The Meaning Behind Symbols and Heraldry



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The Meaning Behind Symbols and Heraldry
*Please note that the following descriptions and meanings are gleaned from a variety of sources, some of which disagree on those meanings. The most commonly accepted meanings are given, but scholars vary in their opinion concerning the reliability of any “commonly held” historic meanings of coats of arms and crests.
Even colors can have a special meaning in a family crest or coat of arms:


Gold (Or)

Generosity and elevations of the mind

Silver or White (Argent)

Peace and sincerity

Red (Gules)

Warrior or martyr, military strength and magnanimity

Blue (Azure)

Truth and loyalty

Green (Vert)

Hope, joy, and loyalty in love

Black (Sable)

Constancy or grief

Purple (Purpure)

Royal majesty, sovereignty, and justice

Orange (Tawny or Tenne)

Worthy ambition

Maroon (Sanguine or Murray)

Patient in battle, and yet victorious

The following are some of the more common heraldic symbols and their meanings as suggested by some historians:




Acacia Branch or… Leaves

Eternal and affectionate remembrance

Acorn

Antiquity and strength

Agricultural tools

Laboring in the earth and depending upon providence; see also Scythe and Sickle

Anchor

Hope; religious steadfastness

Angel

Dignity, glory, and honor; missionary; bearer of joyful news

Annulet

Fidelity

Ant

Great labor, wisdom, and providence in one’s affairs

Antelope

A mythical animal with the body of a stag, the tail of a unicorn, and a tusk at the tip of the nose

Antlers

Strength and fortitude

Anvil

Honor; emblem of the smith’s trade

Apple

Liberality, felicity, and peace

Arm in armour

A person with qualities of leadership

Arm, naked

An industrious person

Arrow

Readiness for battle

Donkey

Patience and humility

Axe

Execution of military duty

Baguette (gem ring)

Fidelity

Banners

Refers to special action in which the bearer was captured, or a reward for valiant service

Baton

Token of authority

Battle axe

Execution of military duty

Bay leaves

Poet of victor’s laurel

Beacon

One who is watchful, who gave the signal in time of danger

Bear

Strength, cunning, ferocity in the protection of one’s kindred

Beaver

Industry and perseverance

Bee

Efficient industry

Bells

Power to disperse evil spirits; a hawk’s bells denotes one who was not afraid of signaling his approach in peace or war

Berries

Liberality, felicity, and peace

Boar

Bravery; fights to the death

Boar’s head

Hospitality

Bones

Mortality

Book

If open, manifestation; if closed, counsel

Bow

Readiness for battle

Bow and arrow

War, power, ability to hit a target

Bridge

Governor or magistrate

Buck

One who will not fight unless provoked; peace and harmony

Buckle

Victorious fidelity in authority

Bull/Buffalo

Valor, bravery, generosity

Camel

Docility, patience, an perseverance

Carnation

Admiration

Carpenter’s square

Conforming one’s actions to the laws of right and equity

Castle

Safety

Cat

Liberty, vigilance, forecast, and courage

Centaur

Eminence in the field of battle

Chains

The chain of obligation or obliged others because of services done

Cherub

Dignity, glory, and honor; missionary; bearer of joyful news

Claw of a bird

Note the preyer that has been preyed upon

Clouds

Mystery, obscured truth

Cock

Courage and perseverance; hero; able man in politics

Cross

Faith; service in the Crusades

Cross (Celtic)

Unity of heaven and earth

Cross

Good omen; Christianity

Crow

Strategist in battle; watchful for friends; divine providence

Crown

Royal or seigniorial authority

Crown of thorns

Adversity

Cup

Office of the king’s butler

Cushions

Authority

Dagger or dart

Justice and military honor

Deer

One who will not fight unless provoked; peace and harmony

Dog

Courage, vigilance, and loyalty

Dragon

Valiant defender of treasure; valor and protection

Drum

Ready for war

Dove

Loving constancy and peace; the Holy Sprit; with an olive branch in its bill, it signifies a harbinger of good tidings

Duck

Person of many resources

Eagle

Person of noble nature, strength, bravery, and alertness

Elephant

Great strength, wit, longevity, happiness

Falcon

One who does not rest until objective achieved

Feathers

Sign of obedience and serenity

Fife

Ready for war

Fire

Zealousness

Fish

A true, generous mind; virtuous for himself

Flowers

Hope and joy

Fountain

Usually a roundel, crossed with wavy bars of blue and white; represents water, a spring

Fox

One who will use all that he/she may possess of wisdom and wit in his/her own defense

Fruit

Felicity and peace

Goat

One who wins through politics rather than war

Goose

Resourcefulness

Grapes

Liberality, felicity, and peace; also, association with wine-making

Grasshopper

Noble and home-bred

Greyhound

Courage, vigilance, and loyalty

Hand, red

Mark of a baronet

Harp

Well-composed person of tempered judgment

Head (human)

Honor; if the head of a “blackamoor” or Moor, refers to deeds of prowess in the Crusades

Heart, Flaming

Intense, burning affection

Heart, human

Charity and sincerity

Holly

Truth

Horns

Strength and fortitude

Horse

Readiness for all employments for king and country

Horseshoes

Good luck and safeguard against evil spirits

Hourglass

Flight of time; mortality

Keys

Guardianship and dominion

Ladder

One who is fearless in attacking

Lamb

Gentleness and patience under suffering

Lamp (candle)

Light, life, and spirituality

Laurel Leaves

Peace and/or triumph

Leg

Strength, stability, and expedition

Leopard

Valiant and hardy warrior who enterprises hazardous things by force and courage

Lightning Bolt

Swiftness and power

Lily

Purity

Lion

Dauntless courage

Marigold

Devotion and piety

Mastiff

Courage, vigilance, and loyalty

Matches

Possible reference to one who has dared the terror of such a weapon in battle

Mermaid

Eloquence

Moon

Serene power over mundane actions

Mulberries

Liberality, felicity, and peace

Mule

Often borne by abbots and abbesses who have pastoral jurisdiction, but not real jurisdiction

Oak tree, leaves, bush

Great age and strength

Oak tree/ bush with acorns

Continuous growth and fertility

Olive branch

Peace and concordance

Ostrich

Willing obedience and serenity

Otter

One who lives life to the fullest

Owl

One who is vigilant and of acute wit

Ox

Valor and generosity

Palm branch

Victory, justice, and royal honor

Palm tree

Righteousness and resurrection; victory

Panther

Fierce, but tender and loving to children and will defend her children with her life

Parchment/ scroll/ diploma

Possible reference to academic or scholarly achievement

Peacock

Beauty, power, and knowledge

Pears

Felicity and peace

Pegasus

Poetic genius and inspiration; messenger of God

Pelican

Self-sacrifice and charitable nature

Pen

Art of writing and educated employment

Periwinkle

Hope and joy

Pheasant

Person of many resources

Phoenix

Symbol of resurrection

Pig

Fertility

Pine

Death and eternal life thereafter

Pomegranate

Fertility and abundance

Poppy

Hope and joy

Rabbit

One who enjoys a peaceful and retired life

Rainbow

Good times after bad

Ram

Authority

Rat

Unknown

Raven

Divine providence

Rhinoceros

Ferocious when aroused

Rock

Safety and protection; refuge

Rose

Mark of the seventh son

Red rose

Grace and beauty

White rose

Love and faith

Salamander

Protection

Sea horse

Power of the water

Seal/ Sea lion

Dauntless courage at sea

Seraphim

Dignity, glory, and honor; missionary; bearer of joyful news

Serpent

Wisdom

Shamrock

Perpetuity; floral device of Ireland; also see trefoil

Ship

Ancient sea voyages

Ship/ dismasted

Disaster at sea

Skull

Mortality

Snail

Deliberation and perseverance

Snake

Wisdom

Sphinx

Omniscience and secrecy

Spider

Wisdom, labor, and prudence

Square symbols

Constancy

Squirrel

Lover of the woods

Stag

One who will not fight unless provoked; peace and harmony

Star

Celestial goodness; noble person

Stool

Hospitality

Stork

Filial duty, close parental bond

Sun

Glory and splendor; fountain of life

Swallow

One who is prompt and ready in doing business; also bringer of good news

Swan

Poetic harmony and learning, or lover thereof; light, love, grace, sincerity, and perfection

Sword/dagger/dart

Justice and military honor

Table

Hospitality

Tiger

Fierceness and valor; resentment; dangerous if aroused

Torch

Life; zealousness; engaging in signal service; truth and intelligence

Tortoise

Invulnerability to attack

Tower

Safety and grandeur

Tree trunk

New life sprouting from old

Tree

Life and the mystical connection of the earth with the heaven and the underworld

Unicorn

Extreme courage; virtue and strength

Vine

Strong and lasting friendship

Wheat garb or sheaf

The harvest of one’s hopes has been secured

Wheel

Fortune; cycle of life

Wings

Swiftness and protection

Wolf

Reward from perseverance in long sieges and/or hard industry

Wreath of laurel leaves

Triumph

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