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Grave symbols of many faiths
July 9, 2013 9:22 AM   Subscribe

There are 50 symbols currently allowed on the gravestones of US military personnel. The Wiccan pentacle was only approved in 2007 after a fight that invoked President George W Bush's views on the faith, though other symbols, such as Thor's Hammer, have been added with less of a fight. Most recently a Sandhill Crane was approved for the first same-sex spouse member buried in a military cemetery. Military gravestones are very light on symbolism, however, compared to older religious gravestones or, say, the Victorians.
posted by blahblahblah (61 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The islamic 5 pointed star is copywritten?
posted by cmfletcher at 9:28 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suspect that the Islamic symbol is too divisive to show on a US Military website.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:33 AM on July 9, 2013


I don't quite get the sandhill crane one; it seems to have been a personal emblem for this particular couple, rather than being something that is widely recognized as a symbol of same-sex marriage. Does this mean that every couple going forward will be able to nominate an emblem of personal significance to them? Or does this get to be the "official" emblem of same-sex marriage from hence forward?
posted by yoink at 9:33 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Real Dan, that one is at number 17, not whatever is referenced at the end of the list as "98 - MUSLIM (Islamic 5 Pointed Star) Not shown because of copyrights."
posted by stopgap at 9:35 AM on July 9, 2013


The Sandhill Crane has an additional interesting connection

When I returned to the cabin that night, I heard the terrible news that the bombing of Iraq had begun and I felt devastated. But, sitting by the fire with a candle that I had lit earlier with a desperate prayer for war to be averted, I thought of the cranes. They symbolize peace for so many people around the world. We can view them on their great migratory journeys as peace messengers, their display along the river as a Dance of Peace.
Jane Goodall

posted by kokaku at 9:36 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone know the history of 49: Infinity? It's literally just ∞. Cool, probably what I would pick, but I have no idea how it got added, which group agitated for it, or whether it's from a specific religion.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:44 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


What happened to number 50? It's missing from both the .asp and PDF pages.
posted by achrise at 9:44 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've always enjoyed the Atheist symbol (#18). SCIENCE! A-TOMS! AAATHEISM! /50s announcer voice
posted by ormondsacker at 9:48 AM on July 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks, Stopgap.
There's more discussion on the copyright of the Muslim symbol here.
I think it's this thing.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:48 AM on July 9, 2013


Anyone know the history of 49: Infinity? It's literally just ∞. Cool, probably what I would pick, but I have no idea how it got added, which group agitated for it, or whether it's from a specific religion.

Cracks a 40 for Buzz Lightyear.
posted by biffa at 9:49 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


big infinite sponsored it...
posted by infinite intimation at 9:51 AM on July 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've nothing against the crane, I like cranes a lot, but the other symbols seems indicative of religious or alternative non beliefs (hence the "Available Emblems of Belief" - so in this context the crane is the belief is...? From the articles it just seems very specific to that couple.

Which really sets a precedent for people to petition for unique symbols.

I've no problem with that personally, but am surprised it was allowed and await to see what will now be added.
posted by edgeways at 9:52 AM on July 9, 2013


Show me the Flying Spaghetti Monster!
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:53 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


the Real Dan - symbol 98 is reproduced on the wikipedia page for VA approved symbols here. It's just a 5 pointed star from wikimedia commons so I have no idea what the copyright issue is. (Unless Wikipedia is wrong.) The crescent and star is #17, as Stopgap pointed out.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:53 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Permission to add "Dolphin" and "Jessica Rabbit Riding A Harley Made Of Bones" sir?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:04 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Postal Horn or gtfo
posted by thelonius at 10:07 AM on July 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nice to see the flaming chalice made the cut at the VA, even if it's not a particularly attractive one. A rather interesting history behind this uniquely Unitarian symbol that didn't even exist before WWII...
posted by jim in austin at 10:09 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, it is sometimes seen on old Jewish gravestones, but I can't help thinking that "Kohen Hands" got smuggled in by someone whose religion was actually Star Trek.
posted by ostro at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2013


I'm impressed that Spock hands made the cut, even if it did take a return to their Jewish origin. (#45) Now we just need Geordi LaForge's Visor (aka Rainbow of the Infinite or whatever it takes to get it past the people who approve the list).
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect that the Islamic symbol is too divisive to show on a US Military website.

Why do the Lutherans get so damn many, but all sects of Islam only get one? What, they can't throw a Hamsa in there or some frickin' calligraphy? Oh no, just some generic trademarked 5-pointed star. Muslims are only 3% of the US population, so I'm sure there's no problem if they're left out.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:13 AM on July 9, 2013


"There are 50 symbols currently allowed on the gravestones of US military personnel." - but there is a procedure for allowing other symbols that is described at the bottom of that web page, so the situation is not as exclusive as the lead sentence might imply.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 10:13 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect that the Islamic symbol is too divisive to show on a US Military website.

That doesn't make much sense, since the common Muslim crescent-and-stars symbol is shown.
posted by smackfu at 10:15 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Postal Horn or gtfo

The marker of plot 49?
posted by yoink at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not an atheist exactly (my precise beliefs aren't well-summarised with a symbol) but I was a bit disappointed that the atheist atom doesn't look like more like the Captain Manhattan symbol.
posted by Acheman at 10:26 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The digital Farber Gravestone Collection is a major Internet timehole for me. You can browse/search by a bunch of categories (including symbols).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:28 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kind of suprised the Scientologists aren't on the list.
posted by smoothvirus at 10:33 AM on July 9, 2013


Why do the Lutherans get so damn many, but all sects of Islam only get one?

Scrolling through the list, I was really struck by how attentive to branding all the different Christian denominations are, with all those variations on the cross. Although the United Methodist flame really looks like something got accidentally wiped on the template.
posted by psoas at 10:34 AM on July 9, 2013


The islamic 5 pointed star is copywritten?

My guess is there's some kind of Islamic organization that holds a copyright (or more likely a Trademark) for the symbol, whether for personal profit or protecting the identity of the mark to prevent others from exploiting it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:43 AM on July 9, 2013


Where's the FSM?
posted by Chuffy at 10:56 AM on July 9, 2013


Where's Bob?
posted by Chuffy at 10:58 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, no Scientology markers?
posted by rmd1023 at 11:08 AM on July 9, 2013


Episcopalians don't really use that cross. I mean, more so than any other cross. It's sort of a Celtic cross, isn't it? Anyway, I personally identify more closely with the Canterbury Cross.

I don't understand the cranes. Marriage, of any stripe, isn't a belief. It can be informed by your other beliefs, and you can believe things about it, but it itself isn't something you believe, any more than "motherhood" is a belief. Should soldiers who have borne children have a special symbol? The other thing that seems strange to me is that there was no other symbol that these women thought better represented their beliefs. They were apparently neither religious nor non-religious. They were just married. And liked cranes.

Maybe they should start making these symbols mix and match. That way a gay, Christian, physicist could have a crane, a cross and an atom and be covered.
posted by Biblio at 11:08 AM on July 9, 2013


But who will speak for the Jedi, and for the Klingons?

Of course there are no Scientologist symbols, as there are no recorded deaths of a Scientologist, ever.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:13 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should soldiers who have borne children have a special symbol?

Oh jeez--don't go giving anyone any ideas. I can see that one taking off like wildfire.
posted by yoink at 11:18 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just because a symbol isn't on the list doesn't necessarily mean it was omitted - as noted, these are that were petitioned for and approved. For example, I don't see a Taoist symbol on there anywhere and I don't think anyone has particular grudges against ying-yangs. Rastafari and Jain symbols are also absent. Nor is there a Jesus fish, another perfectly reasonable Christian symbol.
posted by maryr at 11:49 AM on July 9, 2013


I don't quite get the sandhill crane one; it seems to have been a personal emblem for this particular couple, rather than being something that is widely recognized as a symbol of same-sex marriage.

I did find another reference to sandhill cranes and same-sex couples in this link.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:55 AM on July 9, 2013


Where's Bob?

Seriously. The Dobbs Ikon would fit right in.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:58 AM on July 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


(There's no AME or Baptist specific crosses either, surprisingly.)
posted by maryr at 11:59 AM on July 9, 2013


I did find another reference to sandhill cranes and same-sex couples in this link.

Yeah, I Googled before I posted to make sure, and I found that reference too--but that seems just another couple who think sandhill cranes are a cute symbol of faithful love and who happen to be gay. If you just Google "sandhill cranes marriage" you'll come up with lots and lots of straight couples (and Christian straight couples) maundering on about the eternal faithfulness of the not-at-all-gay sandhill cranes.
posted by yoink at 12:06 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm holding out for sexy-lady silhouettes, or maybe Yosemite Sam saying "BACK OFF."
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:11 PM on July 9, 2013


The Sandhill Crane has an additional interesting connection

Hunh. Though, Goodall as a religious leader is a compelling idea.
posted by bonehead at 12:16 PM on July 9, 2013


When the Mormons convert people after they are already dead, do they change their markers on the gravestones to reflect the dead's new faith?
posted by el io at 12:42 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone know the history of 49: Infinity? It's literally just ∞. Cool, probably what I would pick, but I have no idea how it got added, which group agitated for it, or whether it's from a specific religion.

I've seen Metis People in Canada use the Infinity symbol on their flag and as a cultural symbol. I'm not aware of any religious use, or if it is used outside of Canada.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:43 PM on July 9, 2013


The one for atheists, aside from being awful, is ridiculous. For one thing, it's the logo for the American Atheists society. So having this on your grave is sort of like having a Rotarian or 4H-club symbol on your grave. Which, if that's your thing, more power to you, but that seems to be outside the scope of these symbols.

But it also seems to be advertising "my lack of a religion is equivalent to your religion," which…I don't know…maybe if you actually are a member of the American Atheists organization, it really is like that, but…no, you know what? No. Vocal atheists will say "atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby." This completely undermines that.
posted by adamrice at 12:48 PM on July 9, 2013


What would you propose atheists put on their grave markers, then, adamrice? Just a blank space?

(Actually the more I think about that the more apt it seems...)
posted by ook at 12:59 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


What would you propose atheists put on their grave markers, then, adamrice? Just a blank space?

A member of my family is buried in a national cemetary. He was an atheist and his widow chose not to have any religious symbol on the gravestone. There's writing on the stone, including his name, the dates of his birth and death, his branch of the service, his rank, and the name of the war in which he served. I think it also says "Beloved husband, father, and son" or something like that. He wasn't associated with any religious or atheist organizations, so the lack of any symbol has always seemed appropriate to me.
posted by Area Man at 1:18 PM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


What would you propose atheists put on their grave markers, then, adamrice?

"This Space Intentionally Left Blank."
posted by yoink at 1:30 PM on July 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Unicode to the rescue:
U+FFFD � replacement character used to replace an unknown or unrepresentable character

(Though maybe that'd be better for agnostics)
posted by ook at 1:53 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kind of suprised the Scientologists aren't on the list.

That's because Scientology is not a religion.
posted by sour cream at 2:49 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the Mormons convert people after they are already dead, do they change their markers on the gravestones to reflect the dead's new faith?

Only after the deceased has accepted the offer of baptism in the afterlife.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:32 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should soldiers who have borne children have a special symbol?

Oh jeez--don't go giving anyone any ideas. I can see that one taking off like wildfire.


I am basically picturing tombstones with these.
posted by naoko at 4:09 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Judging by the dog tags I have seen posted to reddit, almost everyone puts Jedi for faith anyway.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:10 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The one for atheists, aside from being awful, is ridiculous. For one thing, it's the logo for the American Atheists society.

I agree and am also kind of ick on the humanist one.
posted by naoko at 4:14 PM on July 9, 2013


Disappointed that "Thor's Hammer" looks nothing like how Kirby drew it.
posted by straight at 4:43 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could see the sandhills working well for my parents. They go down to the Bosque del Apache almost every fall to see them in migration. It's sort of like a yearly pilgrimage.
posted by NoraReed at 4:57 PM on July 9, 2013


Wow, I wish I'd known this when my dad died a little while ago. I knew he wouldn't want a cross, so we just had his dates of service (and had a military presence at the funeral), but I think it would have pleased him no end to have the infinity symbol there.
posted by emcat8 at 8:35 PM on July 9, 2013


So having this on your grave is sort of like having a Rotarian or 4H-club symbol on your grave.

I feel that way about most of the religious symbols as well. How is this different?
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:55 AM on July 10, 2013


The one for atheists, aside from being awful, is ridiculous. For one thing, it's the logo for the American Atheists society.

I don't know when the VA approved the atheist symbol, but I wonder if it was back when American Atheists was one of the few visible, sizable and active atheist organizations working for equal rights for atheists, and whether AA worked with the VA to get the symbol approved. I suppose organizations today could advocate for an additional atheist symbol, perhaps the A of the Out Campaign, especially given the variety of Christian denominations represented among the markers.

This completely undermines that.

I find the contrary is true: it demonstrates that atheism, which is the absence of belief in deity, may or may not play a central role in a person's worldview, one which they or their family may or may not wish to display on so prominent a place as a grave marker. For those who emphasize their atheism, I think it is good that they have equal access to displays that their religious veterans have.

...also kind of ick on the humanist one.

The Happy Human is the longstanding (circa 1965) official symbol of Humanist associations worldwide, including the International Humanist and Ethical Union. I'm not aware of any other symbol that would communicate as effectively as the Happy Human a veteran's adherence to the values of Humanism as developed in the 20th and 21st centuries.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:56 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm familiar with the symbol; I just think it's ugly and generic-looking. It reminds me of some of these (previously). I waver between calling myself an atheist and a humanist, but I don't feel much of an affinity with organized groups of either, so trademarked logos don't really do it for me. If other people like it, that's fine, I suppose - although it really is ugly.
posted by naoko at 3:13 PM on July 10, 2013


Muscle Rock: The tone-deaf body-builder rock ‘n’ roll heroics of THOR!!!
posted by homunculus at 12:32 PM on July 11, 2013


As an atheist, I would probably opt for the infinity symbol out of everything available.
posted by codacorolla at 11:59 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


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