Dove Symbolism and Meaning

In cultures all over the world, doves symbolize love, grace, beauty, and truth.

Doves are found almost everywhere there are people. There are doves on every continent except Antarctica. Doves have even been introduced to the Big Island of Hawaii.

Doves live in open and lightly wooded habitats where humans will encounter them. They live in cities and towns, on farms, on the prairie, and in lightly wooded areas.

Just about the only places in the continental United States, southern Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America you won’t find doves at least part of the year are swamps and dense forest.

The American Ornithologists Union tells us that there are 475 million individual doves in the United States of just one species, the mourning dove.

While doves are often depicted as white, most of the doves you will encounter in North and Central America have brown feathers and a mournful song that sounds a little like an owl.

It’s domesticated Barberry doves that can be bred to be white.

Dove Symbolism and Meanings That Are Common Across Cultures

With billions of individual birds to be seen, it’s not surprising that the ancient peoples all over the world developed an intricate, mystical understanding of the dove.

The ancients knew that doves mate for life. They also knew that you couldn’t stay paired with the same partner for life if you had not cultivated the ability to forgive. For many people, the dove became a symbol of forgiveness.

Our ancient ancestors no doubt observed that doves feed their hatchlings, their “squeakers,” crop milk. Both male and female doves generate a nutritious secretion in their crops that they drop into their babies’ mouths.

Doves don’t feed their young worms or insects or prey.

They nurture the next generation in a way that is reminiscent of the way mothers used to breastfeed their babies. Ancient peoples came to associate doves with nurture.

Doves feed on the ground. They stay in constant contact with the Earth. They even eat the Earth, in the form of rocks and pebbles, to help them digest their food.

Doves produce clutches of two eggs. Their two eggs symbolize harmony, creativity, and feminine energy.

These themes appear again and again in the mystical understanding of doves all over the world. But some ancient peoples had some highly creative interpretations of them.

Dove Symbolism in Native Americans and First Peoples

The original settlers of North America developed an intricate mythology of doves.

  • The ‘Aztecs’ associated doves with their goddess of love Xochiquetzal, and used images of doves as decorations on wedding ornaments.
  • The Blackfoot tribe associated doves with a safe return from battle. Blackfoot warriors wore dove feathers for protection from harm.
  • In some Algonquian tribes, the cooing of the “mourning” dove was considered to be a portent of death.
  • The Cherokee people associated mourning doves with acorns, because the mourning dove’s call sounds like the Cherokee word for acorn.

Some Native Americans adopted doves as clan animals.

The Dove Clan of the Abenaki and Pueblo tribes and the Pigeon Clans (doves are small pigeons) of the Ho-Chunk, Ioway, and Mojave tribes are examples. The Cherokees have a Pigeon Dance.

The Caddo Legend of the Dove.

The Caddo tribe has a story about how there was once a time when no birds killed each other. The death of a dove became the first murder of one bird by another.

An owl killed a dove. The Great Spirit didn’t see the murder but saw the dove’s feathers floating down.

The Great Spirit called all the birds and demanded to know, “What has happened?

The owl stayed silent. The loon laughed and told the Great Spirit that the owl had killed not just a dove but also a swan.

The Great Spirit became enraged. He waved his hand and made the owl blind when the sun was shining and other birds were flying around. He condemned the owl to fly only at night and to eat mice.

The cottonwood tree still remembers what happened to the little dove that used to live in her branches. Every April she drops her downy flowers in remembrance of the feathers of her lost dove.

Dove Symbolism in Ancient Greek Tradition

Thousands of years ago when the first peoples of North America were developing their myths of the dove, other stories were being passed down in Ancient Greece.

Greek legends focused on the dove as a symbol of the feminine energies of prophecy, peace, and maternity.

In these stories, the dove had her greatest power at dawn and dusk.

The Goddess Aphrodite, in Greek legend, was hatched from an egg brooded by a dove.

The Oracles of Dodona who advised Alexander the Great were said to have been founded by a dove.

The dove became associated with female sexuality by the cults of Isis and Astarte.

Many prophets took names that translated as “Dove,” or were given these names in the stories about them, including the Old Testament prophet Jonah.

Dove Symbolism in Jewish and Christian Tradition

Even in the twenty-first century, millions of modern North Americans have heard some version of the Biblical story of Jonah.

The story of Jonah is set in the eighth century BC, about 2850 years ago.

In Jonah’s time, the Assyrian Empire, extending from what is now Iraq, was a major world power.

Its capital was the fabulous city of Nineveh. Although Nineveh was a world capital with unmatched power and wealth, its people were acting in a way that offended the Hebrew God.

God told the prophet, Jonah, to travel to Nineveh to warn the Assyrians to repent or experience God’s wrath.

Jonah didn’t want his assignment from God. Instead of starting the long journey to Nineveh, he got on a boat traveling in the opposite direction, to a city called Tarshish.

Instead of going to what is now Iraq, he set off for what probably is now Spain.

God was displeased. God sent a storm to sink the boat. The crew did divination with something similar to I-Ching and determined that Jonah was to blame.

So, they threw Jonah overboard and the storm stopped. Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish, commonly told to be a whale.

The whale spits up Jonah in Nineveh. Jonah reluctantly tells the Assyrians that they have 40 days to repent or be destroyed. But they repent and are forgiven.

Jonah, the Dove, is given a tall plant for shelter. But Jonah sulks and God sends a worm to bite the plant, so Jonah gets sunburn.

The moral of this story isn’t that prophetic doves get swallowed by whales and their shade plants will be eaten by worms if they don’t have a good attitude about it.

The message of this story is that the prophetic dove fulfills its mission no matter what.

Like the story of Jonah, other passages in the Bible have a different take on the dove than is found in other traditions. But the dove is nonetheless honored as a holy bird:

  • One translation of the Biblical Book of Genesis relates that Noah sent out a dove to look for signs of dry land. The olive comes back with an olive branch, which is a bitter food. The Talmud interprets this as a message that the dove preferred bitter food in the service of God than sweet seeds in the service of self.
  • In pre-Christian times, families brought a gift of two doves to the Temple as a purification offering after the birth of a child.
  • The Book of Isaiah says that the spirit of the dead “chirp” like doves. The Treasury of Souls is compared to a dovecote, a place for raising doves. The Messiah is said to be waiting in the wings of a dove before coming to the Earth.
  • The Gospel of Matthew says that when Jesus was baptized by John, God came down in the form of a dove and touched Jesus as a voice from the sky announced “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
  • During the Roman persecutions of Christianity, Christians adopted the dove and an olive branch as a symbol of piety that would not offend the Roman authorities.
  • In the Middle Ages, many Bibles incorporated the dove into an illustration of the story of Noah, an image which remains common today.
  • And most importantly, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is often depicted as a dove.

Dove Symbolism in Islam

Doves are given respect and favor in Islam because the Koran records that they assisted the Prophet Mohammed.

Doves distracted the Prophet’s enemies when he was taking shelter in the cave of Thaw’t,

A pair of doves had built a nest and laid eggs, and a spider had woven cobwebs, so Mohammed’s pursuers concluded he could not be in that cave.

Doves do not, however, symbolize peace or anything else in Islam.

Dove Symbolism and Meaning in Other Cultures

The mythology of the dove is highly developed in many other cultures. Here are just a few examples.

  • In pre-Islamic Egyptian culture, the dove was associated with the Tree of Life. It appeared in its branches with its fruit. Ptolemaic Egyptian culture associated the dove with the feminine creative principle, linking it to Venus and Astarte. In Coptic culture, the dove became associated with the Virgin Mary.
  • In China, the dove is still a symbol of longevity. During the Han Dynasty, a customary gift to elder rules was a jade scepter decorated with doves on one end. Possessing this scepter, the elder could digest food as well as the doves can digest grain.
  • In the Samurai Period in Japan, the dove bore messages from Emperor Ojin Tenno, who later was deified as the war god, Hachiman. This one of a very few examples of the dove as a symbol of war.
  • The Hindu god of death, Yama, used doves and owls as messengers. Although the dove is depicted in stonework as having a fierce face, its message is that war will be followed by peace.

In some sub-Saharan African cultures, the bird of peace is the lilac-breasted roller. Warring kings would break their spears in two and bury them with this bird to signify peace.

Working with Doves as Messengers from Nature

Setting aside the historical significance of doves in the major monotheistic religions and in ancient civilizations, doves can be aids to meditation in modern times.

They can serve as animal totems for anyone even in our time.

It’s not necessary to have any particular mystical beliefs about doves to benefit from encounters with them in nature.

But to project understanding onto your encounter with doves in the 3D, non-Internet world, it helps to have a framework for your thinking.

When you encounter doves in nature — and with 475 million doves in North America, it’s not hard to encounter a dove in nature — make some observations:

Notice how many doves you see. One dove is a message of peace. Two doves is a message of fertility. Three doves is a message that you are about to have a “prophetic” insight.

How many doves do you see? How many times do you hear their song? These numbers can give you a focus for your meditations.

Of course, if you see hundreds of doves scatter from a grain field that has just been harvested, you may meditate on peace, births, and prophecies in abundance.

Consider the side to which you hear or see the doves, to your left or two your right. Seeing or hearing doves on your left side is a message of masculine energy. Seeing or hearing doves to your right side is a message of feminine energy.

Consider when you encounter doves in the outdoors. Dusk and dawn are the in-between times when the veil obscuring the spirit world, some belief, is lifted.

Encountering a dove at these times of day has an added spiritual meaning for you to discover.

You can honor the dove by wearing its feathers. Let the feathers remind you of peace, prophetic insight, and fertility. You don’t need a full Native American headdress, but you can try:

  • Tying them in your hair.
  • Wearing them from bracelets and anklets.
  • Making feather necklaces.
  • Fastening them to belt loops.
  • Attaching them to purses, bags, and backpacks.
  • Hang them from earrings.
  • Pinning them into your clothes.

These suggestions are just touching the surface of the magical meaning of doves.

But any mystical practice involving doves will consider numbers, directions, and times.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dove Symbolism and Meaning

Q. What is the significance of seeing a black dove?

A. A black dove is a sign of good luck.

Q. Why do people choose dove tattoos?

A. There are many reasons people choose tattoos, but if you are drawn to a dove tattoo, maybe you are wanting to remind yourself to look for the love and peace around you.

Or maybe you think of yourself as spiritually enlightened and in touch with your inner wisdom.

A dove tattoo can also be a reminder to be at peace with yourself and to accept yourself as you are.

Q. What does it mean when you see a dove in a dream or during a meditation?

A. Doves are signs that you may need to invest more time in small deeds of kindness, or that someone you recently lost is making a peaceful transition.

Q. What does a dove mean as my totem animal?

A. If a dove appears as your totem, you have spiritual protection from heaven. Your is a peaceful soul with spiritual depth.

You always come home to where your spiritual place is.

Doves connect us to the Divine. When you listen to the message of a dove, peace will follow. Dove totem animals deliver joy, harmony, and peace. They tell you to look for new beginnings.

Q. How do I use the dove as the focus of my meditation?

A. Meditate on doves when you are anxious, angry, distraught, troubled, or worried. Open yourself to the insights that feed your soul and give you peace.

Q. What does it mean if the dove is my power animal?

A. When a dove is your power animal, you have dedicated your life to creating peace and serenity in the society around you.

You become an inspiration to others that brings hope. Your presence fills people with hope, peace, and serenity.

You are evolved spiritually, but you are also down-to-earth and grounded. You are both passionate and gentle, and you never lose faith for long.

Q. What does it mean when the dove is my spirit animal?

A. If your spirit animal is a dove, you have strong nurturing, maternal instincts, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman.

You are a calm, optimistic, beautiful person.

You are trustworthy and honor your relationships. Like the dove, you can form bonds for life. You can create a home.

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