DICTIONARY - Y


Home Page    |    Flags    |    Logos & Emblems    |    Other Symbols
Mythological Deities    |    Shopping    |    Useful Links    |    Contact Us
0-9 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Yab-yum The traditional Tibetan Buddhist Yab-yum (literally, 'father-mother') image of two deities in an overtly sexual posture is meant to be shocking, but not in the way one might suppose.  A Yab-yum icon is a meditational tool, one of many seemingly contradictory images of sex or death used to achieve the insight that leads to spiritual liberation.

There are several types of Yab-yum, each depicting a tantric deity (compassion) in sexual union with his consort (wisdom), each with its own layers of additional symbolism.  Like the Hindu Shatkona or the Taoist Yin yang, the image represents dual forces in union which create a transcendent unity.  Despite appearances, the Yab-yum is not related in any way to sexual practices.




Yantra A yantra is a meditational device used in Hindu and Tibetan Tantric meditation.  From the root 'yam', meaning 'to sustain', the yantra is a symbolic image used to maintain a focused state during meditation.  A yantra is usually composed of an outer geometrical form enclosing an interior geometrical design.  Each particular design is used for a specific purpose or intent.

The most recognisable yantra is the Sri Yantra.  The Sri Yantra is very ancient, and is a variation on the Shatkona, with nine interlaced triangles (four female, downward facing; five male, upward facing).




Yggdrasil A stylised image of Yggdrasil, the Norse World Ash, the giant mythological Tree that holds together the Nine Worlds or realms of existence guarded by the serpent Jormungandr is shown to the right.  This image appears on the famous Överhogdal Tapestry, which dates to the year 1066 CE and depicts the events of Ragnarok, the apocalyptic prophecy of pre-Christian Norse legend.  The World Ash is one of many variations of the Cosmic Axis or Universal World Tree known to all human cultures.

Yggdrasil is home to many creatures, most notably the serpent or Dragon Nidhogg, who lurks in the base, the Rooster Gullinkambi (golden comb), who lives at the tree's peak, and the squirrel, Ratatosk, who carries messages between them.  These animals can be viewed as metaphors for the human body.  According to Norse legend, Yggdrasil is where the god Odin hung upside down for nine nights in order to obtain the wisdom of the Runes.  Beneath the roots of the World Ash lies the spring, Mimir, to which Odin sacrificed an eye.




YHVH See Tetragrammaton.



Yin yang In Chinese philosophy, this symbol represents 'how everything works', and depicts two great opposite forces unable to exist without each other, and upon whose continual interaction everything depends.  Yin (black) is the female aspect.  Being dark and negative, she represents the Moon, water and the Earth, while yang (white) is male.  He is the opposite, being light and positive, and represents the Sun, Fire and the heavens.

The outer Circle represents everything, i.e. the universe and everything within it, while the black and white shapes within the circle symbolise the interaction of the two energies, 'yin' and 'yang', which cause all things to happen in the universe.  However, bear in mind that the conception of black and white is not quite true, just as things in life are not completely black or white -- there are always some elements of grey.  While 'yin' is dark and passive, downward and cold, contracting and weak, 'yang' is bright and active, upward and hot, expanding and strong.

From the shape of the two sections of the symbol, continually revolving like a wheel spinning on its axle, one can gain a sense of the perpetual movement of these two energies.  Yin changes to yang while yang changes to yin, then back again, causing everything to happen during the process, such as waters freezing and melting, plants growing to produce their seeds before dying, metals expanding and contracting, night turning to day, winter turning to spring, then summer, then autumn and eventually back to winter.




Yoke Mainly a symbol of oppression and submission.  A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs, as oxen usually do -- some yokes are fitted to individual animals.  There are several types of yoke used in different cultures and for different types of oxen.  A pair of oxen may be called a yoke of oxen, and yoke is also a verb, as in ‘to yoke a pair of oxen’.  Other animals that may be yoked include horses, mules, donkeys, and water buffalo.

The yoke has connotations of subservience and toiling; in some ancient cultures it was traditional to force a vanquished enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of spears or swords.  The yoke may be a metaphor for something oppressive or burdensome, such as feudalism, imperialism, tribute, or conscription, as in the expressions the ‘Norman Yoke’ (in England), the ‘Tatar Yoke’ (in Russia), or the ‘Turkish Yoke’ (in the Balkans).

The metaphor can also refer to the state of being linked or chained together by contract or marriage, similar to a pair of oxen.  The yoke is frequently used metaphorically in the Bible, first in Genesis regarding Esau.

In the 20th century CE, the yoke and arrows became a symbol of the Falange1 political movement in Spain.

1The Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista (Traditionalist Spanish Phalanx of the Committees of the National Syndicalist Offensive) was the sole legal party of the Francoist State in Spain.  It emerged in 1937 from the merger of the Carlist Party with the Falange Española de las JONS and was dissolved in 1977 by Adolfo Suárez's transitional government.




Return to top of page.


© dictionaryofsymbols.co.uk