Cardinal Signs & Symbols

What are Symbolic Signs and How do They Differ from Superstitions?

Cardinal SymbolsSymbolic signs and superstitions are widely recognized in every culture. The popular conception is that both symbolic signs and superstitions come from a supernatural source. It is at this junction however that they begin to part ways. While they may both relate to supernatural connections, superstitions differ in that they are endowed with certain predictive powers while symbolic signs are perceived as unique and wholly individual messages.

For example, superstition declares that should a black bird fly into ones home it predicts an impending death. The prediction is absolute with no room for interpretation or individualization. Superstitions make no distinction about the circumstances of the event or the individual experiencing it. A symbolic sign on the other hand, is wholly unique to each individual and subject to personal examination and interpretation to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning.

While it is hard to deny that any of us don’t have a touch of superstition buried somewhere in our psyche, there are times when superstition endowed with such powers can be an unhealthy perception. In the same way our positive thoughts can bring positive things into our lives, our negative thoughts and fears can do the same, only in reverse. For better or for worse, superstitious self-fulfilling prophecies do exist.

cardinalSymbolic signs may also occasionally prophesize. A symbolic sign however, is a message, uniquely designed for the individual receiving it and should it contain a prophecy it will not be a “one size fits all” prototype, a predictive sign will be unique to the person receiving it. The recognition of a genuine symbolic sign can lead to the beginning of a new communication with something that is beyond our normal realm of experience. In this respect, a symbolic sign can be considered a phenomenon or, a Cardinal Experience.

Is there any Significance to the Different ways one Receives a Cardinal Sign?

cardinal parentingBecause symbolic signs are so uniquely individual, appearing in all shapes and sizes, they may not always be easily recognized as symbolic signs, or immediately understood. Symbolic signs may be presented to us in an unending array of forms: birds, animals, people, places, things or events. Whatever shape or form your symbolic sign may come in, keep in mind that the form is the messenger and the messenger is an important clue to the message.

Perhaps that is why a cardinal messenger is so often chosen to deliver such deeply significant messages to us. With his bright red color and powerful call, the cardinal tends to stand out from the crowd. There are times when it may be possible for a little red cardinal to get our attention when nothing else can, especially in times of depression and grief.

The more we learn about the messenger, the more clues we may gain about the message. While each message is special and unique to the individual, the cardinal messenger has some unique qualities of his own. Relating these cardinal qualities to your particular life situation may help you to understand more about your uniquely individual message.

Click here to read the unique personal Cardinal Experiences shared by our contributors.

What do the Cardinal Bird Qualities have to do with a Cardinal's Symbols?

Cardinal Bird NestCardinal Color: One of the first and most obvious qualities about the cardinal is his color. Cardinal red is so called because it is one of the three primary colors. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. All other colors are a combination of these three basic colors. That the visual spectrum begins with red hints at the importance of the cardinal, beginning with his powerful visual presence.

For Christians, cardinal red is the color symbolic of the blood of Christ and the hope humanity gained from his resurrection. Cardinal is the name as well as the color worn by Cardinals, the highest priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Red is worn on the day of Pentecost as a sign to celebrate the birth of the Christian Church as well as on Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Red is symbolic of steadfast faith. 

Click here to read more about Cardinal Symbols in Christianity.

cardinalCardinal Cycles: Another notable quality is that cardinals are year round residents. As they do not migrate like most other birds, cardinals represent a twelve-month cycle. Twelve is considered a powerful cycle in nature as it represents the spectrum of the seasons and the full circle of life. Cardinals also lay eggs that hatch within twelve days. Due to their twelve-month residency and their twelve-day incubation, the number twelve is strongly associated with the cardinal.
cardinalCardinal Sound: While the cardinal’s song can be loud, it is extremely clear. When a cardinal calls out, it sounds precisely like the words “cheer, cheer”. Another unusual quality among birds is that the male and female cardinals sing together. They actually appear to communicate with one another. While most female birds are usually well camouflaged in their quietness, the female cardinal has a voice in the entire cardinal matter.
cardinalCardinal Parenting: Cardinals are also good parents. The male cardinal shares in the duties of parenthood with his mate, feeding and caring for the mother during incubation. His fatherly instincts direct him to protect and care for the mother and babies until they are safely out of the nest.
It is interesting to note that while the male is caring for his family his bright red color will change to a duller shade of brown and his appearance will be more like that of his female counterpart. This transformation of color occurs as a camouflage helping him to fulfill his duties as a dedicated parent.
cardinalCardinal Health:In their appearance alone, cardinals exemplify the health, strength and vitality. Cardinals are known to be feisty in nature, and the red crown on top of their head evidences their fiery personality. When a cardinal prepares to defend himself or his family, the red-feathered crown rises up like the flames of a fire. Diet is also an important factor as we consider cardinal health. Cardinals are very beneficial as they eat a variety of weed seeds and insects that that can be injurious to humans.

Click here to learn more facts about cardinal birds & their behaviors.

What can These Cardinal Symbols Mean for You?

cardinal signs & symbolsThe Cardinal Color Red: is symbolic of: Vitality, importance, faith & power

Cardinals can bring color and vitality into our lives. Their crimson color can remind us of the importance of ourselves as individuals in the circle of life. As the cardinal red color is symbolic of faith, so it can remind us to "keep the faith" though circumstances might look bleak, dark and hopeless.

cardinalThe Cardinal Cycle of Twelve is symbolic of: Cycles of Life, Death & Renewal.

  • Twelve hours make a day and twelve months make a year. Twelve is a vital life cycle and regardless of the time of year, the time of day or the time of life you are presently confronting, you are a part of the cycle. You are a vital element in the circle of life and regardless of where you are in that cycle you always have the opportunity for restoration, revitalization and renewal.

cardinalCardinal Sounds are symbolic of: Cheer, Elevation, Clarity & Communication

  • The call of a cardinal can come to cheer us up, or cheer us on.
  • The unique clarity of his call is can be used to gain our attention and lift us from our depression, our sorrow or perhaps our ordinariness. The cardinal’s call can call to us to do our duty.
  • A cardinal call can tell us to give up any vanity or appearances we may be holding on to and follow the hope in our heart, a cardinal hope that will lead us, on our upward journey through the cycle of life.

cardinalCardinal Parenting & Mating are symbolic of: Care, Duty, Dedication & Transformation

  • The female cardinal’s voice in the world may remind a woman that she too has a voice and it may be time to find it and begin expressing herself.
  • The parental and mating behavior of cardinals can remind us that our dedication to nurturing and caring for our loved one is also a part of the natural life cycle.
  • The caring manor of a male cardinal can remind us that we are never really alone, that there is a father above who will always protect and care for us.

cardinalCardinal Health is symbolic of: strength, readiness, self-preservation & vitality

  • The cardinal may be suggesting that our current diet may be injurious to our health.
  • The cardinal can be a sign that we must be prepared to fight for our health.
  • When the fiery crown of a cardinal rises, it can also let us know that we have the strength of spirit within us to win the fight!

A Brief History of the Cardinal Symbol  

cardinal directionsWhile we usually think of a symbol as a visual form, much of the meaning can be found in the origins of the word that identifies that form. The history of the word cardinal sheds a lot of light on it’s symbolic meanings today. So, where did the roots of the word cardinal come from? And, how did the word cardinal come to define the bird?

 Interestingly, the base root of the word cardinal is actually connected to the word cross.  It comes from the Old Norse word, kross and the Latin word, crux. For the ancient Romans, the Latin word crux, had come to mean “a guidepost that gives directions at a place where one road becomes two”. Today the root word cross is contained in many words we commonly use: across, crucial, crucify, cruise (to cross the sea, or go backwards and forwards), cruiser, crusade, crux, and excruciate.

The cross is of course universally recognized as a Christian symbol, but the symbol of the cross was not used by Christian’s alone.  The same symbol was also used by early Mexicans. It was one of the emblems of Quetzalcoatl, as lord of the four cardinal points, and the four winds that blow therefrom. In the cardinal sense, the cross represents fourfold systems: the four directions: north, south, east, and west; the four seasons; the four elements; the four winds; etc.

In the thirteenth century, Dante attributed Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude, to the four brightest stars in the Southern Cross. This was done before the discovery and naming of the constellation (in 1679). As history reveals, the early explorers used the four cardinal directions in the form of a cross to discover the new world.  Our world itself is constructed in the shape of a cross, whose four points correspond to the four cardinal points or intersections of the horizon with the meridian. 

So, how did the word cardinal come to define the bird? The word cardinal originates from the Latin word cardinali, meaning principal or chief. The chief Catholic priests from the Vatican in Rome are Cardinals, who wear ‘cardinal’ red  cassocks. Cardinal is also a vivid red color. The family of birds, known as the Cardinalis, takes its name from the color of the cassocks worn by the cardinal priests.

Now that we have seen where the symbols of the cross and the color come from, we can continue to the heart of the matter. Cardinal is also rooted in the heart, originating from the root word cardo, meaning heart. Cardo, also stems into the word cardinis, used for the hinge of a door, or a pivot; that on which something turns. In Latin, cardo means hinge or axis, something on which all else depends, as does the general meaning of the word crucial. What does a hinge have to do with a heart?

A hinge (cardo) is literally the place on which a door swings and is always moved. It is so called after the term Greek kardia (heart), because as the heart (cor) governs and moves the whole person, just as this pivot governs and moves a door. The cross has four points, and the human heart has four chambers or closed spaces, two atria and two ventricles. In Latin cardium means heart. In Greek word for heart is kardia, which comes from the Indo-European root kerd meaning heart and that is as far back into the history of the word cardinal we were able to reach.

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