Hourglass symbolism

In addition to time-related themes, the hourglass is synonymous with cycles and balance.

Energy passes between the two sides of the hourglass just as the energies of our world are contained by the atmosphere and crust. All of the natural processes and cycles occur there (not including what happens in space, of course), which gives us a greater sense of relation with our environment. This also forces us to realize our roles in the natural cycles happening around us.

Ancient alchemists recognized the concept of balance in the hourglass. Its very shape is made up of triangles balancing each other out. Alchemists interpreted these triangles as representing two aspects of nature: the upper being the sky and the lower equating with Earth.

Hourglass symbolism
Hourglass symbolism

The hourglass, sometimes with the addition of metaphorical wings, is often depicted as a symbol that human existence is fleeting, and that the “sands of time” will run out for every human life. It was used thus on pirate flags, to strike fear into the hearts of the pirates’ victims. In England, hourglasses were sometimes placed in coffins, and they have graced gravestones for centuries. The hourglass was also used in alchemy as a symbol for hour.

Hourglass And Feminine Energies

When it comes to sexuality, nothing is more feminine and luscious than an hourglass figure. The curvaceousness of the shape directly references the female and the specific cycles that she experiences in her life. As it is fully developed, the hourglass symbolizes a woman who has gone through the cycle of maiden to mother to crone. This spirit symbol shows that she has both learned and grown.

Hourglass figure Sophia Loren
Hourglass figure Sophia Loren

It channels all of the female energies into a single object that also happens to do with the passing of time. However, the balancing aspect of the hourglass brings about the concept of duality. When considering the dual nature of life, many examples come to mind: yin and yang, sun and moon, male and female, life and death, etc.

The former Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich in London used an hourglass on its coat of arms, symbolising Greenwich’s role as the origin of GMT. The district’s successor, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, uses two hourglasses on its coat of arms.

Modern symbolic uses

Hourglass cursor

Recognition of the hourglass as a symbol of time has survived its obsolescence as a timekeeper. For example, the American television soap opera Days of Our Lives, since its first broadcast in 1965, has displayed an hourglass in its opening credits, with the narration, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” spoken by Macdonald Carey.

Various computer graphical user interfaces may change the pointer to an hourglass during a period when the program is in the middle of a task, and may not accept user input. During that period other programs, for example in different windows, may work normally. When such an hourglass does not disappear, it suggests a program is in an infinite loop and needs to be terminated, or is waiting for some external event (such as the user inserting a CD). Unicode has an HOURGLASS symbol at U+231B.

Because of its symmetry, graphic signs resembling an hourglass are seen in the art of cultures which never encountered such objects. Vertical pairs of triangles joined at the apex are common in Native American art; both in North America,[19] where it can represent, for example, the body of the Thunderbird or (in more elongated form) an enemy scalp, and in South America, where it is believed to represent a Chuncho jungle dweller. In Zulu textiles they symbolise a married man, as opposed to a pair of triangles joined at the base, which symbolize a married woman. Neolithic examples can be seen among Spanish cave paintings. Observers have even given the name “hourglass motif” to shapes which have more complex symmetry, such as a repeating circle and cross pattern from the Solomon Islands. Both the members of Project Tic Toc,from television series the Time Tunnel and the Challengers of the Unknown use symbols of the hourglass representing either time travel or time running out. Wiki

The Symbolism of the Hourglass
Frithjof Schuon

This essay first appeared in the French journal Études Traditionnelles (janvierfévrier,
1966), then in translation in the journal Tomorrow (Summer, 1966) as
“Some Observations on the Symbolism of the Hourglass.” It has appeared in
English as a chapter in the book Logic and Transcendence (Harper & Row, 1975;
Perennial Books, 1984; World Wisdom, 2009). The essay below includes
explanatory notes by editor James S. Cutsinger to World Wisdom’s 2009 new
edition of the book. © World Wisdom, Inc.

The hourglass is usually a symbol of time and death: the flowing sand, which measures duration,
does indeed suggest time in its fatal and irreversible aspect—a slipping away that nothing can
stop and whose finalities no one has the power to annul. Moreover the sterility of sand evokes
the nothingness of things as mere earthly accidents, and the cessation of movement reminds us
that the heart will stop and life will end. More

Masonic Hourglass
Masonic Hourglass


About Masonic Hourglass meaning

Hourglass symbolism
Hourglass symbolism

The meanings of symbols

The symbols carved in stone provide some of the best examples of folk art in Dumfries and Galloway. Richly decorated stones are often very attractive and combine emblems with different meanings. The first being symbols that represent mortality / immortality / biblical references, the second type representing the occupation and status of the people commemorated.

Many headstones include a collection of emblems which may vary in style and sophistication even within the same churchyard.


Also known as death heads, they are often shown in profile and frequently shown with bones.

Often shown crossed they also appear in a variety of combinations.

Usually lying down they feature varying anatomical details.

Sometimes lying on their sides or with wings.

Usually appearing with other symbols.

Sexton’s tools
Usually a pick and spade often crossed.

Corpse and deathbed
Dead humans are rarely depicted in coffins but deathbed scenes are more common.

Sometimes the symbols are tied together with a ribbon.

Immortality and biblical

Winged spirits
The most common symbol found, they are usually found on the top of a stone.

Adam and Eve
Rare carvings of Adam and Eve with an apple tree and snake.

Resurrection scenes
Bodies rising to heaven clad only in loin cloths

Open book
Depicting a bible.

Flaming torches
Representing eternal life.


Hammer men
All trades which require a hammer such as jewlers and cobblers often use the hammer and crown symbol.

An anvil or farrier with a horseshoe and pincers.

Showing pressing iron and shears

Rake, hoe and spade

Gun, powder flask, fishing rod, game bird and dog.

The number 4 is often used to symbolise trading with the four corners of the world and often has crosses added to the arms but sometimes a ship is used to represent overseas trade.

Usually depicted with a weavers shuttle.

Hourglass 266, post card3, Father Time
Hourglass 266, post card3, Father Time


Heraldic shields show connections to a noble family but are sometimes used as a way of representing status by including trade symbols within a shield.

See also:

Hourglass and Death on St Thomas’ Church

Hourglass – symbol of Death

Hourglass and Skeleton

“Hourglass and Cards” Exhibition