The Symbolism of the Dove

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A. Andrew Gonzalez, “Unio Mystica”

1.“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

Acts 2:1-4

2. “Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground.”

Genesis 8:8

3.“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

Matthew 10:16

One of the most important symbols of Pentecost, celebrated today, is the dove, which in Christianity is identified with the Holy Spirit. The symbolism of the dove goes back a long way and over many geographical locations. In ancient Greece, it was sacred to the goddess Aphrodite, who the Romans called Venus Columba (Venus-the-Dove). In India it was perceived as a symbol of lust and the equivalent of the yoni. As Barbara G. Walker puts it, “Joined to her consort the phallic serpent, the Dove-goddess stood for sexual union and Life.” Interestingly, the Semitic word for ‘dove’ – ione, is related not only to ‘yoni’ but also to the Roman name of the goddess Hera – Juno. “Juno” also meant a woman genius, and if you are still following my linguistic meanderings, the Dove/Holy Spirit is in its essence an expression of the higher mind of the deity, i.e. Sophia –an emanation of divine wisdom. In Gnosticism, Sophia was a feminine figure, identified with the soul.

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Queen Semiramis, legendary founder of Babylon – her name meant “Dove” in the Syrian tongue

The dove is a longstanding symbol of the soul. In ancient Rome, Aphrodite’s catacombs were called “columbaria” (dovecotes), which, according to Barbara G. Walker, gave rise to the belief that the soul returns to the Goddess after death as a dove.

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “Venus with Doves”

As an interesting parallel, during canonization ceremonies in the Catholic Church white doves are released as symbols of the souls of saints.

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In Christian iconography, the dove is sometimes shown with seven rays emanating from her, which further connects her to the Goddess, specifically to the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, whose name in Greek meant “a flock of doves.”

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Pleiades as doves, image via http://corinazone.deviantart.com/art/Pleiades-The-doves-66096424

Ted Andrews identifies the dove with “feminine energies of peace, maternity and prophecy.” Cassandra Eason wrote that “the cooing of sacred doves in the oracular groves dedicated to the Ancient Greek Sky god Zeus at Dodona was used for prophecy by the priestesses.” This ancient shrine was second only to Delphi in its oracular significance and it was dedicated to a Mother Goddess. The prophetesses residing there were called “peleiades” (doves). According to a legend retold by Herodotus, the oracle was established by former foreign female slaves at a place where a black dove settled on an oak tree:

“I expect that these women were called ‘doves’ by the people of Dodona because they spoke a strange language, and the people thought it like the cries of birds; then the woman spoke what they could understand, and that is why they say that the dove uttered human speech; as long as she spoke in a foreign tongue, they thought her voice was like the voice of a bird. For how could a dove utter the speech of men? The tale that the dove was black signifies that the woman was Egyptian.” (quote after Wikipedia)

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John William Waterhouse, “Consulting the Oracle”

I usually write at length about ancient Greek traditions but I was especially charmed by the way the Pueblo Indians honored the dove, as Ted Andrews writes:

“The mournful song of the dove was considered an invocation to water and an indication to men where the water could be found. … Its song would signify waterholes or springs to which the dove must return at dusk to drink.”

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The cooing of the white dove is one of the most beautiful sounds one can hear. Ted Andrews says the song of the dove (especially the mourning dove) is “the rain song,” which “invokes new waters of life.” It is the most distinct and audible at liminal temporal spaces, i.e. the dawn and the dusk. At these times the veil between matter and spirit is the thinnest, the past opens the gate to the future and the Holy Spirit descends. To sum up by quoting Ted Andrew again:

 “The song of this totem tells you to mourn what has passed, but awaken to the promise of the future. It is a bird of prophecy and can help you to see what you can give birth to in your life.”

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Sources:

Ted Andrews, Animal Speak

Cassandra Eason, Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters and Animal Power Symbols

Barbara G. Walker, Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

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28 Responses to The Symbolism of the Dove

  1. Pingback: The Symbolism of the Dove | lampmagician

  2. Love the linguistic meanderings! 🙂 Namaste _/l\_

  3. Marie Taylor says:

    I liked this very much, perhaps because I often hear the sound of doves – so peaceful and evocative. It also put me in mind of the kundalini and two lobes of the brain which sit like two wings at the top of our brain stems. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Maia T. says:

    I have doves here, but no Mourning Doves, of course. I miss them. They’re one of the most abundant U.S. birds in spite of also being the most-hunted, and extremely adaptable, so no matter the landscape I lived in there, there were Mourning Doves. Their call remains one of the most beautiful sounds I know.

  5. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    what a wonderful post…feels calm and fluid to me..
    I was listening(am) Secret Gardens as I read this and The SevenMinds posts, each a beautiful
    thought read for me…Thank You for always being you within your posts….
    Take Care….You Matter…
    )0(
    maryrose

  6. ptero9 says:

    What would we do without these animals and their ways to teach us?

    A very beautiful writing that brings together so much wisdom through your birdsong.

    I miss the cooing of the dove that I heard so often at my native Long Island home.

    Much love Monika!
    Debra

  7. Very interesting, especially the echoes across cultures –

  8. Oloriel says:

    Very interesting read. It is very informative for me because the first thing I learned about white doves is that in dreams they can often symbolise physical death, hence why I always see it as a symbol of that first, wherever I see them.

  9. Wow! Great post, Monika. While some of the symbolism was familiar to me, you certainly provided a lot more to consider when I come across this image. Thanks!!

  10. Beautiful and invigorating strands weaving together. Very much appreciated. thank you.

  11. Beautiful post – I live in the woods, in the Appalachia region of US, and just a week ago or so I heard a mourning dove rousing me from sleep. Her call is extraordinary.

    “The song of this totem tells you to mourn what has passed, but awaken to the promise of the future. It is a bird of prophecy and can help you to see what you can give birth to in your life.”

    This quote gave me chills – seems so pertinent right now. I love seeing you add more of the Native wisdom to your ever expanding repertoire. Thank you.

    • Thank you for these kind words, Amanda. I have been fascinated by Native wisdom for a long time now. That book by Ted Andrews is one I constantly return to.
      I wish you a happy fulfilment of the dove’s prophecy.
      Love,
      Monika

  12. Most informative Monika. I am surrounded by doves, well maybe not surrounded but I hear them cooing now outside my door. At work they come round the table at lunch at home they wake me as the dawn

  13. Pingback: The Meanings of the Five Symbols of Our Faith | CLAN JANA

  14. don says:

    i am impressed as i did not know of this symbolism I thank you for providing this

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