Hidden Secrets and Symbols In Oriental Area Rugs

Oriental area rugs offer a lot of mystery and fascination.  It is no secret that the language of symbols are the most ancient and universal of all languages. The symbols woven into oriental rugs are of no exception. Vital ideas from matters of love, fear, life and death are all woven into these masterpieces.  Every design among the primitive weavers represents vital ideals from fertility, protection and the afterlife.

In the early days of weaving, symbols had more complex meanings and then were passed on from their original creators to the younger generation of artists which later become generalized. Regardless of the symbol meaning written here or elsewhere, it is still up to the viewer to derive a satisfactory meaning according to his or her experience of art and life.

Are symbols in oriental area rugs a lost language?

From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese and Mesopotamian writings, the rich history of symbolism is apparent in rugs. Many of the symbols you will see in this blog can be seen in kilim motifs, Anatolian rug patterns, Caucasian rugs, Turkish rugs, Kurdish rugs and Persian rugs.

There are many opinions to the experience with handmade rugs and their history, especially in regards to symbols. However, one impression that most people agree upon is that the symbols in rugs today are a lost language. Walter A. Hawley, a rug expert from the turn of the 20th century, stated that the original meaning of symbols “has been lost in the remote past and is unknown even to those who now employ them.”

Symbols In Rugs Do Not Need To Remain A Lost Language

Those who study psychology say that their meanings are only hidden. This hidden language is desired by many people who long to understand oriental rug symbols, their origins and meanings.

Despite the fact that many of the symbols were passed down from generation to generation, and much of their meaning lost including Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese writing, Mesopotamian writings and other pictograms, there is still a sense of awe and mystery when relating to rug imagery.

Symbolic Language In Handmade Rugs

The word “symbol” originates from Greece as “symballein” and translates to “throw together, bring together or join”.  Symbolic language has always governed the mind of man, which is the basis of our ancestral magical roots. Ancient symbolism stems from primeval magic and religion. Through rituals, invocations, worship of deities and prayer, symbols have created a spiritual refuge for man.

Carl Jung felt that the “symbol” was the communication of the “unconscious”.  “A concrete image is a manifestation requiring space in which the spirit clothes itself in the material in order to draw to man. Images and numbers are doors through which the spiritual can reach man. – Carl Jung, Conversations with C.G. Jung.

Time, Space and The Subconscious Are Written In Rugs

Our frustrated desires, our unfulfilled dreams, what we love and what we hope, everything that is of importance in our mind, we project in the form of symbols which will eventually be incorporated into works of art and decorative objects, especially objects which like rugs, play an important part in our history.” – Félix Martí Ibáñez, M.D

According to Félix Martí Ibáñez, M.D, “The symbol which the artisan’s fingers wove into the rug was the projection not only of his subconscious motives, but also of his people and his time. The rug thus becomes a blackboard on which a people wrote its secret dream – life in the cabalistic language of symbols.”

Rugs are written pages. In their maze of design there is a symbolical language, the key of which in its ceaseless transmission through the centuries has unhappily been all but lost.” – J.K. Mumford, Oriental Rugs, New York, 1915.

Thus, one can ascertain that the invention of oriental rugs had more to do with mystical, religious or regal experience rather than merely a utilitarian or practical one to cover the floor.

Animal Symbols in Oriental Rugs and Their Meaning

In the ancient past, animals were perceived as gods.  In some cultures, humans feared that the souls of the slain animals may seek revenge. They also believed that their own soul may travel into the body of these animals in the afterlife.

Animals were worshipped before the concept of Gods were created.  They were even mummified becoming associated with dieties.  Just about every part of the world there have been tribes who considered animals as protectors.  Men longed for the secrets of their supernatural qualities.  Personal ideas born from superstition and desire for magical power inspired the weaving of many symbols in the early rugs.

One way to enshrine them forever was in weaving them into a rug.  In this blog we share the efforts of the weaving and their meaning.

The very popular bird symbol offers faith and fertility in handmade oriental rugs


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