For most of us pigeons represent nothing more than noise and droppings, but many forget or don’t know that pigeons are actually doves.
Today’s modern pigeon is descended originally from the rock dove and doves are an easily recognizable symbol, the symbol of peace.
The dove has become an identifiable symbol, especially when depicted with an olive branch in its beak.
The sign of the dove has become significant as a Christian symbol, mainly in the western world and because of this it has become a universal symbol that everyone recognises.
What isn’t widely known is that man’s relationship with doves goes far back in history. The Christians weren’t the first to adopt the dove as a symbol.
Through time and many different cultures doves have been associated, as a symbol, with many different virtues.
Because of their pure white aspect they have been symbols of purity and innocence.
Other virtues that they have been used to symbolise are wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, and piety.
Because they mate for life, doves are also associated with marital fidelity.
The word dove has also become used as a word of endearment.
The Spanish painter Pablo Picasso popularised the sign of the dove as a peace symbol in the modern era and even named his daughter, Paloma, the Spanish word for dove.
The American avant-garde artist, Andy Warhol, used it in his version of the Last Supper to represent the Holy Spirit.
As far back as the 13th century BC in Mesopotamia, the dove was used as a symbol. In this case it was associated with a goddess called Inanna-Ishtar.
She was a goddess of war, love, and sexuality.
Images of doves surrounded her worship and it was believed that she sometimes took on the form of a dove.
In Judaism, the Hebrews used the dove to represent the spirit of god. Before Christianity was founded doves have played a spiritual role.
It is written that when Mary, the mother of Jesus, sought a husband, a dove emerged out of a priest’s staff and flew straight to Joseph, indicating that he was the chosen one.
It is also written that Jesus’s parents sacrificed doves at his circumcision, a common practice at the time.
A Canaanite mother goddess called Asherah had also doves associated with her worship.
Many of the Greek gods became associated with doves as symbols of their worship.
Mostly with the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love and Eirene, the goddess of peace whose temples were both covered in images of doves.
It is said that Aphrodite’s followers used the blood of sacrificed doves to purify the altars in her temples and at festivals in her name.
In ancient Greek art the dove can be found painted on pottery, made as statues, and as bas-relief carvings. They have also been associated with Zeus.
As the Romans took over the Greek gods and renamed them, so they adopted the same symbols that represented or were associated with them.
Venus, the goddess of love continued to be represented by the symbol of the dove.
The goddess of good fortune, Fortuna was also associated with doves.
In the Bible the story of Noah and the Flood features a dove.
Noah sent out a dove to search for dry land and it returned after seven days. He then released a raven, who came back with an olive branch in its beak.
In Christianity it is written that God told John the Baptist that he would recognise the Messiah by the ‘sign of the dove’.
When Jesus came to be baptised by John a dove flew down and touched him on the head. It was then that John the Baptist knew who Jesus was and proclaimed him the Messiah.
So, the dove became a Christian symbol too. Early Christian art is riddled with the sign of the dove and later the great European artists continued the trend.
In fact, the early Christians used the dove and the fish as symbols of their faith before the cross became pre-eminent, as it is today.
Overall the dove has become a universal sign of peace, love, and the Holy Spirit.
In the Arthurian Legend doves became associated with the hunt for the Holy Grail.
In Islam doves are shown some respect, because according to Islamic history, doves helped the prophet Muhammad escape his enemies when he led his followers on a migration from Mecca to Medina.
The doves distracted those hunting him while he hid in a cave.
Thinking the cave empty, they passed on, letting the prophet escape.
One reference in the Koran says that Muhammad rests in a dwelling of doves or dovecote, waiting to be reborn again.
In the eastern world, the Japanese war god Hachiman was said to use doves as messengers.
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In our modern world, part from the dove as a universal sign of peace, we tend to try and ignore them as much as possible.
However, doves or pigeons have had a very long relationship with mankind. It stretches back into antiquity.
All through history, through different eras and cultures, the dove has had a close association with religion and in most cases has come to represent the spirit of God and peace.