What Do Bells Signify in Spiritual Traditions? Discovering Their Symbolism

The peal of bells ringing out has long held a symbolic meaning across cultures and faiths. But what exactly do bells represent in spiritual and religious traditions? Their significance is multidimensional and fascinating.

Bells have been used in sacred rituals for thousands of years. Their sound seems to transcend the physical realm, resonating on a spiritual level. The reverberations open doorways to the divine, summon deities, dispel evil, and transform consciousness. Exploring the extensive history and symbolism of bells reveals their profound impact on the spiritual lives of countless peoples.

The Ancient Symbolic Meaning of Bells Across Cultures

In ancient times, bells were believed to have supernatural powers and were used to ward off evil spirits. The ringing of bells was thought to drive away demons and clear the air of negative energies. This protective power of bells continues today in many faiths.

Bells have also long symbolized the Divine in cultures worldwide. In Hinduism, bells are closely associated with various Hindu gods and goddesses. When rung in temples, bells signify the deity’s living presence. The loud ring is meant to grab the gods’ attention. The gods are then believed to grant blessings, answers to prayers, and dispel evil.

Similarly, bells in Buddhist temples announce the arrival of monks to give teachings and signal the beginning of sacred rituals. The bells call on Buddha, bodhisattvas and protective deities to come and witness the proceedings, blessing the sangha with their divine presence.

In ancient Egypt, bells were buried in tombs of royalty to please gods and goddesses of the afterlife. The bells guarded the dead against evil influences in the transitional journey of the soul. The ancient Greeks likewise hung bells on the tombs of the deceased to keep malicious spirits away.

Bells also adorned Greek temples, signifying the dwelling place of the gods on earth. Worshippers rang bells invoking deities to appear, then offered prayers. The ring of early bells was meant to capture divine attention.

Across pre-Colombian cultures in Latin America, shamans wore belts of small bells and shook them vigorously during healing rituals. The bells were thought to invoke spiritual powers to cure disease, exorcise evil spirits, and support trance states for divination.

Symbolism of Bells in Pre-Christian Europe

Before Christianity spread through Europe, bells already had spiritual significance in Celtic and Scandinavian pagan traditions. The ringing of bells was believed to drive away faeries, elves, trolls and other dangerous spirit beings who inhabited remote areas.

Bells also marked solar observances like solstices and equinoxes, establishing a sacred connection between their ringing and the heavens. Peals of bells on auspicious solar days were thought to appease sky gods and earth goddesses across early pagan cultures.

Common Symbolic Associations of Bells in Major World Religions

With the spread of major religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, the symbolism of bells became infused into established sacred rites and rituals. Though meanings vary slightly, common symbolic associations remain.


In Christianity, bells represent the omnipresence of God and signify various religious ceremonies and observances. Bells call worshippers to prayer in church services. They mark special sacraments like weddings, funerals, and baptisms.

The ringing of church bells, especially in Catholic and Orthodox traditions, represents the joy and celebration of the Lord’s feast days and holidays. The bells call people to rejoice in Christ together.

Bells themselves are baptized along with new church buildings. The baptism ritual consecrates the bells, dedicating them to the service of praising God and proclaiming His divine presence.

Small handbells called Sanctus bells are rung during Mass in Catholic and Anglican traditions to signal key moments. Worshippers kneel at the Sanctus bell’s ring to meditate on Christ’s sacrifice present in the Eucharist.

In medieval times, loud church bells were rung to drive away demons and evil spirits haunting a locale. Bells blessed by clergy were believed to have divine power to cast out evil.


In Buddhism, small handheld bells accompany chanting, focus the mind, and produce beneficial sound vibrations. The bells enhance meditative states and mental clarity. Their ring symbolizes wisdom permeating the atmosphere.

Bells and singing bowls are sounded during meditation to mark its sacred beginning and end. The bell’s ring signals a moment of mindfulness, reminding meditators to be present.

Temple and stupa bells adorning Buddhist shrines summon heavenly beings to witness ceremonies and receive devotees’ offerings. Ringing bells while circling stupas sends vibrations blessing all beings.

Bells on Buddhist altars vacate negative energies when rung at the start of rituals. The purified space enhances the efficacy of chants, prayers and visualizations done after.


Temple bells or ghanta in Hindu rituals signify the availability of the deity to worshippers. Bells invite the god to be present in the temple and witness prayers. Their ring penetrates to divine realms.

During puja ceremonies, bells accompany prayers and vedic chanting, supporting the power of the mantras in pleasing gods. Worshippers vigorously ring bells while circling temples in rituals to drive away evil.

Temple entrance bells announce visitors. Ringing alerts the temple deity to someone arriving to worship them. Gods then focus their grace and blessings upon the devotees.

The inherent sound vibration or nada of bells is believed to turn one’s awareness inward to the divine Self. Their loud ring helps dispel distractions during meditation.


Though not as prominent as in other faiths, bells have some symbolic meaning in Islam. Small bells may adorn mosques, especially in India and Pakistan, to announce prayer times with a melodic sound.

Historically, bells and chimes feature in Sufi dancing rituals to induce trance states. The hypnotic sound carries dancers into ecstatic communion with the Divine.

Bells also appear in folk Islam and superstitions across North Africa and the Middle East. Bells worn by children or hung in doorways ward off djinns, angels of death, and other evil spirits.


In shamanic traditions worldwide, shamans shaking bells or small drums enter trance states to journey to spiritual realms. The repetitive rhythmic ringing helps achieve altered states of consciousness needed to access higher guidance.

During healing rituals, shamanic bell ringing summons spirit allies to cure the sick. The bells call helpful spirits into the ceremony to drive out harmful energies causing illness.

Bells worn on shamanic robes signify their power to mediate between worlds. The shaman’s bells symbolize their journeying between earthly and spirit realms.

Beyond just symbols, bells actively serve sacred purposes across faiths and spiritual traditions:

  • Marking times of daily prayer, like at Buddhist temples or Muslim mosques
  • Starting and ending meditation sessions by ringing once or twice
  • Purifying spaces and cleansing energy by ringing bells methodically throughout
  • Warding off evil by vigorously ringing bells in multiple directions
  • Inducing higher states of awareness with rhythmic bell ringing during rituals
  • Celebrating festivals and holy days by ringing bells joyously
  • Guiding souls into the afterlife with bells placed in tombs
  • Accompanying shamanic healing ceremonies with belts of bells

Bells also signal important ritual moments like:

  • The Sanctus bells in Christian Mass indicating transubstantiation
  • Worshippers bowing upon hearing bells when the Guru Granth Sahib is moved in Sikhism
  • Ringing 108 times upon first entering a Hindu temple for most benefit
  • Sounding bells to begin and end periods of meditation

The exact use of bells varies, but similarities exist across spiritual traditions. Bells mark sacred time and space. Their sound clears energies and invites divine presence. Bells ultimately remind us to be present with the eternal now.

Across cultures and faith traditions, bells hold a deeper meaning beyond their melodious ring. Their potent sound activates spiritual forces, sanctifies spaces, and transforms consciousness. The pealing bell remains one of humanity’s most enduring sacred symbols.