What many people don’t realize, though, is that the often under-appreciated, or even reviled, city pigeon is as much a dove as any snow white bird of peace. “Dove” and “pigeon” are generally interchangeable terms which refer to any birds with in the “Columbidae” family. Smaller members tend to be called “doves,” whilst larger ones are called “pigeons,” but the words actually mean the same thing. So, the dove is both a deeply beloved bird associated with affection and peace, and a bird who is treated as a pest and scorned by many. (1) Read on to learn more about the fascinating symbolism, mythology, and history of doves.
Table of contents
- Dove Symbolism and meaning
- Dove Native American Symbolism
- Dove Christianity Symbolism
- Dove Celtic Symbolism
- Dove in Dreams
- Dove Encounters and Omens
- Doves Mythology and Folklore
- Dove Spirit Animal
- Dove Totem Animal
- Dove Power Animal
- Dove Tattoo Meaning
Dove symbolism and meaning
Around the world, doves are associated with gentleness, peace, serenity, and purity. The dove is considered docile, harmless, and romantic. Doves are commonly released at weddings to symbolize the everlasting love of the bride and groom. Dove releases are also used for funerals and memorials as a way of saying goodbye to a departed loved one. (2)
Most types of pigeons and doves are monogamous and mate for life, though some species will only stay together for one breeding season. Dove pairs are often seen preening each other, perching near one another, and even engaging in a sort of “kissing” behavior. For these reasons, doves are very strongly connected with romance and partnership. (3)
Because doves are so firmly associated with peace, they often serve as an international symbol for cooperation and hope. The dove represents our human responsibility to strive for a better future in which unnecessary suffering can be addressed and solved. Dove imagery represents both unity and optimism.
Doves are birds with a great deal of religious significance which we will discuss in detail in a later section. Because of this, artistic depictions of doves often represent the divine. In Christian art, the presence of a dove indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, dove symbolism is often used to signify heaven. When people die, we imagine them at peace in heaven. So, imagery featuring doves may be associated with God, the afterlife, mourning, or divine guidance. (4)
Doves and pigeons are world-renowned for their incredible homing abilities. Pigeons are so effective at finding their way home that the methods they use remained shrouded in mystery. Over thousands of miles in challenging conditions, homing pigeons still manage to find their way. This ability has been utilized by humans for centuries as a means of communication. So, doves represent navigation, homecoming, communication, correspondence, and messengers. (5)
Doves and pigeons are common domestic animals and are often used for racing, breeding, as pets, or for general admiration. People who keep pigeons are often referred to as pigeon “fanciers.” This very old hobby has long been enjoyed by aristocrats and scientific minds around the world. Walt Disney, the late Queen of England, Nikola Tesla, and Charles Darwin are just some of the famous people who are known to have been avid pigeon fanciers. Selectively bred pigeons and doves can be extremely ornamental birds with unique and intricate features. Darwin even used the process of breeding pigeons for various features as a means of studying his theory of evolution. So, doves represent aristocracy, domesticity, evolution, artificial selection, competition, and scientific study. (6)(7)
Dove Native American symbolism
Native American cultures typically associate doves with love, peace, and protection. Doves are often seen as symbols of a safe homecoming, perhaps due to their homing abilities.
Some Native American traditions treat doves as foolish or gullible animals. In such stories, doves often fail to recognize the dangerous guile of a trickster character and are deceived into becoming its meal. (8)
In many Native American traditions, the dove is considered to be a symbol of the spirit world. As such, the dove can represent both spiritual guidance and death. (9)
According to one Native American myth, the dove was the first murder victim in the world. When the world was new, the birds lived in peace and never killed one another. During this time, the owl was a proud bird who enjoyed the daylight. The proud owl fell in love with a beautiful swan, and decided to try his hand at swimming so that he might be with her. When he tried to swim, though, he failed miserably and the loon laughed at him. The owl was angry and asked “who who are you laughing at?” At just this moment, a dove asked her mate whom he loved most and he replied “you you.” The owl thought that the dove was making fun of him and he became so enraged that he snatched up the poor dove and slew it. The Great Spirit saw what the owl had done and was angry that the peace amongst birds was broken. To punish the owl, he declared that it would never see daylight again and must hunt in the night. (10)
Dove Christianity symbolism
Doves are one of the Bible’s most prevalent and important animal symbols. Because of this, doves have come to represent Christianity itself. In several passages, the presence of the Holy Spirit is described as resembling a dove.
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’”— Matthew 3:16-17 (11)
In Luke 2:22-24 pigeons are brought before God as a sacrifice:
“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”(12)
Finally, the most important famous role of the dove in the Bible is found in Genesis. After the end of the catastrophic flood, Noah used a raven and then a dove to fly out over the water and find out whether there was safe dry land to be found. At first, the raven did not return. Then, the dove returned but was fruitless. Finally, the dove returned once more with an olive branch in its bill, proving that there was dry land out there and signifying the end of Noah’s trial. (13)
“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.”— Genesis 8:11 (14)
Dove Celtic symbolism
Doves in Celtic mythology typically symbolize divinity, femininity, fertility, and purity.
In Ireland, one of the three patron saints – St. Columa – is referred to as the Church Dove.
In much of Celtic symbolism, the dove carries similar meanings to that of its Christian symbolism. This is because most of the Celtic world became Christian during the Middle Ages.
In the Celtic world, doves are often connected with saints and sainthood. (15)
Dove in dreams
Dreaming of doves is usually a positive sign. Doves bring hope and peace, so dove dreams are often associated with a period of calm and healing on the horizon. Dreaming of a pair of doves almost always represents romance and family.
Dreaming of a dove pair may indicate a desire to pursue romantic relationships or it may even be a sign that love is on the horizon. Dove dreams remind us to strengthen our relationships by treating one another with gentleness and empathy.
Dreaming of common city pigeons may represent persecution or the feeling of being underappreciated. While these birds only differ in color from the white doves that people admire, they are frequently treated as “rats with wings.” Dreaming of a pigeon may mean that you should evaluate whether you’ve hastily judged someone on their appearance.
Dreaming of pigeons or doves may also represent finding one’s path. Navigating through life can be a challenge, but the dove reminds you to trust your instincts, stick to your path, and have faith that you will find your way home.(16)
Dove encounters and omens
Encountering doves might be more common than you had previously realized. Every urban pigeon is a dove and carries much of the same meaning as other doves. Dove encounters represent joy, hope, happiness, and healing. Encountering doves whilst in mourning or during a difficult period can act as a reminder that happier times lie ahead.
Encountering a flock of pigeons or doves represents belonging. Seeing such a group of birds might sting a bit if you’ve had a lot of trouble with finding your “people.” Fear not, though, because the dove reminds you that good things come to those who hold their heads up high.
A dove encounter may represent homesickness, especially for people who do not live in the place that they would consider to be “home.” In this case, encountering doves can indicate a longing to return home, but it also reminds you that home is something that follows you wherever you go. The pigeon always finds its way back home. (18)
On a similar note, encountering doves or pigeons is a positive sign for travelers. Such an encounter indicates protection and safe travels.
Dove mythology and folklore
Throughout the world, doves are associated with peace, femininity, and the divine.
For the ancient Greeks, the dove was one of the votive animals of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. (19) The Mesopotamian goddess, Ishtar, is one of the earliest deities in human historical records. She was associated with doves as well, which represent fertility and sanctity. (20)
Hachiman, the Japanese god of war, is also associated with doves. Hachiman is a divine protector of Japan who is said to use doves as his messengers. (21)
In Hindu mythology, doves are associated with both love and death. Kama Devarides is a Hindu god of love whose symbol is the dove. Thus, doves are associated with love and romance. The god of death, Yama, is said to be embodied as a dove. So, doves also represent death itself. (22)(23)
Dove spirit animal
If the dove is your spirit animal then you are likely to be a gentle soul who dislikes unnecessary confrontations and prefers to address problems calmly. The dove spirit animal is far from shy, but it may be seen as shy because it tends to be found in people who speak softly and don’t seek out the center of attention.
Despite this, the dove spirit animal is surprisingly outgoing and confident. Gentle does not equal fragile. People with the dove as their spirit animal are resilient and capable of making the best out of almost any situation. For this reason, the dove spirit animal is usually very optimistic and tends to maintain a positive attitude.
People who have the dove as their spirit animal tend to be very romantic and may be driven by a desire to achieve the relationship of their dreams. Although they tend to be great partners, dove spirits may get carried away and rush into things or choose improper partners. Remember that “fairytale” romances take a lot of hard work and cooperation and you’ll be just fine! (24)
People with the dove as their spirit animal are sensitive, empathetic, and overall very kind. It is important that they learn how to avoid letting manipulative people take advantage of their virtues.
Dove totem animal
The dove totem animal is associated with peace and healing. People who benefit from the dove totem animal are very likely to find themselves in nurturing positions. They often take great joy in watching others grow and thrive and may be teachers, nurses, or doctors.
The dove totem animal brings healing to those who possess it. With this totem animal’s guidance, one can pursue a healing journey by which past trauma can be accepted and catharsis can be reached. The dove totem soothes anxieties and instills hope for a better future.
The dove totem animal is also helpful when it comes to homemaking. While chores are certainly part of homemaking, the task of turning a house into a home is much deeper than simply cooking or cleaning. The dove totem brings serenity into the home and makes the family feel safe and welcome. (25)
Dove power animal
If the dove is your power animal then you are deeply in tune with the emotions of others. The dove power animal is the ultimate empath, especially when close loved ones are involved. People with dove as their power animal are the type to sense their loved ones’ moods or thoughts from the simplest of gestures or changes in demeanor.
Because of this, the dove power animal is the ultimate confidante and is always willing to be a “shoulder to cry on” for family or friends.
The dove power animal’s empathy means that it is sometimes affected by other people’s emotions to a degree that isn’t healthy. Remember to focus your healing energies inwards once in a while. You cannot control other people’s emotional states no matter how badly you want to help them.
Dove tattoo meaning
Dove tattoos are often religious in nature, but their meanings can be as diverse and fascinating as the many meanings of the dove itself.
A tattoo of a dove often represents hope and peace. This is especially true for dove tattoos which feature an olive branch or a peace sign. Tattoos of doves with rainbows generally represent God’s promise from the book of Genesis.
Tattoos of dove pairs represent love and romance. Doves are sometimes chosen as matching tattoos for couples. In this case they represent commitment and devotion.
Tattoos of pigeons may represent resourcefulness, homecoming, protection, adaptability, navigation, or friendliness.
The dove is one of the oldest animal symbols around and can be found in many more places than the ones that we’ve managed to cover in this brief article. In the future, it is my sincere hope that people learn to appreciate doves of all kinds for their docile natures and natural beauty. Hopefully, the next time a city pigeon lands in front of you, you’ll think of the love, peace, and serenity that this bird has represented since ancient times.