Kohanim or Cohanim Hands – Priestly Blessing

November 1, 2006

On Jewish tombstones you will sometimes see a symbol showing two hands arranged for the Priestly Blessing like the example here. This is a symbol of the Kohen or Cohen (Hebrew for priest). The plural form is Kohanim or Cohanim. Kohanim are assumed to be direct male descendants of Aaron, who was the first Kohen and the brother of Moses. Some Jewish surnames frequently associated with this symbol are Conn or Cohn (Kohn), Cahn (Kahn), and Cohen (Kohen), but you will find the symbol on the grave markers of people with other surnames. Today families can sometimes verify a priestly lineage from the tombstones of ancestors that have this symbol.

Mr. Spock’s Vulcan Salute

And yes, Star Trek fans… You’ve probably noticed the similarity between this symbol and the Vulcan hand greeting (“live long and prosper”) used in the TV show and movies. This was suggested by actor Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), who saw the Priestly Blessing in a synagogue when he was a child. He modified it as Vulcans use only one hand. See: The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute

Kohanim or Cohanim Hands - Priestly Blessing cemetery symbol

Photo: from Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Improved Order of Red Men

October 29, 2006

The Improved Order of Red Men is a fraternal organization that traces its origins to pre-Revolutionary War patriotic societies like the Sons of Liberty, who were responsible for the Boston Tea Party. The name was changed to the Society of Red Men after the War of 1812, and to the Improved Order of Red Men in 1834. They use some customs and symbols of Native Americans. Today they are a patriotic fraternal organization that promotes freedom, friendship and charity. In cemeteries you will usually see an Indian head symbol like the example here, or an Eagle. The letters TOTE stand for Totem of the Eagle. The female auxiliary of the Red Men is called the Degree of Pocahontas, which was founded in 1885.

Red Men cemetery symbol - TOTE - Totem of the Eagle

Photo: from the headstone of John Z. Oak (1881-1918), Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

All-Seeing Eye – Eye of Providence

October 18, 2006

The all-seeing eye, also called the Eye of Providence or Eye of God, has origins dating back to the Eye of Horus in Egyptian mythology. It has been adopted as part of the Great Seal of the United States, which shows the all-seeing eye floating on top of a pyramid. This can be seen on the back of the one dollar bill. It is often associated with conspiracy theories involving UFOs, the Illuminati or Freemasonry. It is also featured in the 2004 Disney film, National Treaure, and in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as the Eye of Sauron.

In cemeteries the all-seeing eye symbol is usually found associated with Freemasonry or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, like the example here. The letters F, L and T inside the chain links stand for Friendship, Love, and Truth.

All-seeing eye - Eye of Providence cemetery symbol

Photo: Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Dollar Sign – IHS

October 2, 2006

This symbol, which looks like a dollar sign ($), is actually the letters I, H, and S superimposed over each other. These represent the Greek letters Iota (Ι), Eta (Η) and Sigma (Σ), which are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek. See IHS Monogram for more information.

IHS cemetery symbol in the shape of a dollar sign - Iota, Eta, Sigma

Photo: from the grave marker of Atala Blow Noble (1862-1909) and Louis S. Noble (1865-1934), Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Leaving Pebbles or Stones on a Grave Marker

September 26, 2006

The Jewish tradition of leaving a pebble or stone on top of a tombstone signifies that someone has honored the deceased person’s memory with a visit to the grave. A nice example of this is shown at the end of the movie Schindler’s List.

photograph showing stones left on a Jewish tombstone from Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Photo: from Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

For more information on this tradition see: Why do we place pebbles on grave stones? by Rabbi Tom Louchheim

Knights Templar – In Hoc Signo Vinces

September 23, 2006

This photograph is of a Masonic Knights Templar symbol showing a cross within a crown inside a Maltese cross, which has the Latin phrase, “in hoc signo vinces.” The phrase means “in this sign you shall conquer” and was used by Constantine as a military motto in the early 4th Century. The phrase was also used by the original Knights Templar military order that was founded during the Crusades. The Freemasons began using Templar rituals and symbols in the late 1700s.

Knights Templar legends and myths are quite popular in movies and books such as The Da Vinci Code, Foucault’s Pendulum, National Treasure, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Some also see parallels between the Jedi Knights of Star Wars and the Knights Templar military order.

Photo: from the mausoleum of Dr. J.G. Locke, Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado