governments to prevent illegal logging, accidental fires or other destructive activities.

Their ecosystems are composed of trees, plants, animals, soil, and various microorganisms and they cover about 30% of the earth’s surface. They grow in all types of landscapes including both salt and fresh water areas. In fact, some are located on moving glaciers.

They are mysterious and constantly changing. As a result, they can provide a lifetime of fascinating study and outdoor adventure. For more information about the symbolism of specific trees, please see the article The Deep-Rooted Symbolism of Trees

Ocean Symbolism: The Power of Water

Ocean paintings symbolize the source of life and the abundance that dwells in the ocean. Evolutionists believe that all of life originated in the sea. As Walt Whitman wrote in his work Leaves of Grass, the ocean is “the cradle endlessly rocking” or the birthplace and infancy of life.

The ocean is constantly changing, thus symbolizing limitless opportunities and possibilities. For this reason, a seascape painting can be advantageous in an office environment. The ocean also represents the emotional world. A seascape can keep us in touch with that part of ourselves as well as with a powerful element in our environment.

Learn more about ocean symbolism and the benefits of ocean paintings in your environment in the article Ocean Paintings: The Power of Peace and Relaxation.

Kathleen Karlsen Video Resources Thumbnail

Author and Artist Kathleen Karlsen

Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.

Other resources on the web: Vibrational Frequencies of Life.

Nature Art Article Summary

Nature art has been shown to speed recovery, lower heart rates and assist in emotional and psychological wellness. Nature art brings in all of the elements of nature. These elements have been seen as fundamental in many cultures. Elements include fire, air, water, earth and wind or space. Balancing an environment through these elements can create a positive and uplifting interior for inhabitants.

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