Since ancient times, people have created art, jewelry, and even tattoos featuring powerful symbols of love.
Symbols of love have served as powerful reminders of the importance of love to people in a wide variety of cultures around the world.
There are many reasons people are attracted to symbols that represent love. “The most significant reason,” explains psychotherapist Joan E. Childs, “is that symbols can be seen in place of words that cannot always be spoken or heard. Symbols are explicit when words are not always available or needed.”
From the Celtic Sailor’s Knot dating back to at least the 8th century to modern-day love emojis, symbols of love allow people to communicate fidelity and affection in ways that transcend written and spoken language.
Historically, people used these love symbols to show their commitment in the form of art, gifts, tattoos, home decorations, a talisman to ward off demons and evil spirits, or even painted or carved onto surfaces.
Today, these love symbols can be used to tell someone how you feel, encourage love to come to you, or remind yourself of what is truly important.
Whether you’re creating art, studying art history, or even just looking for small but meaningful tattoo ideas, let these love symbols from around the world serve as inspiration.
25 Symbols of Love & Their Meanings
Image: de:Benutzer:Momo / Wikimedia Commons
The Claddagh ring from Ireland dates back to the 17th century. It features two hands holding a heart that bears a crown on top of it. The two hands wrapped around the heart represent friendship, the heart itself represents love, and the crown represents faithfulness and loyalty.
While no one knows the exact origin of the symbol on the Claddagh ring, one legend says that a young man was enslaved and forced to work for a blacksmith. He stole tiny bits of metal and over time was able to fashion the very first Claddagh ring in secret. When he was freed, the legend says he returned to Ireland and gave the ring to the young woman he loved.
To this day, young people often give a Claddagh ring when they fall in love, and sometimes they even serve as wedding rings. The heart in the ring symbolizes unconditional love, and the ring itself represents eternal love.
The direction in which the ring faces and the hand on which it is worn convey the wearer’s relationship status.
If you are single: The ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing outward.
If you are in a relationship: The ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing inward.
If you are engaged: The ring is worn on the left hand with the heart facing outward.
If you are married: The ring is worn on the left hand with the heart facing inward.
2. Zhiva (or Živa)
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Zhiva is a goddess featured in Slavic mythology who represents fertility, love, and marriage. Slavic history dates back as far as Roman history does, yet is often forgotten. This makes the symbol of Zhiva particularly special, as it is quite unique outside of Eastern Europe.
Image: Andrew Butko / Wikimedia Commons
The shell is known as a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love; the goddess of love is Aphrodite in Greek mythology.
Shells are also tied to the St. James Pilgrimage. Legend has it that a young man, either engaged or recently married, fell off a ship carrying the body of St. James, but was saved by a miracle, emerging from the sea covered in scallop shells.
Image: William Gibb / Wikimedia Commons
What is a symbol of love and commitment? The harp symbolizes not only love and commitment, but shows love and beauty in both its construction and the lovely music it produces.
Like the shell, the use of the harp as a symbol of love has many origins. Celtic culture saw a harp as a bridge of love connecting heaven and earth. King David is said to have played beautiful music on the harp as a way of showing his love for God.
5. Celtic Knots
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Celtic history and design tend to refer to people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. In Europe, though, the history of the Celts goes back even further. Celtic knot designs can be seen all over Europe and in many forms, including on crosses and in jewelry.
Interlaced or woven designs like the Celtic knot date back to the Roman empire, and are seen often throughout Christian art history.
Image: Nyo / Wikimedia Commons
Mjölnir is the Norse hammer often associated with Thor and is a symbol of strength. But throughout Norse mythology, Mjölnir symbolized much more.
Thor not only used this hammer to protect people, but it’s also said that he used Mjölnir to bless couples with fertility. This led to its status as a powerful symbol of protection for couples and their families.
7. Three Leaf Clover
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We often think of the four-leaf clover as a symbol of luck from the Irish. But in the Irish culture, a three-leaf clover is even more important. It’s even the national symbol of Ireland! The plant’s three leaves symbolize love, hope, and faith.
8. Osram Ne Nsoromma
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The Bono Andikra symbol, represented by a moon and a star, is said to represent love, bonding, and faithfulness in marriage. What could be more romantic than that?
Image: Andrea Grossman / Wikimedia Commons
Most people recognize this ancient Egyptian symbol as a representation of life, but there is another element symbolized by the Ankh, and that is fertility.
Some even say that the Ankh’s symbolism of life is due to the fact that it represents a woman’s uterus. Over time, an association with fertility also led the Ankh to become a powerful symbol of love.
Image: Sailko / Wikimedia Commons
Cupid is seen as a love symbol because, in Roman mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus and Mars, making him the god of love. Cupid is often seen with a bow and arrow, which he uses to shoot through a person’s heart, causing them to fall in love with the first person they see.
Cupid is sometimes represented in art blindfolded, which represents love’s blindness. In Greek mythology, Cupid was the son of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, and named Eros.
11. Lotus (Padme)
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The lotus flower, also known as Padme, is one of the eight important symbols of Buddhism. Because the beauty of these flowers stands out in contrast to the muddy waters in which they bloom, they represent purity, potential, spiritual awakening, and faithfulness.
Like roses, lotus flowers of different colors are associated with different meanings. The red lotus represents passion and love, and has thus become a global symbol of love.
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Xochitl (sow-cheel) means flower and is associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of youth, love, and beauty on the Aztec calendar.
According to lore, Xochitl was a queen and/or daughter of an emperor of the Toltec Civilization of pre-Columbian Mexico, who enlisted a battalion of fellow women as soldiers and went to war, where she died on the battlefield.
Today, some see her symbol as a representation of love and feminine power.
Image: Einar Einarsson Kvaran / Wikimedia Commons
Kokopelli is an ancient symbol of the Ancestral Puebloans, often associated with Anasazi or Hopi Indians of the Southwestern United States. Kokopelli symbolizes fertility, and is said to carry the unborn children of the Hopi people on their back.
This symbol dates back to at least 750-850 AD, based upon the first representation of pottery. Like many symbols or goddesses of fertility, Kokopelli also has come to symbolize love, particularly love for one’s family.
14. Heart Chakra
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Chakras, from the Sanskrit word for wheel, are the 88,000 energy centers in the human body.
“The chakras are energy wheels up and down the length of the spine that are vibrating, spinning, and literally swirling with vital life force energy,” explains certified divine feminine educator Anna Thea. “They are areas in the spine where subtle energy pathways intersect and create vortexes of energy.”
“Anahata” in Sanskrit is considered the center of balance, calmness, and serenity and is represented by a lotus flower with twelve petals, inside which “there is a smoky region at the intersection of two triangles, creating a Shatkona. The Shatkona is a symbol used in Hindu Yantra, representing the union of male and female.”
15. The Lovers Tarot Card
Tarot cards are a form of fortune-telling dating back to 15th century Italy. The Lovers Tarot card represents relationships — to be specific, choices in relationships.
The meaning of the Lovers Tarot card in a spread varies depending on whether it appears upright or reversed. If upright, the Lovers represent balance, learning, and harmony; reversed, the Lovers represent dysfunction, trust issues, conflict, disconnection, and a lack of accountability.
16. Hex Signs
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Hex signs are a form of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art using geometric shapes and other colorful signs and symbols inside of circles to represent different meanings.
Several hex signs include hearts, but it is important to note that in Pennsylvania Dutch and Dutch Reformer symbology, the heart doesn’t always represent romantic love; instead, it’s symbolic of a loving relationship with God.
The double-headed eagle hex sign, said to symbolize strength and courage, features a heart laced in wavy or lacy fabric. This particular type of lacing symbolizes love in marriage and a lifetime bond.
17. The Jewish Heart
Image: The Jewish Heart Pendant / Inner.org
As far as symbols of love go, this one is special because it was very purposefully created to represent love. The mystical heart is formed by two lameds (the Hebrew letter equivalent to the letter L in English) facing one another to symbolize how love grows and thrives.
Sarah Esther Crispe explains that “the lamed also means two things simultaneously. It means both ‘to learn’ and ‘to teach,’ which shows us that the two are intertwined and both are essential.”
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Swans are symbols of love — not only because their long, cute necks often bend together to create a heart, but also because they are known to pair-bond for life, which is rare in the animal kingdom.
On top of that, swans are protective creatures that will defend their mate and offspring in vicious ways. Because of all these romantic traits, the image of a pair of swans has become a beautiful symbol of devotion and love.
19. Love Birds and Doves
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What is the animal that symbolizes love? Doves — the white birds that look like a colorless pigeon — are often associated with peace, but they also symbolize love. There are many reasons for this, but one is that it’s considered a symbol of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
In addition, doves are often called love birds (although true Love Birds are actually a species of small, adorable parrot that snuggle and nuzzle their mates) because they are said to mate for life.
In truth, not all doves mate for life — apparently some only mate for one breeding season. But when they do mate, they are monogamous, which is also rare in the animal kingdom. Mourning doves, the smaller, soft-grey cooing version of the larger white “peace dove,” do typically mate for life, making them a sweet symbol.
20. Two Butterflies Flying Together
Image: Thomas Quine / Wikimedia Commons
It’s said that in China, the butterfly symbolizes a long life. If you see two butterflies flying together, it’s a symbol of ideal, long-lasting love.
21. Maple Leaf
Image: Malene Thyssen / Wikimedia Commons
Maple leaves are symbols of love in a few different cultures, leading them to be used in art across the globe, in different cultures, and for generations throughout history. In some Asian cultures, including Japan and China, the maple leaf symbolizes the sweetness and wonder of love.
According to folklore, North American settlers used to leave maple leaves at the foot of their beds to ward off demons and to encourage sexual pleasure and sleep. The fact that the stork, who brings babies, also weaves maple branches into its nest, may also be a factor in how the maple leaf became a symbol of love.
Image: Abhijit Tembhekar / Wikimedia Commons
Because of the apple’s role in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, they are often associated with temptation and “forbidden fruit.” For this reason, apples often symbolize passion, sensual pleasure, and forbidden desire.
But the apple as a symbol also relates to many of the goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology.
According to Greek mythology, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena all claimed a golden apple thrown by Eris. Paris of Troy was to determine who would get the apple, but was tempted by all three goddesses. As the story goes, Athena tempted Paris with Helen of Sparta, thus causing the Trojan War indirectly.
23. Red Rose
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We all know that red roses are the most desired flower on Valentine’s Day, but the tradition of the red rose to be a symbol of romantic love dates all the way back to ancient Greece, where the rose represented Aphrodite.
Giving red roses as a show of love was popularized in the early 1700s when King Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the language of flowers, or floriography, to Europe.
“For the next century or so,” notes writer Monica Green, “most Victorian homes contained floral dictionaries, which listed the symbolic meanings of different flowers people used to convey a wide variety of hidden messages to one another.”
Roses of different colors are associated with different meanings, with red roses being noted as a symbol of romantic love.
Image: Hannah Chandler / Wikimedia Commons
What is the best symbol for love? The simple outline of the shape of a heart is probably the most common, at least in Western cultures, and is considered the universal symbol for love.
It is assumed that the simple heart symbol evolved from the shape of an actual human heart, but without all the blood and veins. According to feminist author and historian Marilyn Yalom, we associate love with the human heart because, throughout history, people have associated the sensation of love with a feeling in the chest and an action of the heart.
In particular, we think of the heart beating harder, faster, and even louder when we are aroused.
“In 1344, the first known image of the indubitable heart icon with two lobes and a point appeared. It made its debut in a manuscript titled The Romance of Alexander… [In an illustration in the book] a woman raises a heart that she has presumably received from the man facing her. She accepts the gift, while he touches his breast to indicate the place from which it has come. From this moment on, there was an explosion of heart imagery, particularly in France,” Yalom says.
25. Eternal Love Knot
mage: AnonMoos / Wikimedia CommonsI
What symbolizes everlasting love? While the history of the Celtic knot has little to do with romance, the Celtic eternal love knot has an endless or infinite nature because the weave symbolizes everlasting love.
There aren’t too many other common Celtic love knots; however, some others that might represent love are the Bowen knot, Solomon’s knot, and the Sailor’s knot.
Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Esquire, Vox, and more. She has a degree in gender studies from UCLA and is raising three very busy kids while working from home. Follow her on Twitter for more.