Like many weapons, a spear may also be a symbol of power. In the Chinese martial arts community, the Chinese spear (Qiang 槍) is popularly known as the “king of weapons”.
The Celts would symbolically destroy a dead warrior’s spear either to prevent its use by another or as a sacrificial offering.
In classical Greek mythology Zeus’ bolts of lightning may be interpreted as a symbolic spear. Some would carry that interpretation to the spear that frequently is associated with Athena, interpreting her spear as a symbolic connection to some of Zeus’ power beyond the Aegis once he rose to replacing other deities in the pantheon. Athena was depicted with a spear prior to that change in myths, however. Chiron’s wedding-gift to Peleus when he married the nymph Thetis in classical Greek mythology, was an ashen spear as the nature of ashwood with its straight grain made it an ideal choice of wood for a spear.
The Romans and their early enemies would force prisoners to walk underneath a ‘yoke of spears’, which humiliated them. The yoke would consist of three spears, two upright with a third tied between them at a height which made the prisoners stoop. It has been surmised that this was because such a ritual involved the prisoners’ warrior status being taken away. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the arrangement has a magical origin, a way to trap evil spirits. The word subjugate has its origins in this practice (from Latin sub = under, jugum=a yoke).
In Norse Mythology, the God Odin’s spear (named Gungnir) was made by the sons of Ivaldi. It had the special property that it never missed its mark. During the War with the Vanir, Odin symbolically threw Gungnir into the Vanir host. This practice of symbolically casting a spear into the enemy ranks at the start of a fight was sometimes used in historic clashes, to seek Odin’s support in the coming battle. In Wagner’s opera Siegfried, the haft of Gungnir is said to be from the “World-Tree” Yggdrasil.
Other spears of religious significance are the Holy Lance and the Lúin of Celtchar, believed by some to have vast mystical powers.
Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough noted the phallic nature of the spear and suggested that in the Arthurian Legends the spear or lance functioned as a symbol of male fertility, paired with the Grail (as a symbol of female fertility).
Tamil (Thamizh) people worship the spear as the weapon of the god Murugan. Murugan’s spear is called the Vel. In Sri Lanka and India there is a dominant caste named Vellalar. The name Vellalar is derived from Vel and Alar, which means “ruler of the spear”.
The term spear is also used (in a somewhat archaic manner) to describe the male line of a family, as opposed to the distaff or female line.