Resilient, adaptable, driven, loving, and surprisingly intelligent animals, doves have manifested different meanings for centuries and across various religious, spiritual, and socio-political spaces. What then is the spiritual significance and symbolism of a dove?
While symbolizing various things across numerous cultures, doves represent love, compassion, adaptability, faith, and self-belief. Although most of these traits are positive, some negative interpretations of doves are associated with dirt and grime.
The numerous meanings attributed to doves from Western, Eastern, Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, and indigenous communities across socio-political, spiritual, and religious spaces will be discussed in further detail below:
What Does A Dove Symbolize?
As highlighted above, doves symbolize several things across different cultures throughout the centuries; these will be explored to illustrate the cross-pollination of meaning attributed to doves.
Here are a list of things that dove symbolize-
- Pure Human Soul
- Holy Spirit
Dove Symbolism and Meaning
Dove is a sign of peace and love around the world. Through our research we could not find exact time when people started having dove as pets. But, study suggests that doves have been being used as a means of sending messages for thousands of years.
It is also seen as a God agent to stop violence and save humanity. Furthermore, due to is beauty and gentle look, doves are often represented as a symbol of femininity and love.
Native American Dove Symbolism
Doves were significant symbols across different Native American communities.
Because many species of doves mate for life, they came to symbolize monogamy and the importance of enduring love through strife and hardship. Consequently, symbols of doves and other birds were used in fertility rites.
Native American communities came to see doves as symbols of peace, while some communities believed doves to be Great Spirit’s deliverance.
Symbols of motherhood and long life were attributed to doves. Because as domesticated birds, doves raised numerous broods over their lifetimes.
Consequently, because of their characteristics as being tame, meek, gentle, simple, innocent, and peaceful birds, doves were chosen for sacrifice, while other birds were not.
However, different Native American tribes applied different meanings to doves. For example, the Blackfoot Tribe considered doves a sign of protection; hence, warriors would carry dove feathers as talismans to keep them safe during wars.
In contrast, Algonquian tribes believed a dove’s coo was a bad omen and a sign that someone would soon die, while the Californian tribes like the Miwok saw doves as foolish and naive animals.
Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern Dove Symbolism
In Greek and Roman mythology, doves came to be symbols of peace, love, and faith. Thus, the Greeks associated doves and doves with the goddess of love, Aphrodite, while the Romans associated them with Venus.
For the Greeks, carvings of doves in temples dedicated to Eirene (the goddess of peace) have been discovered, and dove blood to cleanse temples dedicated to Aphrodite (the goddess of love) during festivals and rituals.
For the Ancient Romans, while most of their religion and deities were adaptations of the Greek pantheon, doves were associated with good fortune through their association with the goddess Fortuna.
Symbols of relationships were extended to more shameful spaces such as sexual, promiscuity, lust, political power, and war.
Like the Greeks and Romans, this was expressed through the association of deities such as Astarte for the Phoenicians and Inanna-Ishtar for the Mesopotamians, which in turn were precursor influences on the ancient Greeks and Romans!
In Islam, it was said that the prophet Muhammad used doves to distract his adversaries while he and his followers were on a pilgrimage from Mecca.
Consequently, some interpretations of the Koran have described the place where Muhammad rests until rebirth as a dwelling of doves or a dovecote.
Eastern Dove Symbolism
In Hindu mythology, doves are considered to embody the God of Death, Yama. Unlike the depiction of death as final, Hinduism focuses on death as an opportunity for freedom, redemption, and transformation.
Consequently, Yama is a highly regarded and worshipped figure in the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses.
In Sumerian mythology, the goddess of war, passion, and lust, Ishtar, was often portrayed as having a dove or dove as a familiar animal. It is believed this portrayal came as cross-pollination with Astarte from the Phoenicians (which influenced Greek and Roman Mythology – see above.)
For the Japanese, doves were used to deliver messages during wartime (which is a practice that continued into the 20th century, hence the association of the Royal Air Force with doves!). This close association with wartime and using doves as messengers led the Japanese to recognize a close association with doves and the God of war, Hachiman.
Chinese mythology believed doves signify unconditional love and commitment in relationships. Consequently, specific Chinese communities would give elderly people a jade scepter after their 70th birthday. These jade scepters were adorned with dove carvings and were referred to as “dove staffs,” or gē zhàng.
Celtic Dove Symbolism
For Celtic communities, doves were believed to symbolize a connection between different planes of existence and were revered for their healing properties.
In Ireland, St. Columba is referred to as the Church Dove. This connection between St Columba and doves is an example of the deep cross-pollination between Christian and Celtic mythologies, hence the ease of translation/osmosis between the different religions and cultures over time.
As an oracle of God, and by extension, sainthood, doves symbolize love, faith, and compassion, including the sainthood applied to Wales’ St. David. This Welsh connection arose from the writings of Welsh poets and Christian religious leaders, which depicted doves and lovers in their poetry concerning the Great Flood Myth (see Christian Dove Symbolism below.)
Outside of the British Isles, Germanic artists used to depict the goddess of the underworld, Nantosuelta, with a dove peering over her shoulder.
It is said that an encounter with a nesting dove at home or during a wedding was a good omen for peace, harmony, and devotion.
Jewish Dove Symbolism
In the Talmud, God’s spirit is compared to a mother dove hovering and protecting its nest and young.
In post-biblical Judaism, souls are described as bird-like apparitions. The association with doves and death continues with how The Guf or Treasury of Souls is often depicted as a columbarium or a dovecote.
Meanwhile, Midrash in the Song of Songs Rabbah 2:14 describes the dove as the symbol of the people of Israel.
Christian Dove Symbolism
Doves are particularly significant for Christians regarding Old Testament creation myths and New Testament messages of peace, love, and reincarnation.
In the Old Testament, Noah used a dove to send a message to God to determine if there was a land where mankind could settle after the Great Flood.
Having returned with an olive branch, Noah knew there was a land where mankind could settle and that God had forgiven humankind for their transgresses. Hence doves are depicted as symbols of forgiveness and salvation.
Furthermore, the Great Flood Myth is why doves as symbols of peace often include olive branches or similar foliage across different artistic renditions.
In the New Testament, doves were used as familiars of Joseph to underline his purity and commitment as the rightful father of Jesus and husband of the Virgin Mary.
Modern Socio-Political Dove Symbolism
Because of the long history of doves as a symbol of peace across the world and throughout different cultures, it is unsurprising that most of the Western-World and large portions of the Eastern-World view doves as an international symbol of peace and pacifism.
Consequently, they are often used in various socio-political spaces like political cartoons, banners, signs, events, protests, and emblems.
For example, The World Peace Congress in Sheffield and Berlin used Picasso’s dove painting and artwork to symbolize their commitment to peace, pacifism, and dialogue.
Dove Tattoo Meaning
What do doves symbolize as a tattoo? Although dove tattoos can mean various things depending on the artist’s intention, they typically represent victory, peace, grace, beauty, and harmony.
Furthermore, dove tattoos are a sign of love and a reminder to be kinder to yourself and others.
“The tattoo of a dove and olive branch is a symbol of Love and Forgiveness.” (Bible’s Meaning)
Dove tattoo is also represented as a symbol of peace and victory.
Doves In Mythology And Folklore
Along with the symbolism of doves across different periods, religions, and cultures, it is crucial to explore the role of doves in global mythological stories and folklore.
In Mesopotamia, doves were associated with the fertility goddess Inanna. The association included dove familiars and the ability to transform into a dove.
Meanwhile, both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Christian Bible have creationist myths, whereby the end of a global flood was determined by Utnapishtim and Noah, respectfully, sending doves from their arks to discover dry land upon which to settle.
What Does A Dove’s Animal Symbolism Mean?
Over and above third-party observations and interpretations of doves are their inherent animalistic symbolism in the form of spirit, power, and totem animals.
Animalistic symbolism is considered a cross-culture interpretation of the physical world into the metaphysical world.
This is achieved by looking at the physical characteristics of plants and animals while trying to determine what meanings in spiritual/unknown spaces gave rise to these observable characteristics.
Dove Spirit Animal Meaning
Those who encounter dove spirit may feel underwhelmed due to the blandness and unimportance usually placed on doves due to our modern way of living.
However, this seemingly unremarkable perception is one of the dove spirit’s greatest strengths. Therein lies a power to surprise and impress while being quietly confident and humble in its abilities.
As such, the dove spirit teaches us that being underestimated by others is not a weakness but rather a method by which you can engage with those that undermine you and change their opinions through your strength and confidence.
This internal strength and the desire to showcase your abilities in the face of doubt means that the dove spirit has strong social skills wherein they find interacting with people from all different walks of life both easy and enjoyable.
However, while dove spirits may find it easy to express themselves to make friends, there is a tendency for this spirit animal to feel upset when not in the presence of others or when attempts at friendship fail.
The dove spirit is known for its adaptability, as illustrated in the real world as to how doves are found in various environments, not merely surviving but thriving!
This imbues the dove spirit with the knowledge and strength to overcome challenges with ease, set goals, and achieve them with confidence and a great sense of direction (akin to the role of doves as messengers through the centuries).
Finally, while there is a misconception that the dove spirit may be docile and naïve, it has a remarkable sense of protection and observation. This means that the dove spirit can sense danger and help you avoid it.
Furthermore, when coupled with the innate nature of compassion, these powers of perception help the dove spirit to identify and ease the suffering of those who may be stressed, anxious, or sad.
Dove Totem Animal Meaning
Those who encounter or are born under the dove totem are generally loving, compassionate, driven, and yearn for a sense of freedom and community.
Because of this understanding of others, dove totem people often make loyal companions and feel comfortable in roles that require an understanding of others, such as diplomats or mediators.
However, this level of understanding and empathy can sometimes come at a great price, whereby dove totem people over-exert themselves for the benefit of others. While not inherently harmful, caution must be taken to not overwork oneself.
Another example of the importance of balance is although dove totem people are highly adaptable and seemingly fit into any environment easily, they also need to take time to establish a foothold and a homely space wherever they may be.
Failure to do so can make people feel lost, distressed, and/or disorientated, as they do not exhibit the control needed over their new environment and adapt to the changes.
When establishing a homely space, the dove totem has been seen to relate with nature particularly well. Consequently, connection with the earth, nature and the freedoms associated with it means that the dove totem should seek out these spaces over others.
A final instance of the importance of balance is although dove totems carry their positive emotions and protective spirit onto others, they also shift negative feelings onto others.
As a result of this, it may be necessary to pay attention to emotion regulation and to ensure your actions over others remain protective but do not become controlling.
Dove Power Animal Meaning
As a shamanistic power animal that anyone can call upon when needing guidance, the dove should be invoked when someone is looking for love or peace.
This is vital for people looking to repair or improve their relationships with friends, family, and partners. Consequently, this is not a power animal that will help you find love when real connections have not first been made.
With this power, change is not automatic. Instead, the dove spirit teaches people how to repair and improve relationships, whereby it is up to the individual to put the dove spirit’s advice and guidance into practice.
While presenting a holistic picture of the dove’s spiritual meanings is challenging, looking at a cross-section of cultures and periods suggests an entity that symbolizes love, compassion, friendship, loyalty, and adaptability.