25 Symbols Of Love And Their Meanings Explained

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woman making heart hands surrounded by symbols of love
Love

Since ancient times, people have created art, jewelry and even tattoos featuring powerful symbols of love. The love symbols listed below have served as powerful reminders of the importance of love to people in a wide variety of cultures around the world and throughout history.

There are many reasons people have been attracted to symbols that represent love for so many generations. "The most significant reason," explains psychotherapist Joan E. Childs, "is that symbols can be seen in place of words that cannot always be spoken or heard. Symbols are explicit when words are not always available or needed."

From the Celtic Sailor’s Knot dating back to at least the 8th Century to modern-day love emojis, symbols of love allow people to communicate fidelity and affection in ways that transcend written and spoken language.

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Historically, people used these love symbols to show their commitment and loyalty either in the form of art, gifts, tattoos, home decorations, talismen to ward off evil spirits, or even painted or carved onto surfaces. Today, these symbols can be used to tell someone how you feel, invite and encourage love to come to you, or to remind yourself of what is truly important.

Whether you are creating art, studying art history, or even just looking for small but meaningful love tattoo ideas, let these 25 love symbols from around the world serve as inspiration.

25 Ancient and Modern Symbols of Love and Their Meanings

1. Claddagh

Image; de:Benutzer:Momo / wikimedia

The claddagh ring, from Ireland, dates back to the 17th century Ireland. It features two hands holding a heart which bears a crown on top of it. The two hands wrapped around the heart represent friendship, the heart itself represents love, and the crown represents faithfulness and loyalty.

While no one knows the exact origin of the symbol on the claddagh ring, one legend says that a young man was enslaved and forced to work for a blacksmith. He stole tiny bits of metal and over time was able to fashion the very first claddagh ring in secret. When he was freed, the legend says that he returned to Ireland and gave the ring to the young woman he loved.

To this day, young people often give a claddagh ring when they fall in love, and sometimes they even serve as wedding rings.

The direction in which the ring faces and the hand on which it is worn convey the wearer's relationship status.

If you are single: The ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing outward.

If you are in a relationship: The ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing inward.

if you are engaged: The ring is worn on the left hand with the heart facing outward.

If you are married: The ring is worn on the left hand with the heart facing inward.

2. Zhiva (or Živa)

Image: Eckhardt Etheling (public domain) / wikimedia

Zhiva is a goddess featured in Slavic mythology who represents fertility, love and marriage.

Slavic history dates back even as far as Roman history does, and yet is often forgotten. This makes the symbol of Zhiva particularly special, as it is quite unique outside of Eastern Europe.

3. Shell

Image: Andrew Butko / wikimedia

The shell is known as a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Venus is associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love in Greek mythology.

The shell is also tied to the St. James Pilgrimmage. Legend has it that a young man, either engaged or recently married, fell off a ship carrying the body of St. James, but was saved by a miracle, emerging from the sea covered in scallop shells.

4. Harp

Image: public domain / wikimedia

Like the shell, use of the harp as a symbol of love has many origins.

Celtic culture saw a harp as a bridge of love connecting heaven and earth. King David is said to have plaid beautiful music on the harp as way of showing his love for God.

No matter what, the harp symbolizes love and beauty in both its construction and the lovely music it produces.

5. Celtic Knots

Image: Froaringus (CC BY-SA 4.0) / wikimedia

Celtic history and design tends to refer to people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. in Europe, though the history of the Celts goes back even further. Celtic knot designs can be seen all over Europe and in many forms, including on crosses and in jewelry.

Interlaced or woven designs like the Celtic knot date back to the Roman empire and are seen often throughout Christian art history. While the history of the Celtic knot has little to do with romance, the endless or infinite nature of its weave has come to be seen as a symbol of eternal love.

Other common Celtic knots that may symbolize love are the Bowen knot , Solomon's knot, and the sailor's knot.

6. Mjöllnir

Image: Nyo~commonswiki / wikimedia

The Mjöllnir is the Norse hammer often associated with Thor and used as a symbol of strength. But the Mjöllnir symbolizes much more than that throughout Norse mythology.

Thor not only used this hammer to protect people, but it is also said that he used Mjöllnir to bless couples with fertility. This led to its status as a powerful symbol of protection for couples and their families.

7. Three Leaf Clover

Image: Aygun Ali / Shutterstock

We often think of the four leaf clover as a symbol of luck from the Irish. But for the Irish people a three leaf clover is even more important. It is even the national symbol of Ireland.

The plant's three leaves symbolize love, hope and faith.

8. Osram Ne Nsoromma

Image: Sidhe / Shutterstock

This is a Bono Andikra symbol, represented by a moon and a star, is said to represent love, bonding and faithfulness in marriage.

What could be more romantic than that?

9. Ankh

Image: public domain {{PD-US}} / wikimedia

Most people recognize this ancient Egyptian symbol as a representation of life, but there is another element that is symbolized by the Ankh, and that is of fertility.

Some even say that the Ankh's symbolism of life is due to the fact that it represents a woman's uterus! Over time, an association with fertility also led the Ankh to become a powerful symbol of love.

10. Potiza

Image: Taíno Museum

For the Taíno people, an Arawak people indigenous to the lands we now call Florida and the Caribbean, the potiza is an image of container. According to The Taino Museum, the potiza was often bought by men for women as a symbol of their love.

11. Lotus (Padme)

Image: a Sk / Shutterstock

The lotus flower, also known as Padme, is one of the eight important symbols of Buddhism. Because the beauty of these flowers stands out in contrast to the muddy waters in which they bloom, they are represent purity, potential, spiritual awakening, and faithfulness.

Like roses, lotus flowers of different colors are associated with different meanings. It is the red lotus that represents passion and love, and has thus become a global symbol of love.

12. Xochitl

Image: Giuseppe_R / Shutterstock

Xochitl means flower, and is associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of youth, love and beauty, on the Aztec calendar.

According to lore, Xochitl was a queen and/or daughter of an emperor of the Toltec Civilization of pre-Columbian Mexico who enlisted a battalion of fellow women as soldiers and went to war, where she died on the battlefield.

Today, some see her symbol as a representation of love and feminine power.

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13. Kokopelli

Image: carptrash / wikimedia

Kokopelli is an ancient symbol of the Ancestral Puebloans, often associated with Anasazi or Hopi Indians of the Southwester United States. Kokopelli symbolizes fertility, and, according to Wikipedia is said to carry the unborn children of the Hopi people on their back. This symbol dates back to at least 750-850 AD, based upon the first representation on pottery.

Like many symbols or goddesses of fertility, Kokopelli also has come to symbolize love, particularly love for one's family.

14. Heart Chakra

Image: Zavatter / wikimedia

Chakras, from the Saskrit word for wheel, are the 88,000 energy centers in the human body.

"The chakras are energy wheels up and down the length of the spine that are vibrating, spinning, and literally swirling with vital life force energy," explains certified divine feminine educator Anna Thea. "They are areas in the spine where subtle energy pathways intersect and create vortexes of energy."

The heart chakra. Anahata in Sanskrit, is considered the center of balance, calmness and serenity and is represented by a lotus flower with twelve petals, inside which "there is a smoky region at the intersection of two triangles, creating a shatkona. The shatkona is a symbol used in Hindu Yantra, representing the union of male and female."

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15. The Lovers Tarot Card

Image: Shutterstock

Tarot cards are a form of fortune-telling dating back to 15th century Italy. The Lovers Tarot Card represents relationships — specifically choices in relationships.

The meaning of the Lovers Tarot card in a spread varies depending on whether it appears upright or reversed. If upright, the Lovers represent balance, learning, and harmony. If reversed, the Lovers represent dysfunction, trust issues, conflict, disconnection, and a lack of accountability.

16. Hex Signs

Image: Kimberly Boyles / Shutterstock

Hex signs are a form of Pennsylania Dutch folk art using geometric shapes and other colorful signs and symbols inside of circles to represent different meanings.

Several hex signs includes hearts, but it is important to note that in Pennsylvania Dutch and Dutch Reformer symbology, the heart doesn't always represent romantic love, but is instead symbolic of a loving relationship with God.

The double-headed eagle hex sign, said to symbolize strength and courage, features a heart laced in wavy or lacy fabric. This particular type of lacing symbolizes love in marriage and a lifetime bond.

17. The Jewish Heart

Image: Gal Einai

As far as symbols of love go, this one is special because it was very purposefully created to represent love. The mystical heart is formed by two lameds (the Hebrew letter equivalent to the letter L in English) facing one another to symbolize how love grows and thrives.

Sarah Esther Crispe explains that "the lamed also means two things simultaneously. It means both 'to learn' and 'to teach,' which shows us that the two are intertwined and both are essential."

18. Swans

Image: Marcela / wikimedia

Swans are symbols of love not only because their long, cute necks often bend together to create a heart, but also because they are known to pair-bond for life, which is rare in the animal kingdom.

On top of that, swans are protective creatures that will defend their mate and offspring in vicious ways. Because of all these romantic traits, the image of a pair of swans has become a beautiful symbol of devotion and love.

19. Love Birds and Doves

Image: public domain / wikimedia

Doves — the white birds that look like a colorless pigeon — are often associated with peace, but they also symbolize love. There are many reasons for this, but one is that are considered a symbol of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

In addition, doves are often called love birds (although true Love Birds are a actually a species of small, adorable parrot that snuggle and nuzzle their mates) because they are said to mate for life.

In truth, not all doves mate for life — apparently some only mate for one breeding season. But when they do mate, they are monogamous, which is also rare in the animal kingdom.

Mourning doves, the smaller, soft-grey cooing version of the larger white "peace dove" do typically mate for life, making them a sweet love symbol.

20. Two Butterflies Flying Together

Image: LedyX / Shutterstock

It's said that in China, the butterfly symbolizes a long life. If you see two butterflies flying together, it's a symbol of ideal, long-lasting love.

RELATED: 5 Intriguing Butterfly Spiritual Meanings

21. Maple Leaf

Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 / wikimedia

Maple leaves are symbols of love in a few different cultures, leading them to be used in art across the globe, in different cultures and for generations throughout history.

In some Asian cultures, including Japan and China, the maple leaf symbolizes the sweetness and wonder of love.

And according to folklore, North American settlers used to leave maple leaves at the foot of their beds to ward off demons and and to encourage sexual pleasure and sleep. The fact that the stork, who brings babies, also weaves maple branches into its nest, may also be a factor in how the maple leaf became a symbol of love.

22. Apple

Image: Abhijit Tembhekar / wikimedia

The apple symbolizes many things. Because of the apple's role in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, they are often associated with temptation and "forbidden fruit." For this reason, apples often symbolize passion, sensual pleasure, and forbidden desire.

But the apple as a symbol also relates to many of the goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology.

According to Greek mythology, "Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Paris of Troy was appointed to select the recipient. After being bribed by both Hera and Athena, Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. He awarded the apple to Aphrodite, thus indirectly causing the Trojan War."

23. Red Roses

Image: Laitche / wikimedia

We all know that red roses are the most desired flower on Valentine's Day, but the tradition of the red rose being a symbol of romantic love dates all the way back to ancient Greece, where the rose represented Aphrodite.

Giving red roses as a show of love was popularized in the early 1700's when King Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the language of flowers, or floriography, to Europe. "For the next century or so," notes writer Monica Green, "most Victorian homes contained floral dictionaries, which listed the symbolic meanings of different flowers people used to convey a wide variety of hidden messages to one another."

Roses of different colors are associated with different meanings, with red roses being noted as a symbol of romantic love.

24. Hearts

Image: Hannah Chandler (CC BY-SA 4.0) / wikimedia

The simple outline of the shape of a heart is probably the most common symbol of love, at least in Western cultures.

It is assumed that the simple heart symbol evolved from the shape of an actual human heart, but without all the blood and veins and stuff. According to feminist author and historian Marilyn Yalom, we associate love with the human heart because throughout history people have associated the sensation of love with a feeling in the chest and an action of the heart. In particular, we think of the heart beating harder, faster, and even louder when we are aroused.

Yalom writes: "In 1344, the first known image of the indubitable heart icon with two lobes and a point appeared. It made its debut in a manuscript titled The Romance of Alexander... [In an illustration in the book] a woman raises a heart that she has presumably received from the man facing her. She accepts the gift, while he touches his breast to indicate the place from which it has come. From this moment on, there was an explosion of heart imagery, particularly in France."

The heart's importance as a symbol of love perseveres today, as evidenced by its presence in so many popular emojis.

Which leads me to...

25. Hearts Emojis and Other Flirty Emoticon Iconography

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There are many emoji hearts, as well as smileys that incorporate hearts in their design. Some of the most commonly used include:

The simple red heart: which symbolizes love. Sometimes this heart is sent in pink, too.

The pounding or fluttering heart: which symbolizes attraction or the feeling of "butterflies" from a crush.

The heart-eyes emoji: which symbolizes the sensation of loving what you're seeing.

The floating hearts smiley face: which symbolizes the general feeling of love or being in love.

The kiss emoji: which sometimes includes a heart, as if the sender is blowing a kiss (and love).

Upside-down smiley face or stars, used to denote a feeling of being dizzy from infatuation. Young people also make up creative and unique combinations of emojis to symbolize the feeling of falling in love.

This modern-day iconography is a powerful way to communicate feelings through symbols.

Whether you realize it or not, doing this keeps ancient and historical traditions alive — proving that symbols of love are as powerful today as they have been since the beginning of recorded history.

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Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Esquire, Vox, and more. Follow her on Twitter for more.