Map of Africa
Natural History
Classroom Ideas

Geography and Culture

- Family Traditions
- Role of Masks
- Making a Living & Leisure Activities
- Healing Art
- Making Peace
- Origins and Identity
- The Meaning of Rock Art
- Spiritual Power of Symbols
- Community & Architechture
(Academy Library)
- African People
- African Animals
African Photos

Spiritual Power of Symbols

SUMMARY: Students will learn how symbols are used in some societies to influence spirts and to protect rooms. Students will create their own symbols to "protect" their classroom.

This lesson is part of a series. Select this text to learn more about the series and how to extend its usefulness.

GOAL: Students will be introduced to the spiritual beliefs and customs of other cultures and will learn to understand and tolerate those beliefs.
  • Students will learn how symbols represent spiritual or supernatural forces in some cultures.
  • Students will learn how to work together while building a "protective door".
  • Activity: Decorating a Door
    All grades

    Doorways serve as portals between one space and another. Doors and locks were created to control access between those spaces and to protect the occupants of one space from the people and forces on the other side. In many societies, doors were used not only to control access by physical beings but to influence spirits and block access by malevolent influences.

    Sometimes the decorations on doors were used to invite forces for good. For example, the Dogon people of Mali sometimes decorate grainary doors with symbols that represent prayers for life-giving rain, resurrection, and regeneration on earth.

    In some parts of America, horseshoes are hung over doors to bring good luck to the occupants. Other people believe that the iron in the horseshoes wards off evil spirits. The doors of many religious buildings are decorated with symbols. Christian churches often have crosses on their doors and people believe that evil can not enter the churches. Many houses have knockers that are shaped like lions. The lion is a powerful animal and may be seen as a symbol to ward off evil.

    Butcher paper, construction paper, black and colored markers, crayons, tempera paints, tape, pipe cleaners, fabric, shells, pasta shells, glue, scissiors and stickers.


      1. Introduce the idea to your students that people in many different cultures believe that symbols can influence spiritual beings. Describe the use of symbols on doors and ask your students to identify symbols used on doors in America.

      2. Cover the classroom door with butcher paper.

      3. Encourage students to create designs and decorate the door with American and African symbols.

      4. Glue pipe cleaners, shells or fabric to the door to give the symbols and door a three-dimensional effect.


    Double-headed Serpent/snakes The double-headed serpent reminds the Bamum people of Cameroon that their king once fought his enemies on two fronts and won. The Edo people of Benin City believe that snakes consume and destroy illness.
    Crocodiles The Edo people of Benin City believe that the crocodile symbolizes power. The king or Oba is able to crush opposition like crocodile crushes its prey.
    Roosters The Edo people of Benin City believe that the rooster symbolizes power and authority. The queen mother rules over the king's wives like a rooster rules the hens.
    Chevrons Chevrons symbolize rain or water to the Dogon of Mali.
    Bird To the Edo people of Benin, the bird symbolizes the king's power to overcome false prophets and fortunetellers.
    Stool To the Dogon peoples of Mali, the stool symbolizes dignity and authority.
    Navel The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) believe that the navel is a focus and release point of strong emotions.
    Bared teeth Bared teeth generally symbolize ferocity and aggression
    Round hollow Eyes Round hollow eyes symbolize the ability to project penetrating inner powers.
    Half-closed eyes Half-closed eyes symbolize contemplation.


    CAS home  

    Material on this page was contibuted by the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art with the generous support of Disneyland.

    Activity developed by Jim Angus