The three main devices (symbols) in the Abernethy blazon are the lion, pile and ribbon. The two main tinctures (colors) are gules and or.
Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”1. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 2. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.3.
Or is the heraldic metal Gold, often shown as a bold, bright yellow colour. It is said to show “Generosity and elevation of the mind” 4. Later heralds, of a more poetic nature liked to refer to it as Topaz, after the gemstone, and, for obvious reasons associated it with the Sun 5. In drawings without colour it is usually represented by many small dots, or by the letter ‘O’ 6.
The art of heraldry would be significantly poorer if we were without the lion in all its forms. Most general works on Heraldry devote at least one chapter solely to this magnificent creature and its multifarious depictions 7 8 9. Some of the earliest known examples of heraldry, dating right back to the knighting of Geoffrey of Anjou in 1127, where he is shown with six such beasts upon his shield 10 .The great authority on heraldic symbology, Wade, points out the high place that the lion holds in heraldry, “as the emblem of deathless courage” 11, a sentiment echoed equally today.
The pile was originally quite a simple shape, being a triangle reaching from the top of the shield down to a point near the lower centre 12. A clear example being that of CHANDOS awarded in 1337, Or a pile gules. There is some argument as to the origin, Wade suggests some similarity with the meaning of “pile” in construction (a foundation) and hence that the shape could be adopted by those who have demonstrated some ability in the building trade 13. An earlier writer, Guillim, perhaps more plausibly suggested that the shape echoes those of a pennant or triangular flag 14 The shape is quite distinctive however and became popular, leading to many embellishments to distinguish it from its close fellows, with multiple piles meeting at various points, starting from various edges and with additional decoration, leading to potentially quite complex descriptions!
The ribbon is not the household object that we are familiar with, but a term very occaisionally used to indicate a very narrow bend, being a diagonal line across the whole of the shield. 15