What Does it Mean? Animal Iconography Used on Graves

animal icons on gravesWhen you’re walking through a cemetery, perhaps coming from a friend or family member’s funeral, you may notice similar themes of motifs that reoccur on many headstones. Of course, lots of thought is placed on what people have engraved on those headstones, so why do so many of them have similar themes?

Well, the fact of the matter is that there are certain animals that are more than pretty carvings when it comes to headstones. What are some of these animals and what do they mean?

Birds: This particular species is popular on grave markers and cremation urns alike because they symbolize the freedom of the spirit. The bird in flight represents a soul free from its body. In particular, the Dove is used in Christianity to represent peace and the Holy Spirit. Many military graves will feature an Eagle, which is, of course, this country’s National bird and it symbolizes service to the country as well as the freedom of the soul after death.

Butterflies: This symbol goes way back to ancient Greece, when the word for butterfly was also “psyche,” which also translates to “soul.” Again this idea of flight plays a big part in the symbolism here. In fact, there’s an Irish saying that goes, “Butterflies are souls of the dead, waiting to pass through purgatory.”

Lamb: Often a symbol of innocence and youth, it’s used predominantly on the graves and urns of children.

Snake: Or, serpent, this animal, despite its nefarious reference in the Bible, has come to represent eternity and rebirth. The snake forming a circle and nearly devouring its own tail is known as an oroboros and symbolizes infinity. Also, the ability to shed its skin and be “reborn” in a new body is of significance to spirituality.

2 Responses to “What Does it Mean? Animal Iconography Used on Graves”

  1. From Betty Stidham

    When my great grandmother died, they add a butterfly ornament on her grave marker. My mother said that its symbolizes the return or reincarnation. So I definitely see she will be reincarnated into a beatiful butterfly just like what she is when she was alive. Thanks to this article, I knew what the other animal symbols mean.

  2. From Sarah

    I saw a dead butterfly on a headstone at Bachelors Grove. It was a beautiful monarch. Everything look beautiful in the cemetery.

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