Symbols of death assist in coping with loss and moving on. They are generally religious, ancient, or dark symbols that represent one of two aspects of dying.
The first is the mourning and sadness that goes along with death. The other is the acceptance of a new life beyond life on earth.
Sometimes, one symbol represents both of these viewpoints on death. The best symbol of death to help you cope with loss or the potential of death is the one that makes you feel calm and accepting of what the future holds, even if it looks different than what you first presumed.
What is the Meaning of Death?
Death means an irreversible end to all functions. Though typically a word to describe the end of life for a living being, it has a deeper meaning.
It could mean the end of something harmful, such as cancer or an infectious disease. Or even something as simple as the death of a bad habit. The one thing that all meanings of death have in common is that unless there is supernatural intervention, there is no coming back from it.
Which Color Symbolizes Death?
Black is the color of death. Though it can represent the sin and darkness associated with death, in many cultures, it is a color of mourning meant for those the dead leave behind.
The popularity of black in fashion regarding death was popularized by Queen Victoria. She wore jet-black jewelry after the death of her husband, Albert.
Flowers That Symbolize Death
- Poppy – fields of these flowers grew over the remains of soldiers who died in World Wars.
- Chrysanthemum – a popular funeral flower in America and Europe that can survive the harsh winters
- Hyacinth – a flower that is named after the Greek god of Hyacinthus, who is killed by Apollo and from Hyancithus’ carcass the Hyacinth flower is born
Animal Death Symbols
- Owl – a bird that represents death and wisdom. Though in some cultures, it’s a positive sign, in Welsh and Aztec cultures, it’s a bad omen.
- Butterfly – an insect said to be born from an old life into a new one, some believing that the caterpillar dies so the butterfly may live
- Spider – a symbol of death in ancient worlds, seen as a harbinger that traps souls near death
- White Horse – signifies death and difficulties in the US. Folklore suggests that glancing at one ensures difficulties and even death ahead.
- Vultures – they circle the dead and feed off of carcasses.
- Raven – a symbol of death in most cultures, often connected to witches and the occult
16 Symbols of Death
American Symbols of Death
1. La Catrina – Mexican
La Catrina is a symbol of death in Mexico. She is a skeleton that wears grand clothing that guards those who have died. She reminds people that once you die, it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are because we all die eventually.
2. Skull and Bones – Aztec
The skull and bones symbol represents death all over the world. But the tales began in Aztec culture as it was a common symbol carved into tombs.
3. Flag at Half-Mast – United States
In the United States, flags are flown at half-mast to honor a recent life taken. It shows that someone important, usually that made a difference in the political world, has died.
Ancient Symbols of Death
4. Hawkmoth – Celtic
The Celtic moth contains a picture of a skull of death on its back. It is a symbol of death also called Death’s Head, thought to cause blindness and eventual death in many cultures after it spread from Ireland.
5. Thanatos – Greek
Thanatos is a Greek god of death. He was the twin brother of Hypnos and was hated by the world. He was the original Grim Reaper, taking the living to their deaths when it was their time. Though he was hated, he did not want others to suffer but instead took them in peace.
6. Mummy – Egypt
Mummies signify an important death. Egyptians were wrapped and preserved after dying to maintain the blessings they would receive in the afterlife. Disturbing these resting places was strictly prohibited.
7. Banshee – Irish
The Banshee is a creature with an eye-piercing scream. She is a harbinger of death with anyone who hears her being susceptible to death in the near future.
8. Gravestone – Many
The gravestone is a symbol of death all over the world. It has signified death for thousands of years, with markers still standing from the 1600s, when they were built to last.
9. Rivers – Greek
Rivers of Styx and Acheron are said to help souls reach the afterlife in Greek mythology. The river is also a place that was once used in funerals to physically transport bodies to commemorate the spiritual transition.
Miscellaneous Symbols of Death
10. Owuo Atwedee – Africa
Owuo Atwedee is an Asante symbol from West Africa. It represents a ladder that helps the dead reach the next realm. It is a common symbol for funeral clothing.
11. Coffin – Universal
One of the most universal symbols of death is the coffin. It is what most of the world will be buried in when they die. No matter how fancy the coffin, it is buried in the ground to become one with the earth.
12. Grim Reaper – Europe
The tale of the Grim Reaper as the god of death has been around since the Middle Ages. After the Black Death, it was said that he was the one responsible for all of the deaths.
13. Hourglass – Europe
An hourglass is a symbol of death and time. It represents the fragility of life and how no one’s current life is immortal. One must appreciate each drop of sand they are given.
Religious Symbols of Death
14. Citipati – Buddhist
Citipati is a symbol of death and protection. It is a depiction of a couple of skeletons dancing in eternity. They have a job that requires them to protect the dead, capturing thieves and graverobbers.
15. Kali – Hindu
Kali is one of the ten Mahavidyas in the Hindu culture. She is the goddess of time, change, and death. Her depiction with blue skin and intense facial features represents all that she has power over.
16. Angels – Christian
Though understood and praised in the secular world as well, angels as harbingers of death began in the Christian religion. They are said to be God’s soldiers who protect the living and escort the dead.