Throughout history, humans have found ways to cope with death, grief, and the circle of life through symbolism. Traditional and modern art and culture are replete with images related to death and the passing of life. It is interesting to compare these vast histories and cultures across the world to see where they overlap and diverge.
Death has been symbolized as an anthropomorphic appearance or as an unreal individual in a large number of popular cultures and in certain mythologies. How much death symbols and mourning can you name? Some are common and appear in good place in our own funeral practices and funeral decorations. Others are less obvious, hiding in the shadows where you least expect them. Either way, you will be bound to be surprised by this comprehensive list of 17 popular symbols of death and mourning below. From movies to television to nature, you will begin to realize that these images are just as much a part of life as death itself.
Animals associated with death and mourning
Animals are part of nature. As such, they have become symbols in their own right. Some animals have darker connotations than others, although they are all perfectly ignorant of their own fate in human interpretations. Most of these animals below are also considered to be bad luck signs, so be careful.
The raven has a long history of association with death and mourning. Most of its popular interpretation probably comes from Edgar Allen Poe's poem of the same name. The crow in Poe's poem repeats "never again", driving the narrator mad at its repetition. However, this infamous crow got its grim start even earlier than with the poets of the 19th century. Birds traditionally carried a lot of symbolism in Christianity. Crows, in particular, are seen as representations of the devil.
Like the crow, vultures are black birds. However, crows are calm and small. They blend into the night. Vultures, on the other hand, demand to be seen. These birds literally eat death. Their main diet consists of the corpses of other animals. Although they play an important role in the environment by cleaning up waste, they are also an undeniable representation of death.
The ram (especially the ram's head) is also linked with death. The official Church of Satan badge features a ram's head, so this imagery now connects rams to the occult. The ram is also associated with other deities around the world that featured long horns. Over time, these took on a dark turn to symbolize ritual and death.
4. Black cats
The superstition around black cats comes alive every year during Halloween. If a black cat crosses your path, bad luck will certainly follow. In XNUMXth century Italy, people believed that a black cat lying on a person's bed malade meant certain death. Germanics also believed that a black cat was a sign of death. While these animals are probably misunderstood, it's still an interesting story.
Thanks to vampire folklore, bats have also gained a place on this list. Beyond Dracula, bats are an omen of negative energy. These creatures thrive in darkness, and they have become symbols of the underworld and death.
Plant symbols of death and mourning
The meanings of flowers go back centuries and flowers are a form of communication on their own. Some of these meanings tell a story of death and mourning. Flowers are also living proof that the most beautiful images hold deep emotional significance.
6. Red poppies
The red poppy is the flower used to remember the fallen of the First and Second World Wars. The poppy is in fact one of the only plants capable of growing naturally in disturbed lands of Western Europe. After the war ravaged the country, the poppies bloomed. The red poppy resembled the blood of fallen soldiers. Even now, years later, this flower is still a symbol of war, death and remembrance.
If you've ever walked through a cemetery in a hot climate, there's a good chance you've noticed cypress trees. These tall trees were not planted in cemeteries by accident. Due to their shape, cypress trees seem to reach for the sky. Their roots grow so that they do not disturb the coffins in the earth. Beautiful and majestic, these trees now watch over cemeteries around the world.
The hyacinth flower is a symbol of sorrow and pain. They're common funeral flowers because of that meaning, and it's a creative way to honor someone and their grieving family. These purple, blooming flowers offer encouragement when needed. In case of loss, sometimes we need a little beauty.
While these flowers are often a sign of encouragement, they are also commonly found in graves. Humans have cultivated chrysanthemums for thousands of years. In XNUMXth century China, people believed that these flowers had the power of life. While they've come a long way, you're still likely to see moms at funerals and cemeteries. That doesn't make them any less amazing.
Lily plays an important role in ancient mythology, so it's no wonder that they also have connections to human death and mourning. Today, lilies are one of the most common funeral flowers. Thanks to their light color, they are a way to remind the grieving family of the return to innocence after death. This shows that not all symbols of death are sad.
Objects or phenomena symbolizing death and mourning
Besides animals and plants, there are additional symbols of death and mourning. These have developed over time through literature, art, myths and religion.
Candles are common at funerals, memorials, and other death traditions. In some cultures, such as Latin America, candles are a way to bring families closer to their deceased parents on certain days of the year. Candles aid in both religious and cultural rituals, such as lighting a candle for a deceased person, thereby reducing the gap between the living and the deceased.
Clocks and other symbols of time, like hourglasses or sundials, remind us all that our time on Earth is limited. Every minute that passes is a minute closer to death. In many cultures, the family stops the clocks in the house at the time of death to pay tribute to the deceased. Either way, the ticking of time never ceases.
13. Flag at half mast
If you've ever seen a flag at half mast, you might be wondering what happened or who died. Flying a flag at half mast (halfway up the mast) is a sign of mourning. It is a respectful way to honor the passing of an important person or to offer condolences after a tragedy. The space at the top of the pole represents the invisible flag of death.
14. The color black
Of course, no list of symbols relating to death would be complete without the color black. It is the color we wear at funerals in Western cultures. It is dark, reflecting the diminishing light of the soul as we melt into the Hereafter. Why is black so strongly associated with death? It is a practice that dates back to ancient times. In the Middle Ages and Victorian times, mourning clothing was always black to show an outward manifestation of inner feelings of restlessness.
The most memorable scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet is when the Prince of Denmark holds the skull of his former servant. The skull (death's head) has long been a symbol of death. It reminds us that we are all just bones underneath and that life is fleeting. 16. Scythe The infamous Grim Reaper himself is often depicted wearing a scythe. A scythe is a type of sharp, curved blade that rests on the end of a long handle. This comes from pagan harvest ceremonies, but rumor has it that the living are "reduced" too.
The tombstones themselves are a symbol of death. These are used as a funeral marker. They show where loved ones are buried in the earth. The tombstone is an inheritance in itself. Usually in stone, it is a way for the deceased to keep his memory alive after his death.
18. The black ribbon
This small object in black fabric that one hangs on a garment signifies the fact of being in mourning for the widower or the widow. A discreet dress code, a social code distinctive of the grief inherent in the death of a loved one.
Find peace through symbolism
These symbols above have grown in popularity to bring meaning and peace to the unyielding nature of death. Although the end of life is inevitable, peace is possible if we seek nature and stories for signs of hope. From the familiar skull to the watchful eye of a crow, these images have earned their place in human history. As we explore the culture and symbolism around death, we take steps to come to terms with our own mortality. Death is the great equalizer, but we mustn't let that stop us from living full lives. Start planning for the end of life to find out how liberating it is to plan for your own death. Like those symbols above, it's not as scary as it looks.
Camille G. updated on 08/12/2020