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Wandering in Cemeteries? Find the meanings behind Tombstone Art

We live near a huge graveyard where my grandparents’ ashes are scattered. Once a month, I like to walk to their little rose garden and talk to them. Like a true morbid weirdo, I like to walk through the graveyard and look at the tombstones. Since “Vancouver” is a young city, colonizers have only been burying people here for the past century and a half or so. But I enjoy the faded, weathered, decaying atmosphere. We even did a photoshoot with our kids there. I was planning on taking a walk there this weekend, so I decided to put together a post looking at the meanings behind a lot of the common imagery carved into gravestones. For all my fellow grave-walkers, I hope this list adds something to your next visit.

CVLT Children circa 2015

Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, represented the concept of eternity before it was appropriated by Christianity. Revelation 22:13, King James Bible: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” This symbol represents an omnipotent god, or being raptured a bit too early.

Calla Lily

The calla lily represents resurrection—so again, someone got raptured too early and hopes that Jesus will remember to dig them up when the time comes.

Broken Column

Broken columns are a symbol of early death. Someone who didn’t make it full-column.


Doves on tombstones are another symbol of resurrection, but the meaning changes depending on how the dove is positioned. If the dove is headed up, it’s carrying souls into heaven. If it’s heading down, it’s carrying souls to hell. Haha, just kidding, it means the soul made safe passage to heaven and the dove’s coming back down for the next one. If it’s dead, like the one in the picture above, it means the person dies young. If it’s got an olive branch in its beak, it means the person is safely in heaven, which is hard to confirm but whatever, manifest it.

Draped Urn

The urn symbolizes cremation, even though it’s often seen as a tombstone placed where someone was buried. It’s a throwback to before people became really obsessed with keeping their corpses “intact” in case Christ wanted to reanimate them.

“The cloth draping the urn symbolically guarded the ashes. The shroud-draped urn is believed by some to mean that the soul has departed the shrouded body for its trip to heaven. Others say that the drape signifies the last partition between life and death.”

Pointing Fingers

This is another symbol for manifesting the afterlife. The finger pointing up is saying, I hope I’m headed up there. The finger pointing down means, come get me God, I’m down here. Interesting how human beings feel like their omnipotent God is looking for some kind of direction from them. Don’t they already know everything from Alpha to Omega?

Sleeping Child

This is a dead baby, toddler, or child grave. Sad.

Square & Compass

This is a Masonic grave. I like to give these ones the finger when I walk by.

Inverted Torch

An inverted torch is the opposite of an upright torch. Upright, the torch represents life. Inverted, the torch represents death. Your torch is out, hence why you’re in a grave.

Tree Trunk Tombstone

The tree trunk gravestones are like a family tree where you chop a limb off when someone dies. Kind of like The Giving Tree, but with a bunch of human corpses buried under it.

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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