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Faux Symbolism
A mahjong match... of Biblical proportions.

"It's just an object. It doesn't mean what you think."
River Tam, Firefly

There are times when works rely a lot on symbolism, taking note of things that have occurred in history, religious texts or other such things. Symbols can add a considerable amount of depth to a story, leaving the audience coming back for more to further analyze a work that they love. This also creates opportunities for the audience to see how said symbol relates to the plot or themes of the story. Several famous works have used religious symbolism successfully, garnering praise.

Because of this, less experienced creators may try and slip some symbolism into a story, when in reality the event in question has nothing to do with the symbol, in hopes that people will look at it more seriously. That is where this trope comes in: when a creator just decides to throw a historical, religious or random reference into a scene just for the heck of it. Perhaps the creator misinterpreted the message that the symbol stood for, the creator wanted their work to be taken seriously as True Art, or the creator just wanted the scene to look cool.

This is especially problematic when in addition to faux symbolism, the author throws in symbolism that is meaningful and well thought-out. If such a piece of fiction happens to become popular, this usually results in a polarized fanbase where a large amount of people either over-analyze it (try to find a meaning to both the faux symbolism and actually-meaningful-symbolism) or under-analyze it (assume that because some of the symbolism happens to be pointless, that it's all pointless.)

Not all such references are arbitrary; this trope specifically applies only when someone has added random symbolism as an afterthought to add (illusory) depth and meaning to an otherwise-standard story. Comparing your main character to the Devil or Jesus seems popular; the latter can be easily done by giving him the initials "JC."

This technique is particularly popular in Anime, because the Japanese generally only have a passing familiarity with Christianity, and will often use names or apocrypha without regard for their actual significance. And of course the corollary being that Western productions likewise only have a passing familiarity with Eastern philosophies (for example, Karma). If Faux Symbolism is used purely in naming people or things, it's Squat's In A Name, a subtrope of this.

Be wary though that this trope can be used not to point out use of fake symbolism but to shut down discussion of what may actually be legitimate observation; remember, just because you may not personally understand or like a piece of symbolism doesn't change whether or not it is. When this trait is exhibited in music, it may overlap with Not Christian Rock.

Long story short, anything can be considered symbolic in the right frame of mind. There are actual academic essays and papers about the symbolism of pieces of art where none actually exists or was intended (see The Lord of the Rings and World War II), and some artists will even claim their piece has symbolism when they didn't put any actual thought into it (they may or may not actually believe it themselves). If you are at all unsure if the "symbolism" has any actual intended meaning, please try to look into it or bring it up in discussion.

Compare Crystal Dragon Jesus, Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory, and Mundane Made Awesome.

Contrast Rule of Symbolism, when something actually is symbolic. It is also not to be confused with a symbolic Easter Egg hunt where the writer, director and production design team purposefully insert numerous small but meaningful elements, the understanding of which are not necessary to appreciate the plot, theme or character development but create fan discussion and add to rewatch value.

Tropes often employed for Faux Symbolism:


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Advertising 
  • There was an annoying tendency to create print ads for TV series which have all the characters sitting around a table in the manner of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper". The two most famous examples were for the final seasons of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. Don't try too hard to look for meaning there (especially since the Galactica one had Caprica Six as the Jesus figure. Seriously.)

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Deadman Wonderland, the power wielded by the protagonist and his opponents is called Branches of Sin. The main enemy is called The Retched (sic) Egg, and it is explained that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was referred to as an egg.
  • The religious motifs within Neon Genesis Evangelion are often dismissed as this because of a popular statement from assistant director Kazuya Tsurumaki. However, creator Hideaki Anno has never specifically affirmed or denied that claim. Let's leave it at that.
    • Hideaki Anno's own statement that he chose the name "Evangelion" because "it sounds complicated" doesn't really help, however.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Many of the characters and monsters in the ancient Egyptian Memory World are named after figures from Egyptian mythology (Isis, Set, Osiris, Ra) and have absolutely nothing in common with their namesakes or their stories (though it makes great inspiration for Fanfic writers and Shippers).
    • Noah's duel with Kaiba parallels the creation of Earth in the Bible, taking exactly 7 turns to play out. They start out in a field of lava, and Noah uses various demi-human monsters before using "Giant Flood" to wipe out everything on the field. They move on to a jungle where Noah uses a dinosaur monster, then uses "Deepest Impact" to against destroy everything with a meteor, switching to the ice age where he summons a woolly mammoth. After that he switches to modern times and starts using spaceships outfitted with lasers. When he merges with his deck master "Shinato King of a Higher Plane" Kaiba loses, and Yugi steps in. Noah then uses Spirit monsters associated with the afterlife.
      • No to mention his deck master "Shinato's Ark," onto which all destroyed monsters are sent.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX has three demon monsters and their fusions named for Judeo-Abrahamic angels, and the name of the organization pursuing them are the "Seven Stars" in the original version, a reference to the Book of Revelation.
    • During the Pegasus arc, Yugi has a vision in which he sees the cards that have trapped the souls of his grandfather, Seto Kaiba, and Kaiba's little brother. Each flies onto its own huge cross for no obvious reason. 4Kids painted over the crosses.
  • For all the philosophical rambling and half-symbolism in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex they mostly avoid religious imagery. But in the last episode of Second Gig, Batou grabs a cross beam and holds it over his shoulder before using it to free Motoko. And, well... judge for yourself if this is supposed to be symbolic. And the Tachikomas' self sacrifice at that same moment.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 3 introduced Stands, spiritual entities named after tarot cards. Few of them have anything in common with their namesakes, the author's handwaves nonwithstanding. For example, Tower of Gray is a superfast fly, so named because it brings calamity; Death 13 is a dream-controlling Stand named only because it looks like The Grim Reaper (while the actual card, ironically, does not), The Emperor is a handgun, and The Empress is a sentient wart which grows on its victim. About the only Stand that was really accurate was The Sun, a miniature sun. But, there weren't enough Tarot cards to have all the requisite enemy Stand users, so the author started naming them after similarly unrelated Egyptian gods. See Horus, an ice Stand named after the sun god. When the author ran out of those he decided to just name them after bands, and has continued to do so throughout parts 4, 5, 6, and 7, though even those can be sort of wonky at times, such as Super Fly, the tower Stand.
  • Death Note contains several religious allusions. Some notable examples are Michaelangelo's ''Creation of Adam'' (Ryuk and Light) and ''Pietã '' (Ray Penbar and Naomi Misora) in the first opening credits, as well as the washing of Light's feet by L. And the symbolism of the apples Ryuk is always chomping on. This was actually the result of a mistake on the part of the manga artist, as it was a suggestion from the author who just thought it'd look cool.
    • Light tests the power of the Death Note to control people's actions by making one man draw a pentagram in his own blood before dying.
    • There's a huge number of objects in the series that just "happen" to look like crosses:
      • While L washes Light's feet, it cuts to a shot of a catwalk arranged like a cross.
      • In the final scenes of Episode 37, an oil refinery tower looks suspiciously like a cross.
      • The "Wammy House" is just littered with crosses. Well, it was previously a church.
      • Ryuk's notebook holder looks like a cross.
    • When Mikami gets his deathnote light shines from the sky in one panel of the manga. And he's indoors.
    • Ironically, the use of the apple can be interpreted as an accidental reference to Daniel Quinn's speculation (in The Story of B) as to the nature of the "original sin": the power to decide who lives and who dies, and the decision to use it.
  • Most of Hellsing's religious symbolism was put there simply because Kouhta Hirano was aiming to make a manga that "looked cool".
    • One example is the pentagram Alucard sports. What's written inside changes all the time, sometimes with pop culture reference (Berserk, CSI Miami, etc). Only the Animated adaptations bothered to make it consistent, using what Hirano wrote once upon a time in the cover of volume 2.
    • However, it's a vampire manga, so some of the religious symbolism is plot-relevant on that basis alone.
  • In Haruhi-chan, Haruhi (with Kyon's aid) ties Mikuru to a cross and decorates her with balloons. This is an obvious reference to Haruhi's nature as God, and thus the Crucifiction of Mikuru shows Her love for the world in that she would sacrifice her favourite chew-toy for... no, I am just making it up here. It certainly means something, though.
  • Mercurymon from Digimon Frontier stages a huge Church Shootout against Takuya, complete with Ominous Pipe Organ (physical and musical) and a Crucified Hero Shot. The grand finale even involves stuffing him in a coffin. They are fighting inside Sefirotmon, which is a living cabbalistic figure.
  • In the DVD extras for Eureka Seven, voice actor Crispin Freeman discusses how the names of the main Humongous Mecha and its associated Applied Phlebotinum are derived from Buddhist mythology, as well as the series' references to The Golden Bough.
    • The Buddhist elements actually are central to the plot from the very beginning, however.
  • The Big O has giant kaiju-like artificial constructs named for the Biblical Leviathan and Behemoth - in addition, it's theorized that Big O corresponds to Behemoth, Big Fau to Leviathan, and Big Duo to the non-Biblical Ziz, rounding out the trio of legendary beasts from Jewish mythology. Sure enough, pamphlet copies of William Blake's painting of Behemoth and Leviathan are mysteriously dropped onto the city at one point.
  • Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor outdoes its rivals with twice the pointless mythology: meaningless German myth for the heroes (see: Fafner), and vague Egyptian-ness for the villains.
  • Trigun goes for the subversion; Nicholas D. Wolfwood carries around a cross that's actually a machine gun, rocket launcher, and holster for several handguns. The grip is shaped like a skull. However, his religious beliefs turn out to be very important to the story.
  • Sailor Moon as a whole is chockfull of symbolism. The symbolism of the manga carries over to the anime. "The Messiah" is used as an allegory meant to illustrate the dichotomy of destruction and creation as embodied by Sailor Moon and Sailor Saturn; the "Messiahs" as it were. Hotaru even reads from William Butler Yeats' The Second Coming to foreshadow Saturn's return during the fourth arc of the manga. Add to that Naoko's more more subtle use of symbolism and the fact that Sailor Moon R, S, and Super S were directed by Ikuhara and there's plenty of room to make a case for meaning.
    • The Holy Grail appears when the three Talismans are brought together. Interestingly, these talismans are a sword, a mirror, and a garnet, which are three sacred objects in the traditional Japanese Shinto religion.
    • There's one more level to the whole mess: The Grail (cup) plus the Space Sword, Garnet Rod (staff) and Deep Aqua Mirror (coin) match the 4 suits of a Tarot deck.
    • There's a part in the Sailor Moon S opening where all of the Senshi are arranged in a circle like the signs of the Zodiac with Sailor Moon in the middle. It's a cool image, but don't waste time trying to analyze it.
  • In the Downer Ending of episode five of Mnemosyne, Big Bad Apos rapes Rin's sidekick Mimi while she is chained and nailed to a stone lamp post as Ominous Latin Chanting and Ominous Pipe Organ plays in the background. This is only one in at least three incidents of horror in the last five minutes before the end credits roll.
  • In the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, Mibu Kyoshiro calls himself the son of God and goes around healing wounded childrennote . In a spectacular mix-up of biblical stories, he also kills his own brother, which leads to his leaving the Mibu landsnote .
  • Naruto's Pain manipulates six People Puppets named after Buddhism's Six Paths of Rebirth: Hell Realm could summon the Judge of the dead that could revive the other bodies if they were too damaged, resurrect everyone killed within certain limitations plus kill someone if they lied or refuse to answer your question; Hungry Ghost Realm absorbs chakra (the power source for 90% of the attacks in the series); Animal Realm summons giant animals; Human Realm reads your mind and can rip out your soul; Demon Realm is a friggin Shape Shifter Weapon-styled cyborg armed to the teeth with Schizo Tech hidden in his body and God Realm had all kinds of weird shit with gravity and junk.
    • It eventually turns out that the statue Akatsuki uses is something Nagato summoned to kill Hanzo and Danzo's men in revenge which is called "Gedo Mazo". "Gedo" means "outer path", referencing the term in Buddhism for a false path to enlightenment (as opposed to the inner path, which is the correct one).
      • The statue resembles a sokushinbutsu (which were Japanese Buddhist priests that self-mummified themselves. Those that did successfully were immediately seen as Buddhas).
    • On top of that, Konan reveals that Nagato himself is another "path" of Pain called the "Outer Realm" and can also revive the recently deceased.
    • The Mangekyou Sharingan techniques which Itachi is normally seen employing (Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susanno'o) are named for three of the principle Shinto gods. Itachi is often linked with divinity throughout the course of the manga; he frequently performs jutsu which involve crows in some capacity. The Yatagarasu (the-three legged crow which is messenger of the Gods, the creature which stopped a demon from swallowing the sun, and which led Emperor Jimmu to Japan) could be linked. Just as the Gods used the Yatagarasu to carry out their will, so too does Itachi. And then there's the battle between Itachi and Orochimaru which seems to echo the Shinto myth about the eight-headed snake, Yamata no Orochi, which was destroyed by the God Susanno'o. All of this is probably unsurprising, as Kishimoto apparently once said that he'd created Itachi with the premise that he was exploring what a God would be like as a human.
    • Danzo's conversation with Itachi in chapter 590. He gives Itachi the choice between siding with the Uchihas, represented by a statue of the Buddha, and siding with the Leaf, represented by a statue of a three faced demon that looks very sinister. Very subtle, Kishimoto.
    • The attack the First Hokage used on Madara and the Susanno'o-cloaked Kurama in chapter 621 looks like an image of the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara.
  • Utena lives off weird symbolism and the fandom goes crazy, what with the extreme wackiness that is Ikuhara. Miki's stopwatch holding the secrets to the universe is not believed, Ikuni-sama. And all the scenes in Akio's car.
  • And on the subject of Ikuhara, the symbolism in his followup series, Mawaru-Penguindrum, is so dense that it's impossible to tell whether certain scenes are even real. For example, there's a place called the Child Broiler where unwanted children (depicted as silhouettes like you see on bathroom signs) are put on a conveyor belt and ground up into glass.
  • In Zone of the Enders Dolores, I, the story of Radium Lavans is highly similar with the story of Sekhmet, Goddes of War and Destruction who get turned into Goddess of Love and Childbirth, Hathor. Guess the name of Radium's frame.
  • In GaoGaiGar, the leader of Green Planet was named Cain, while the leader of Red Planet was Abel. Interestingly enough, Abel was apparently female.
  • The demise of Colin Mcleod's dead love interest Moya in the OVA Highlander Path of Vengeance, put up on a cross and forced to see her people getting wiped out by the Romans. Partly justified trope, due to that part of the movie set in Roman times, but still...
  • Gundam is known for weird names in the UC era, but Gundam 00 takes symbolism to the far end. The Innovators is an example... Ribons Devine Almark Hilling Care Regene Revive Tieria Erde, Bring Anew Stability which when you look at it in one way: Reborn Divine Angel's Healing Care Regenerates and Revives the Green Earth, Bringing Anew Stability. Some of the names of the mecha themselves: Seraphim, Throne, Cherubim, Virtue, etc.
  • In addition to more explainable symbolism (a stray dog as the main character's self, paired bullet casings for the two killers, puppet strings, masks), the first couple episodes of Phantom~Requiem for the Phantom has random crosses or shadows in the shapes of crosses cropping up around the two young assassins, Ein and Zwei.
  • Chrono Crusade teeters back and forth on the "significant/insignificant" line. The series is about a nun that hunts demons, so a lot of the religious symbolism is justified. But some moments push it, particularly in the anime. For example, after Chrono is badly injured in a battle and caught up in an explosion, Father Remington finds him buried in rubble marked by two steel beams welded together in the shape of a cross.
  • Yami No Matsuei. Period. It's practically an advertisment for this trope.
  • The main characters of Haibane Renmei are humans with grey wings and golden halos. Word of God states that this is not supposed to be symbolic, but was instead chosen because it looked nice. It's hard to agree with that though, since the entire story seems to be a metaphor for Purgatory.
    • It's perhaps worth noting that the entire series first originated from a gag doujinshi which revolved around the practical problems that cute Moe girls could get from having halos and wings, like being unable to put on a bra, or getting the halo stuck between subway train's doors. The setting and the symbolism came in later. The Japanese are incidentally not necessarily inclined to read the story's metaphor from the Christian perspective that the Western fans do.
  • The main trio of leads in NEEDLESS are named Adam, Eve and Cruz ("Cross"). These elements seem to be almost purely decorative, considering the sheer wacky and over-the-top nature of the series.
  • Bloody Monday has this in ♠ spades, which isn't unusual considering the antagonists are an evil cult bent on killing millions of people to rebuild Japan. Off the top of my head, when the cult's imprisoned long-haired leader Simon is busted out he somehow manages to change into Jesus-like robes inside an Absurdly Spacious Sewer. He dubs his most trusted operatives Michael, Judas (who does what you'd expect him to do), Cain and Abel (even though that applies better to another pair of siblings) Eventually Simon is killed by a faithless operative (not Judas); the child of Simon who takes his place because they planned all this is also killed (by Judas, but because he felt the new leader was faithless and completely psychotic). On top of all that the cultists use the Babylonian calender for no reason other then Rule of Cool.
  • This tends to be all over the place in the Riki Oh manga (The Story Of Ricky is regarding the pre-symbolism part).
  • All of the homonuculi in Fullmetal Alchemist are named after the seven deadly sins.
    • It doesn't end there: The manga version's Greed is more or less a walking example of this. Like every homonculi he was born from a single parent, (Father) he was later hunted down and ended up crucified on Father's orders. Father then killed him on the cross and absorbed his Philosopher's Stone back into his body. Then later on he is returned to life by Father. Sound similar to anything?
    • Rather impressive for a world in which Christianity does not exist.
    • Also in the second anime, there's a scene where Edward is pulled into the Gate which closes after him, then he punches it open for a moment from the other side. It just so happens that his fist parts the Gate right where "Adonai" is engraved.
    • Then again it is averted by constantly referring to medieval alchemy, which based on ancient Greek Hermetics (which one can summarize up with Izumi's Training from Hell lesson: All is one and one is all.). True, Arakawa took liberty to make it suit her story but the main principle is kept.
    • Also it is absolutely subverted by marking the homunculi with the Ouroboros symbol. (that thing itself is 1st: symbol for the alchemic process and the circle of life and death, process and product, etc. etc... - and thus a symbol for the Philosopher's stone. 'specially mean towards Envy. Who in the first movie ended up being a friggin big snake/dragon forced to lie in a circle, nose at his tail. Mean.
    • The false god of Lior, Leto. Right. Leto was the Greek titanness who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. Apollo later supplanted Helios as god of the sun, but Leto was never male, nor was she ever associated with the sun or light. Since her name could possibly mean "hidden one", that wouldn't make sense at all.
  • Pokémon: Arceus and the Jewel of Life has some of this, mainly because Arceus is supposed to be God.
  • The short story 'Lucifer Rising', found in the scifi manga 2001 Nights, is MADE of this. A giant anti-matter planet named Lucifer, orbitted by the moons Brutus, Cassius, and Judas, whose creation is described with quotes from Paradise Lost and images from religious art, and a Villainous Breakdown being preceded by Satan's famous quote "As good to me is dead, Evil, be thou my good!" The final page has the famous image of God and Adam drifting apart to represent man's leaving the solar system for deep space. That symbolic enough for you?
  • Director Akiyuki Shinbo fills all of his shows with images of the Virgin Mary, stained glass windows, crucifixions, and impalings, but since he uses those in everything from dark action shows to light, fluffy comedies (and a few pornographic OVAs), it probably means a whole lot of nothing.
  • Invoked in-universe in One Piece. Following the Paramount War, Luffy returns to Marineford and performs what is normally a ceremony that declares the ending of one era and the start of another. This act is photographed and reported, and everyone becomes so focused on what Luffy was doing it for that nobody catches the hidden message written on Luffy's arm except for the other Straw Hat pirates. The only one who was shown getting close was ex-Straw Hat Vivi, who figured out there was a message, and simply lacked the reference necessary to decode it.
    • Sodom and Gomorrah are both names in the Bible. It's told there that they died by the wrath of God. Their submission in Enies Lobby could be interpreted as a reference to that. Word of God denies it all, though.
      Oda: Err... One Piece isn't THAT deep of a story, but yeah, that's where I got their names from.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, there are various theories that says Simon's name is based on the Apostle Simon Peter and that Kamina was based on Jesus, but it is because Simon means in Japanese "below" or "fingerprint" (which are spiral shaped), while Kamina means "above".

    Comic Books 
  • In Huntress: Year One #4, the Huntress essentially crucifies Stephen Mandragora, but even though Huntress is all about the Catholic imagery, she only does it to restrain him, and presumably because impaling someone through the palmar radial nerve is one of the most excruciatingly painful injuries one can inflict on someone. Lampshaded when Mandragora points out to her, with his dying breath "You honor me, with...with the stigmata... I knew... I'd be a saint someday."
  • The trope is parodied in Preacher when someone pointed out that Jesse Custer's name has "J.C." for initials and Jesse says it's a ridiculous idea.
  • The X-Men went through a phase in the Dark Age when a lot of new characters had Biblical or religious names, sometimes appropriately (Apocalypse and his Horsemen), vaguely appropriately (Babel spires), or for no particular reason at all (Bishop, Gideon). Ahab would count, except that he's an obvious reference to Moby-Dick.
    • Other examples would be the Acolytes, Exodus and Joseph. But this type of thing had been going on since the 1960s when you had Professor Charles Xavier (the name of a Catholic saint, made even more blatant when they added the middle name Francis), the original X-Man Angel (the name "Beast" presumably is only coincidentally reminiscent of the Book of Revelation), and villains Juggernaut (who gets a Hindu-Judaeo-Christian trifecta as his civilian name is Cain and he is Professor X's step-brother) and Lucifer. In the 1970s and 1980s there would also be two characters called Ariel, the Hellfire Club, Jubilee, two Thunderbirds (Amerindian mythology), Karma, Nimrod, Rachel, and Legion. And names from Graeco-Roman mythology like Cyclops, Proteus and Callisto.
  • At the beginning of Detective Comics Issue #64 "The Joker Walks the Last Mile", The Joker discusses his master plan of putting his Joker Immunity to the test with his mooks to have them make sure they follow his instructions, exclaiming that "The Joker shall die so that he may live again!" Afterwards, being kind of Crazy-Prepared, he plays a villainous version of the Sacrificial Lion by turning himself in to the police and confessing to a long list of crimes (including robbery and murder), resulting in him being given a death sentence and in his execution by the electric chair at the midnight hour. Right after he is declared dead, his mooks quickly retrieve his body from the prison morgue and carry him to a nearby ambulance where they bring him Back from the Dead with some life serum; once he is revived, he becomes a free man and can no longer die for his same crimes. This is kind of similar to the same plot concerning Jesus' passion and resurrection, except that he had God the Father and his angels at his side in his moments of death.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • The ending of Law Abiding Citizen can be seen like this. Just a moment before Clyde's death, the flames from the bomb surround him in a manner similar to him being in hell.
  • The ending of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a big fat wad of this. Cloud is temporarily killed by Loz and Yazoo, vanishes in a blur of light, and reappears in a CHURCH that has been flooded with magical healing water. As if it isn't blatant enough, he wakes up surrounded by kids suffering from geostigma, whom he heals by cupping water in his hands and "baptizing" them on top of the head.
  • Applied in the fictional universe itself, Jules Winnfield's recitation of "Ezekiel 25:17" in Pulp Fiction, which couldn't be any more off to anyone who's read the actual excerpt. Winnfield himself openly admits that he never actually gave the verse much thought, he's just always thought of it simply as some cold-blooded shit to say to a mother fucker before popping a cap in their ass. The verse is deliberately built out of a patchwork of indistinct Bible references in order to emphasize that Jules wants to sound Biblical, rather than caring about his quotations and is actually taken from The Bodyguard starring Sonny Chiba. Then he gets a reason to sit and think about what he has been saying all these years and it turns out to be moderately applicable.
  • The Doom Generation was so full of this it was tripping over itself. The main characters' surnames are Redd, White and Blue. The female lead smokes Death brand cigarettes, and has a skull-shaped lighter. Every numerical value listed is some variation on 666. The penultimate scene involves "The Star-Spangled Banner" playing behind a scene probably better not described. The whole thing is Clueless meets Evangelion.
    • This movie is a great example of the trope; there is so much Faux Symbolism, thrown around like holy water across what is still unmistakably just a road movie.
  • I Know Who Killed Me, which with its strange "symbols" (persistent use of the colors blue and red, an animated heart tattoo, an owl on a tree branch) made the already ridiculous premise even more insane and inane. Also, a lot of these motifs had already been done before, and better.
  • The final shootout of John Woo's The Killer has this in spades. The shootout itself takes place in a church, the Killer's last place of peace and refuge, with doves flying everywhere at key points in the battle. At one point, the Killer gets shot, and his arms are outstretched in a Crucified Hero Shot. And just to drive home the point that the church is no longer a sanctuary for him and his blinded love interest, one of the bad guys blows up the church's centerpiece, a statue of Mary, at which point the Handel's Messiah Overture starts playing.
  • 28 Days Later: Are all the statues of Laocoon in the manor house supposed to mean something? How about the Infected priest? How about the running horses? How about the "hell"/"hello" sign at the very end? Well, how about it?
  • In Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, the eponymous Tragic Hero's body is hoisted awkwardly so that the arms splay and the head flops back giving a brief cruciform. This would only make sense if there were any other sacrificial/messianic imagery in the rest of the film.
    • Actually a Shout-Out to Laurence Olivier, who fell into the same pose (being caught by his ankles by other actors) in his performances of Coriolanus.
  • Paradise Now has a chilling, ironic Shout-Out to Da Vinci's Last Supper. When Khaled and Said eat a supposedly last time with the preparers of their suicide bombings, for some reason they all cluster on the far side of the long table, facing the camera.
  • Blade Runner has the Replicant Roy Batty attempting to kill Deckard before his body dies. His arm begins to stiffen and numb, and so he drives a nail through the palm. He and Deckard fight on the roof — Deckard is soon driven off the edge and dangles for his life, weakening. Roy grabs him and pulls him up onto the roof just as Deckard's hands slip, the nail through his hand in full view, and sits there, cradling a white pigeon in his hands, before finally dying. At least he had the decency not to splay his hands out in a crucifix pose.
  • One draft of The Spy Who Loved Me would have Bond hide out in a church during a shootout, and hide behind the crucifix, arms spread and all. It was removed well before filming starting, due to the Unfortunate Implications Bond shooting people in a church would have.
  • Westworld is a secular relative of this, with symbols both representing its Lost Aesop (the rebellion of the Roman slave-bots, for instance) and seemingly being thrown in for kicks (the Dark Knight on the throne).
    • The use of a robotic snake to herald imminent disaster is also rather suggestive.
  • In Equilibrium, the enforcers of Libria are the Grammaton Clerics, shortened from "Tetragrammaton", the Clerics' organization. The Tetragrammaton is a Greek term for the four-letter name of God in Hebrewnote . Utterly meaningless in the context of the film, but it sounds cool, right?
  • All of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist: The protagonist couple, known only as He and She, retreat to their cabin in the woods called "Eden" where they torture each other (He psychologically, She physically, with garden tools) following the untimely death of their child.
  • The film Gigantic has several scenes in which the main character is attacked by a seemingly invulnerable homeless man for no apparent reason; near the end of the movie, the main character stabs his assailant with a knife, who then disappears without a trace. No explanation for this is ever given in the film itself; the writer/director said in an interview that the assailant is was a metaphor for the main character's subconscious demons.
  • At a Q&A session, the writer/director of We Are the Strange admitted to viewers that the Creepy Cool Crosses were put in just as an afterthought or because he thought it'd look cool.
  • Dear God Rob Zombie's Halloween II (2009). What was the deal with the white horse? who Fucking knows?! Why were Michael and Laurie having the exact same hallucinations? Who knows? Why was Mrs. Meyers in all white? Who the hell knows? Why was Michael just now having Jason Voorhees syndrome and seeing mommy? No clue.
    • The endings for both the theatrical and director's cut imply that it's In the Blood for Laurie. As for Michael, it's possibly Fridge Brilliance, as such imagery would only make sense to him.
      • A rumor has it that Rob Zombie originally wanted Laurie to be the killer all along, having developed a second personality based on Micheal she would slip into.
      • That would actually be a reallife possibility.
  • In Darkman, the titular character has his hand shot by a nail gun. Think about it.
  • Superman Returns throws many, many shots of Superman in Christ-like poses (or Atlas-like in the case of Supes catching the Daily Planet) as well as recycling supposedly-meaningful phrases from the first film. This is merely pretentious when it comes to Superman doing standard Superman stuff, but becomes a Broken Aesop when this "Christ figure" finds out he left a bun in Lois' oven.
  • Several Mexican crosses actually show up throught the film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.
  • The first Violent Shit is ripe with this, featuring gratuitous church shots (occasionally in blood red lighting) and a random scene where Karl finds Jesus crucified in the forest, cuts him open, and crawls inside the gaping wound.
  • The 9/11 footage in Murder-Set-Pieces.
  • At the climax of The Graduate, Benjamin is banging on the stained glass wall of the church in a crucifixion pose, something that all the critics noted. Word of God says that the glass wall was an important gift to the location owner, and that pose was the only way to assure him that the glass would not break from all the pounding.
  • Zardoz is packed to the brim with faux symbolism. For instance, some of the exterminators are seen wearing helmets with faces on each side. Evocative of the two-faced Greek god Janus? Who knows...Granted, the movie is such a Mind Screw even that was probably lost on people still trying to work out what the gun-spewing stone head shouting about evil penises was all about.
  • The boar hunt and the final shots of Tsurumaru in Akira Kurosawa's Ran.
  • In The Wolfman (2010), Did Gwen really visit Lawrence in the asylum? Or did Sir John for that matter? Is there some hidden symbolism behind the razor and all the candles everywhere?! Plus all the symbolism and foreshadowing in the hallucination sequences. Perhaps Lawrence just imagined the whole movie!

    Literature 
  • Dennis Lehane's Darkness, Take My Hand features a trio of serial killers who've modeled themselves after the Holy Trinity. It even includes a guy with shock-induced white hair as "The Holy Ghost".
  • Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves is chock-full of religious and mythological symbolism, some of it seemingly irrelevant. The most obvious allusions are to the Greek myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur because of the nature of the house, but other mythologies and religions have their place. For instance, Will Navidson's injuries mirror similar injuries sustained by figures in Norse mythology: Odin lost an eye, Tyr lost a hand, and Heimdall lost his hearing, which are similar to the one blind eye, the frostbitten (and rendered useless) hand, and the lost ear he ends up with. The house is located on Ash Tree Lane, and the world-tree Yggdrasil is said to have been a giant ash tree. Danielewski doesn't stop at Greek and Norse mythology, but to list them all here would take up too much space.
    • The book also contains numerous examples parodying this tendency. Most of the book is taken up by a critical examination of the Fictional Document The Navidson Record, a film which in the universe of the novel has already gone extensive critical analysis, of the Epileptic Trees, Freud Was Right, Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory nature. For example, two of the characters in the film are brothers, and based on this evidence alone, numerous critics surmise that they are meant to symbolically represent the Biblical characters Jacob and Esau. One review of the novel went so far as to describe as "a satire on the business of criticism".
  • Parodied in Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire. This is actually Charles Kinbote's favorite technique when he's doing the footnotes to John Shade's poem "Pale Fire". He keeps relating very minor lines of the poem with some epic romance about a homosexual king fleeing a country in the grips of socialist revolution. Obviously John Shade was so subtle a poet that any mention or imagery of the color gray in "Pale Fire" alluded to the name of the assassin hired by an Omniscient Council of Vagueness to track the forementioned king down.
    • Ironically, Kinbote actually recounts a conversation with Shade in which Shade talks about how much he hates this trope, stating that, after "not having read the required book," "looking for symbols" and more generally "having read [the book] like an idiot" are the worst crimes an interpreter can commit.
  • Done deliberately in Ender’s Game with the mind game imagery. While much of it is drawn from various mythologies, and much of it makes sense in itself, taken as a whole it's incoherent. Word of God explains:
    Second, I did not want to create a "plotted" mind game ... When I caught myself having a plan, I subverted it.
  • The Confidence Man is considered by some to be the first Postmoderist book, written by Herman Melville in the 1800's. Mostly it was a social satire, but his own views on morality, religion, and Idealism vs. Cynicism were in there through ridiculous amounts of religious symbolism. The Gainax Ending makes it so open to interpretation that scholars have been mulling over the meaning since it was first published. Just from one introduction, about the book's symbolism, most authorities trace the origin of All Fools' Day to a Hindu vernal celebration, a masquerade called Huli... The avatars of the Confidence man are avatara, that is, successive incarnations of the Hindu god of salvation, Vishnu. The first major avatar of Vishnu is as a fish who recovers the lost sacred books; the first avatar of the Confidence man is an "Odd fish!" who brings to the world injuctions from The Bible. The second avatar is a tortoise who upholds the world; the second avatar of the Confidence man is a "grotesque" man who slowly stumps around, lives "all 'long shore" and holds his symbolic "coal-sifter of a tambourine" high above his head. After this comes eight other major avatars and innumerable minor ones; the Guinea avatar lists eight other men and innumerable minor ones... The teachings of Buddha aimed for nirvana, which means the extinguishing of a flame or lamp. According to Hindus, Buddha was Vishnu incarnate as a deceiver, leading his enemies into spiritual darkness. The last avatar of the Confidence man, the Cosmpolitan, finally extinguishes the solar lamp and leads man into ensuing darkness.
  • Stephenie Meyer tries to insert Biblical symbolism into Twilight with references to the Forbidden Fruit and the Lion and the Lamb, with little regard to what those references actually mean.
  • This trope is often mocked in the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett, in which it is not uncommon to have an ancient tradition whose origins and/or meanings are lost in time described as "very symbolic - not actually of anything, just generally symbolic" or words to that effect.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the seventh episode of the sixth season of MST3K, the movie, Bloodlust, is mostly a The Most Dangerous Game ripoff. However, at the end, after the bad guy is killed by the lackey he betrayed, said lackey pushes his hands through a pair of metal spikes, giving an obvious crucifixion image.
    Tom Servo: So why this symbolism? Did Christ hunt people on deserted islands?
  • In the Ultra Series franchise, crosses and other Christian imagery are used in attacks and story plots. Then again, the creator of the franchise, Eiji Tsuburaya is actually a Japanese Christian, so he at least knew what the symbols were supposed to represent.
  • LOST liberally employs this trope in-universe. The characters interpret the signs and phenomena happening to them in different ways, and it's never clear whether the symbolism actually means anything or if a character is just interpreting it a particular way to satisfy their deep-seated psychological needs (often to the benefit of con men both mortal and immortal). This trope also extends to the audience, as the show contains numerous allusions to world religions, scientific concepts, and philosophical figuresnote  that can be applied to the proceedings any number of ways. In the end, the show concedes that interpretation is a deeply personal matter, and avoids definitively endorsing any one particular viewpoint. The fans who didn't pick up the perspectivist subtext, however, were not amused.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Genesis of the Daleks" is full of this. The title is a reference to a book in the Bible. The Time Lords were originally scripted to appear to the Doctor in a beautiful garden and then cast him out into Skaro (but this was abandoned for budget and Darker and Edgier reasons). There are strong themes of temptation, sacrifice and trial. An obvious scene is the sequence where the Doctor tortures Davros, which is done with the Doctor kneeling at Davros's feet and holding his hand (as Davros's hand is the only part of his body he can move) while gazing up at him in a painting-of-a-disciple-like fashion. None of this appears to really mean anything.
    • Accusations of the Doctor as Messiah abound regarding the new series. Tinkerbell Jesus rankles the most, though the series doesn't follow through on any but the basic level; that instance, for example, is the inverse of Jesus once you get past the pose and the shiny lights (humanity saving him, and through that action, saving themselves, and not the other way around).
    • Also of note is the scene in the Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned" with the Doctor being carried upwards by the "hosts" which are designed to look like biblical angels. This scene has been openly criticized by some religious authorities, but there are also people encouraging teachers to use it as an example of resurrection imagery in Religious Studies classes.
    • In the TV Movie, the regeneration-transfer-machine the Master straps the Doctor into looks an awful lot like a crucifix and crown of thorns.
      • Word of God says the crown was not designed to be a symbol, nor was the Doctor's regeneration intended to be symbolic.
    • Rather nice moment in "Smith and Jones". Barefoot Doctor just been resurrected, carrying Martha Jones in his arms through a hospital as it starts raining. That must mean something, but sodomy non sapiens.
  • In the Korean Series "You Are Beautiful", the main female lead is a runaway nun, the pop band's name is A.N.Jell, the Fangirl contingent wear wings, the Mother Superior shows up in Min Neyo's mind when she needs advice, pipe organ music at odd moments...you get the idea.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Cromartie is killed guns akimbo, arms outstretched, in a church, right in front of a crucifix in an incredibly awesome scene. This symbolism becomes not so faux when you realize that Cromartie's endoskeleton is "resurrected" to become the body of John Henry, who was meant to aid in the destruction of Skynet, thereby becoming humanity's salvation.
  • The guy with the cheese slices in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Restless." When asked about what he represented, Joss Whedon said he was inserted specifically to be a meaningless element of a densely symbolic episode.
    Buffy: "Well, at least you all didn't dream about that guy with the cheese. I don't know where the hell that came from."
  • The first Combining Mecha from Chouriki Sentai Ohranger is apparently based on Ezekiel's descriptions of Angels in The Bible. It's formed from a bird, a lion, a bull & two chariots. The Cherubim are said to have the faces of a man, an eagle a bull & a lion (although in Ohranger Robo's case the bird's face is folded inside the body when combined to make way for the robot's head) & Thrones are said to resemble chariot wheels.
  • Ashes to Ashes has always had fun alluding to Gene Hunt as Jesus and/or God (the connection to Aslan—i.e. the nickname "Manc Lion", how he can walk through falling glass and fire and bullets without getting hurt).
    • He does, however, turn out to be a Psychopomp. Who gets to punch out Satan.
  • An early episode of House involved a nun with stigmata who claimed to have Jesus inside her. It turned out to be the result of metal allergy worsened by a faulty IUD implanta copper cross.
  • In Mad Men, Betty Draper's stultifying suburban existence is set in Ossining, New York, most famously home to Sing Sing Prison.
  • In The Sopranos, the Film Within a Show Cleaver invokes this trope; for no real reason the movie closes on a close-up shot of a crucifix and a cornicello (a Southern Italian talisman in the shape of a little horn), to (in the words of Little Carmine) "juxtapose the sacred and the propane [sic]". Why Cleaver, a Mob movie meets paranormal flick meets revenge film, might need this is anybody's guess.
  • In True Detective a lot of references are made to Robert Chambers and there's some Lovecraftian elements. The writers have since gone on to clarify they were thematic but not meant to be literal ones and they drew from Campbell and the Bible more than Cthulhu. Though, some reviewers have other ideas.

    Music 
  • Bob Dylan is notorious for misleading interviewers and fans as to the meanings of his songs (or as to whether they have meaning at all), often giving bizarre and contradictory explanations. As a result, many of his songs can be simultaneously interpreted to avert, lampshade, subvert and playedstraight|play straight this trope. When asked what his songs were about, to which he replied "Oh, some of them are about three minutes, some are five minutes, and some are even eleven minutes!"
  • John Lennon cited this fact as his inspiration for writing The Beatles' song "I Am the Walrus".
    • The line "The Walrus Was Paul" was included in "Glass Onion" for the sole purpose of screwing with the conspiracy theorists. The originators of the "Paul is Dead" phenomenon have come out and admitted that it was a hoax.
    • He was in the midst of writing "I Am The Walrus" when he learned one of his old primary school teachers was having his students analyze lyrics from Beatles' songs, and decided to vex them by adding a verse composed mostly of nonsense. Considering the song contains Word Salad Lyrics like "Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna / Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe", you'd think the whole song was dedicated to confusing people who over-analyze song lyrics. After they finished it, Lennon said "Let the fuckers work that one out."
  • Green Day's "East Jesus Nowhere" has a particularly incomprehensible example:
    Raise your hands now to testify
    Your confession will be crucified
    You're a sacrificial suicide
    Like a dog that's been sodomized
  • Rammstein's song "Laichzeit" has no meaning at all but sounds very symbolic or at least, depending on how you look at it, like a song about sex using metaphors. It may be that they just wanted to fuck with the minds of fans or critics who read too much in their songs.
  • Disturbed's "Stupify" video involves the psychologically broken character in a long crucified suspension shot, the screen frequently blinking between this and the lead singer David Draiman in the same pose. According to Draiman, the song was about the racism of his parents in not accepting a non-Jewish girlfriend he had.
  • Most of Nightwish's songs. Of particular interest is "Planet Hell", which conflates Greek mythology ("Save yourself a penny for the ferryman") and Christianity ("This world ain't ready for the Ark") in the chorus. Century Child is an allusion to the myth of Selene and Endymion.
  • Officially, Rush's "The Trees" is just about trees. Honest. According to drummer and songwriter Neil Peart, one night he was watching a cartoon about trees that walked and talked, which inspired him to write the song.
  • The Reflex by Duran Duran sure sounds like it must be symbolizing something, but they've admitted it's just Word Salad.
  • In a similar vein, The Riddle by Nik Kershaw. The lyrics were a temporary track laid down in expectation of writing something more coherent later, but in the end they released it as is under the title "The Riddle", which implied that the chosen-because-they-fit-the-melody words actually have some symbolic meaning. The band used to get letter after letter explaining what it all meant.
  • The song Bushy by lo-fi band Tiny Masters of Today is very clearly the opinion of some kids on George W. Bush. However, likely to avoid critical backlash for writing a song about something they don't fully understand, they often say that they actually wrote it about the bush in their front yard.
  • This is especially common in Goth music; particularly early pioneers like Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy. Many artists admit to choosing words purely for sound and rhythm. Others claim that their lyrics contain a deeper symbolic meaning (good luck figuring out what that is). Reaction among fans is equally mixed.
  • Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick and to some extent A Passion Play are stealth parodies of this.
  • Captain Beefheart: Don Van Vliet's Word Salad Lyrics were often claimed to be this trope by Vliet himself, and multiple band members. However, which lyrics were intended to be symbolic, and what, precisely, they symbolized, depended greatly on which band member was being interviewed, and when. Van Vliet himself was constantly changing his story, often appearing to be making it up as he went along, just to mess with peoples' heads.
  • Lady Gaga does have her moments where people don't follow her symbolism and it's because it is faux. Meat Dress and Alejandro fit this particularly.
  • Delta Goodrem, in her video for believe again the last 3 minutes don't really make much sense, first she's in a rock, dressed up like a mermaid, then she's outside the rock in a cat suit flying through the sky, then she's floating in the middle of nowhere, with her eyes closed with a circle around her.
  • Chevelle's music video for "Mia" is pretty rife with a mix between Christian imagery and a bit of squick.
  • In one edit of Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" video (included on the HIStory on Film Volume 2 set), there are several meaningless shots of Jackson with angel wings.
  • Ministry's name seems like an ironic religious reference, especially with song titles like "Stigmata" and "Psalm 69," but the name is actually a reference to the movie Ministry Of Fear.
  • P.D.Q Bach's "My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth" has the line, "She's Guinevere and I'm Sir Lancelot." Professor Schickele tells us that much work was done to find the meaning of that line, ignoring the probability that it had absolutely no meaning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Nobilis encourages merging this with Schrödinger's Gun to produce prophecies; just pick some random bits of symbolism, fire them at the players, and then run with the best explanation they come up with.
  • An in-universe example in Geist: The Sin-Eaters: the titular Sin-Eaters tend to cherry-pick symbols from religions, mythology, comics, movies and stuff they just flat-out make up for their fashion or rituals, with no regard whatsoever for their actual meaning.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • Most of the Elshadoll are named after concepts in Jewish mythology.
    • The Qliphoth (lit. "peels", "shells" or "husks") are the representation of evil or impure spiritual forces in Jewish mysticism. They are documented in some texts of Kabbalah, a set of teachings originated in Judaism.

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VII had Jenova ("New God") and her Christ/Lucifier analogue, Sephiroth. The "doll" containing Jenova's holding tank is visually handled like the blessed mother, with gold wiring for a nimbus and tubes for wings. The final battle with Sephiroth takes place in a heavenly void, and his theme is "One-Winged Angel." Story-wise, none of it has much plot relevance, except that Sephiroth is a would-be messiah.
  • Luminous Arc 2 has an interesting case with Mage Queen Elicia, whose witch title in Japanese is called "Holy Mother" and her outfit is very similar to her herself. Averted in English, which changed to Dark Queen instead.
  • Xenogears and Xenosaga are notorious among Video Games for being chock-full of pretentious religious symbolism. Much like Neon Genesis Evangelion, matters are complicated by the fact that the core story really is based around religious symbolism—Xenogears in particular is heavily inspired by the Gnostic interpretation of Christianity.
    • Some of this was lost in translation. The Elementals were named for four of the nine choirs of angels. Cherubina (Kelvena), Throne (Tolone), Seraphita and Dominia. Mr. Inferiority Complex Ramsus has a phonetic Japanese spelling that makes his surname pronounced like Rameses. And Miang's surname is a shout-out to Eve (Hawwa/Chavah).
    • Since it's so deeply ingrained in the story and how things play out, it's obvious the writers of Xenogers DO understand Gnosticism... they just happened to twist it beyond recognition.
    • Xenosaga is much more guilty of this, tossing around heady religious, philosophical, scientific and literary references willy-nilly that serve little to no coherent symbolic purpose - e.g. the series of Super Robots named after the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
    • Much of Xenosaga's symbolism can be understood if the gamer can significantly bend their understanding of some of the key concepts of Jungian psychology, quantum physics, and Judeo-Christian theology. If this isn't possible... then the whole thing is just a mess of references that are probably best left not understood.
  • Bungie games tend to do this.
    • Marathon had Durandal trying to become God of the next universe, and quoting the Bible and such.
    • The Halo series is awash with Biblical and religious allusions (the Covenant, the Flood, the Ark, and the eponymous Halos, to name just the most obvious ones), most of which amount to little more than window dressing for a relatively straightforward "humans versus aliens" plot. Plus, the number 7 is hidden EVERYWHERE. That said, the Halos were built from the Ark, where the forerunners also had every single evolved creature they could find. After they activated the weapon to kill all life in the galaxy, thus starving the flood, they seeded a lot of the life that they destroyed, including humans and several species of the covenant.
      • Allusions to Islam also exist to a lesser extent within the games. The design team for Halo2 almost chose the name Dervish -an Arabic term for someone following the ascetic path of extreme poverty and austerity- instead of the Arbiter. They ultimately decided against the name considering the fact that they already had a character named "The Prophet Of Truth".
  • In Drakengard, you have the Cult of the Watchers, which is a vague allusion to a concept in Judeo-Christian theology and some books of the Apocrypha. The book of Enoch, specifically. Monstrous children of the grigori, the Nephilim = those crazyass giant demon babies? Well, maybe?
  • Fire Emblem games generally name characters and weapons after people and weapons in mythologies from EVERYWHERE in Europe. The names don't go any deeper than being names. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones has a character named Tethys (a Greek Goddess), the sacred spear Siegmund (named after a Norse Hero) and the sacred sword Sieglinde (named after Siegmund's sister/lover Ironically, they're wielded exclusively by Lords who are twin brother and sister *and* have quite the twincest-y vibes). They just sound cooler than boring names, nothing more.
    • Also in Sacred Stones, there is a bow named "Nidhogg" which the game refers to as the "Serpent Bow". In Norse myth, Nidhogg is the name of the serpent that gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasill.
    • In Sword of Flames/Blazing Blade, Eliwood receives a sword named Durandal, said to have been wielded by the hero Roland. Both of these names are taken directly from a French legend.
      • Hector's ultimate weapon Armads/Almace, wielded by Archbishop Durbans/Turpin, also come from the same legend, referring to a compatriot of Roland and his weapon.
    • Marthnote . Uh, nevermind, I guess.
  • The Shin Megami Tensei series in general loves to avert this trope. Players recruit demons, gods and spirits from a wide variety of world religions present and past; in the mainline series, you end up siding with God, Lucifer or neither. In between, there's about as much rampant religious imagery as you might imagine. Psychological symbolism and allusions are also tossed about willy-nilly in the Persona series (starting with the name). Despite the basis of the franchise being drawing from every mythology imaginable, the symbolism is usually well thought out and relevant to the plot.
    • Digital Devil Saga is a rare example of a game that uses Hindu symbolism and mythology. From your ultimate goal being Nirvana, after you pass through Muladhara, Svadisthana, Manipura, Anahata, a few side dungeons, Ajna, and Sahasrara, to fighting Ravana, the Junkyard is practically made of random Hindu symbolism. And this being a Shin Megami Tensei game, you kill God, who happens to be Brahman in this reincarnation.
      • It's a bit more complicated than that. It's actually supposed to be random Aryan (no, not that way) symbolism, but because we don't actually know a lot about Aryan mythology, they use Hinduism to fill in the gaps — it's the closest surviving religion.
      • Well, it's not particularly random. The reason all of it's there is sort of explained as the Asura forms of people being based on who they are and blah blah blah. There's a reason for everything... ish. (there isn't any real reason for Seth and Satan to be in 2 other than for the heck of it)
  • Joshua from The World Ends with You attacks with "Jesus Beams." It looks as though it symbolizes his being God or Jesus, but he's really just the Composer, which is a position that is supervised by the Producer. God wouldn't have a superviser.
  • Two of the first towns your party visits in Final Fantasy III are Canaan and Ur.
  • Silent Hill: Homecoming has a lot of sexually-related imagery. None of it seems to mean a damn thing, as sexual themes aren't part of the plot nor do they relate to any of the characters. The entire series is also filled with occult references that include Metatron, Samael, the Olympic spirits and tarot cards, and eventually grows to include a fictional mythology and pantheon featuring such names as Xuchilbara the "Red God" and Lobsel Vith the "Yellow God". Whether any of these references are truly relevant to the story, or if they're just there to emphasize the fact that we're dealing with crazy cultist villains, is still a matter of debate among fans.
    • Although many fans will simply go by the fact that since Homecoming is a rehash of Silent Hill 2, it's most likely they were attempting to cash in on the franchise's most well known and popular aspects without understanding the symbolism behind the monsters. Hence why Alex encounters busty nurses and Pyramid Head without reason.
    • A far straighter example was the part of Silent Hill 2 where you find another James Sunderland dead in an armchair in front of a broken television. This sent the fans into a literal frenzy trying to figure out what it meant, until the developers admitted they simply reused James' model because they were lazy and didn't think anyone would notice. Of course, they have since shrugged it to be symbolic.
  • Metal Gear Acid 2 names the Test Subjects (Golab, Harab Serap, Chagadiel) after the Kabbalist Qliphoth for no good reason, and names the Metal Gear Chaioth Ha Kadosh (host of angels) and gives it a choral piece as a Leitmotif.
    • The opening scene of Metal Gear Solid 2 shows Snake (who had at this point abandoned his dream of having a normal life in order to fight against Metal Gear proliferation, as his 'duty to the coming generations') throwing himself off a bridge with his legs together and his arms outstretched in a wide crucifix pose. He's in Active Camo at this point, so the effect is made even more extreme by the fact that all that's visible is the outline of his long-haired, nearly-naked silhouette. Oh, and an ethereal choral song plays as he does it. For a while during development, it would have been more extreme, with Snake wearing a brilliant white parachute that would spread out behind his body like a pair of angel wings. A lot of the symbolism is mollified, though, by the fact that when he lands on the surface of the Tanker there's a big Homage Shot to, of all things, Terminator.
    • Metal Gear Solid 3 is considered by many to be a major offender, with codenames like ADAM and EVA, Snake, and biblical comparisons in the ending monologue. Likewise with Part 3 of Metal Gear Solid 4, where a discussion of the events of MGS3 takes place in a church and adds a very symbolic apple to the mix. It a more meta-symbolic sense, there are many easy-to-miss references to the earlier games, to the point where at least one analysis speculated that the way certain eggs in a loading cutscene cook represents earlier characters and events.
  • The final series of bosses in Final Fantasy VI is a giant throwback to The Divine Comedy. The first tier of enemies consists of a demon shown from the waist up, symbolizing Hell with Lucifer frozen up to his waist. The second tier is a jumbled mess of machinery, animals and people, representing Purgatory. The third tier, the formerly overcast and dark background has beams of light shining through the clouds, and the two enemies look like Jesus lying in Mary's lap, but with "Mary" as a disembodied head and "Jesus" looking like Kefka. The fourth tier, the heroes rise up from the overcast background to a sea of glowing white and gold clouds. The final part of The Divine Comedy has Dante meet God, who tells him the meaning of life. But here, Kefka descends from on high appearing as a Fallen Angel, and tells the heroes that life is meaningless.
  • It's pretty fair to say that so many fights wouldn't have been had about Final Fantasy VII if the villain hadn't been named after the Kabbalist 'Sephiroth' and he hadn't been obsessed with becoming a god and there wasn't a sacrificed martyr character.
    • Add onto that that a more correct translation of his final form would be to call it Sepher Sephiroth, and watch more heads explode.
    • In Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, the character Genesis comes from a town famous for its apple harvest, and is producing clones of himself in an abandoned apple factory. When attempting to incite Sephiroth into rebellion against the Shinra, he offers him an apple. The rest of the final dungeon had a large amount of Faux Symbolism, too, what with Dante's Inferno references and a statue that looked like the Virgin Mary (at least in Japan).
      • Speaking of apples, one can certainly slap some Faux Symbolism onto the burning apple when Tseng blows up Banora really, what could it mean? Especially its connection to not only Genesis but also Angeal... speaking of names and symbolism...
  • Yet more examples from Final Fantasy: The Summons. Yeah, Odin, Lakshmi, Quetzalcoatl and the like make sense in the context of being gods, but Eden? Ark?
    • Eden = Garden of Eden. The schools where the SeeDs are educated? They are called gardens as well. And Eden bears some resemblance to the flying gardens.
  • The Aeon Anima wears a tag with Mary on it. It makes more sense when you realize it's actually a portrait of Anima's human form who is Seymour's mother. Seymour views himself as a messiah, albeit a dark and evil one from the viewpoint of anyone sane. He seeks to save Spira from the cycle of pain and suffering by destroying it.
  • The Tattered Spire in Fable II is, at its full height, a model of Hell from Dante's Inferno.
  • Inverted entirely in Max Payne, when most people missed the oodles of valid and proper Norse symbolism.
  • In the Sakura Taisen manga (and possibly by extent the game, but correct me if I'm wrong), the character Setsuna has a scene during his Mind Rape arc torturing Maria with her tied to a cross.
  • Silhouette Mirage contains notable examples, such as references like Megido, Zohar, and Metatron, not to mention the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • EVE Online, wherein humanity discovers a wormhole (the titular EVE) which delivers mankind to the New Eden system in another galaxy. It only gets better from this point onward, especially if you take the time to read the names of some of the systems and constellations.
    • This seems to be more an example of the sort of names humans would actually come up with rather than unsubtle references.
  • A little-known game called Adventures of Darwin features a tribe of monkeys that have to evolve into humans in time to survive the coming apocalypse. They are led by a monkey named Darwin, a Shout-Out that would make the actual Charles Darwin spin in his grave. Where does the symbology come in? The final boss is God Himself. Well, okay, according to the bestiary, He is actually Zeus, but given the context, he's clearly meant to be a monotheistic God, not one of a pantheon.
  • In The King of Fighters, SNK Boss Goenitz is a priest, and in his waiting for turn animation, he is seen reading a book (presumibly a Bible). He serves and awaits the return of a powerful, supernatural entity who would bring The End of the World as We Know It, who ended reincarnating in a the body of a boy named Chris; and to top it, he would throw phrases like "pray to your god" before fighting. In addittion, the Spin-Off dating simulation games Days of Memories has him, Chris and Shermie wearing crucifixes. Also, Kyo wears a black shirt with a cross in the NESTS saga.
  • In SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, you fight Bonus Boss Athena in a Fluffy Cloud Heaven and, after defeating her, an unnamed character who is a clear Captain Ersatz of God appears to sends you back to Earth. Akuma returns to challenge him, though.
    • Alternatively, you go to Makai, the Demon World, and face Red Arremer of Ghosts N Goblins fame. Arremer, despite only being something of an underling to recurring Big Bad Astaroth, is the closest thing this game has to Satan (despite the fact that said character already appears in the Ghost 'n Goblin series... as a lackey to Astaroth), being a cross between a devil and a gargoyle in appearance. Lose to him, and you're turned into a demon and then forced into servitude.
  • Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike has Gill, who in the previous SF3 was little more than a Big Bad with a weird color scheme. In the Dreamcast version of Double Impact compilation, where he was playable, his ending gave a cryptic Bible-sounding verse predicting a future calamity, and in 3rd Strike he becomes a self-proclaimed savior who, in his ending in the console version, splits an ocean that leads to a paradise. We are all very impressed.
  • The game Baroque is littered with crosses and Gnostic imagery. If you explore the Outer World, you can find a graveyard of metal framework crosses in the background.
  • La-Mulana sure has a lot of maternal symbolism. One quest requires you to take a statue of a woman to an area where you can see sperm swimming around in the background, and then stand under a diagram of the uterus.
    • The final boss is all over this. Especially the third form, where she takes on a really creepy version of the Virgin Mary. Also, one of her attacks is raining crosses on you.
  • There's the Heaven/Hell imagery in Sonic Riders.
  • In Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, Morgan LeFlay betrays Guybrush and brings him to the Marquis De Singe in Flotsam Island. When she arrives the doctor pays her with 30 Thousand pieces of eight in silver.
  • Like some earlier examples, Tales of Symphonia has a lot of mythological names for things, particularly places given names from Norse mythology, most of which have little or no connection to the things they're named for. There are a couple of exceptions, though.
    • Tales of the Abyss carries it to a whole new extreme. Nearly all the towns' names, the "Qlipoth" underworld, and the title — all drawn directly from the Qabalah in ways that make it clear there was absolutely no understanding of the original material.
  • In Brutal Legend, Satanic circles are used as waypoint markers. It's supposed to fit in with the Metal theme. The Demons have a five-pointed emblem as well, but it's a Cheveron with a "V" superimposed.
  • A Star Ocean: Till the End of Time example. The layout for the second last room before the final boss is shaped like the Sephirot. Whether it has general meaning or is just randomness is left ambiguous. Considering that the last boss—named Lucifer, at that—has one very severe god complex with regard to his creation, it's probably yet another part of his claim to divinity over the Eternal Sphere.
  • If you look carefully, you can find this sprinkled through Star Ocean: The Second Story. Krosse/Cross (although the continent is shaped like a plus rather than a crucifix), Salva/Salvation, Ell/El, etc. There probably isn't much to most of it, beyond Theme Naming with various other occult/mysticism elements in the series. Nede and the God's Ten Wise Men are a bit more germane; Nede is a major place of Precursors, and the Wise Men, named for the ethnarchs of the nine angelic choirs (plus Lucifer), were the collective Super Prototype of their latest way of maintaining control. It's worth noting that when you leave Lucifer out, you have the reverse of the actual pseudo-Dionysian hierarchy. There, Metatron ranked highest, and Gabriel ranked lowest; here, it's the other way around. Nonetheless, the milieu makes it clear that you're not expected to look that deeply.
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood in the [1] trailer toward the middle. As Ezio approaches his target and other Assassins kill guards for him he walks (in slow motion) through a mass of cardinals, all wearing red, who get out of his way. "PART THE RED SEA!"
  • Averted in the Chzo Mythos. In 5 Days A Stranger, Jim at one point mentions he's been reading a copy of Treasure Island that he found in the library, but prefers Terry Pratchett. These references neither parallel the plot in any way, nor do they have any significant personal meaning to the characters (except perhaps the way a kid named Jim takes a shine to a shady character). In Quovak's Let's Play, Yahtzee admits that he was never even pretending there was any symbolism; at the time he wrote that scene, namedropping a couple of well-known authors for no particular reason seemed like a terribly clever thing to do, so he did it.
  • Devil May Cry has many references to various mythologies and legends.
    • Just look at the names of some of the weapons (and bosses): Cerberus, Lucifer, Gilgamesh, Pandora, Ifrit...
    • The whole third game is a reimagining of Dante's Inferno. For example, the third level has Dante fight Cerberus... and who guards the third circle of hell?
    • It makes sense, as Dante was named after Dante Alighieri, and Vergil was named after Publius Vergilius Maro.
  • In the old arcade game called MagMax, also made for the NES, you fight a three-headed cyborg dragon machine called Babylon, which is odd since the name "Babylon" is mentioned a few times in some Hebrew Bible readings and in the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible's New Testament (even peculiar is that in Revelation, Babylon is a symbolic harlot who has a symbolic dragon-like beast with seven heads and ten horns; that beast may be like the mechanical dragon machine you see in the game).
  • Parodied in Hatoful Boyfriend where the character Anghel Higure (his last name being spelled in the Japanese version with two kanji both meaning 'red') who screams all the time about being a Fallen Angel, the reincarnation of the Crimson Angel of Judecca and a Servant of God born whose destiny is to battle Demon Spores. He is actually the notorious school eccentric Akagi Yoshio, and he's a member of the Manga Club - and when the player enters his fantasy world, it's just a turn-based (and outrageously cheesy) JRPG, implying he's just a Daydream Believer who is into media containing Faux Symbolism rather than an actual believer in angels... although delving into the Latin he uses casts some doubt on this.
  • In Brain Dead 13, one of the resurrection scenes (in case Lance dies in haunted rooms) shows the "fires of rebirth" reform Lance's body and restore him to life. This is a bit strange, as it is kind of reminiscent of The Phoenix, which is an ancient and well known symbol of death and rebirth and portrayed as a magical bird made of living flames; the story says that when a Phoenix reaches the end of its life, it would make a cinnamon stick nest and self-immolate itself with fire, and from the ashes a new Phoenix is reborn. This could explain the "fiery" resurrection scene that Lance, like a Phoenix, can rise from the ashes of defeat and start over. Weird.
  • Lampshaded in Touhou: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil with a pun.
    Marisa: So, why are you stretching your arms out?
    Rumia: Doesn't this look like it's saying "The saint was crucified"? (cross : 十字形)
    Marisa: It looks like "Humanity started using the decimal system." (ten : 十)

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Cody Jenson's discovery of a motorcycle in Survival of the Fittest, a mundane occurrence tooled up with as much symbolism and imagery as was humanly possible. Oh, and he named it too.
  • A running gag on Bad Movie Beatdown is for Film Brain to throw his hands in the air and yell "SYMBOLISM!!!11!!OMGWTFGENIUS!!!" when he encounters examples of this trope.
  • Mocked by Chip Cheezum and GeneralIronicus while retsupuraeing "A Demon Tale".
  • Rational Wiki refers to examples of this as "Deepity". The term refers to statements that are at best true but completely irrelevant, at worst something that, while profound on the surface, is completely nonsensical (bonus points if said statement would be completely world shattering if true).
    • An example given is the phrase "gravity is just a theory"; yes that's true since a theory is a well-established scientific explanation, but it's trivial and obvious to anyone with a brain. And if gravity was nonexistent like the statement implies than the way life functions would be changed forever.

    Western Animation 

  • The opening of G.I. Joe: Renegades features Adam DeCobray (aka Cobra Commander) picking an apple off a tree and handing it to a young girl and boy.
    • Arguable: Seeing as how the myth being referenced here is the fall of humanity (a snake tricking humans into eating forbidden fruit, the direct consequences of which cost Adam and Eve their happiness in Eden, and cause their eventual deaths) I would say that "Cobra" giving the general population of humans "fruit" (weapons, knowledge) that will eventually bring about their downfall, is actually highly symbolic.
  • Sent up fairly often in surreal anime parody Perfect Hair Forever. One episode has crucified clowns in the forest for no real reason. It's also lampshaded: I wish these hot dogs and cats were not symbolic of anything, and this was all just a dumb anime mind*EFF*
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Elements Of Harmony, when the Mane Six use the Elements of Harmony on Nightmare Moon, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie and (especially) Applejack are visible in a Crucified Hero Shot, while Rarity and Fluttershy look like they are praying.

    Real Life 
  • Seventh Sanctum has the Symbolitron, whose purpose is to generate random symbolism to use in your own writings.
  • Miroslav Satan.
  • Fashion in general is full of that, from having the Iron Cross, to the Prussian Flags, etc etc.
  • Not even TV Tropes is safe, as this page proves: Devil face=porn angel=not porn.


Ms. FanserviceJustForFun/Tropes of LegendFinagle's Law
Executive MeddlingPt/Índice de TraduçãoFanservice
Explosion PropulsionRule of CoolFiction 500
Fashion-Victim VillainYMMV/Home PageFen
Environmental SymbolismSymbolismFreud Was Right
Fashion-Victim VillainYMMVFen
AkagiImageSource/Anime & MangaAll-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku

alternative title(s): What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic; ptitlebqmxtrir9bav; Fake Symbolism
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