Cross & Triangle
Cross and Triangle
This page is the result of several people asking us a simple question: "What does a cross with a triangle mean?" A simple enough question, but not clear enough to give any answer without being more specific; for example:
A few meanings
First the cross, invariably a Christian symbol, but of course Christians have neither the monopoly nor the copyright.
It can be seen standing upright or inverted. An upright cross in heraldry is commonly known as a Crux Immissa and in Christianity as a Latin Cross, but there are several other names as well, and the symbol's origin is much earlier than Christianity.
It can be sideways, commonly seen in Nordic flags but is not exclusive to Northern Europe. Several Brazilian and North American cities and states incorporate the horizontal cross. Historically battle flags were horizontal where a short flagpole was preferred for reasons of weight, for example when riding a horse, and a vertical banner when height was important for the cannon fodder scurrying alongside.
There's also one in between, leaning to the left or right, and known as a Portate Cross (from Latin portare "to carry", from which we get "portable") and symbolises a cross being carried over the shoulder. In Christianity this is sometimes called the St. Gilbert's Cross and in astronomy the Northern Cross.
A cross with four arms of the same length, vertical and horizontal, is called a Greek Cross. As with the battlefield connection mentioned above, this pattern is also from the time when crosses were emblazoned on short shields.
Then there's the X-shaped cross, known in Christianity as the St Andrews Cross to the Scots, the St Patricks Cross to the Irish, the Southern Cross to the wannabe Confederates, Saltire in heraldry, and lots and lots of other names.
And we have a few hundred other cross designs, so before asking the question "What does it mean", we have to determine the shape, orientation, and most importantly the context.
On this page we're keeping things simple by using triangles with sides more or less of equal length (equilateral), rather than isosceles, scalene, right or obtuse triangles – you know, those Euclidean geometric things most of us spent hours trying to learn at school but never actually made use of outside school.
Unlike the cross, in most symbols the type of triangle is not as important as its given meaning, although its orientation is often relevant.
The triangle is a geometric shape and since geometry has been a branch of mathematics used by philosophers for thousands of years, their quest for wisdom through developing knowledge, and just a tiny esoteric jump from there to spiritual progress, means it's not surprising we find triangles in religion.
In non-Abrahamic religions and the occult in particular, the three interdependent sides have been used to symbolise mind, body and spirit; or past, present and future; or anything that suits the need of the religion.
And a pink downwards-pointing triangle has been used by gays to show unashamed pride.
Combine a masculine upwards-pointing triangle with a feminine downwards-pointing triangle, and you have the six-pointed star. This is perhaps more commonly associated with Judaism, yet as a Jewish identity it is a relatively modern symbol.
Triangle with a cross
With so many interpretations it's impossible to pin down the best one. For example in some occult writings, a triangle with a cross on each point will amplify energy.
Those helpful words stop short in explaining whether the crosses should be vertical, horizontal, inverted, diagonal, etc., and more importantly don't give any indication of how strong the amplification could be. Sounds rather dangerous.
Similarly in Christianity, the triangle and cross can have several "meanings".
The triangle usually represents the Holy Trinity, but not always.
In Surabaya, Indonesia, for example, the triangle on the emblem of the Petra Christian School Board symbolises the spiritual, mental and physical interrelationship for education to be fruitful. Further, the relationship between family, school and church, must be on a solid foundation ("Petra" = rock).
Moving away from the various religious connections, we also see the cross and triangle in commerce and in other symbols.
This diagonal version is not found in the UK or Ireland, where driving is on the left. Continental drivers have enough problems in the British Isles without adding this confusion. Continental visitors, on the other hand, often have no idea what this sign means when they drive off the ferry at Cherbourg, Calais, Zeebrugger, or where-ever.
Similarly in a Christian context, this sign reminds us of our earthly mortality. Yet as with the road sign, there is something beyond.
It's just a laundry symbol meaning "Do not bleach".
Finally, the cross outside the triangle. As shown at the top of this page, the cross can be seen above or below the triangle, where the upwards-pointing triangle reminds us of the cross atop the hill of Calvary or a church steeple. (The symbol on the extreme right is also the alchemical symbol for sulfur, and for that, please see the Brimstone Cross.).
The rest of this page is mainly about the downwards-pointing triangle shown on the left.
First we'll mention the triangle in the logo of Caterpillar Inc., which puts us on the right track, bulldozing away all the mystery behind the meaning of the downwards-pointing triangle beneath a cross.
The photo on the left was kindly sent to us by a keen observer in Texas, USA, who noticed a cross above a triangle on the empennage (posh name for "tail") of a 1998 Cessna Citation 10 at Love Field in Dallas, TX. The aircraft is registered to Peter Holt, CEO of Holt Cat, the largest Caterpillar dealership in the United States.
Not a poor man, he has quite a few business interests and properties, one being a ranch in Texas named... yes, you've guessed, the Cross Triangle Ranch.
His wife, Julianna, manages successful race-horse breeding on the ranch and that gives a hint to the origin of the symbol. The Cross Triangle is a symbol for branding on the hides of livestock. This is one of the oldest cattle brands in Texas and would have been known to the quintessential cowboys of the American Old West.
But returning to the brand featured above, the question arises: Why should the triangle point downwards? And the answer is probably pragmatic:
When making the branding iron head, the triangle and cross are made separately and then welded together. If the artisan tried to attach the base of the cross to the triangle's apex, this would melt the apex. Attaching the base of the cross to the middle of the triangle's side, avoids this problem.
Branding livestock made cattle-rustling more difficult.
Branding an aircraft is less logical, since it only takes a few seconds for a thief to use a can of white spray paint.
Esoteric folk seem to be obsessed with sexual symbols.
A rain cloud descending as a raindrop; an obvious symbol ...
... if you have lots of imagination.
The gay association with a pink triangle possibly originates from Hitler's insistence that gays wore a pink triangle, although it is understood those pointed upwards.
Branding has not been restricted to cattle. Humans also have been branded in the past by slave owners, by civil and military judiciary, and even by the Church (for crimes such as adultery or for being Anabaptist). Fortunately we are more enlightened today. Even so, people self-brand themselves to join gangs or fraternities, and countless people brand themselves with tattoos.