Symbols seen during spiritual experiences

During spiritual experiences and visions, one comes into contact with forces and beings in various planes of the Universe. These contacts are translated and rendered by the mind in terms of symbols of daily life(i.e. waking consciousness). Here is an explanation by Sri Aurobindo of the various symbols one might see in spiritual visions.

Interpreting the universe by soul signs
He read from within the text of the without:
The riddle grew plain and lost its catch obscure.
A larger lustre lit the mighty page.

(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto V)

Image by Temari09 (flickr). Click for source

Sri Aurobindo discusses symbols in a letter to a disciple

A symbol, as I understand it, is the form on one plane that represents a truth of another. For instance, a flag is the symbol of a nation…. But generally all forms are symbols. This body of ours is a symbol of our real being and everything is a symbol of some higher reality. There are, however, different kinds of symbols:

l. Conventional symbols: such as the Vedic Rishis formed with objects taken from their surroundings. The cow stood for light because the same word `go’ meant both ray and cow, and because the cow was their most precious possession which maintained their life and was constantly in danger of being robbed and concealed. But once created, such a symbol becomes alive. The Rishis vitalised it and it became a part of their realisation. It appeared in their visions as an image of spiritual light. The horse also was one of their favourite symbols, and a more easily adaptable one, since its force and energy were quite evident.

2. Life-symbols: such as are not artificially chosen or mentally interpreted in a conscious deliberate way, but derive naturally from our day-to-day life and grow out of the surroundings which condition our normal path of living. To the ancients the mountain was a symbol of the path of yoga, level above level, peak upon peak. A journey, involving the crossing of rivers and the facing of lurking enemies, both animal and human, conveyed a similar idea. Nowadays I dare say we would liken yoga to a motor-ride or a railway-trip.

3. Symbols that have an inherent appositeness and power of their own. Akasha(sky) or etheric space is a symbol of the infinite all-pervading eternal Brahman. In any nationality it would convey the same meaning. Also, the Sun stands universally for the supramental Light, the divine Gnosis.

4. Mental symbols: instances of which are numbers or alphabets. Once they are accepted, they too become active and may be useful. Thus geometrical figures have been variously interpreted. In my experience the square symbolises the supermind. I cannot say how it came to do so. Somebody or some force may have built it before it came to my mind. Of the triangle, too, there are different explanations. In one position it can symbolise the three lower planes, in another the symbol is of the three higher ones: so both can be combined together in a single sign. The ancients liked to indulge in similar speculations concerning numbers, but their systems were mostly mental. It is no doubt true that supramental realities exist which we translate into mental formulas such as Karma, Psychic evolution, etc. But they are, so to speak, infinite realities which cannot be limited by these symbolic forms, though they may be somewhat expressed by them; they might be expressed as well by other symbols, and the same symbol may also express many different ideas.

[Letters on Yoga, Visions and Symbols]

Examples of some symbols

In general, one has a wide variety of dreams on the spiritual path but there are some commonalities since all people are part of the same human consciousness. It takes discernment to interpret the dream. Sometimes it takes years to understand the significance of a particular dream.

This is a table of some significant symbols seen in dreams which were explained in letters that Sri Aurobindo wrote to various disciples.  It is summarized from the three-volume  set “Letters on Yoga” in the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo.

Note: This is NOT a complete list.   Your mileage may vary! 🙂

Update:  See more extensive compilation of symbols at Sri Aurobindo – Yoga site.



Ass Inertia
Bird Signifies the human soul
Buffalo Coarse vital energy.
Building New creation
Car, Train, Airplane A journey in any of these signifies rapid progress in some part of the consciousness.
Chakra/Disc Energy in action
Child Psychic transformation is in progress within the heart.
Color Beginning of inner vision (sūkşmadŗşţi). Afterwards this vision opens and one begins to see figures and scenes and people.
Cow Divine Light
Dawn Beginning of a new creation within the consciousness
Dog One’s fidelity to the Divine
Elephant Strength
Fire Purification which one is undergoing.
Fish in the ocean Experience of Sachchidananda.  Quote from Ramakrishna Paramahansa: “Then I jumped into the ocean and became a fish. I saw that I was swimming joyfully in the ocean of Sat-chit-ananda.”(Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section IX, Chapter 1)
Flower psychic activity, blossoming in the consciousness
Flower, lotus Opening in the consciousness.
Horse Power; force acting for progress
Lion Vital force
Moon Spiritual Ananda, spirituality in the mind
Mountain Ascending hill of existence with the Divine to be reached on the summits.
Peacock Spiritual victory.  Quote from Ramakrishna Paramahansa “Before I met Keshab Sen, I saw him in a vision. While in the state of samadhi, I saw him and his group. There was a room full of people sitting in front of me. I saw Keshab – like a peacock with its tail spread out. The tail meant his group. And I saw a red jewel on Keshab’s forehead. This is a sign of rajas. ” (Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section XXIV, Chap 3)
Rain Descent of Divine Grace
Sea Indicates the vital plane or some expanse of consciousness.
Sky Mental or overmental consciousness
Snake Hostile or evil force of the vital plane.
Snake with open hood Indicates the victorious or successful activity of the Kundalini.
Square A new creation is being established within our consciousness.
Star Promise of the Light to come.
Sun Power of the inner or higher Truth. There are different Suns in the different planes each with its own colour.
Swan Liberated soul
Teeth falling Indicates that one’s physical habits are changing or being relinquished. This happens due to a purification of consciousness.
Tiger Depends on the attitude of the tiger. If fierce and hostile, it may be a form of an adverse force, otherwise it is simply a power of vital nature which may be friendly.

36 thoughts on “Symbols seen during spiritual experiences

  1. Pingback: Issues in Sadhana (spiritual quest) for those practicing the Integral Yoga « Skylight

  2. kalpana

    >>” This body of ours is a symbol of our real being and everything is a symbol of some higher reality. ” Sri Aurobindo.
    It would appear, from this sentence, that one’s body is a projection of one’s consciousness, a sort of blue-print for the matter-energy dynamics.

    It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo doesn’t classify yantras in this letter.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      > > It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo doesn’t classify yantras in this letter.

      Actually they are covered under Part 4 Mental symbols
      See the line “…Thus geometrical figures have been variously interpreted.”

    2. Anthony Butcher

      Hi Sandep,

      I couldn’t find the complete list of Sri Aurobindo’s Compilation on Symbols on Sri Surobindo-Yoga. I would be grateful if you could tellme where to find it.

      1. Sandeep Post author

        The list I have compiled above is derived from Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 23, chapter on Visions and Symbols. You can find it online at under the menu E-library –> Works of Sri Aurobindo –> English –> SABCL –> Letters on Yoga_Volume-23 –> Visions and Symbols-IV.htm.

        I didn’t paste the direct link because they frequently reorganize the website.

  3. mike

    l believe SA said there were different meanings for different colored snakes too. A golden snake would be positive as compared to the darkly colored one’s mentioned above.
    l see an elephant [and horse] fairly often when dropping off to sleep.
    l was recovering from an illness once and l had this dream where SA was riding a huge elephant which was surrounded by people including myself. Quite colorful too.
    One dream l had recently was about the Mother and the color orange. ln waking life l was about to get some photos developed but they had nothing to do with the Mother and l don’t know why l would see a picture of Her in this dream. l was looking at this picture of Her and noticed that She had patches of bright orange covering most of her body, but there were several gaps which hadn’t weren’t covered. l know ‘orange’ signifies the ‘Supramental in the Physical’ so l assume this has something to do with that. Strange dream though.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: I believe SA said there were different meanings for different colored snakes too. A golden snake would be positive as compared to the darkly colored one’s mentioned above.

      Not SA, but the Mother I think. From the Agenda June 14, 1965

      Mother: Some, when they dream of snakes, have the feeling they’re going to meet with catastrophes; I myself have had all sorts of dreams with snakes: I had to go through gardens full of snakes everywhere – on the ground, in the trees, everywhere – and not kindly snakes! But I knew very well what it meant; during the dream itself I knew it: it depended on certain mental conditions around me and ill will – mental ill will.[[This was in France with Richard, at the start of the war, after the return from Pondicherry. ]] But if you have mental control and power, you can go through, they cannot touch you. And other people, when they see a snake, think it is the universal consciousness. So we can’t say. Theon used to say that the serpent is the symbol of evolution, and those who were with him always saw rainbow-colored serpents, with all the colors, and it was the symbol of universal evolution Basically, to tell the truth, everyone has his own symbolism.

      The connection of Paul Richard to dream of snakes can be discerned from the January 12, 1968 in the Agenda, which reads : “Paul Richard had a quite unhealthy sexual side, not at all healthy, far from it. He had much mental knowledge (a great deal, a very strong intelligence), but no spiritual life”

  4. mike

    Funnily enough, l read another passage in the agenda just the other day, which was exactly the same thing only versed differently. lt was about Mother walking through gardens full of snakes at night because of Richards atmosphere.
    Agenda November 12, 1969
    lt’s been on my mind the last few days for some reason. l had that impression about some unhealthy sexual habits too – snakes are usually connected with the lower sexual appetites, l believe.

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  6. charmaine

    Please could u tell me what an axe means ..infinity sign binding a long distance relationship oh and a bear..I seen these during a meditation session and the infinity sign was white smoke oh and a phoetus please let me know thank you

    1. Sandeep Post author


      Sorry, can’t tell. Symbol interpretation is not an exact science. Just because you were meditating does not mean the symbols you saw came from the highest plane of consciousness. Some symbols can be relative your personal life-experience (i.e. your subconscious).

      By Phoetus, I believe you mean “foetus”.

  7. mike

    Does anyone know what a ‘Golden Dolphin’ might symbolize – swimming down vertically. l’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere before..

    1. mw

      Mike: I have found nothing yet on the specific’s of a “golden dolphin” symbol. Here is something from Savitri (non-specific, but related to):

      “The unseen grew visible and audible:
      Thoughts leaped down from a superconscient field
      Like eagles swooping from a viewless peak,
      Thoughts gleamed up from screened subliminal depths
      Like golden fishes from a hidden sea.”

      *Also, you might look elsewhere for clues. Adam McLean’s Alchemy site – which appears to be an exhaustive resource – may have info on that particular image that may give some insights:

      1. mike

        Thanks for that research mark. The ‘golden fishes’ comes close, except in the quote they’re rising from below. lf l’d seen the ‘eagle’ it would be easier, because SA has said it represents ‘Truth’..
        l looked at the ‘alchemy’ link. Only thing l found was about Palemon riding a dolphin – interesting, though..
        The strongest impression l’ve had about it’s meaning is the ‘Descent of Ananda in the physical’, which l would certainly welcome lol. Because of the dolphin’s strong physical association with Joy and Delight , this feels right. The ‘Golden’ colour would indicate the True Ananda, l suppose, not a degraded or corrupted form of it..
        Anyway, lt was a wonderful lmage. l’m just surprised that SA and M never mentioned it. Even on the internet there’s very little, and it won’t be the same interpretation that SA or M would give it..
        l haven’t felt that Descent yet though – perhaps a future siddhi, l hope. Without Ananda this path is hard to bear..

      2. mw

        I like what you’re coming up with, Mike.

        There are a lot of Villa’s, Casino’s, Diving School’s named after “the golden dolphin”, for example:
        So there must be an actual (ancient) symbol behind it — just cannot locate it yet….

        Here’s some New Age dribble on topic:

        And found this quote:

        “Golden Dolphin – a symbol of love and devotion…in gold spray and stars.”

    2. mw

      Mike: I did, as well, find references to pirates tales referring to “the golden dolphin” ( and also material by DR C Scott Taylor titled “the Legend of the Golden Dolphin” (from Hawaiian history). And lastly, from a paper titled “The Fall of Atlantis”: “The Avatar Cetacean were Golden in auric projection, and are the source of those termed the ‘Golden Dolphin’. The Golden Dolphin were harbingers of the aspect termed Matriarchal, an energy that you term Feminine Divine, although they were primarily non-gendered in the physical sexual sense of the present paradigm.” *I did look up the Ancient Island of Mu but found nothing specific. And nothing related to Hinduism.

      I am certain that a serious effort (which I cannot provide) would dredge up a lot of valid materials. 🙂

      1. mike

        Yes mark, there does seem to be a lot of stuff about the ‘Legend of The Golden Dolphin’ floating around.. l’m not surprised that new-agers have latched on to it lol. l recently read some new-age garbage by people l thought had common sense, and then suddenly they say things like – ‘l am an incarnation of a Unicorn’, or ‘l am an incarnated pegasus’ etc. They firmly believe this. The latest nonsense, apparenty, is that we no longer need the Chakra System or Kundalini (they’ve now become redundant because something better has come along). One person actually said he’d got rid of them – so that he no longer had any chakras or kundalini. He says he feels much better now LOL – Highly Amusing..Of course, who am l to judge their beliefs. With some of the things SA and M spoke about, l tend to believe anything is possible. l mean, M said that one of the ashram sadhikas was an incarnated fairy – so what can we say after that, lol.
        l do think new-agers are mostly fantasy-prone, though. That woman in your link, is certainly caught up in some kind of fabricated fantasy IMO. She says:

        “Here you will find channeled audio recordings, channeled messages from the Dolphins”.

        l’m not saying it’s impossible. Perhaps she’s contacting the ‘Spirit of the Species’, as M terms it.
        Anyway, sorry about getting off-track.
        The main site for this ‘Legend of The Golden Dolphin’ idea is based on a set of books l believe (channeled, l think). The author seems to have spent 30 years researching it. He describes what happened through meditation. He suddenly found himself doing automatic writing (just another form of channeling IMO). l’m always dubious about any information arrived at that way – especially after what SA and M said about automatic writing. lt amazes me how new-agers never seem to question the origins of this dribble, as you call it. Anyway, this is how he says the ‘Legend of the Golden Dolphin’ was revealed to him (it’s not the whole quote, just salient bits):

        “Peter Shenstone describes the coming of the Legend in his own words:

        “It all started a few days before the birth of our second child, in a little attic flat on the point between Great and Little Sirius Coves, on Sydney Harbour. I was sitting in meditation. (ed. note: October, 1976)

        The energy was particularly high. Jan, my beautiful `sister´, friend, lover, `wife´ and mother of our first child, and I had been practising our own form of `psychoprophylaxis´ based on yoga postures, breath control and daily meditation in preparation for our first home birth. Thus the bonding between Jan and myself and the birthing energy had been building powerfully.

        I had been sitting in my own tantric form of meditation for about an hour when out the blue–bang!–or rather –ping!!–I was filled with a booming/singing/ringing/pinging dolphin/whale voice which permeated my whole being, the room, the world. The whole universe, it seemed, consisted of this indescribable vibration. I could not move. The booming voice contiuned, and I began to `feel´ (rather than hear) meaning coming through.

        Now, at this time I had been into meditation for about ten years but I had never experienced anything like this. I was transfixed.

        Then for the first time in my life I experienced automatic writing (which, incidentally, until that moment I had been very doubtful about!). I thought “This is it, Pete! You’ve finally slipped through the crack in the cosmic egg and scrambled your brains.”

        I watched half in awe, half in horror as my hand picked up a pencil lying nearby and began to write at a furious pace. The writing kept going until dawn, and continued every night for almost two weeks, pouring out an incredible fantasy/story about the impending tribulation and concurrent transformation of human consciousness, the role which the cetaceans will play in those events, and my specific job as their messenger.

        I was told to simply tell the story and begin to `gather´ those humans who have had similar experiences, or who respond to the cetacean’s message in a positive way. (Since then I have found an amazing cross section of people who have so responded: it seems everyone has a dolphin story!)

        I was specifically told not to try to `sell´ the idea to anyone, but to allow people to find their own way into this new reality of cetacean consciousness, or as my Aboriginal brother, Burnam Burnam calls it, dolphin dreaming.

        I was told this would form the seed of a new global tribe of dolphin dreamers, a tribal gathering that will transcend the old barriers of race, creed, colour, ego, fear and alienation to become the new leaderless aquarian network of free beiings.

        The only specific person whose cooperation I was instructed to seek was John Denver, who, I was told, would play a key role in the mass communication of the story to America. A number of those first writings were in fact letters to him”..

        ln my own experience, l saw the Golden Dolphin in a descending position above my head, pointing vertically down – so, a strange position for a dolphin, l’d say.
        Like l said before, hopefully it’s a promise of some future Descent in the Yoga..
        Thanks again for your input mark..

      2. mw

        Sure, Mike. To be honest I didn’t read these things, and now I am glad I didn’t, lol — it just sounds so far-out (although, I believe they are sincere accounts). Regarding symbols and or experiences, it is hard (for me) to know their meaning. At least with experiences (btw, at this point, I don’t see anything beyond dream images/symbols in sleep), I do try to match their context with SA & M’s writings. Yes, many things happen, all sorts of conscious altering experiences which I am easily mistaken by this or that explanation…sometimes I feel the need for a ‘padded cell’ all to myself, lol! [‘padded cell’ refers to a room in an insane asylum] …Thanks for sharing about your symbol experience, it is most likely how you’ve interpreted it, a descent.

  8. Richard

    What would a square be that’s faded around the edges and has diagonally crossing wavy lines inside it that can be projected onto any surface. Been able to see this for as far back as I can remember. Be grateful if anyone could tell me what this is.

  9. mike

    Richard, l suppose it can be likened to the square in Sri Aurobindo’s symbol:
    The square in this Yoga usually means ‘Supramental creation or manifestation’. Not sure what the ‘frayed edges’ would mean. Perhaps if you’ve been seeing this for such a long time, it indicates your destiny in some way..or a connection with Supramental Work in some way..

    The Mother says about the ‘water’ –
    “The water – inside the square – represents the multiplicity, the creation”..

  10. lura

    what does it mean when you see one large beautiful sapphire eye searching you inside and out? when this happened the person felt good feelings.

      1. Arya

        I had a horrible dream where a young woman shoots a rather violent dog( apparently to save me?).

        Maybe it’s just the subconscious or maybe astrological?

  11. Shankar

    When I was fresh to Sri Aurobindo and Mother , I mean just at the beginning, I was not having any book or even their photos in my home. I was worshipper of Mahakaali(Though no formal worship. It is 100%) mental. One day when I was alone in my home. Some force caught hold of me and forced me to mahakaali’s picture. I went near looked and came back.But when I returned I felt a shock or bite in my toe of the right leg. This happened two times then I took the mahaakaali’s picture and placed it on the cot near by.And the force, forced me to sit before her. (inside I was full of fear, do not know what is happening) and the force made me to sit and close my eyes before her picture and after few minutes I saw sri Aurobindo’s symbol with triangles in golden colour and the lotus in red color came swirling down glowing and entering in the heart area. (It would have been just 15-20 seconds are so I think.) After that experience, a series of many other things happened which I cannot express. How come is that possible? At that time I was enjoying my holiday in my home, eating good food and watching a good movie and suddenly this happened! This means MAHAKAALI, initiated me to Sri Aurobindo’s path? almost three years passed since that experience happened. But still I feel, I am just at the starting point and has a lot to do. I always felt Mother’s presence, but I am disgusted with myself for not changing myself to good ways.

  12. mike

    Yes, shankar, l came to SA and M without knowing anything about them as well. l had a series of experiences which led me to them and their books.
    Mahakali could have initiated you – she is one of the Mother’s four aspects after all. l think it’s likely your work in past lives helped too. Also, the Psychic Being (when mature) arranges everything and would have guided you in this way.

    The free ebook at auro-books called The Mother’s Vision explains the Psychic Being very well.

    ‘I always felt Mother’s presence, but I am disgusted with myself for not changing myself to good ways’

    Yes, it’s a very difficult path (Brahmacharya probably the most difficult), but the Mother’s Grace can remove all obstacles. Contact with the Psychic Being will transform the lower nature and rid you of these things.
    Good Luck.

  13. ishamreiki

    Lucky to have come across this article . Was having the vision of geometrical figures & snakes … cleared my doubts .
    What about an encircled triangle or the tips of triangle getting out of the circle … could anyone plz explain ?

  14. mike

    Snakes can mean a few different things. The color would indicate what.
    lt might be Kundalini.
    The encircled triangle could be Vishuddha or Throat chakra which has this symbol. You didn’t mention any colour/s associated with these visions (usually blue with this chakra).

  15. arya

    I had two dreams – a huge black snake coming at me (felt so real that I woke up). Subsequently I lost money in the stock market. Then another dream – two black elephants but I was scared and walked away. Made money in the subsequent week.

    Did the dream foretell something about my financial fortunes? Do not know.

    Make of it what you will.

    1. mike

      Yes, l get these sort of symbolic dreams too – but also in the waking state.
      l believe dark colored snakes represent negative forces, so it doesn’t surprise me that you lost.
      Elephants usually indicate strength for me, especially when recovering from an illness. Of course there are Lakshmi’s white elephants which would represent wealth, l think. l once dream’t of a huge white elephant churning up the ocean (perhaps in preparation of Lakshmi’s arrival, as in the story – have’nt seen Her yet though). l think some of these things appear, especially in dreams, because of subconscious programming which throws up synchronicities according to our desires and attachments. lt’s not always so obvious, though.
      Some signs or symbols are a regular occurence, like black cats or dogs always tell me money is on the way – white cats and dogs always seem to indicate illness and loss (can be useful when making decisions).


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