When you think of the symbolism of life, what comes to your mind? You may think of a newborn baby, but many people think of doves, butterflies,and the Tree of Life. Some families even opt to release a white dove during a loved one’s funeral because it is said to guide the person on their journey.
In essence, the dove allows the family to release the person’s presence.
Of course, each of these three symbols also can mean many things:
We’re going to dive into each of these symbols to better understand why you’ll find them on urns for human ashes and gravestones.
Doves symbolize peace and love. If someone suffered in life, it makes sense that their loved ones would want them to find peace and love in the afterlife. When doves are released during a funeral, it is thought that the dove will help guide the person’s soul to their guardian angel or guide them on their journey to the afterlife.
But where did these traditions even come from? We have to go back thousands of years to find out.
Ancient Greeks and Romans
Ancient Greeks and Romans embraced doves because they thought of them as a symbol of Love. Greeks viewed doves as relating to Aphrodite, and you’ll find many pieces of pottery that show the goddess with doves. The word “dove” means “bird of Ishtar.”
Ishtar is the Goddess of Love, and interestingly, this is the same way that the ancient Mesopotamians viewed doves.
Ishtar is thought to have taken dove form.
We also see doves in many ancient Egyptian artworks, so we can safely say that for at least 5,000+ years, doves have been a symbol in cultures around the world.
Many religions showcase doves, including Christianity. You'll often see doves with an olive branch in their beaks in imagery and art. Why? Peace. “Extend an olive branch,” is a way of trying to make peace, and the doves in these symbols are doing just that – trying to make peace.
In Judaism, doves are a symbol of the human spirit.
The Celts also saw doves as a meaning of the soul passing. However, instead of just the dove meaning that the soul was passing, it is actually the tear of the dove that creates this symbolism.
Doves are also often used in politics as a symbol of pacifism and peace.
When did doves first show up on headstones and cremation urns? No one knows with 100% certainty. We do know that the ancients often used symbolism in/on tombs because they wanted their loved ones to transition safely.
So, to recap, doves can be a symbol of:
You can find headstones with doves on them dating back hundreds of years.
If you or your loved one prefers cremation, you’ll find our porcelain adult dove urn to be a perfect choice for showing love and peace for the deceased. We have two beautiful options available:
Made with porcelain, these urns offer a beautiful look into how modern urns can include relics of the past, religion, and symbolism in modern urns.
Butterflies are another symbol that you’ll see used extensively in urn cremation. Child and adult urns often have a symbol of a butterfly on them, but what do they mean? You can see a prime example of this with our Adult Yellow Wings of Hope Urn.
Beautiful and ornate, the butterfly urn is a wonderful display of symbolism and comes with options to purchase matching cremation jewelry, too.
Urns for adult ashes have never looked this good.
But when did butterflies start to be used on headstones and brass urns? What do they even symbolize?
Butterflies may be released at funerals, much like doves, or they may be etched into urns. The butterfly can mean many things:
Transformation and Rebirth
In many cultures and religions, there is the idea that death is not final. A person may be reborn into another new, magnificent form. Butterflies are the perfect symbol of this because:
Caterpillars go into a cocoon and the enzymes decompose the structure.
During this amazing change, butterflies are formed.
Rebirth occurs for the caterpillar that once roamed the land and has now transformed into a spectacular butterfly that takes to the skies.
When thinking of the death of a loved one, butterflies provide peace and solace for those left behind because the person is on a new journey of transformation.
You’ll also find symbolism in butterfly:
It is believed that if a butterfly visits you, it is a person who has transformed and is back to say, “hello.”
Sights right after death. If you’re visited by a butterfly after a person dies, this can bring a sense of comfort and joy. Why? It's seen as a sign or visit from the person to let you know that they have passed on to a new form.
Of course, we’re not the only ones that have these beliefs. Many people in the ancient world also viewed butterflies as symbols.
Ancient Greek Beliefs
In Ancient Greece, the sighting of a butterfly after a loved one’s passing was believed to represent the deceased’s soul. That same belief is still popular to this day.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Psyche is depicted with butterfly wings. She was freed from the cycle of life and death, so her wings allowed her to fly freely without the burden of mortality. To the Greeks, the butterfly was a representation of the soul.
The Aztec Beliefs
According to the Aztecs, butterflies transported souls to and from the underworld. That connection isn’t surprising, as every year, the Monarchs migrate to the mountains of Mexico in early November. Their arrival coincides with Day of the Dead celebrations. The Aztecs believed that the Monarchs were the returned spirits of their deceased loved ones.
The Irish Beliefs
Like many other cultures, the Irish also associate butterflies with the human soul. In fact, an old Irish saying talks about how butterflies are souls waiting to make their way through Purgatory.
The belief was so deeply embedded in Irish culture that in the 1600s, it was illegal to kill white butterflies, as they were believed to be the soul of a dead child.
Because of the butterfly’s miraculous ability to transform, the Irish also believes that these creatures represent the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
In other cultures, butterflies are linked to transformation and resurrection. In Christianity, butterflies are a symbol of the works of Jesus.
Butterflies have long been associated with life and death, making them one of the most prominent symbols of this kind.
3. Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is a symbol that’s appeared in folklore and mythology in cultures across the world. Sometimes referred to as the Tree of Knowledge or World Tree, this profound symbol typically depicts a large tree with branches and leaves that fan out and around the trunk of the tree, connecting to the roots below.
Most Tree of Life symbols have a circular shape to represent the connection between life and death or the cycle of life.
Trees are fitting symbols to represent the cycle of life. After all, they are the lifeline of the world, providing us with oxygen, shade, and food. Since the dawn of time, humans have worshipped trees, and they have become symbols in cultures across the globe.
The Tree of Life in Cultural Mythology
The Tree of Life symbol can be found in cultures and mythologies throughout history, from the Celts to the Vikings, Native Americans, and Ancient Egyptians.
In Norse mythology, the Tree of Life is called the Yggdrasil Tree. This massive tree grew out of the Well of Urd, an endless pool that held universal knowledge and other cosmic forces. The roots and branches of the Yggdrasil Tree were home to the Nine Worlds of the cosmos.
According to the myths, the Norse god Odin (the All-father) desperately wanted to possess the knowledge found in the Well of Urd and Yggdrasil Tree. In his quest to obtain this knowledge, he sacrificed himself on the tree.
The Yggdrasil Tree is so important in Norse mythology that its death would mean the end of the gods and the world as we know it. It also serves as a representation of life, death, and rebirth.
Historians believe that the Celtic Tree of Life was inspired by the Yggdrasil Tree. The Celts believed that everything in the natural world was interconnected and inhabited by spirits, from the rivers and streams to the animals, mountains, and trees.
The Celts believed trees were mystical and that their ancestors became trees after they died. Because trees go through the cycle of shedding their leaves, being barren and flowering once more, they believed that the Tree of Life symbolized life, death, and rebirth.
In their culture, the roots of the Tree of Life were connected to the underworld, the trunk existed in the physical world, and the high branches were in the heavens.
In Greek mythology, there are many references to the Tree of Life or World Tree. The World Tree’s roots were believed to reach Tartarus, the underworld, while the branches reached up to the stars.
In another tale, goddess Gaia planted a magical apple tree in Hera’s Garden to celebrate her marriage to Zeus. That apple tree held the universe together. To protect and tend to the tree, Hera appointed a dragon named Ladon to look after it and guard it.
Like other cultures, the Greeks viewed the World Tree as a symbol of the cycle of life and a connection to the spiritual realm.
Like other Mesoamerican cultures, the Mayans also had their version of the Tree of Life, called the Yaxche. The Yaxche was a massive ceiba pentandra tree.
The Mayans believed that the gods planted one ceiba tree in each corner of the world to hold up the heavens. A fifth tree was planted at the center. Its roots connected to the underworld, while its branches connected to the heavens.
The middle tree was the most sacred to the Mayans and was called the World Tree. It was believed to provide human souls a way to travel to the heavens and the underworld.
In China, the World Tree is believed to connect heaven, Earth and the underworld. It serves as a bridge to connect men to gods and shamans, but it also plays an important role in balancing the universe.
In Buddhism, the Bodhi Tree is the Tree of Knowledge and was the source of the Buddha’s enlightenment and wisdom.
Hindu mythology speaks of a World Tree that grows upside down so that its roots connect to the heavens. Its branches extend down to Earth to bring blessings to humans.
As you can see, the Tree of Life has been an important symbol in cultures around the world since the dawn of time. Today, that symbol is still very much a part of modern culture.
Trees go through cycles just as living creatures go through cycles of life and death.
When our loved ones pass on, the Tree of Life can be a symbol that brings comfort and celebrates that person’s own lifecycle.
Our Tree of Love collection depicts the Tree of Life in beautiful gold against a pearl green backdrop. We offer options for funeral urns for ashes as well as keepsakes. This collection includes:
Urns for ashes in brass. Both adult-sized and keepsake-sized human ashes urns are available.
A pendant featuring the same design as our full-sized urn. This pendant holds a pinch of ashes, allowing you to carry your loved one with you.
An ashes bead for cremation bracelets. This bead also holds a pinch of ashes and is made from Sterling 925 Silver.
Our Tree of Love collection is ideal for anyone wanting to celebrate and honor the life of their loved one. Its branches and roots bring comfort in knowing that their memory will live on.
Doves, butterflies, and the Tree of Life are three profound and prominent symbols that represent life, death and rebirth. We incorporate these symbols tastefully in our urn collections, allowing you to memorialize your loved ones in ways that are meaningful to you.
There are many different ways to scatter ashes in the United States, and most states have favorable laws. Working with a funeral home or crematory may make the planning process less stressful and help you understand what is permitted and what is not permitted.
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