Exploring the Symbolism of Gold
For as long as time has been recorded, gold has been associated with the highest values of influential societies and cultures, symbolizing important traits and objects such as wealth, power, treasure, justice, balance, and the sun. In ancient stories and folk tales throughout history worldwide, gold has always been an important part of the hierarchical, artistic, and monetary aspects of powerful societies.
Gold has been coveted in many societies throughout history, but not all. The Native Americans of North America found gold useless and therefore priceless, while its affluence in Central and South America was largely responsible for sending European explorers to the New World. The nobility of Medieval Europe used gold flakes in their food and beverages as a decoration and a way for the host to express wealth. Their kings were inducted under a crown of gold to show that the eternal light of heaven shown upon their heads.
Gold has been known to man since the Copper Age, or Chalcolithic Period, which dates back 7,000 years. Artifacts containing gold dated from 4000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. have been recovered from the Balkans and Europe, respectively. Ancient Egypt is another place that gold was used starting around 2600 B.C., and was a society in which gold was extremely prevalent. It also became very abundant in Africa’s Mali Empire around A.D. 1300, and the empire’s ruler gave away so much gold that it destroyed its value in Egypt.
Gold symbolism appears in ancient Greek mythology in legends such as that of Jason and the golden fleece, which was highly coveted, and King Midas and his golden touch, which was at first both a blessing and curse, but ultimately his demise. Gold has rich symbolism in Christianity, being associated with both the sacred and the corrupt. Gold is referenced throughout the Bible and is often used to distinguish between the sinister rich and suffering poor, one of many forms of symbolism commonly applied to gold.
Common Symbols of Gold
Wealth: Gold is most commonly associated with money, wealth, riches, affluence, and high society. Throughout history, the rulers and royalty of civilizations have traditionally used gold as a symbol of their power in ways that permeated every aspect of their lives. Today, gold is owned by both the rich and poor, but it is commonly associated with the rich as a luxury and with the poor as something that’s inherited as an heirloom or pawned in times of need.
Even though there was so much gold in the old world that ancient Egyptian and African societies buried their Kings in gold suits and gave gold away to peasants, it’s estimated that 75% of the world’s gold has been extracted in the last century. Gold has always been considered the most coveted of the precious metals, even though platinum is valued much higher.
Money: Gold’s value is used as the standard for many currencies and has been the material used to make many currencies in the past. Gold bars and coins are still used in investment and held as a protective measure against inflation.
The Sun: A chief mission of alchemists was to make gold out of other, less valued substances. Alchemy’s symbol for gold is a circle with a dot in the center, which was the alchemists’ astrological symbol for the sun and the Chinese symbol for the sun.
In Ancient Egypt, Central America, and South America, gold was often directly associated with the sun, as they were similar in both color and importance. Temples, shrines, and graves in these cultures were always made of and filled with gold and gold was offered up to the sun gods above all others.
Treasure: From pirates at sea to leprechauns in Ireland, someone has always been searching for that elusive hidden treasure of gold.
Balance: The weight of gold has been considered an accurate and universal measurement that has transgressed time and cultures. A bar of gold on a scale is still commonly used today in the United States to depict fairness, balance, and justice.
Achievement: Gold medals, trophies, and other rewards are both ancient and modern symbols of and awards for achievement.
Perfection: The golden mean, golden ratio, and golden rule all refer to valued elements existing in perfection.
Age: Gold is associated with the positive aspects of age, such as in the golden fiftieth wedding anniversary, the golden years, and the golden age of a civilization.