Dove meanings and symbolism include peace, love, devotion, navigation, messages, grace, gentleness, purity, the Holy Spirit, the human soul, and hope. Doves belong to the Columbidae family of birds, which also includes pigeons, and there are over 300 species.1 In fact, doves and pigeons live on every continent except Antarctica. So, they appear in the mythologies and folklore of many cultures around the world. In this post, you’ll learn about dove symbols and meanings and dove mythology. Plus, you’ll learn about the dove spirit animal and more.
Table of Contents
- What does a dove symbolize?
- Detailed Dove Symbols and Meanings
- White Dove Meaning
- Dove Spirit Animal
- Dove Power Animal
- Dove Totem
- Dove in Mythology and Folklore
- Dove Symbolism in the Bible
- Dove Symbolism in Christianity
- Native American Dove Meanings
- Dove Symbolism in Aztec Mythology
- The Dove in Greek Mythology
- The Dove in Celtic Mythology
- Dove Meaning in Islam
- Dove Symbolism in Japan
- Dove Meanings in China
- Dove in Hindu Mythology
- Dove Dream Meaning
- Dove Tattoo Meanings
- Organizations that Protect Doves
What does a dove symbolize?
- The Holy Spirit
- The Human Soul
Detailed Dove Symbols and Meanings
Symbols of Peace
Around the world, the dove is a symbol of peace. It’s difficult to determine exactly when the dove became a peace symbol. We do know that humans began to domesticate pigeons before the time of written language, possibly 10,000 years ago. So, for thousands of years, pigeons and doves were used as a food source and to send messages.
Both doves and pigeons are gentle and docile birds, especially compared to birds of prey, like hawks and owls. In addition, they are monogamous and very affectionate with their mates. This gentleness combined with the fact that they were used as an early form of long-distance communication (thus, human connection) is likely how they came to become symbols of peace.
Dove Meaning: Love
Like most other species of birds, including eagles and ravens, doves are primarily monogamous, mating for life. Yet the dove takes things a step further in that they are very affectionate with their mate, including giving love nips, grooming them, and cooing to them. Furthermore, dove couples are known to clasp their beaks and even bob their heads in unison.2
The loving dove pairs are also extremely devoted to their chicks. In fact, the male dove shares in the responsibility of incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.
For all of these reasons, the dove has become an enduring symbol of love and devotion.
Thus, the dove spirit animal is a positive symbol for bringing more love into your life. Seeing a dove or a pair of doves can be a positive affirmation that you’ve found your soul mate or that you’ll be connecting with a soul mate soon.
Doves and pigeons are known to have an excellent sense of navigation. Even when taken hundreds of miles from their homes, they can easily find their way back. For this reason these birds have been used as messengers for thousands of years.
As a symbol of navigation, the dove is a helpful totem for finding clarity and direction in your life. While it might not always seem obvious to you, the dove reminds you that you have a sixth sense. You do have a higher level of consciousness – it’s just a matter of tapping into it. You can do this through prayer, meditation, or even setting an intention for guidance before you go to sleep at night.
Pigeons were used to carry messages as far back as 3000 BC in ancient Egypt. They were also used in ancient Greece to share the results of the Olympic Games with people who were far away (and didn’t have the modern benefit of watching them on TV!) In fact, the pigeon’s ability to find their way to a location was so precise that they were used in war time to send encrypted messages.3
As a symbol for messages coupled with being a symbol of peace, pigeons and their dove counterparts remind us of the importance of communication in our relationships. Staying in touch, expressing ourselves, and acknowledging what others have to say is the key to having happy, high-quality relationships with others.
White Dove Meaning
A white dove symbolizes purity and innocence as well as divinity. Like a white lily flower or lotus, the white dove embodies the idea of something that rises above the profane to exist in more exalted state.
Dove Spirit Animal
When the dove is your spirit animal, you have been blessed with a gentle guide who can help you as you navigate your life path here on Earth.
You may already know that the dove is your spirit animal, or one may have suddenly crossed your path and made themselves known to you. Seeing a dove or even a pair of doves is always a positive omen.
Dove people are loving, gentle, and kind. In addition, they are naturals when it comes to diplomacy. A dove suddenly coming into your life can be a reminder for you to express your peaceful and loving nature and that you have the ability to create peace where there is confrontation.
In addition, the dove spirit animal can remind you of the idea of soul mates. The dove says to cherish the people closest to you, as they will be with you lifetime after lifetime.
In addition to the dove, if you are curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal quiz and read more about them in my overview post on spirit animals.
Dove Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, consider the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can meditate on the qualities of the dove power animal when you:
- Are in an environment where there is a lot of conflict and you want to find common ground and a way to create win-win scenarios.
- Feel lost in an area of your life and want to tap into your higher power for direction and guidance.
- Want to improve the quality of your relationships, especially your relationship with your mate. Or, if you are single and you want to find your soul mate, the dove power animal can be a helpful totem when envisioning the kind of relationship you want to have.
An animal totem embodies the protective powers of the animal it represents. So, the dove totem is a helpful symbol for bringing more loving and healthy relationships into your life. It’s also a good luck symbol for creating more peace, harmony, and understanding in relationships. Furthermore, the dove totem is a helpful symbol for finding guidance and direction as you navigate your life path.
Dove in Mythology and Folklore
The dove and the pigeon have been important figures in the mythologies and folklore of people around the world for thousands of years. Here are some of those stories:
The dove appeared in written mythology as far back as 3000 BC. The Mesopotamians associated the dove with their fertility goddess, Inanna (who was called Ishtar in neighboring cultures.) Innana ruled not only love and sexuality, but she was also the goddess of war.
The Sumerians and Akkadians often depicted Innana and Ishtar in the presence of doves. In addition, both cultures have stories of their respective goddesses shapeshifting into a dove.4
The Dove in The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Mesopotamian story The Epic of Gilgamesh, which pre-dates the Bible to 2100 BC, tells the story of a great flood that consumed the world. It is uncannily similar to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
In the story, the god of water, Ea (also called Enki), tells Utnapishtim, another character in the story, that the gods are planning a great food. Ea then tells Utnapishtim that he must build a massive boat to hold all living beings to protect them from the flood.
Utnapishtim does as he is told, and a cataclysmic storm and flood come and rage for seven days. Finally, the storm subsides and Utnapishtim goes out on deck. He cries tears of gratitude that he had lived and was able to save so much life. Utnapishtim then sent a dove and a swallow to find dry land, but both birds returned. Next, he sent a raven. The raven did not return, so Utnapishtim knew it had found dry land.5
Dove Symbolism in the Bible
The dove as a symbol appears in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In Genesis 8, the story of Noah and the Great Flood is uncannily similar to the story of the flood in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
In the biblical story of the Great Flood, after 40 days, Noah sends a raven (or crow or, more likely, an earlier ancestor of the two birds) to find dry land after the flood. The raven does not return.
Next, Noah sends a dove to see if she will find dry land. At first, the dove returns. So, Noah realizes there is still no suitable land on which to dock the ark. However, a week later, Noah sends the dove out again and she returns with a freshly plucked olive branch. Thus, Noah realizes that the Earth is finally habitable again.
Olive trees also have symbolic meaning, and one of those meanings is that they symbolize peace. So, the combination of the gentle dove carrying an olive branch has come to be a universal symbol of peace and hope.
Doves are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Strangely, a number of passages in Leviticus imply that turtledoves and pigeons were used as sacrifices in the form of “burnt offerings.”6
Dove Symbolism in Christianity
In Christianity, the dove symbolizes gentleness, the divine, and the Holy Spirit. The Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all reference a dove in context to the Holy Spirit:
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17.)7
Native American Dove Meanings
While many Native American tribes used pigeons and doves as a food source, they also viewed them as symbols of gentleness and peace. In fact, there’s a Cheyenne proverb that is uncannily similar to what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 10. The Cheyenne proverb goes: “If a man is as wise as a serpent, he can afford to be as harmless as a dove.”9
For the Blackfoot tribe, the dove was a sacred bird. They viewed the dove as a protector who would help warriors safely return from battle. Thus, warriors wore dove feathers as protective talismans.10
To the Algonquian tribes of the Eastern U.S., the cooing of a turtledove could be an omen that someone was going to die.
For the Pueblo of the Southwest, the dove could help to bring rain.
And for California tribes, such as the Miwok, the dove was more of a mischievous bird, like the crow, who could get into trouble.11
Dove and Pigeon Clans
Some Native American tribes have dove or pigeon clans. These include the Abenaki, Pueblo, Ioway, Ho-Chunk, and Mohave. In addition, the Cherokee have a sacred Pigeon Dance.
Dove Symbolism in Aztec Mythology
The Aztecs associated their goddess Xochiquetzal with doves. Like the Greek’s Aphrodite, Xochiquetzal was a love and fertility goddess. And as in other myths, the dove in the story of Xochiquetzal is connected to a great flood. According to the Aztec creation legends, Xochiquetzal came to the Earth in the form of a dove after a cataclysmic flood.12
The Dove in Greek Mythology
The ancient Greek’s goddess of love was inspired in part by the Mesopotamian goddess of love, Inanna, or Ishtar. And like her Middle Eastern counterparts, Aphrodite was often depicted with doves around her.
For the Greeks, the dove symbolized love, renewal, and immortality. In fact, the Greek gods’ and goddesses’ beverage of choice was ambrosia, which was said to be brought to them by doves.13
The Dove in Celtic Mythology
As they viewed the raven, the Celts saw the dove as an oracle bird. They would watch their behavior and flight patterns for signs and then interpret them. So, for the Celts, the dove was also viewed as a messenger. In addition, the dove symbolized healing. Thus, unfortunately, the Celts used them for sacrificial purposes.
Dove Meaning in Islam
In Islam, depending on who is telling the story, doves are viewed as protectors of Muhammad. In one story, Muhammad and his father-in-law, Abu Bakr, are being chased by Quraysh warriors who want to kill Muhammad to stop him from preaching. On the run, Muhammed and Abu Bakr come across a cave in Thowr Mountain in Mecca, where they hide.
According to the story, two doves nested outside the cave and a spider wove a giant web across the entrance. The animals did this knowing that when the Quraysh warriors passed, they would assume that Muhammad and Abu Bakr could not be hiding in the cave because the doves and the spider’s web were undisturbed.
Dove Symbolism in Japan
In Japan, the dove symbolizes messages and peace. In Japanese mythology, the 3rd century Emperor Ojin became a god whom they called Hachiman. He was the god of war, archery, fishing, and agriculture. In addition, he used doves as his messengers.14
In Japanese culture, a dove carrying a sword is a symbol of peace and the end of war. The dove is also used to honor those who died in Hiroshima in WWII.
Dove Meanings in China
In China, the dove symbolizes enduring love, faithfulness, and springtime.
Dove in Hindu Mythology
The Hindu god of love and desire, Kamadeva, is often depicted riding a dove (or parrot.)
Dove Dream Meaning
What does it mean if you dream of a dove or doves? The answer, in part, depends on how you view these birds and the emotions you felt in your dream. While dream meanings are unique to the person who has the dream, one thing we all have in common is that our subconscious emotions don’t lie to us. The emotions we experience in the dream state can give us a sense of what the dream is trying to tell us.
In general, doves and pigeons are non-threatening animals. At worse, pigeons might annoy people. But a peaceful dream about a dove or pigeon can generally be interpreted as a positive omen.
Dove Tattoo Meanings
Like dreams, tattoos are personal to the individual who has them. However, a dove tattoo is generally a positive symbol that shows the world you value peace and love. It can also demonstrate that you are a person who has a sense of where you’re going in life. Furthermore, a dove tattoo can demonstrate that consult with, pray to, and feel guided by God or your higher power. Whatever your reasons are for getting a dove tattoo, hopefully understanding more about dove symbolism and mythology can bring even deeper meaning to it.
Organizations that Protect Doves
While many of us see pigeons on a daily basis whose populations are thriving, there are actually species of pigeons and doves who are endangered or at risk of extinction. In fact, World Atlas lists 11 species who are at risk of extinction.15
Threats these birds face include habitat loss and degradation; the impacts of climate change (including temperature changes and storms); predation by dogs, cats, and invasive species; and the pet bird trade. If you care about doves and pigeons, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working on Columbidae conservation: