The orb, also known as a ball, sphere or globe, is a common symbol that has been used for centuries across many cultures to represent unity, wholeness, infinity, cyclical movement, and divine perfection. In iconography and symbolism, the orb holds deep meaning that connects to core human values and experiences.
One of the most prominent symbolic meanings of the orb is its association with spiritual realms and divine power. In many religions and mythologies, deities are depicted holding orbs as a representation of their cosmic dominion and sacred wisdom. For instance, in ancient Egypt, the gods were frequently shown grasping the ankh, a hieroglyphic symbol resembling a cross with a loop on top that symbolized eternal life. In Hinduism, Vishnu holds the sudarshan chakra, a spinning disc weapon that represents the cycles of time. And in Christianity, globes often symbolize God’s sovereignty over the world and heavens.
Likewise, the orb and scepter held by monarchs were originally used as symbols of their divine right to rule. The orb represented the entirety of the kingdom, while the scepter stood for the monarch’s power and authority. Even as belief in the divine right of kings diminished, orbs remained part of the royal regalia in European crowns as symbols of their broad jurisdictional reach.
Wholeness and Infinity
The smooth, continuous surface of a sphere or orb conveys notions of wholeness, completion, perfection and infinity. With no obvious starting or ending point, it suggests cyclical movement and eternity. In geometry, the sphere is the perfectly symmetrical three-dimensional shape that encompasses the most space, so it has been philosophically conceptualized as the most ideal and divine form.
This association between the orb and wholeness is illustrated by the proto-historical sites of ancient Britain. Circles of wood or stone, sometimes containing or surrounded by burials, have been speculated to represent unity between the worlds of the living and the dead. In alchemy, circular diagrams known as mandalas symbolize the interconnection of opposites and the cosmic order. The ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, is an orb in the form of a closed loop reflecting the infinite cycle of renewal.
The World and the Heavens
The round shape of the orb evokes the sphere of the Earth, Sun, Moon and other celestial bodies. As such, it takes on significance reflecting humankind’s place in the cosmos. The orb is linked to themes of balance, unity and harmony between different realms of existence.
In Tarot cards, The World card traditionally pictures a dancer holding an orb surrounded by animals, representing the interconnectedness of life on Earth. The emperor in the Tarot deck is also associated with the orb as a symbol of earthly dominion within a larger spiritual framework. In classical architecture, orb finials adorn structures and objects to symbolize the cosmic sphere.
Life, Death and Rebirth
The cyclical nature of the sphere connects it to the continuous processes of life, death and rebirth. In ancient pagan traditions that venerated nature, the orb’s circles reflect the recurring seasons, lunar cycles, and generational renewal.
In funerary art, the orb often appears alongside skulls or in the hands of the grim reaper, representing the human soul and its ascendance to the afterlife. For this reason, orbs are common grave markers. In Ecclesiastes 1:4-7, a biblical passage about cyclical existential patterns, the verse compares generations to winds that continually blow over the earth in orbit-like patterns.
Movement and Travel
As a shape that can roll and spin, the orb signifies motion, travel and migration. In nautical traditions, ships would sometimes bear circular orbs on their prows, known as oculi, representing the watchful eye that guides voyages. The orb and cross staff, a navigational instrument used by early sailors to measure angles between the sun or stars, gave rise to the mathematical concept of bearing – the clockwise angle between the direction of an object and another reference direction.
|Divine wisdom, cosmic dominion||Deities and monarchs holding spheres representing their sacred or worldly power|
|Infinity, perfection, wholeness||The sphere as the ideal, continuous form without beginning or end|
|Interconnection and harmony||Link between the earthly and heavenly realms|
|Cyclical patterns||Seasons, life and rebirth|
|Movement, travel||The rolling, spinning motion of the sphere|
Ultimately, the orb symbolically encapsulates a range of profound concepts that have captivated human imagination across cultures and eras. Its seemingly simplistic form reflects intricate philosophies about existence, the spiritual essence of life and our place in the universe.
With its spherical shape and continuous surface, the orb evokes ideas of infinity, perfection, totality and wholeness. It has been widely used to represent core human values and experiences, including the search for meaning, our connection to the cosmos, and the cyclical patterns of life and rebirth. Culturally, the orb symbolizes divine wisdom, earthly dominion, and the fundamental unity between opposites. Its basic yet mystical form reminds us of humankind’s place within larger cosmic mysteries.