17 Symbolic Meanings of Lighthouses Explained

Updated

There’s something special about a lighthouse. For centuries, these beautiful and necessary structures have been used in poetry, literature, music, and art. Companies name themselves after lighthouses or depict one in their logos. 

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Today we would like to do a deep dive into the symbolic meaning of lighthouses – specifically as symbols of grief or mourning. Then, we will help you determine whether you should use the image of a lighthouse as you plan the end-of-life services for yourself or a loved one. 

1. Strength

Lighthouses are built to withstand harsh conditions – perhaps some of the fiercest on the planet. They are meant to withstand powerful storms and turbulent ocean waters. 

Perhaps you feel that you or your loved one have gone through many of life’s storms, such as health issues, relationship problems, or economic concerns. Yet, if you have managed to survive each storm with grace and dignity, you may connect with this magnificent structure.

2. Safety

When some view a lighthouse, they think of the safety such shelter provides. Not only does it give you a dry, safe place to be in the heart of a storm, but it also serves the function of bringing boats and ships to a safe harbor. 

Perhaps you were the one providing safe harbor for others throughout your life, or maybe you constantly were searching for a safe place yourself. 

The symbol of a lighthouse as a place of safety can be found in this poem by Longfellow. Here is a segment from the poem “The Lighthouse” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

". . . And the great ships sail outward and return,
Bending and bowing o’er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn,
They wave their silent welcomes and farewells.
They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils,
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.
The mariner remembers when a child,
On his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink;
And when, returning from adventures wild,
He saw it rise again o’er ocean’s brink.
Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light! . . ."

3. Danger

While some look at a lighthouse and think about the safety it provides, others feel that a lighthouse symbolizes danger. After all, they are placed in locations where the waves are rough and the sea is threatening to ships. 

How many other images represent danger to some and safety to others?

4. Hope

If you have ever been in a scary situation while at sea, you may view a lighthouse as a symbol of hope. The first sight of a flashing light on the horizon will tell you that all is not lost.  

This poem describes two lighthouses that work together to keep sea-farers safe. 

“The Lighthouses” by Lucy Larcom

". . . Two white angels of the sea,
Guiding wave-worn wanderers home;
Sentinels of hope they be,
Drenched with sleet, and dashed with foam,
Standing there in loneliness,
Fireside joys for men to keep;
Through the midnight slumberless
That the quiet shore may sleep.
Two bright eyes awake all night
To the fierce moods of the sea;
Eyes that only close when light
Dawns on lonely hill and tree.
O kind watchers! teach us, too,
Steadfast courage, sufferance long!
Where an eye is turned to you,
Should a human heart grow strong."

5. Navigation

The lighthouse can be a literal representation of navigation. Its light says, “Beware of the rocky shore!” However, a lighthouse can also symbolize one’s navigation through life. Perhaps you have an important person in your life who has acted as your lighthouse – and has guided you through difficulties.

6. Religious Faith

Many view a lighthouse as a religious symbol. To me, it represents the guiding light of the Holy Spirit, the hope of salvation, and the steadfastness of God. 

7. Guiding Light

Are you looking for a guiding light to bring you safely to shore? 

8. Isolation

Many of these symbols view a lighthouse from the perspective of a sailor. However, you might also consider the isolation of a lighthouse keeper – whose job is to live on a remote shore and keep the torch lit. 

Here’s a portion of a poem that describes the isolation a keeper must feel.

“The Lighthouse Keeper” by Helen Emma Maring

"In the lonely twilight hour,
Looking forth from his old tower,
When the sunset glow has faded in the west,
Then he sees the distant things
Steeped in purple of the kings,
While the breezes come to chill at night’s behest.
Then the color from the air
Sinks to—God but knows just where,
And the interval of deepened twilight grows;
But the gleaming streaks of light
From his tower of the night
Send their word to every ship that comes or goes."

9. Steadfastness

The keeper is always there – always waiting. They put out their beacon in case it is needed by a ship at sea.

Perhaps you consider a lighthouse keeper’s steadfastness as being symbolic of your parents’ steadfastness. 

10. Vigilance

A keeper must be vigilant and constantly aware of the importance of the job. For this reason, a lighthouse can symbolize a watchful overseer.

11. Alertness

We view a lighthouse keeper as being constantly alert and ready to spring to action even if days or weeks may pass without seeing anyone at sea.

12. The End of a Journey

For those going on voyages across the sea, the first sight of a beacon might symbolize the end of a long journey. 

You can take the end of a journey symbolism a step farther and think of it as what is waiting at the end of your life. 

Even though this poem doesn’t use a lighthouse to describe the end of a journey, we love how this poem describes the death experience by using the sea as a backdrop. 

“Gone From My Sight” by Henry VanDyke

"I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me – not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” 
And that is dying..."

13. Resilience

A lighthouse must be built to withstand any storm.

14. Without End 

We haven’t yet discussed the shape of lighthouses, which are almost always cylindrical. Similar to a wedding ring, a lighthouse may symbolize being without end.

15. Selflessness

The keeper makes many sacrifices for the greater good. For this reason, a lighthouse may be symbolic of selflessness.

16. Sanctuary

We love this poem by Vicky Hansen that describes how a lighthouse acts as a sanctuary. 

“The Lighthouse” by Vicki Hansen

Keeping watch across the bay,
The lighthouse tower stands.
It shines so bright so other boats
Will know where there is land.

The light must never go out,
It shines for all to see
It’s a welcoming beacon to the ships
That are passing on the sea.

Now, I’m the lighthouse keeper,
And it’s your light that I tend.
I make sure your light shines bright,
From now till the very end.

Here’s another poem about a lighthouse as sanctuary:

“Beacon” by Styn Van Meenen

A mountain stands with sunny peak,
against the greater tide,
the stand-alone watch, that stands guard,
leads ships with his ethereal pride

Come here and seek shelter,
come I shall provide,
your weary men can rest here;
let me be thy guide

Through time of war and hatred;
through time of bliss and peace;
through time of endless worry;
through time of endless fears

Do not worry for I will stand here,
the watchmen of the sea,
to face thunder and storm,
till all are safe and free

Come here and seek shelter,
come I shall provide,
your weary men can rest here;
let me be thy guide

Do not fear these treacherous waters,
do not fear Poseidon’s might,
for I am and always will be,
thy guiding beacon of light

Come here and seek shelter,
come I shall provide,
your weary men can rest here;
let me be thy guide.

17. Eternal Life

Images of lighthouses are often paired with the following verse from the New Testament:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Consider Using Lighthouse Images As You Say Goodbye to Your Loved One

If a loved one who just died offered safety and security, consider using a lighthouse image when planning their funeral. 

For example, you could have the image of a lighthouse engraved on your loved one’s headstone or purchase a lighthouse urn to hold their cremated remains.

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