All creatures have their own unique spiritual meaning and birds are commonly seen as messengers from the Divine in many cultures. White Doves in particular are seen as special throughout many traditions.
From Judeo-Christian references to White Doves in the Bible to spiritual practices around the world, White Doves hold powerful lore and symbolic meaning. It’s common to think of Doves as harbingers of love and marriage. Yet these majestic birds are also associated with Death.
White Doves and the Soul
In many cultures, the color white is associated with purity, beginnings and healing. White Doves in particular are said to be symbolic of the soul or spirit. This is because of a combination of their white color and their ability to occupy the skies, the terrain of Spirit.
Thus the White Doves are seen by cultures around the world to be symbolic of spiritual travel between Earth and the Heavens. In Christianity, John the Baptist describes the descent of a White Dove from Heaven during Christ’s baptism. This was said to add to the purity and affirm the holiness of the moment.
Some believe the White Dove to be emblematic of the Holy Spirit and therefore a constant reminder of the essence that connects humanity to God. So strong is the connection between the White Dove and purity, that Alchemists believe a White Dove flies down from Heaven to carry a wafer to a sacred well, ensuring the transition of purification of substances. This was compared to the process of purifying one’s own spiritual essence.
White Doves are therefore symbolic of transitions and of the most significant transition anyone can make, the journey from physical life to death and spiritual rebirth. This process itself is also considered a phase in which the soul is purified and refined, in preparation for what lies in the hereafter.
White Doves and Transitions- Weddings and Deaths
Doves are commonly thought of as part of ancient and modern wedding ceremonies. A release of White Doves at the culmination of a wedding is a symbol of undying love for the newlywed couple in the future. Love, innocence, freedom, peace and serenity as well as good fortune and nurturing are all associated with the Dove.
Yet while weddings are considered happy milestones, they are still major transitions and are on the same long spectrum as death. In marriage, the individual experiences a symbolic rebirth as part of a bonded partnership, releasing their past carefree, independent life.
The sacrifice of the self on behalf of the union to a partner, and Dove’s involvement is also reminiscent of other ceremonies in which Dove played a role. In ancient times, White Doves were sometimes used as sacrifices to the Gods in place of a human.
Thus the connection between White Doves and death and the symbolism of rebirth and the continuation of life is established. Some believe that White Doves carry the souls of individuals to the afterlife.
The connection between life, death and rebirth is evident in Ancient Greek culture as the symbol for Alpha and Omega came to be synonymous with the Greek word for Dove. Thus White Dove has had a long history of association with new beginning, death and eternal life.
Also, some cultures believe the reverse is also true. Such as the stories from the Bible, some believe that the White Dove carries not only the Holy Spirit but other spirits as well, who can then commune more easily with people in this guise.
White Doves and Ancestral Spirits
Some believe that White Doves are the incarnations of Ancestral Spirits or at the very least, messengers from Ancestors in the Afterlife. In Slavic lore, White Doves are said to carry the souls of the dead to Heaven.
Thus the symbolism of White Dove as intermediary between the Earthly realm and the Spirit realm is vast and spans many cultures. Whether you believe that a White Dove is literally the incarnation of an Ancestor or the vehicle by which your Ancestor’s Soul is transported, this bird plays an important role.
Others believe that encountering a White Dove is more purely symbolic of a message from your Ancestor or loved one. For example, if you see a White Dove outside your window at the time you hear of a loved one’s passing, the White Dove can be seen as a symbol of your Ancestor’s soul still connected to you.
In this regard, it is not so much the belief that the bird is literally embodying the soul of your departed loved one, but that the White Dove is bringing a reminder of the connection you have through their synchronistic presence at that moment.
Some believe that seeing a White Dove also portends the loss of a spouse or partner or that messages from a deceased spouse or partner may arise through encountering a Dove. The same should be considered true of dreams in which a White Dove appears.
White Doves and Martyrs
Perhaps a White Dove’s association with peace and harmony comes in part from the lore associating White Doves with the souls of martyrs. This belief stems back to ancient Egypt but also influenced the Greeks and early Christians. Dove’s association with Christ can also symbolize this connection between sacrifice, martyrdom and Divinity.
Martyrdom can be seen as an extreme act often considered to have negative connotations. Yet the symbolism that connects Dove to death and rebirth features martyrdom as a divine sacrifice made to bring about a fresh start.
In this regard, White Dove can be associated with benevolent sacrifice that nurtures new life. Death of the old so something new may be reborn. Thus the beauty and innocence associated with the White Dove is also a reminder that stripping away the mortal life can free one to return to the Spirit world and also embark on a new beginning.
White Doves and Purity
White Doves are associated with purity and this may also connect to the idea of one making a personal sacrifice, as in war, to create peace or progress. It is currently common to see the White Dove used as a symbol of peace, often accompanied by symbolism such as an olive branch.
This can relate to the story of Noah as well. It is said that as the flood was subsiding, a White Dove appeared to Noah with an olive branch in it’s mouth as a peace offering and guarantee that Noah and those he rescued would be safe.
Thus the connection with Dove and death, in this case, a massive crisis which symbolically wiped the world clear through a mass extinction, is also thought of as a chance to bring peace, reconciliation and to start anew.