Doves as symbols

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Doves, usually white in color, are used in a variety of settings as symbols of love, peace or as messengers. Doves appear in the symbolism of Judaism, Christianity and Paganism, and of both military and pacifist groups.


The goddesses Atargatis, Ishtar, Inanna, Astarte and Aphrodite are all depicted with doves.

The legendary queen Semiramis was raised by doves, connecting her to the goddesses.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh the dove was released to search for the end of the deluge.[1]

Christianity and Judaism[edit]

Peace symbol[edit]

A white dove is a traditional Christian symbol of love and peace, see Peace dove.

Noah's Ark[edit]

Dove with an olive branch, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome

According to the biblical story (Genesis 8:11), a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying an olive branch in its beak, telling Noah that, somewhere, there was land. Christians used Noah's dove as a peace symbol.[2]

The Soul[edit]

In post-biblical Judaism, souls are envisioned as bird-like (Bahir 119), a concept that may be derived from the Biblical notion that dead spirits "chirp" (Isa. 29:4). The Guf, or Treasury of Souls is sometimes described as a columbarium, a dove cote. This connects it to a related legend: the "Palace of the Bird's Nest," the dwelling place of the Messiah's soul until his advent (Zohar II: 8a-9a). The Vilna Gaon explicitly declares that a dove is a symbol of the human soul (Commentary to Jonah, 1). The dove is also a symbol of the people Israel(Song of Songs Rabbah 2:14), an image frequently repeated in Midrash.

The Holy Spirit[edit]

In Christian Iconography, a dove also symbolizes the Holy Spirit, in reference to Matthew 3:16 and Luke 3:22 where the Holy Spirit is compared to a dove at the Baptism of Jesus. The early Christians in Rome incorporated into their funerary art the image of a dove carrying an olive branch, often accompanied by the word "Peace". It seems that they derived this image from the simile in the Gospels, combining it with the symbol of the olive branch, which had been used to represent peace by the Greeks and Romans. The dove and olive branch also appeared in Christian images of Noah's ark. The fourth century Vulgate translated the Hebrew alay zayit (leaf of olive) in Genesis 8:11 as Latin ramum olivae (branch of olive). By the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo wrote in On Christian Doctrine that, "perpetual peace is indicated by the olive branch (oleae ramusculo) which the dove brought with it when it returned to the ark."

Baptism of Christ, by Francesca, 1449

Peace and pacifism in politics[edit]

White dove with olive branch, stained glass window in the Denis and Saint Sebastian church in Kruft, Germany

Doves are often associated with the concept of peace and pacifism. They often appear in political cartoons, on banners and signs at events promoting peace (such as the Olympic Games, at various anti-war/anti-violence protests, etc.), and in pacifist literature. A person who is a pacifist is sometimes referred to as a dove (similarly, in American politics, a person who advocates the use of military resources as opposed to diplomacy can be referred to as a hawk). Picasso's lithograph, La Colombe (The Dove), a traditional, realistic picture of a pigeon, without an olive branch, was chosen as the emblem for the World Peace Congress in Paris in April 1949.[3] The dove became a symbol for the peace movement and the ideals of the Communist Party and was used in Communist demonstrations of the period. At the 1950 World Peace Congress in Sheffield, Picasso said that his father had taught him to paint doves, concluding, "I stand for life against death; I stand for peace against war."[4][5] At the 1952 World Peace Congress in Berlin, Picasso's Dove was depicted in a banner above the stage. Anti-communists had their own take on the peace dove: the group Paix et Liberté distributed posters titled La colombe qui fait BOUM (the dove that goes BOOM), showing the peace dove metamorphosing into a Soviet tank.[6]

Royal Air Force[edit]

The rock dove is, due to its relation to the homing pigeon and thus communications, the main image in the crest of the Tactical Communications Wing, a body within the Royal Air Force. Below the crest is the Wing's motto, "Ubique Loquimur" or "We Speak Everywhere."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1915). "Myths of Babylonia and Assyria". Retrieved 3 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Birds (In Symbolism)". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  3. ^ "Museum of Modern Art". 1949-01-09. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  4. ^ "Tate Gallery". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  5. ^ "BBC Modern Masters". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  6. ^ "Princeton University Library". Retrieved 2014-03-13.