Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gravestone Symbology Part II

I recently visited a cemetery I passed nearly every day as a child, the Amelia Independent Order of Oddfellows Cemetery.

While my interest in secret societies is mostly in the darker side of things, the Independent Order of Oddfellows, or IOOF, is fascinating because of its benevolence. A simple explanation of the IOOF is that it began when its founders noticed a lack of charitable acts. They believed that being kind should be a way of life, therefore setting them apart and making them "odd".

On most IOOF monuments, you will find some variation of the following combination of symbols:

The hand holding a heart symbolizes charity. While I couldn't find a source exclusive to the IOOF, I believe the bow and arrow symbolize mortality. The three chain links, often found with the letters F (friendship), L (love) and T (truth) inside the links.

Read more about Oddfellows here

and here.

Read more on gravestone symbology here.

I was surprised to find this excellent example of an apiary near the road. I must have passed this cemetery a million times and never noticed this favorite symbol of mine. It stands for industriousness, a virtue valued at the time this monument was erected (late 1800's).

Here is an example of an open book, which can simply show a person's devotion to the Christian faith in the form of a bible, or symbolize the grave of a teacher or pastor.

I think this is a nice example of the clasped hands symbol. It is meant to depict a farewell to earthly existence. I've also read that it can symbolize the hand of God greeting the deceased in heaven. What makes this example stand out is the beautiful cloud carvings and signs of aging.

A very common symbol--hand pointing to heaven. The nice thing about this example is the word "hope" at the top. I think this is a lovely monument.

This also showcases one of the reasons I love old cemeteries--the beautiful names.

This is a new favorite. The shell signifies rebirth. I think this is interesting since 1) it isn't used very often in this area and 2) a nearby grave had actual seashells on it. I noticed that quite a few people buried here were from the east coast and wonder if there could be some connection.

Again, you can see the IOOF links. Notice the lovely beading and the wonderful aging.

Here are two examples of lambs. Most often, they symbolize the lamb of God. They are often found on the graves of children since they also symbolize innocence.

On the first example, you can see the weeping willow tree, which of course symbolizes mourning.

If you are in the area, I encourage you to visit this small cemetery. There are some stones so aged you cannot even read the inscriptions. The town has been working to restore the grounds and you will notice that they are preserving many stones that have toppled or broken. I was shocked at how many examples of symbols I found here that I haven't seen even in much larger cemeteries.