Three beams of light shine down from three points to make up the latest emblem added to the list of available symbols that can be featured on grave markers provided by the U.S. government.
Known as the Awen, this symbol is the mark of the Druids, people who endeavor to recapture the “beliefs and practices of the ancient Celts,” according to the website ReligiousTolerance.org.
The Awen is the newest addition to the National Cemetery Administration’s list of Emblems of Belief updated in January of 2017.
Now bearing more than 60 symbols, the Emblems of Belief list is a real eye-opener for those who didn’t know there are dozens of belief systems represented on headstones and columbaria in cemeteries throughout the U.S.
I use “belief systems” loosely – these emblems don’t necessarily represent an organized religion.
An Emblem of Belief, as defined by the National Cemetery Administration, is:
... an emblem or symbol that represents the sincerely held belief of the decedent that constituted a religion or the functional equivalent of religion and was believed and/or accepted as true by that individual during his or her life. The belief represented by an emblem need not be associated with or endorsed by a group or organization.
Up until I looked at the list, I have to admit I hadn’t seen many of these symbols, and I’ll keep an eye out for them during future cemetery visits.
And I should keep an eye out for them, right? There wouldn’t be any sense in engraving a symbol on an enduring, public structure like a grave stone other than for others to see it and perhaps reflect on their own beliefs.
Seeing these symbols might also help people realize how diverse the population of the U.S. really is.
It’s important to realize it mirrors the diverse membership of our military - those for whom government-provided grave markers are meant. Spouses and significant others and dependents are included in certain circumstances.
Depending on where you look, you can find more than 51 different deities worshipped by the Norse people, including Thor – perhaps the most popular of the Norse deities whose hammer serves as another emblem of belief.
Gone are the days of Thor solely serving as a comic book superhero and star in the Marvel Studios movies.
This thunderous deity’s hammer, used to smash things while protecting other deities and mortal people, was added to the list of emblems in 2013.
It doesn’t really look like a hammer to me, but who am I to say. It’s a symbol of this belief system.
And according to a survey that was distributed on social media back in 2013, there are more than 7,800 Americans who consider themselves to be Heathens – this is apparently the proper name of those who adhere to this belief system.
Of course, there are easy ones to pick out – like the various forms of a cross which symbolize different types of Christianity.
There are at least 28 emblems on the list which represent some form of Christianity – so even these are not easy for a novice like myself to identify.
Another familiar symbol that might not be easily-recognized is the emblem of belief tied to adherents of Wicca - the Pentacle.
It’s a five-pointed star inside a circle.
Many of the emblems of belief are indeed symbols. But a few contain the likeness of a person.
Among them is the emblem of the Humanists – at one time this symbol was referred to as the Happy Human, according to Humanism.org.
The original emblem - modifications are used in different geographies - was created by Dennis Barrington, the winner of a competition organized by the British Humanist Association in 1965.
It is among only three of the Cemetery Administration’s Emblems of Belief which contain the likeness of a person as of January 2017.
There are two others. One is the emblem representing Community of Christ - it has what appears to be a child standing in-between a lion and a lamb.
The third symbol with the likeness of a person is the Mormon Angel Moroni, depicting an angel sounding a trumpet.
There are dozens more. And, according to the National Cemetery Administration, more will follow.
A federal rule allows specific people to request a New Emblem of Belief to be accepted for use on grave markers.
To make the request, one has to be the deceased veteran’s next of kin or a person authorized by the next of kin or a personal representative authorized, in writing, by the veteran before she or he passes away.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association