Lighthouses are powerful symbols that we see in literature, art, film, and even (occasionally) our dreams.
They have multiple different symbolic meanings, often depending on the context in which they’re seen. But here are the key symbols of lighthouses.
Lighthouses can symbolize:
- Loneliness and Isolation
- The End of a Journey
- Frozen Time
Below I’ll examine all 12 of these symbols and the meaning behind them.
Lighthouse Symbolism and Meanings
Lighthouses stand on some of the most dangerous terrain of our coastlines. For ship captains, they are a sign that danger is nearby. They show you the ship captains. Rocks are under the surface end that this is a location where shipwrecks I likely and even common.
Lighthouses therefore symbolize danger in a very literal sense.
But even in literature and movies a lighthouse may appear at a time of danger. imagine a rainy scene is lightning on the horizon and a lighthouse standing lonely on the Cliff’s Edge. This is a common scene in stories. And it is a scene that you will often see at a time of climax in the story line.
Lighthouses can symbolize strength. They stand on the edges of cliffs and on top of rocks that are battered by the sea.
And yet they endure years, decades, and even centuries Standing Tall and facing the elements of the ocean.
At times when even the animals flee from coastal storms, the lighthouse continues to stand strong and does not succumb to the wind and rain that smashes against its foundations.
While lighthouses stand on the most dangerous parts of coastlines, they are there to ensure our safety and safe passage of ships passing through.
They are therefore symbols of both danger and safety.
without lighthouses many more ships will be sunk on the coastlines and more people will die.
Furthermore, a lighthouse is a safe haven for people on the coastline who might be in need of shelter from storms. It is a safe haven for the Lighthouse Keeper and his family. during storms people Retreat into the lighthouse where they know they will be safe from the elements outside.
4. Ghosts and the Supernatural
You don’t need to look far to find stories of murder and haunted lighthouses. The sheer age of these towers gives us a sense of history as we enter them. Surely, they’ve seen some things – murders, grizzly deaths, and stories from times past.
The fact that lighthouses are generally build in isolated and rugged locations adds to this sense of mystery and the supernatural. They’re distant from the worlds we usually inhabit, so they might live by different rules than ours – maybe, even, supernatural spirits might be there.
Similarly, the fact that lighthouses are built by rocks where shipwrecks are most likely to occur means that many people will have died near these towers. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of imagination to think that the spirits of the dead might choose to take refuge in the towers near where they died.
A lighthouse can be a source of Hope for people lost at sea.
Ships seeking Safe Harbor and land will be looking at the first sign of land. This often takes the form of a light on the horizon. This of course is the light from the top of the lighthouse.
So despite the fact lighthouses are often in locations where death and bad weather I’ll come on, the White House is also a welcoming sign of Hope the people on Long Journeys out at sea.
Lighthouses guide us safely to shore. They are therefore important navigation tools for sailors.
People even get lighthouses as tattoos because they can be symbols of something that is a Guiding Light. It helps them to go in the right direction in their lives.
This is clearly metaphorical. something that is a “guiding light” is simply a principle that ensures you are following a moral and right pop in your life. For example the lighthouse tattoo could be symbolic hope your faith in Jesus as your Guiding Light or your mother or father as your Guiding Light.
Lighthouses keep watch 24 hours a day 365 days a year. There is never a time when they are switched off.
The symbolism of that spinning light is powerful. Every few seconds it will spin your way and flash before your eyes.
This symbol of the lighthouse links back strongly to the idea mentioned earlier of the lighthouse as a sign of strength. The lighthouse keeper will always be there – standing strong through everything.
You can always rely on the lighthouse to be there fore you.
And even during times of War, the lighthouses are our vigilant eyes. They will be the first things to see enemies coming to invade. The lighthouse keeper will be there to provide an early warning signal to all of us, so we may be prepared when the enemies reach the shore.
8. Loneliness and Isolation
Lighthouses often stand alone on the most inhabitable parts of our coastlines. You might see one from sea and notice it’s the only building from horizon to horizon.
Even more lonely are the lighthouses that stand on otherwise inhabitable islands. These lighthouse keepers rely on the goods brought through by sailors to ensure they remain fed and kept up-to-date with the information from the mainland.
You can imagine the life of a lighthouse keeper would be a very lonely one indeed. He would probably have to be a happy introvert, content with the company of himself and a good book.
It would, in fact, be a great storyline to have a story of a man who has excommunicated himself from society living in a lighthouse out at sea. The lighthouse would reinforce this idea of his solitary life far from civilization.
Unfortunately the story of lighthouses is also the story of death. Lighthouses are only placed in certain locations with we know death is likely without the lighthouse’s presence.
They’re placed above hidden sandbars and currents that pull ships into the rocks unwittingly.
And we can look at the history of the capes where lighthouses are placed to see their grizzly past.
La Jument lighthouse in Brittany (France), for example, was built after SS Drummond Castle was shipwrecked in June, 1896. This shipwreck led to 250 deaths.
But just as a lighthouse symbolizes death, it also symbolizes life. They are life-saving buildings that have protected many tens of thousands of ships and people over the years.
And, up until recently, most lighthouses were also guaranteed to be manned. There was always the requirement for someone to maintain the lights on top of the tower, receive distress signals, and keep watch over the seas.
So, the lighthouse is both a sign of life and a life-saver.
11.The End of a Journey
People who cross the seas will be welcomed to land – finally – by the lighthouse on the horizon. Seeing this light is the first sign to sailors that their journey is coming to a happy ending.
Here, the lighthouse is also a sign of welcome: you’ve come to the end of your journey, and you’re now being guided safely through the final few miles.
You could imagine the final scene of a movie about someone stranded at sea: they are exhausted after an epic physical and emotional journey. They stand up and … they see a tiny building on the coastline, and they know the end has finally arrived.
12. Frozen Time
Cities are built, architectural trends change, and time passes. But it seems lighthouses are relics from years past. They stand on coastlines for literally centuries, unchanged and unwavering.
In fact, the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world was constructed way back in 1220 CE. Hook Lighthouse in Ireland has been updated and restored over time, but remains in the same place protecting the Irish coastline.
This symbolism can be put to good effect in films and literature. For example, your protagonist might go to an isolated lighthouse to meet up with a lighthouse keeper who seems ancient and greyed with wisdom from time past.
Lighthouses symbolize creepy things like death, ghosts and danger. But, simultaneously, they can be symbols of safety and refuge for weary sailors finding their way safely across the seas.
When viewing them in art and literature, we often associate them with loneliness, isolation, and even frozen time. They stand vigilantly facing storms coming from the seas and the keepers of the light are vigilant coastguards keeping watch over the dangerous seas beyond, far removed from the civilization and bustle of cities and towns.
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.