Love is an ancient condition. There are numberless experts on the subject; music, poetry, books, and movies reflect the romantic theme, and in the world of symbols it is no different. Love is hard to put into words, but images have provided a means of communicating this phenomenon since Once Upon a Time.
Humans have been symbolizing emotional and physical attraction since antiquity. Great mythological heroes, gods, and goddesses all portray the complex nature of love relationships, both romantic and familial. Cupid is a well-known love symbol; examples of cupids are found in both sculpture and painting from antiquity. According to Greek mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus, the goddess of love, and Mars, the god of war – thus we have a mischievous romantic running around with a fistful of arrows, which inflict love upon their unsuspecting targets.
Love and romance symbols include hearts, roses, rings, knots, flowers - and a diamond is a girl’s best friend! Diamonds have been a symbol of love since ancient Greece. In Plato’s time a diamond assured winning a woman’s favor and was also a symbol of faithfulness in love and sorrow. Ivy, because it clings, has become a symbol of true love and friendship.
There was a time when types of flowers conveyed meanings, so messages could be sent discretely, without words. During the Renaissance, carnations were love symbols. Legend has it that a drop of blood from Adonis, the lover of Aphrodite, made the first rose, and so the rose stands for love. Red, white, and pink roses each carry different messages – a pink rose symbolizes romantic interest. To the troubadours the rose was a symbol of discretion; the phrase “sub rosa,” meaning “under the rose,” comes from this association.
Since antiquity knots have symbolized engagement because knots, like engagements, are binding. In the Celtic, Hindu, and Chinese cultures, knots are designed into wedding garments, representing continuity, longevity, and eternity. Sending messages through love knots is popular in many cultures.
The ring is a promise of protection and is given as a symbol of friendship, engagement, and marriage. In Ireland, a ring called the Claddagh, a crowned heart, is worn either upon the right hand with the heart pointed outwards showing that the wearer is free, or with the heart turned inwards to denote that she is promised. In Scotland the Luckenbooth, a pin of two hearts entwined with a crown on top, is given as a promise of betrothal. A Welsh traditional love symbol is the Lovespoon, usually a carved wooden spoon with a decorative handle.
Love manifest brings family. Inscriptions from 14,000 years ago, translated by Duncan-Enzmann, tell of mothers and children. Mother and child symbols are perhaps the most abundant, and the most powerful, in any society – a female’s ability to produce new life was worshiped as sacred in the oldest civilizations. Mother’s Day honors love of and by mothers with symbols expressing appreciation for this endless flow of motherly love: cards, chocolates, flowers, jewelry, and framed pictures of the kids are among the most popular in the West.
I asked myself why love is in the air in Spring? Why not summer on a warm sandy beach sipping lemonade? Or in the winter in front of the crackling fire with a mug of hot chocolate? The Magdalenian inscriptions show us a reproduction calendar; our ancestors observed that babies born at winter solstice were healthier throughout their lives, and had a better chance of surviving. During the ice age, winter was a time when parents were indoors most of the time, and there were fewer natural predators (pollen, viruses, worms, etc.) Babies got the maximum care possible. In order to give birth during winter solstice, conception must happen during Springtime (thus love in the air!). This is also the origin of the fertility celebrations associated with the spring season.
Today, hearts symbolize love, and in wooded areas we can find hearts and initials carved into tree trunks – left there by lovers passing through. Cards with hearts on them send messages of love through the mail; poets and musicians write of giving their hearts to another. It’s Springtime, and love is in the air. Now you can express your hard-to-put-into-words feeling with the ancient language of symbols.
Michelle Paula Snyder
Michelle Snyder is a professor of mythology, and an author, publisher, speaker, and artist. She did her post-graduate research at the University of Wales, decoding ancient and prehistoric symbolism, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. Her artwork has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio.
Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Non-Fiction - Symbology:
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: Decoding Symbols through History
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Art and Symbols
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: World of Symbols
Symbology: Secrets of the Mermaids
Michelle Paula Snyder
Fiction – Fantasy Wonder Tales:
The Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time Lessons, First Book
Call of the Dragon and other Tales of Wonder
A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book one: The Lost Unicorn
A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book two The Lost MermaidA Tale of Three Kingdoms, book three The Lost Dragon