symbols of peace meaning

Symbols Of Peace Across History and Cultures

Peace is the state of tranquility and harmony, free from conflict and disturbance. Different cultures have various symbols for peace, each reflecting their own understanding and reverence for this ideal. In Western cultures, the dove with an olive branch is a prominent symbol of peace, originating from the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, where it represents hope and new beginnings. In Japanese culture, the origami crane symbolizes peace. This tradition was popularized by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who folded a thousand cranes in hopes of recovering from illness caused by the Hiroshima bombing.

Let’s explore more symbols of peace from around the world.

    1. Peace signs

    peace sign

    The peace symbol, a sign of hope and peace, is one of the most universally recognized and understood symbols in the world. Invented 65 years ago, it continues to be highly relevant today. Designed by British graphic artist Gerald Holtom (1914-1985) on February 21, 1958, the symbol was created for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and is often referred to as the CND symbol.

    The genesis of the peace sign was closely tied to a significant protest. British peace activists were planning a march from London to the nuclear weapons research center in Aldermaston. They needed a symbol for their cause, and Holtom’s design first appeared publicly on Good Friday, 1958. The marchers carried 500 round cardboard signs featuring the peace symbol, setting a precedent for future Easter marches and cementing the symbol’s status as a “pictographic superstar” (as described by “Spiegel”).

    the origin of the peace sign

    The symbol has also faced misconceptions and misinterpretations. Some have incorrectly claimed it to be the Germanic “death rune,” a notion stemming from Nazi-era reinterpretations of the Elhaz or Algiz rune (ᛉ). The inverted form (ᛦ) was used by the Nazis as a “death rune” on gravestones of SS members. However, this association has no basis in historical rune alphabets and was a 20th-century invention by esotericists.

    Today, Holtom’s peace symbol remains widely recognized and is used globally as a sign of hope and protest against war. Its simplicity and powerful message continue to resonate, making it an enduring icon of peace and non-violence.

    2. Dove

      dove as a symbol of peace

      Peace is the most universal meaning of the dove, a symbol that originates from the story of Noah’s Ark in the book of Genesis. According to this story, God saw that the world had become corrupt and filled with violence, so He decided to bring a great flood to cleanse the Earth. However, God found favor in Noah, a righteous man, and instructed him to build an ark to save himself, his family, and a pair of every animal species.

      Once the floodwaters receded, Noah released a series of birds to determine if the land had become habitable again. First, he sent out a raven, but it did not return, indicating that the land was still covered by water. Then, Noah sent out a dove, which returned to him because it found no place to rest. After a week, Noah released the dove again, and this time it returned with an olive leaf in its beak, indicating that the floodwaters had receded and plant life was beginning to emerge.

      The olive leaf brought by the dove became a powerful symbol of peace. It meant that God’s wrath had ended, and a new era of tranquility and reconciliation was about to begin. The dove’s mission represented the search for a place of refuge, a safe haven where peace could flourish. Its return with the olive leaf became a timeless image of peace and the promise of a better future.

      Read More: Dove Symbolism & Meaning

      3. Red & White poppy

        red and white poppy as a symbol of peace

        The red poppy is widely recognized as a symbol of remembrance for the victims of war, particularly those who fought and died in World War I. Originating in the aftermath of the Great War, the red poppy was popularized by the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. The red poppy symbolizes the bloodshed and sacrifice of soldiers and is commonly worn on Remembrance Day (November 11) to honor the fallen members of the armed forces. The Royal British Legion advocates for this form of remembrance, emphasizing its connection to the British Armed Forces.

        In contrast, the white poppy, distributed by the Peace Pledge Union—the UK’s oldest secular and pacifist group—was created in 1933, just 12 years after the red poppy. The white poppy was introduced to emphasize the “never again” message that emerged after World War I, a message pacifists feared was fading. Like the red poppy, the white poppy symbolizes remembrance for the victims of war, but it also carries additional meanings.

        The Peace Pledge Union states that the white poppy represents a lasting commitment to peace and the belief that war should neither be celebrated nor glamorized. It remembers “all those killed in war,” including civilians and soldiers from all nations, reflecting a broader, more inclusive remembrance. The white poppy thus serves as a symbol of both remembrance and a commitment to peace, opposing the glorification of military conflict.

        Other Poppies:

        • Purple Poppy: Less common, the purple poppy is worn to remember the animals that have died in war, recognizing the non-human lives lost in conflict.
        • Black Poppy: The black poppy honors the contributions of African, Black, and Caribbean communities to various war efforts, acknowledging their often overlooked sacrifices and contributions.

        4. Lotus flower

          the lotus flower as a symbol of peace

          The lotus is a powerful symbol of peace across various spiritual traditions, particularly in Buddhism and Hinduism. In Buddhism, the concept of ‘sunyata,’ or ‘emptiness,’ suggests that all phenomena are interconnected and arise from a web of causes and conditions. The lotus, growing from muddy water, beautifully symbolizes how purity and beauty can emerge from challenging origins, much like humans can rise above suffering towards enlightenment. This imagery underscores the interconnectedness of all life and the potential for spiritual awakening.

          The lotus also embodies compassion, a core value in many spiritual traditions. The pink lotus, in particular, symbolizes love and compassion, representing the journey of overcoming hardship to radiate empathy and kindness. This reflects the idea that our capacity for compassion is shaped by our experiences and efforts to alleviate others’ suffering.

          Read More: Lotus Symbolism and Meaning

          5. Mistletoe

            mistletoe as symbols of peace

            Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that produces small white berries and grows almost exclusively in trees. It attaches itself to host trees to extract water and essential nutrients, often spread through bird droppings. The name “mistletoe” itself is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words: “Mistel,” meaning dung, and “Tan,” meaning stick or branch. Despite its unappealing origin, mistletoe has become a symbol of peace, holiday cheer, and romance.

            Norse mythology also contributed to the mistletoe lore. In one legend, the goddess Frigg’s son, Baldur, was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. Frigg then declared that mistletoe should symbolize love and peace, vowing that it would never again be used as a weapon, but rather a plant under which people kiss.

            The kissing tradition as we know it began in 18th-century England, where mistletoe first became widely used as a Christmas decoration. Initially a custom among the lower classes, it soon spread to all social strata, becoming a universal holiday ritual.

            6. White flag

              the white flag as symbols of peace

              The white flag is a universally recognized symbol for surrender, truce, and peace. This tradition has a long history and serves as a crucial signal in times of conflict.

              The use of the white flag dates back to ancient China and the Roman Empire. Ancient armies and civilizations used white cloths to signify a desire for truce or to surrender. By the Middle Ages, European armies widely adopted the white flag to indicate surrender and to ensure safe passage during negotiations.

              But why white? White is associated with purity and peace in many cultures, making it a suitable color for signaling non-aggression. Most importantly, the color white stands out clearly against most backgrounds, ensuring that the flag’s message of truce or surrender is easily seen and understood.

              The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 formally recognized the white flag as a symbol of surrender and truce. These conventions provided legal protections for individuals carrying the white flag, ensuring they would not be fired upon. In modern conflicts, the white flag continues to be used to indicate a desire to cease hostilities and engage in peaceful negotiations.

              7. Crane

                the crane as a symbol of peace

                In Japan, the crane, or tsuru, is a revered national treasure and is often called the bird of happiness. It symbolizes good luck and longevity, as it is believed to live for 1,000 years. This majestic bird appears frequently in Japanese art, literature, and mythology. According to an ancient legend, folding 1,000 origami cranes grants a wish from the sacred crane.

                In modern times, the crane has also come to symbolize peace, hope, and healing, particularly due to the story of Sadako Sasaki. After being diagnosed with leukemia from radiation exposure following the Hiroshima bombing, 12-year-old Sadako began folding 1,000 cranes in the hope of recovering and promoting world peace. Although she completed only 644 cranes before her death, her classmates folded the remaining cranes in her honor. This story has become a powerful symbol of perseverance and the desire for a better future.

                the Crane statue in Hiroshima

                By redlegsfan21 at Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

                A monument for her was built in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan. It was designed by Kazuo Kikuchi and Kiyoshi Ikebe. Unveiled on May 5, 1958, during the Japanese Children’s Day holiday, the statue features Sadako Sasaki holding a wire crane above her head.

                8. V sign

                V sign as a symbol of peace

                  The V-hand sign originally emerged during World War II. It was popularized by Winston Churchill as a symbol of “victory.” In Dutch, V stood for Vrede (Peace) and Vrijheid (Liberty), while in French it meant Victoire (Victory). Churchill frequently used this gesture, holding up his index and middle fingers in a V shape, to signify victory. This usage spread throughout Allied countries, becoming a symbol of hope and defiance against the enemy.

                  In the 1960s, the V-hand sign was adopted by the counterculture and anti-war movements, especially during the Vietnam War era. It transitioned from a symbol of victory to one of peace, largely driven by the hippie movement. This shift was influenced by the growing discontent with war and the desire for a more peaceful and harmonious world.

                  V hand sign in hippie era as a peace symbol

                  During the hippie era, the V-hand sign became synonymous with peace, love, and anti-establishment sentiments. It was widely used at protests, rallies, and concerts, symbolizing the movement’s core values of nonviolence and unity. The gesture, often accompanied by the phrase “peace and love,” became an iconic representation of the 1960s counterculture.

                  The V-hand sign was popularized by influential figures and artists of the time, including musicians like John Lennon and activists like Martin Luther King Jr. It was a common sight at Woodstock and other music festivals, further cementing its association with the peace movement.

                  The peace sign gained international recognition and continues to be a powerful symbol of nonviolence and harmony. It has been used in various social and political movements worldwide, transcending its original context to represent broader ideals of peace and human rights.

                  Read More: Symbols of Freedom Across Cultures

                  9. Feather

                    the feather as one of the peace symbols

                    The feather is a widely recognized symbol of peace, carrying deep significance across various cultures and traditions. One reason for this association is its connection to birds, particularly doves, which are universally regarded as symbols of peace and tranquility. In many religious and spiritual contexts, birds represent the soul, freedom, and the higher realms. A feather, being a part of a bird, embodies these same qualities, suggesting a sense of harmony, liberation, and the serene qualities of the sky.

                    In Native American cultures, feathers are particularly revered. They are often considered sacred objects that represent a connection to the spirit world and the Creator. Feathers symbolize honor, trust, strength, wisdom, power, and freedom. When used in rituals and ceremonies, they are believed to carry prayers to the Great Spirit and bring messages back from the divine. The gifting of a feather is a profound act, symbolizing respect, peace, and the passing of blessings and good will.

                    10. Mandala

                      the mandala as a symbol of peace

                      A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. The word “mandala” comes from the ancient Sanskrit language, meaning “circle” or “discoid object.” Mandalas have complex structures and patterns, often involving intricate geometric shapes and designs, and they serve as a visual representation of the cosmos and a guide for meditation and spiritual enlightenment.

                      Mandalas are usually created in circular forms, with a central point that symbolizes the essence of existence, surrounded by an array of shapes and patterns that radiate outward in symmetrical designs. The process of designing a mandala can be both intricate and symbolic, involving a variety of geometric shapes, patterns, and symbols that have specific meanings. The four cardinal points—north, south, east, and west—are often incorporated, representing the balance of the universe.

                      Mandalas are great tools for meditation, helping us to achieve a state of inner calm and tranquility. By focusing on the intricate patterns and allowing the mind to enter a meditative state, practitioners can cultivate a sense of inner peace, which can then extend to their interactions with the external world.

                      11. Namaste

                        namaste meaning

                        “Namaste” is a traditional Indian greeting that is widely used in Hindu, Buddhist, and other spiritual practices. The word comes from Sanskrit, where “nama” means “bow,” “as” means “I,” and “te” means “you.” Thus, “Namaste” can be translated to “I bow to you.” It is often accompanied by a slight bow made with the hands pressed together, palms touching, fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called the “Anjali Mudra.”

                        “Namaste” is more than just a greeting; it is a deeply spiritual gesture. It recognizes the divine spark within each of us and acknowledges that the same divine presence resides in everyone. When saying “Namaste,” one is essentially honoring the soul or the divine in another person. This recognition of the divine in others fosters a sense of unity and respect.

                        By recognizing the divine in others, “Namaste” promotes a sense of inner peace and humility. This acknowledgment helps us connect with our own spirituality and fosters a sense of calm and centeredness. The act of bowing and the physical gesture itself are meditative and help in grounding the individual, promoting tranquility.

                        12. Yin-Yang

                          yin yang as a symbol of peace

                          The concept of yin and yang symbolizes peace through the harmonious balance of opposing forces. Yin represents qualities like receptivity, darkness, and yielding, while yang embodies creativity, brightness, and assertiveness. Despite their apparent differences, yin and yang are not seen as total opposites but rather as complementary energies that originate from the same source, the Tao.

                          In Jungian psychology, the “light” aspects of the psyche represent our conscious, socially acceptable qualities, such as kindness, creativity, and confidence. Conversely, the “shadow” aspects encompass the unconscious, darker aspects of ourselves, including repressed emotions, fears, and desires.

                          Similarly, in the yin yang philosophy, yang represents the brighter, more active, and conscious aspects, while yin symbolizes the darker, more passive, and unconscious aspects. Just as individuation involves reconciling the light and shadow aspects of the psyche, understanding yin and yang involves recognizing the interplay and balance between these opposing forces.

                          To achieve peace, both within ourselves and in the external world, it is necessary to reconcile and integrate these polarities. This process entails acknowledging and accepting the shadow aspects of ourselves, rather than repressing or denying them. By embracing the entirety of our being, we can achieve a state of inner harmony and balance.

                          13. Angels

                          angels as a symbol of peace

                          Angels hold significant importance in various cultures and religions throughout history, often symbolizing divine messengers or intermediaries between the spiritual and human realms. Across different belief systems, angels are associated with protection, peace, guidance, and spiritual enlightenment.

                          In Christianity, angels play a central role in conveying messages from God to humanity, as depicted in biblical narratives such as the Annunciation to Mary or the visitation to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. They are often portrayed as beings of light, radiating peace and divine grace. The presence of angels is seen as a source of comfort and reassurance, signifying God’s love and protection.

                          Similarly, in Islam, angels are revered as celestial beings created from light who carry out the divine will of Allah. They are depicted as guardians and guides for believers, accompanying them throughout their spiritual journey. Angels are believed to bring blessings, protection, and peace to those who seek their intercession.

                          In Judaism, angels are regarded as messengers of God who serve various roles, including protecting individuals, delivering divine revelations, and serving as intermediaries in prayer. The concept of angels is deeply rooted in Jewish mysticism, particularly in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, where angels are seen as emanations of divine energy, embodying different aspects of God’s attributes.