I had recently read somewhere “The essence of symbol cannot be expressed in words, it is so vast and deep, it is just not a sign.” I have many times thought about the difference between a sign and a symbol but this take this opportunity to write on it.
Symbols are mystical and their meaning cannot be definite. They have deep meanings to decipher, that many times vary from person to person. How my mind perceives a symbol, you may not catch the same meaning. When I say a sign, it has a limited definite meaning. It stands same for everyone. I too see a stop sign and my mind understands that I have to stop and you too see a stop sign and halt. Where as a symbol is playing with whole of your energy and present you something that you need not want.It may have many layers of meanings.
Sign is like a picture or anything that represents for something else. Symbol relates to something else by association or resemblance. Symbol is like something visible that is representing something invisible. It can arouse emotional responses.
Carl Jung puts it in this way “The sign is always less than the concept it represents, while a symbol always stands for something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. Symbols, moreover, are natural and spontaneous products. No genius has ever sat down with a pen or a brush in his hand and said: ‘Now I am going to invent a symbol. ‘ No one can take a more or less rational thought, reached as a logical conclusion or by deliberate intent, and then give it ‘symbolic’ form” (Jung, 41).
With a specific meaning in the mind, a sign is depicted on a paper. Many times we have found things and people getting symbolic to something. Like Mahatma Gandhi is a symbol of truth and non-violence.
The meaning of a sign can be understood instantaneously while symbol arouses emotions and feelings within you that create a meaning within you. As you look around you may find many signs and symbols. Let me know what you discover.