There are so many symbols of love that have come down through the ages and persist to this day. They represent love in its many forms, perhaps something we do not spend too much time reflecting upon; the love for one’s child is not the same as the love for a friend, spouse, neighbor, or parent. Some symbols of love are confined to a particular group of people with similar experiences. Some are archetypal representations to which humans can relate on an unconscious, almost cellular level. Others are common because they are just...universal. Who doesn’t recognize a heart with an arrow through it? Let’s dig in to love in all of its forms and symbols.
Symbols That Express LoveThe language of love is not always spoken in words. Symbols that represent any point on the spectrum of love can be found in every culture going back to the ancients, and they exist around the world. These symbols emerge from multiple sources: diverse cultures, myths, art, literature, folk tales, and mystical origins. Some traditional symbols can be found throughout multiple cultures, leading us to the ponderance of Carl Jung’s archetype theory: the human race shares a collective unconscious, handed down from our ancestors, where symbols have universal meanings and are shared throughout the human experience.
(From Symbols Of Love In Different Cultures | Betterhelp).
Venus on the Half-shell
This story starts with the ancient Greeks and is picked up later by the Romans. Most people are familiar with the mythology of both civilizations, so we will begin with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Known as Venus by the Romans, this goddess is depicted in Renaissance art and beyond, surrounded by the symbols we now associate with love. Italian painter Sandro Botticelli produced two very large paintings for which he is most known: Birth of Venus and Primavera. These paintings gave us flowers as symbols of love because of the association with the goddess of love and beauty. Featured in both paintings is the goddess of spring, Flora, whose realms include love, beauty, birth, and renewal. Primavera, painted in 1480 features 200 different species of flowers. In the Birth of Venus, we see her emerging from the sea foam via another love symbol: a scallop shell. In some renderings of the myth, the moment of Aphrodite’s nascence created red roses.
Aphrodite’s progeny was Eros, arguably the first depiction of gender-nonconformity, is the god of sexual love. Eros’ fluidity shows us that love is a universal experience for all humans. The Romans called him Cupid and he is represented by his own symbols of love. He is winged, like the pairs of doves that also represent love. His eyes are covered, perhaps to remind us that love is blind. His bow and arrow are famously used to make humans fall in love: if your heart is pierced by Cupid’s arrow, you will be either love-struck or experience heartbreak. Valentine’s Day is when we see Cupid most.
Flower Power For Romantic LoveNow that we’ve examined the relevance of flowers in symbology, let’s unpack all the blooms in our bouquet. Roses are probably the most well-known floral love symbols, but the color of the rose corresponds to the type of love the giver is feeling. Yellow roses stand for the love between friends, while red indicates passion. True love is symbolized by pink roses and white suggest innocent or pure love. But wait, there’s more! Gardenias symbolize deep and devoted love; Alstroemeria: friendship; Orchids: erotic love; Gerbera daisies: chaste love; Matthiola incana, commonly known as stock: eternal love; Red chrysanthemum, red carnations, and tulips: passionate love; Ranunculus: physical love. Other floral love symbolism includes honeysuckle, peonies, myrtle, and jasmine. Other plant-based symbols come from Asia: the Japanese symbol is the maple leaf: this source of maple syrup reminds us of the sweetness of love that we enjoy every day. In China, the willow tree symbolizes eternal love and comes from a myth about young lovers.
Love Pictures and Signs
Graphic representations of love include the Claddagh, a Celtic symbol for eternal love linked by loyalty (crown), friendship (hands), and love (heart). The heart is probably the best-known graphic for love: unconditional, lost (broken heart), or pierced by an arrow (smitten). Kokopelli is a Hopi representation of spring, fertility, and matrimony.
image source: Wikimedia Commons
In Ghana, there is Osram Ne Nsoromma, a symbol of passionate love in the form of a moon and star.
Other symbols include harps, rose quartz, apples, love knots, diamonds, and pairs of swans and doves.
It Might Not Be Love?American psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck said, “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” He also gave us the term “cathexis,” a concept commonly confused with love. As an example, how many times have you ever said, “I just love chocolate (or my job, my car, my engagement ring, Plato’s Republic, the mountains, a hobby, the beach, etc)”? Cathexis is our investment of time, energy, and emotion into something that is intrinsically unable to love us back. It is an emotional investment in or an attachment to something outside of ourselves. It is not love.
Modern LoveIn 1993, music icon Prince changed his name to a symbol, now known as the Love Symbol. It fuses together the astrological symbols for man and woman (Mars and Venus), it appears to have a Christian cross, and its curlicue is not quite centered. According to Prince, in an interview prior to his death in 2016, the off-kilter feel of the symbol was his intent; he wanted to show the imperfection of humankind. A theme throughout Prince’s massive oeuvre is sexuality and its many manifestations. As a world-class provocateur, Prince was giving his public an opening to discuss love, sex, religion, gender identity and fluidity, and arguably much more. These are concepts that he carried throughout his entire career. While it is true that the Love Symbol was analogous to Prince the man, his other reason for using it was to protest his record label’s restrictions on his creativity and recording/release schedule. Once his contract with the label was expired, he took his name back. No love lost there.
Love is a Many Splendored Thing
While these symbols are common, even universally embraced, it is perfectly acceptable to create one’s own symbol. After all, love is a personal thing, so having a personal symbol of love just makes sense.