What Stands for in Snow? Spiritual & Symbolic Meaning of Snow

Snow is a stunning natural occurrence that often signals the beginning of winter and symbolises the shift of the seasons. It is glistening, fresh, and bright. It arouses seasonal fervour and memories of childhoods spent savouring the majesty of each snowflake.

You might be shocked to hear that snow can represent everything from suffering to transformation to individualism. These typical connotations of snow aren’t the only things it can. Join us as we examine the various interpretations of snow symbolism throughout history in various faiths, mythology, and cultures.

Snow’s Spiritual Symbolism

Different cultures have long used snow as a symbol in their spiritual practises. Scripture passages such as Psalm 51:7, in which the poet begs for washing, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” make clear how snow is used as a symbol of purity in Christianity. In East Asian philosophy, snow is regarded as something pure and new.

White is the symbol for purity, according to author Ming-Dao Deng in his book Everyday Tao: Living With Balance and Harmony. It is the hue of spirituality during ceremonies.

Not just in religious texts, but also in other works of literature, snow is occasionally used as a symbol of purity. Consider the sentence from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, “I considered her as chaste as unsunned snow,” made by one of the characters.

In other plays of Shakespeare, including Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, and even Hamlet, snow is also used as a symbol of purity. The name of the renownedly morally upright fairy tale heroine, Snow White, is another clear parallel.

In a piece for the spiritual education and health institution Meaningful Life Center, author and Rabbi Simon Jacobson goes even further. He begins by stating that “water is a symbol of knowledge in all of its forms.

The movement of knowledge from a higher to a lower area, or the flow of information from teacher to pupil, is symbolised by descending water. Therefore, snow falling might stand for people receiving knowledge.

While the rabbi compares rain to an onslaught of information pouring down upon Earth, snow is a little more subdued. A snowflake needs both water droplets (in the form of vapour) and a nucleus made up of dust, minerals, and other airborne particles in order to form, according to Jacobson. It is, therefore, technically composed of a mixture of earth and water.

According to Jacobson, the earth represents the material world, while the water droplets stand in for God’s knowledge. This combination may make snow a metaphor for a bridge connecting heaven and Earth.

Rabbi Jacobson further notes that “snowflakes indicate the necessity to communicate gradually, step by step, in a manner that is comprehensible to the student,” given the reality that snow eventually dissolves into water.

Snow’s Mystical Symbols

Additionally, snow can be found in the well-known Rider-Waite deck of tarot cards from 1909, particularly in figures like the Fool, the Hermit, and the Five of Pentacles. It’s interesting to consider how the cards typically show snow given that the tarot is all about symbolism and serves to understand subconscious signals, such as those that emerge in dreams.

Snow doesn’t typically have delicate tarot meanings, as you can see in the Five of Pentacles card. In this card, a couple personifies the concept of being left “out in the cold,” which might be brought on by financial loss, paucity, or sloppy planning.

Although the Hermit appears to be doing well, the message of his card is that he has complete control over his wintry surroundings. In this view, the hermit is frequently connected to seclusion, particularly the kind of retreat that is occasionally actively pursued in order to achieve spiritual development.

He holds forth a lantern as a beacon to other seekers, having achieved a level of spiritual mastery over his hard surroundings—the solitude and desolation depicted by snow.

The Fool is the final character and is a young man who is just beginning his trip into the unknown. He seems blissfully ignorant of the hardships and obstacles that await him as he prepares to attempt to conquer the snowy mountains in the distance as he gets ready to make the ultimate “jump from the cliff.”

While snow may occasionally stand for innocence or fresh starts, its meaning can vary greatly depending on the observer. For many years, those who weren’t prepared for a severe winter may be sentenced to death.

In literature, snow has also frequently represented gloom, hopelessness, and death. In her novel Ethan Frome, Edith Warton writes that the pale light reflected from the snowbanks made one character’s face appear “more than normally drawn and bloodless.” Even A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens employs the metaphor of snow to characterise the particularly cynical Scrooge.

Dickens claimed that “no wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more set upon its mission, no pelting rain was less amenable to entreaty” when describing the infamous miser.

Celtic myths and folklore about snow

Ever ponder why holly is customarily hung during the winter? This tradition has its roots largely in Celtic mythology. These prehistoric people were extremely conscious of seasonal changes, frequently because they had to take advantage of the weather to have effective planting and harvesting seasons in order to survive.

The Oak King and the Holly King were two mythical beings that stood in for summer and winter in Celtic culture. The Oak King, who ruled over the summer, stood for expansion, fertility, harvest, and longer days of light. The Holly King, on the other hand, presided over winter and was associated with gloomier times, a lack of development, and mortality.

Each year, the Oak and Holly kings fought each other, with the winner bringing in the season he stood for. It became customary to display holly leaves in his honour each year since the Holly King ascension carried the snowy days of winter with him.

Due to its thorny leaves and the fact that it is one of the few plants that can grow in snow, holly was also regarded to fend off evil spirits. It was also thought to stand for hope and resilience.

The Holly King was properly revered (and even feared), but it’s fascinating to notice that he doesn’t seem to have been hated enough to be portrayed as a demon or other malevolent power. Instead, he had a similar appearance to Santa Claus thanks to his red clothing and occasional use of an eight-stag sled. Although the ancient people believed that the Oak and Holly kings were constantly at war, they also appeared to understand that one could not survive without the other.

Snow can therefore be viewed as a kind of essential death that comes before the recreation of life. Snow can be seen in this perspective as a stern yet mighty force for rebirth and fresh beginnings. When we make New Year’s goals in the winter and promise to give up our bad habits and replace them with better ones, this type of symbolism is still there.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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