Heraldic "Meanings"

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Michael F. McCartney
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Michael F. McCartney » 07 Aug 2015, 19:30

My take on the topic, hopefully consistent with all the above comments but as usual for me, more wordy.

A particular charge or color may well be included for some symbolic reference, which may be obvious (Vert for Mr. Green or Mr. Verde);

or a little less obvious but still clear with a little thought or minor digging (some visual reference to the etymology or history of the Name, such as commonly used symbols for Saint Whatsis for Mr. Whatsis, or a wolf for Mr. Love based on the etymology easily found in a dictionary or name book, or looking up a non-English name and looking for a cant in that language or to the English translation of the name);

or a more esoteric chain of references that will leave most observers clueless (e.g. tracking a name in a Bible Concordance, then to the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic root word, then alternate English words derived from that original root meaning, and choosing a visual symbol somehow referencing that alternate word - a real pain in the neck, and for me at least a last resort, but may provide a secret satisfaction for family members in the know...or not...)

Or for those of us with a Scottish or Irish name, indeterminate cadency from historical Chiefly arms, whether or not the visual reference goes beyond clannish sentiments. Or a similar approach for others based loosely on the historic arms of a similarly-named place or person.

Any or all of which may, or may not, be useful in any particular case of designing new arms. But in most cases, the charge or color or whatever will likely be open to different or even contradictory symbolic inferences, and seldom if ever related to or correlated with the sort of esoteric nonsense in the lists of hidden meanings rightly trashed above.

Doesn't mean new arms can't include esoteric symbolism from the lists, but the designer can't reasonably expect others to recognize or appreciate the intended symbolism. The new design will need to stand on it's own even without the footnotes.
Michael F. McCartney
Fremont, California

Ryan Shuflin
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Ryan Shuflin » 08 Aug 2015, 18:23

What does this mean? Is a common question asked about heraldry, and it is a hard one not to anwser with one of these lists of dubious orgin. The ACH offers a list, and some people may find it useful when designing arms, even if it is useless when interpreting them. I do wonder who is the author of these lists and if authered in Victorian times, if they were that influential.

As far as interpreting the meaning of colours, even when they have meaning, one must use common sense. For example, France, UK and US all have Panslavic colours, but aren't Slavic.

Treating symbolism as a code is best left to mediocre fiction writers such as Dan Brown. Not only sometimes, but most times, blue is just blue, and a rose is just a rose.

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Mike_Oettle
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Mike_Oettle » 19 Aug 2015, 22:07

Ryan Shuflin wrote: “Treating symbolism as a code is best left to mediocre fiction writers such as Dan Brown. Not only sometimes, but most times, blue is just blue, and a rose is just a rose.”

I could not agree more, whatever Ed Hillenbrand has to say about the matter.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.
[Proverbs 14:27]

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Michael F. McCartney
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Michael F. McCartney » 20 Aug 2015, 00:28

So ... are you saying a broken bone is just a broken bone? ;)
Michael F. McCartney
Fremont, California

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Edward Hillenbrand
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Edward Hillenbrand » 20 Aug 2015, 05:58

I had wished to stay out of this discussion as far too many people have made up their mind and will not consider what I have said previously: if we do not take charge of our art form others will. Here is a link from American Catholic University's Dr. Tracey Sanders:

http://www.themedievalclassroom.com.au/?page_id=1081

While some of the information is OK, some is not. Note that Dr. Sanders has used assigned meanings to colors and some charges. Further, Dr. Sanders cites Ian. G. Brennan, the official sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Most Honourable Order of the Bath for these meanings. These same meanings I have seen repeated now from multiple sources from the American College of Heraldry to CoA bucket shoppe. In other words, whether we like it or not meanings have been assigned and are taking hold. At least some of the lists have given a qualifier of some sort that these are upt to the armiger.

Possibly this is a good way for people to think about this subject: "while there is no "official" meaning assigned to tinctures or charges, there is a growing body that has assigned meaning. No armiger should feel bound to to these definitions, but may use them as a guide."
Ed Hillenbrand

"Memento te esse Mortalum"

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Chris Green
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Chris Green » 20 Aug 2015, 06:30

No armiger should feel bound to to these definitions, but may use them as a guide.

Or not.

I attempted to dispatch the following message to The Medieval Classroom using their feedback form, but it seems not to function.

The idea that tinctures and charges in heraldry have a "meaning" is pernicious and should be eradicated forthwith. If writers on heraldic matters feel that they simply MUST surround heraldry with such mumbo-jumbo, they really should be required to hedge such statements about with caveats. A coat of arms can "mean" as much as the original armiger intended it to mean, no more. Retrospectively assuming that a coat of arms must "mean" so and so because of some list is highly misleading.
C Green, President of the International Association of Amateur Heralds
Chris Green
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Martin Goldstraw
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Martin Goldstraw » 20 Aug 2015, 09:18

Hear Hear Chris.
Martin Goldstraw
Cheshire Heraldry
http://cheshire-heraldry.org.uk

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Edward Hillenbrand
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Edward Hillenbrand » 20 Aug 2015, 13:13

Mr. Green,

Was that the Heraldic Classroom of Marinette college or another? I saw Marinette's and was going to link it but realised they were referring to art, not heraldry by using heraldry. It was extremely confusing. And very, very different from all the other places with a"meanings" page.
Ed Hillenbrand

"Memento te esse Mortalum"

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Chris Green
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby Chris Green » 20 Aug 2015, 13:30

Edward Hillenbrand wrote:Was that the Heraldic Classroom of Marinette college or another? I saw Marinette's and was going to link it but realised they were referring to art, not heraldry by using heraldry. It was extremely confusing. And very, very different from all the other places with a"meanings" page.


This link, which you provided:

http://www.themedievalclassroom.com.au/?page_id=1081
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JMcMillan
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Re: Heraldic "Meanings"

Postby JMcMillan » 20 Aug 2015, 14:05

Edward Hillenbrand wrote:I had wished to stay out of this discussion as far too many people have made up their mind and will not consider what I have said previously: if we do not take charge of our art form others will.


Just what is it you are proposing? That we make up our own list of meanings to rival the others? How does that help?

Here is a link from American Catholic University's Dr. Tracey Sanders:


Not American Catholic University (there's no such thing) but Australian Catholic University. And she's a senior lecturer in drama and theater, not intrinsically an authoritative source on heraldry, its meaning, or its history. Unless she's published research in the area of heraldry (which, as far as I can find, she hasn't), she's just another amateur putting out unreliable information on the internet.

Note that Dr. Sanders has used assigned meanings to colors and some charges. Further, Dr. Sanders cites Ian. G. Brennan, the official sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Most Honourable Order of the Bath for these meanings.


No, she doesn't. She quotes him as saying "A successful heraldic design is understanding the balance of proportion, colour and a disciplined boldness, with form and texture playing an important part in modern arms representation." That's all she cites him on.

In other words, whether we like it or not meanings have been assigned and are taking hold.


Yes, of course. As has been the case for about 500-600 years now.

Imputing meaning to things we perceive seems to be human nature. Short of 1984-style mass brainwashing, what are we or anyone else supposed to do to change human nature?

Now: all that said, I think the absolutist position that colors and charges have no fixed meaning is also unrealistically dogmatic. Colors do have connotations, although they vary from place to place and time to time. Nicolas Vernot has done some fascinating research on the significance of the proliferation of hearts in French heraldry in the early modern period. Other serious heraldic research has shown how various families altered the metal in their arms over time, moving from silver to gold, as they rose in status, sensing that gold outranked silver. (An example: the Lords Fairfax who once owned over a million acres of northern Virginia.)

Heraldry pulls extensively from iconography, where certain symbols are well-known references to various saints. There are other images that have acquired meaning through heraldry itself, such as the fleur-de-lis as a symbol representing France or French, or the colors red and yellow saying "Spain."

The point is that black doesn't always mean sad, white doesn't always mean virginal, red doesn't always mean martyrdom, blue doesn't always mean sad, heart doesn't always mean love, keys don't always mean St. Peter, etc, etc, ad infinitum.

So how could it conceivably be useful for any heraldic organization to put out a list of the "real" meanings of all these things to rival the misleading lists that are out there already? Isn't it better simply to explain the reality, as is very effectively done by the heraldica.org FAQs, and let those learn who wish to learn?
Joseph McMillan
Alexandra, Virginia, USA


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