Generally, lighthouses have been: beacons of civilization, architectural icons, symbols of human presence and safety, and navigational guides. They have also represented: a rugged coastal lifestyle, protection, salvation, guidance, illumination, never-ceasing watchfulness, steadfast endurance, and helpfulness.
Searching my resources, Jobes has but a brief mention of the symbolism of the lighthouse: danger, warning, and protection. Specifically a red light is danger and warning, while a white light represent safety and also warning. Only a few lighthouses have both a red and white light.
Lighthouses are certainly more complex as a psychological symbol that a few words in a symbol dictionary. "The lighthouse expresses the totality of nature by uniting the water at its edge, the earth of its foundation, the air it rises into, and the fire blazing at its highest point. All four elements are united in one structure, which thus represents wholeness." (Sharp, 2000) The traditional circular shape of most lighthouse structures may represent wholeness and the height of the towers may be a way to “express the ancient longing to connect with what is divine and to unite heaven and earth" (Sharp, 2000).
The central spiral staircase is symbolic of ascent and descent. The complex symbol of the spiral and the theme of ascent and descent are ancient, appear in myth and ceremony, and are part of many rites of passage. The ancients believed energy, both physical and spiritual, flowed in spiral form. The spiral represents both solar and lunar power, the waters, and rolling thunder and lightning. Does the spiral staircase inside a lighthouse represent or mirror the whirling winds of the storms and churning perilous waters outside of the structure? The spiral is a symbol of all that is helical; that is, the shape of a helix: snail shells, seashells, animal horns, the coiled serpent, and climbing vines.
As I review the ways in which lighthouses have been used in sandplay scenes created by my clients, I see many aspects of this complex symbol. Lighthouses have represented the journey of descent and ascent as the psyche reveals the drop to the unconscious, then the ascent of new consciousness and awareness. The lighthouse has been used to provide illumination and guidance when little else seems to light the way or offer protection. This was especially moving in a series of sand trays created by a young woman searching for and reclaiming her Self.
For an in depth article on lighthouses, rich with symbolism and sandplay examples, please see The Lighthouse by Carla Sharp in the Journal of Sandplay, Volume IX, Number 2, 2000.