Mysticism in Literature: The Role of the Symbolism

Symbols and mysticism in literature have always played a significant role in languages and cultures. It is widely believed that the power of symbols and mysticism has the ability to reveal hidden truths about life and make it easier for people to understand one another. Whether in ancient scriptures, medieval texts, or modern pieces, symbolism has long been an integral part of literature.

There are many different types of symbols found in literature, but not all of them are created equal. The main types are an allegory, archetype, apotheosis, metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, litotes, etc. Each of these types has its own unique properties that give meaning to the text they’re involved with. Here’s how these symbols work to expand your understanding of the world around you.

Mysticism, Literature, and Symbolism

The relationship between mysticism and literature has long been accepted in the spiritual context. If we talk about religious spirituality, literary symbolism has an important role. Many Sufi saints frequently used literary symbols in their literary work. The most common example can be traced from the Punjabi Sufi poets, all of their literary work revolves around religious symbolism.  

Defining Symbols

A symbol is something that stands for, resembles, or suggests another object, quality, idea, etc. In literature, symbols have the power to represent abstract ideas and concepts. They can also be auditory or visual. Symbols rely on certain aspects of human perception in order to create meaning and evoke emotion.

The Importance of Symbolism

In literature, symbolism is the use of symbols to represent abstract ideas. A symbol is an object, character, or even a sound that has a symbolic meaning–something other than its literal meaning. In the simplest sense, a symbol is usually something concrete that stands for something more abstract.

The power of symbolism can be difficult to resist. Symbols give meaning to texts and have been used throughout history as a means of communication and understanding between cultures and people. Whether in ancient scriptures or modern pieces, symbolism has long been an integral part of literature.

This post takes a look at some of the most common types of symbols found in literature today and how they contribute to your understanding of life and others around you.

The Different Types of Symbolism

The majority of symbolism in literature is an allegory.  Allegories use symbols to represent other objects and qualities. One best example of this type is “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. The story uses animal characters as symbols to represent different groups of people during the time it was written (1944).


Allegory is the representation of abstract concepts, people, or things through symbols or actions. Which are visible and understandable to a certain audience. These symbols then serve as a visual representation of what the text is trying to say without explicitly saying it.


Archetype is another form of the symbolism found in literature is the Archetype, which refers to a character, event, object, or concept that exists universally and can be considered an original pattern for all other instances of its type.

An archetype is a symbol that carries mythological or cultural significance. For example, Hinduism has the symbol of the god Ganesha which is often used as a creative writing prompt for students in elementary classrooms. One example would be the use of the word “father” when describing authority figures. The meaning behind this symbol is universally understood because it has been used throughout literature for centuries.


Apotheosis is the elevation of someone to divine status or rank. This usually means an individual is being glorified for their achievements in life and it’s often used to represent someone who has reached their full potential in life-like ‘the American Dream’. This type of symbolism can also refer to when an author glorifies something so much that it becomes unrealistically perfect, like when you’re writing about your perfect relationship with your mother; this type of imagery would be seen as apotheosis.

More Details and Examples of Symbolism in Literature

One of the most common and foremost types of the symbolism found in literature is an allegory. Allegory is often used to teach people about morals and values through stories that don’t involve any particular person or event.

Another type and important form of the symbolism found in literature is the archetype. An archetype is generally a prototype, original pattern, or such a model from which all things of the same kind are copied(replicated) or on which they depend on.

Archetypes appear across cultures and represent abstract concepts that are shared by all human beings. Although it’s believed that archetypes can be found within an author’s work, it’s also possible for them to be found in the reader’s mind.

Apotheosis refers to deification; glorifying someone or something to god-like status. This type of symbolism is often used to portray characters as god-like figures because they’re either morally perfect or possess qualities like wisdom, love, bravery, etcetera.

Synecdoche is such a type of symbolism in which a small part of the content well represents the whole thing. For example, using “hands” when talking about “manual labor.” Metonymy is similar to synecdoche but uses related words rather than parts. For instance, saying “Washington” instead of “America.” Litotes involves an understatement by invoking negative attributes

How to Identify Symbolism in Literature

Symbolism in literature is a concept that many might not be familiar with. However, it’s a really important literary device to understand because it helps you comprehend texts and the world around you. 

The best way to start understanding symbolism is to learn how to identify it in your reading materials. When you’re reading, try to take note of the symbols that are used in the text you’re reading and how they affect its meaning. So, you’ll find that symbols often carry a lot of weight in literature.

So, these are some types and examples of symbols in literature. Here in this blog, we have mentioned and tried to explain some of these different types of symbols found in the literature.

Concluding Lines

Spirituality and symbolism are interlinked with each other. Many religious saints used symbols in their religious literary work. In fact, symbols are the language of the unconscious. If you are not able to identify these symbols in the literature you read, you may be missing what the author is really trying to say. The next time you read, take a closer look at what these symbols mean and how they relate to the text.

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