Passion of the People – 1.2.2

 Symbols and Metaphors

The symbols for the planets generally go back to antiquity. Greeks and Romans associated the planets known at that time with their gods and these were provided with corresponding symbols. Astronomical symbols are abstract pictorial symbols used to represent astronomical objects, theoretical constructs and observational events in European astronomy. The earliest forms of these symbols appear in Greek papyrus texts of late antiquity. The Byzantine codices in which many Greek papyrus texts were preserved continued and extended the inventory of astronomical symbols. New symbols have been invented to represent many planets and minor planets discovered in the 18th to the 21st centuries.

Venus, the planet of the goddess of love is symbolised with her hand mirror. Mars, the planet of the god of war, is depicted with a shield and spear. The symbol for Jupiter, the planet of Zeus, the father of the gods, is a stylised lightning bolt. Saturn, the god of agriculture, brings a symbolic sickle to the planet of the same name. These symbols were used in astronomy to quickly and easily designate the various celestial bodies in diagrams or texts. There are symbols for the Sun and the Moon, the planets, asteroids, the zodiac and other constellations, with one or more meanings that changed over the centuries.

These symbols were once commonly used by professional astronomers, amateur astronomers, alchemists, and astrologers. While they are still commonly used in almanacs and astrological publications, their occurrence in published research and texts on astronomy is relatively infrequent, with some exceptions such as the Sun and Earth symbols appearing in astronomical constants, and certain zodiacal signs used to represent the solstices and equinoxes.

The difference between a metaphor and a symbol is that the symbol is a single sign that stands for an abstract concept, a metaphor means a transfer of meaning. Stars can be a metaphor for humanity, divinity, hope, faith, guidance, excellence, motivation, magic, fame, and life. If someone is described as a star, this metaphor means that s/he stands out in some way or other, shines by excellence, or is famous. It is, for example, in the German language the “Sternstunde” a metaphor for decisions, deeds or events that fatefully influence the future. A red star is still linked to communism.

Further Resources

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Der gelbe Stern – Symbol der Ausgrenzung

I PIANETI del sistema solare – riassunto semplice – Dottor Prof

Online Resources

Astronomical Symbolism

 Hotel rating by stars – symbols for categories

 What do stars symbolize? Types of Star Symbols &Their Meanings

Cosa rappresentano le stelle? Simbolismo culturale, significato scientifico e significati simbolici – Astroinsights

Legenda Simboli Astrologici – Astrologia per tutti


Che cosa significano i simboli dei pianeti? – Focus

Teaching Material

 This is a German dictionary for identifying symbols of the planets.

For Kids

Teaching material for primary schools