Symbolism of the Seven Deadly Sins

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Most people are familiar with the seven deadly sins. Each of the sins has a definition, but there’s also symbolism that is associated with the individual sins. Here’s a look at the history of the seven deadly sins, what they represent, and their relevance today.

History of the Seven Deadly Sins

The seven deadly sins are connected to Christianity, although they aren’t directly mentioned in the Bible. One of the earliest examples of these deadly sins was created by a Christian Monk named Evagrius Ponticus (345-399 AD), but the list he created versus what we now know as the seven deadly sins are different. His list included eight evil thoughts, which included:

  1. Gluttony
  2. Prostitution
  3. Avarice
  4. Sadness
  5. Wrath
  6. Dejection
  7. Boasting
  8. Pride

 In 590 AD, Pope Gregory the First revised the list, and created the more commonly known list of sins. This became the standard list of sins, known as the ‘capital sins’ because they form all the other sins.

The deadly sins are in opposition to living a virtuous life, which is why they do not necessarily need to be related to Christianity or any other faith-based religion.

This list of sins is well-known throughout the world. They have been referenced many times in literature and other forms of entertainment.

Symbolism of Each of the Seven Deadly Sins

The seven deadly sins are represented by seven animals. These are as follows:

  1. Toad – avarice
  2. Snake – envy
  3. Lion – wrath
  4. Snail – sloth
  5. Pig – gluttony
  6. Goat – lust
  7. Peacock – pride
Seven deadly sins

This image showing the seven deadly sins as represented by their corresponding animals, within the human heart.

Each of these sins can be elaborated on as follows:

Envy 

Envy is to covet or want what others have. This symbolizes jealousy, rivalry, hatred, and malice. There are many levels of envy that a person can feel. For example, someone may just wish they were more like another person (i.e., attractive, intellectual, kind) or want what someone has (money, celebrity, friends, and family).

A little bit of envy is natural and can be harmless; however, the more jealousy a person feels, the more serious it can be. This could lead to many negative things that affect society up to harm or self or harm of others.

The color green is often associated with envy, which is why we have the famous phrase “green with envy.”

A lesser-known color that is associated with envy is the color yellow. The negative associations to yellow include jealousy, duplicity, and betrayal.

Gluttony 

The basic definition most people think of associated with gluttony is eating to extreme excess. Although this is typically associated with food, gluttony can refer to anything you do in large quantities. The symbolism related to this sin includes debauchery, self-indulgence, overabundance, and unrestraint.

Someone who overeats, especially decadent or unhealthy food such as chocolate, candy, fried foods, or alcohol, can be viewed as being gluttonous. However, you could also be guilty of gluttony if you allow yourself to indulgence too many pleasurable things or material possessions.

This behavior is especially looked down upon if the person committing this sin is wealthy, and their overindulgence causes others to go without.

Greed 

Greed is an intense, often overpowering, desire for something. Typically, the things people feel greed for include food, money, and power.

Greed is related to envy as many of the same feelings are felt, but the difference is a greedy person has access to everything they want. They are unwilling to share, where an envious person wants what they cannot obtain. Symbolism related to greed includes selfishness, desire, excess, possessive and insatiable.

Greedy people do not care about the health and welfare of other people, only themselves. Whatever they have is never enough. They always want more. Their greed and need for more of everything (material possessions, food, love, power) consumes them. So, although they have much, they are never truly happy or at peace with themselves or their life.

Lust

Lust is an overpowering desire to have something. You may lust after money, sex, power, or material possessions. Lust can be applied to anything a person desires to the point where they can think of nothing else.

Lust is associated with craving, desire, and intense longing. Most people think of sex when they hear the word lust, but plenty of people lust after other things just as much, such as money and power.

Lust can be traced back to the Garden of Eden. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, making those apples all the more tempting. Eve could think of nothing else until she finally plucked an apple from the tree and ate it, along with Adam. Her lust for knowledge and what she could not have overpowered all her other thoughts.

Pride 

Prideful people think very highly of themselves. They have huge egos, and they put themselves up on a pedestal. The symbolism of pride is self-love and arrogance.

Self-love has become a more modernized concept of having self-esteem and believing in oneself. This is not the self-love of pride. Prideful self-love is thinking you are the best at everything, and you can do no wrong.

The difference between these two definitions of self-love is similar to the difference between someone being confident versus someone being cocky.

Someone who is committing this sin has little to no self-awareness. They believe they are the best in everything to the point that they do not recognize anyone or anything else, including the grace of God.

Sloth 

The most common definition of sloth is laziness. It is to not want to work or put any type of effort towards anything. However, as one of the seven deadly sins, sloth can symbolize many different things, including doing nothing, laziness, procrastination, apathy, and being unproductive.

Sloth can also mean relaxation, slow movements, and lack of ambition. Sloth is a deadly sin as people should be productive, ambitious, and hard workers. Everyone needs to relax sometimes, but this mustn’t be someone’s perpetual state of mind.

Wrath 

Wrath is several steps above anger. The symbolism of wrath includes seeing red, vengeance, fury, indignation, retribution, and rage. Everyone gets angry, but wrath is a sin because it is uncontrolled and is almost always a complete and total overresponse to the thing, person, or situation that caused the wrath to occur.

Seven Deadly Sins in Literature and Arts

The seven deadly sins have featured prominently in literature and arts.

Some notable works include Dante’s Purgatorio, which is based on the seven deadly sins, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Parson’s Tale which is a sermon by the parson against the seven deadly sins.

Wrap Up

The seven deadly sins are a common idea in our society and have been for centuries. These sins have become ingrained in our consciousness and are a part of the fabric of society. While there are many other sins committed by humans, these seven are said to be the root of all evil.