Researching a Metaphor – Anchor

By Margaret Couper


Biblical Meaning/History/Literature


The Anchor became a true Christian symbol during the period of Roman persecution. As Michael Card observes in his recent album, Soul Anchor: “The first century symbol wasn’t the cross; it was the anchor. If I’m a first century Christian and I’m hiding in the catacombs and three of my best friends have just been thrown to the lions or burned at the stake, or crucified and set ablaze as torches at one of [Emperor] Nero’s garden parties, the symbol that most encourages me in my faith is the anchor. When I see it, I’m reminded that Jesus is my anchor.”

Christian use of the anchor echoed Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (NIV) Epitaphs on believers’ tombs dating as far back as the end of the first century frequently displayed anchors alongside messages of hope. Such expressions as pax tecum, pax tibi, in pace, or “peace be with you” speak to the hope Christians felt in their anticipation of heaven. Archaeologists found about 70 examples of these kinds of messages in one cemetery alone.

But where did Christians get the idea to use an anchor in the first place? The anchor appeared as the royal emblem of Seleucus the First, king of the Seleucid dynasty established after Alexander the Great’s campaigns. Seleucus reputedly chose the symbol because he had a birthmark in the shape of an anchor. Jews living under the empire adopted the symbol on their coinage, though they phased it out under the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus around 100 B.C.

An even stronger explanation can be found in church history. Around 100 A.D., the emperor Trajan banished the fourth pope, St. Clement, to the Crimea. When the pope converted the people there, Trajan ordered that Clement be tied to an iron anchor and drowned. Tradition holds that the sea then receded three miles to reveal Clement’s body buried by angels in a marble mausoleum. This is hardly a believable tale, but the story of Clement’s martyrdom clearly inspired the persecuted Church.

Given its power, why did the anchor fade from use? Scholars have found only a few examples dating as late as the middle of the third century, and none after 300 A.D. Their most common explanation is that as the Empire went from persecuting the Church to sponsoring it, Christians no longer needed secret symbols to identify themselves. Constantine’s conquering cross replaced the anchor as a source of encouragement to believers in troubled waters.

Other scholars, though, think the anchor slipped from use because the “symbol” was actually a word play in Greek—ankura resembling en kurio, or “in the Lord”—which disappeared as Christians chose Latin over Greek as their primary language.

Whatever the case, the anchor did not reappear until the 1600s, when it experienced a two-century renaissance, particularly as a symbol engraved on tombs. One wonders if the recent interest stirred by Michael Card marks the beginning of a new revival of this ancient symbol.

*Searches on the Internet turn up rather sketchy history of the anchor, though it’s still possible to piece it together. Michael Card’s observations cuts to the chase, while the online entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia gives a succinct overview. The site also offers a 9-page biography of St. Clement. You’ll find a mention of the anchor’s origin with the Seleucid dynasty at:

Steven Gertz is editorial coordinator for Christian History

Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.


An anchor is a heavy, nautical weight, normally made of metal, used to connect a boat or ship to the bed of a body of water for the purpose of prevent the vessel from drifting due to wind or current. Used symbolically, an anchor reflects that which provides stability, and confidence, and certainty.

The Christian religion teaches that these characteristics (i.e. stability, confidence, and certainty) are found in Christ and can be known and experienced by those who follow him. As the world, and life in general, are like a tumultuous sea, made dangerous by the wind, Jesus is like an anchor for the soul.

The anchor is a very early Christian symbol that has been found in the Roman catacombs. It brings together the cross (#2 right) and the various nautical Christian symbols, like the fish (#1 right), a boat, and a dolphin. The reason why the anchor was used so early in the church may be because the imagery originated in the New Testament letter of Hebrews.

When used today, the anchor represents a Christian’s hope in Christ.

The anchor is also the symbol of St. Clement of Rome, who tradition says was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.

Related Bible Verses > Hebrews 6:17

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”


– Patricia S. Klein, Worship without Words: The Signs and Symbols of Our Faith (2000).
– Carolle E. Whittenmore, ed., Symbols of the Church.
– W.E. Post, Saints, Signs, and Symbols.
– George Wells Ferguson, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art.
– Frederick Rest, Our Christian Symbols.


Anchor Quotes

“To reach a port, we must sail – Sail, not tie at anchor – Sail, not Drift”

Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“The first footfalls on Mars will mark a Historic Milestone, an enterprise that requires human tenacity matched with technology to anchor ourselves to another world.”

Buzz Aldrin.

“Hopefully any Character I play has an Anchor to reality”

Michael Sheen

“One who has control over the mind is tranquil in heat and cold, in pleasure and pain, and in honour and dishonour.”

Bhagavad Gita


Anchor Folklore/Mythology/Symbolism

The Anchor is a Symbol of both Hope and steadfastness.

When we look at an Anchor we see that it is a cross resting upon, and securely balanced within, a crescent moon or bowl. The cross has four points, and the number four represents matter. Furthermore, the crossed lines of the cross represent spirit (the vertical line) united with matter (the horizontal line). Hence, the cross represents an individual’s personal Incarnation. The cross is a masculine Symbol which includes a person’s Thoughts, Actions, and consciousness.

The crescent moon, or bowl, is a feminine Symbol which represents the womb. The feminine also includes intuition, Emotions, and the Subconscious. Therefore the Anchor is a Symbol for an individual’s personal Incarnation which is supported by, and rests within, their emotions, intuition, and Subconscious. With these Thoughts in mind, let us now explore the meaning of the Anchor as a Symbol of Hope and steadfastness.

As a Symbol of Hope:

The rising Anchor is a Symbol for Hope. This is alluded to, metaphorically, whenever we say that “our hopes are rising”. When a ship weighs, or raises, its Anchor it tells everyone that it is leaving its current port-of-call and is on its way to a new voyage, a new Adventure. This is a metaphor for how each one of us feel when we finally decide to leave a stagnant portion of our life behind us in order to begin a new journey, voyage, or Adventure.

We raise our Anchor and venture forth into a new era of our life. We feel eager and alive and we are laden with Hope, excitement, dreams, expectations, imaginings and aspirations. Our Spirit feels light and free as we face the cleansing breezes which take us to our next port-of-call.

The Hope we carry with us on our new voyage encourages us to follow the course we have plotted out and carry out the plans we have made. We are steadfast in our vision of the pursuit of our new Dream. Our new Hope prevents us from drifting in confusion as our Thought processes are now focused on new Dreams, creations and ideas. Our new Hope keeps us focused on our vision, the Horizon, where our new life, and new Adventure, awaits us. The Time of planning is over and the Time of Action, and new experiences, is now upon us.

As a Symbol for steadfastness:

The moment we drop our mental Anchor is the moment when we become steadfast in a Decision-making process. It is the moment when we finally say to ourselves “here is where I stand” and “these are the rules I will govern myself by”. This is expressed, metaphorically, when a ship drops its Anchor. At that moment the ship becomes moored to a particular location from which it will not move until the Time once again arrives for it to sail at a moment of its own Choosing.

When a ship drops Anchor it grounds itself, and secures itself, to a certain spot from which it will not move. It stabilizes itself from the waves, tides, currents and various other movements which the sea may throw at it. Just as a ship that is not firmly Anchored is at the mercy of all of the elements of the sea, so too is a person who is not firmly anchored at the mercy of all of the elements of chaos, hysteria and uncertainty which surround him, or her.
Nearly every one of us has had at least one moment in our life when we were absolutely, positively sure of a Decision we had to make even though everyone around us doubted us and screamed at us that we were wrong. In this moment our certainty proved to be correct even though we may not have been able to put our certainty into Words. These kinds of Decisions can only be made by a person who is firmly anchored.

When we are properly Anchored we are able to trust confidently in the skills and knowledge which lie latently concealed deep within us. Skills and knowledge which lie in the subconscious realm of our inner-self; our God-within; our Atman.

This confidence, self-assuredness, and trust in oneself is the result of solid, secure and verifiable conclusions, clarity of Awareness, and Lessons learned from Past experiences. When we act with such steadfastness we are not being simply stubborn; we are securely Anchored and are acting with positive
Arrogance and true knowing.

When we are properly Anchored we are able to remain steadfast, sure and steady; we are able to “hold fast” during emotional, unstable and confusing Times; we are able to steady ourselves during our weakest moments and most trying experiences; we are able to confidently maintain stability, firmness and tranquility within and amidst all of the chaotic emotions which are tossing themselves all around us.

On the other hand, when we are not sure of ourselves, or when we are in a situation which is foreign and strange to us, we find ourselves adrift and at the mercy of the tides and currents which toss us to and fro and we say to ourselves “let’s try this” or “let’s try that”, unsure of what will work and what will not work;
simply relying on guesses and empty Prayers and not on steadfast facts, skills, knowledge and experience.

© copyright Joseph Panek 2012

Symbolic Anchor Tattoo:

Tons of seafaring matey’s and pirates alike have adopted the anchor as a symbol of their love for the open waters.

There are varying designs of anchors, and the design of your anchor tattoo will tell a lot about your inky intentions. I’ve seen some anchor tattoos honour the dance between male and female duality and harmony. In this case, the crescent (along the bottom of the anchor) is symbolic of female (yin) – and the vertical rod is symbolic of male (yang) energy.

Ancient Egyptian art shows gender in the anchor too. An anchor drawing/etching designed with a skiff or a boat as the lower half of the anchor represented “female” (the curve of woman, the crescent of moon). And, a snake composed the upper half of the anchor-art, as the erect vertical mast – this is the male factor (phallus). Together, these two design compositions symbolize creation.

In Renaissance art, anchors are often depicted with the dolphin. This is symbolic of tempering speed with resistance. In this image, the dolphin is symbolic of speed and carefree direction, while the anchor is a symbol of remaining grounded and stable. Combined, these two symbols encourage a balance between quick action and sound judgment.

In Freemason art and symbolism the anchor is sometimes replaced with Jacob’s ladder. In this case, the anchor tattoo meaning represents attainment and ascension. We’re talking about a theological climb starting from base/mundane understanding to enlightened realization.

Symbolic Meanings of the Anchor

  • Hope
  • Safety
  • Fidelity
  • Stability
  • Security
  • Salvation
  • Good Luck
  • Steadfastness
  • Ocean/Sea/Waters

Anchor tattoos were common among pirates to denote a permanent connection with the sea. I’ve heard rumour that anchor pirate tattoos were a way to convey lots of time in the brig too. This makes sense as the anchor is symbolic of “being parked” – a time incarcerated would be synonymous.

An anchor tattoo is a common sight among US military branches specializing in sea duty (Navy, Coast Guard, Marines). It identifies a man (or woman) with the sea, as well as a branch of military – and therefore labels him/her with a code of protection, honor, duty and devotion to a greater cause.

I’ve also been told an anchor tattoo is symbolic of a sailor having crossed the Atlantic Ocean. But you don’t have to be in the Navy to be attracted to the anchor tattoo meaning. A love for boating, the call of the waters/oceans or perhaps a memorial to someone who held a deep affection for the seas could justify an anchor tattoo.

I’ve also seen anchors with a pitchfork look to them – these might be an artistic tribute to various sea deities. Here are a few awesome sea gods and goddesses to consider incorporating into your anchor tattoo ideas…

Gods and Goddesses Associated with the Anchor Symbol

  • Neptune – Roman sea god (doppelganger of Poseidon), storm-maker and earth-shaker
  • Amphitrite – Greek sea goddess (and nymph), protects sailors and gives birth to dolphins (and you thought your kid was funny lookin! lol)
  • Poseidon – Temperamental Greek sea god, rebel with a pitchfork and a cause to protect all inhabitants of the sea
  • Triton – Greek sea deity who is half-man, half-fish. A blow of his conch, waters can be calm or tempestuous
  • Ran – Old Norse sea goddess, her appearance is marked by her tugging on anchors – an omen of bad weather and/or tumultuous seas
  • Varuna – Hindu god of the oceans with the power to make noble humans immortals. Those who died at sea were assigned into his care

Symbolic anchor tattoos can also share ties with Christian symbolism. Most anchors have a top-bar that looks like a cross, and therefore hearkens to the traditional Christian theme of salvation and sacrifice. This was particularly useful during dicey times when abiding by Christian faith was risky business. In these times, an anchor was used as a symbol instead of the cross to identify oneself as a Christian in a secretive way.

As an anchor is dropped in order to gain stability on troubled waters – this is synonymous with an anchored faith. Hebrews 6:19 touts: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” in reference to the consistency of Gods unwavering presence in the hearts of men.



Definition of Anchor


    1. any of several devices, usually of steel, attached to a vessel by a cable and dropped overboard so as to grip the bottom and restrict the vessel’s movement
    2. an object used to hold something else firmly in place ⇒  ■ the rock provided an anchor for the rope
    3. a source of stability or security ⇒  ■ religion was his anchor
    1. a metal cramp, bolt, or similar fitting, esp one used to make a connection to masonry
    2. (as modifier) ⇒  ■ anchor bolt, ⇒  ■ anchor plate
    1. the rear person in a tug-of-war team
    2. 1. short for anchorman, anchorwoman


    1. to use an anchor to hold (a vessel) in one place
    2. to fasten or be fastened securely; fix or become fixed firmly
    3. (transitive) (radio, television) to act as an anchorman on

Word Origin

Old English ancor, from Latin ancora, from Greek ankura; related to Greek ankos bend; compare Latin uncus bent, hooked


View thesaurus entry

= mooring, hook (nautical), bower (nautical), kedge, drogue, sheet anchor
= support, second, stay, supporter, prop, backer, backbone, mainstay, comforter, tower of strength
= presenter, newscaster, reporter, commentator, broadcaster, newsreader, anchor man, anchor woman
= moor, harbour, dock, tie up, kedge, kedge off
= dock, moor, harbour, drop anchor, kedge, cast anchor, drop the hook, let go the anchor, lay anchor, come to anchor, kedge off
= secure, tie, fix, bind, chain, attach, bolt, fasten, affix

Translations for ‘anchor’

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  • British English: anchor An anchor is a heavy hooked object at the end of a chain that is dropped from a boat into the water to make the boat stay in one place.

Anchor (n)

Old English ancor, borrowed 9c. from Latin ancora “anchor,” from or cognate with Greek ankyra “anchor, hook” (see ankle). A very early borrowing and said to be the only Latin nautical term used in the Germanic languages. The -ch- form emerged late 16c., a pedantic imitation of a corrupt spelling of the Latin word. The figurative sense of “that which gives stability or security” is from late 14c. Meaning “host or presenter of a TV or radio program” is from 1965, short for anchorman.

It would seem if a person had a strong belief in God or an ideal or indeed another person to live by, the troubles of life and outside influences become easier to handle. When a person drops ‘anchor’, they ground themselves in their beliefs, stabilize themselves and once feeling secure, they can plan their next move and raise ‘anchor’ to move ahead in their lives. Their ‘anchor’ allows them hope for their future and the ability to remain steady to their ideals and dreams.