Table of Contents
What does “family” mean to you? Family can represent refuge and security, as they’re the people that stay beside us in the toughest of times. For many, family refers to those bound to us by blood ties. For others, the term can also extend to people you love, like close friends who love us unconditionally. Families are diverse and so are the symbols that represent the concept of family. We’ve rounded up the symbols of family that represents family values, love, and unity.
Tree of Life
One of the most universally popular symbols, the tree of life is commonly depicted as a large tree with spreading branches and roots. It holds different concepts in philosophy and spirituality, but many also associate it with family ties.
The tree of life’s spreading branches and roots remind us of our connection to our family, linking us to our past and future generations. Each smaller branch can be traced back to bigger branches which can represent our grandparents. This links to our use the term family tree in relation to our ancestry.
The tree of life represents strength, stability and growth, making it a perfect family symbol. We might experience seasons of darkness and light, but our families inspire us to stay strong and upright.
While there’s no exact symbol for family in Celtic culture, the triquetra is now widely used to represent family love and unity. In Latin, the term triquetra means three-cornered shape, and it’s sometimes used to describe any symbol with three arcs. It’s made up of a continuous line interweaving around itself, which is thought to signify endless love in a familial relationship. After all, a family is embraced by a strong bond that ideally no trials or troubles should breach.
Othala Rune Symbol
Also known as the Odal rune, the Othala rune is a letter from a Germanic writing system that emerged before being replaced by the Latin alphabet. The symbol is associated with family, in terms of heritage, inheritance and ownership. Many also believe it symbolizes the love for one’s home and ancestral blessings.
Unfortunately, the Othala rune has gained negative associations since the Nazis of Germany adopted it as their emblem during World War II. Soon, it was used by other fascist and white supremacist groups in South Africa. For those reasons, it’s now regarded as one of the hate symbols associated with fascism and white nationalism. When interpreting the symbol, it matters to evaluate the context in which it appears.
In Slavic religion, the six-petal rosette is the symbol of Rod, the god of the family, ancestors and fate. His name is derived from the Proto-Slavic word for family, origin or birth. Eventually, he was seen as the guardian of newborns and ancestors, and the rosette became a protection symbol for the home. It’s depicted as a six-petal rose inscribed in a circle, created by seven overlapping circles.
In the early 20th century, the six-petal rosette was commonly engraved on crossbeams of homes and cottages in Ukraine and Poland. It’s thought that the symbol would protect the house against fire and misfortune. It remains a cultural symbol for the people of Galicia, who feature the rosette on their woodwork, household objects and architecture.
Statue of Lar
You might have heard of the Lar familiaris, but more commonly of the plural Lares. In ancient Rome, statues of Lares were placed at the table during family meals to ensure health, prosperity and protection. Lar was the guardian deity who protected families and was commonly depicted holding a rhyton (drinking horn) and a patera (shallow dish).
Originally, each Roman household had only one statuette of Lar. Eventually, lalarium or a small shrine that contained two Lares was built. These household gods were a huge part of family festivals, and were celebrated each month, usually with a portion of a meal, as well as the sacrifice of a lamb. By the 5th century C.E. the family tradition and cult had disappeared.
Many European cultures had deities associated with the hearth, which was the most important part of one’s home. For the ancient Greeks, the hearth was closely associated with Hestia the goddess of the home, family and domestic order. The area around the fireplace was used for sacrificial offerings to their god, as well as a place for the whole family to gather.
In Lithuanian mythology, the hearth was regarded as the residence of Gabija, the spirit of the fire and the protector of the family. There was a tradition of covering the fireplace charcoal with ash, which served as a bed for the spirit.
Dragon and Phoenix
In feng shui, pairing the symbols of the dragon and the phoenix together is believed to promote harmonious marriage. It stemmed from the belief that the dragon represents masculine qualities, while the phoenix signifies feminine qualities. When depicted together, they became a symbol of matrimonial love and family. It’s a common tradition in China among newlyweds to hang the symbol at their home, in hopes of attracting happiness and good fortune.
In Akan culture, the Abusua pa is the symbol for family unity, clan loyalty, and kinship ties. It’s said to be a pictograph symbol that depicts four people gathered around a table. The phrase literally translates as good family, associating it with the strong and loving bond shared by family members.
In the Ghanaian society, art making is a family tradition, and it’s also a common practice to wear clothes that bear symbolic meanings. The Abusua pa is just one of the Adinkra symbols that are commonly featured on their clothing, architecture, artworks and pottery.
The Family Circle
In Native American culture, family and tribe are the focus of one’s life. Since the circle has no starting or ending point of separation, it’s commonly incorporated into their symbols for signifying familial relationships that can’t be broken. Symbols that are depicted inside the circle represent that concept that they’re interconnected as individuals. The family circle symbol represents familial ties and closeness. It’s depicted as a circle surrounding a family pictograph, showing a figure of man, woman and children.
A Native American symbol of protection and family, the protection circle features two arrows pointing towards a dot, enclosed inside a circle. It has the similar meaning of family ties and closeness, but it’s more associated with protection. It likely stemmed from the symbolism of arrows, which served as the weapon and main form of defense for the Native Americans. The dot on the center represents life, while the outer circle symbolizes an unbreakable, eternal bond.
Coat of Arms
During the mid-12th century, coat of arms was used by kings, princes, knights and nobles throughout Europe for the practical purpose of identification. The symbols and color schemes of each coat of arms could tell a lot about one’s achievements and status in society. Coats of arms are significant because they’re inheritable and serve as identifiers of specific lineages and individuals.
However, there’s no such thing as a coat of arms for a family name. Contrary to popular belief, it’s only granted to individuals and their descendants. Tradition dictates that the coat of arms is held by one member of the family and passed from father to son down the male line.
While the oldest son would often inherit the coat of arms from his father without any changes to the design, other members of the family often added symbols to make theirs unique. When a woman married, the coat of arms of her family will be added to her husband’s coat of arms.
The Japanese version of coat of arms is called mon, monsho, or kamon. Compared to its European counterpart, monsho represents the house and the family, so parents and siblings use the same monsho. The symbol served as an icon of the family, especially during the era when many people couldn’t read.
During the late Heian period, aristocrats used monsho to distinguish family origins, wearing it on their clothes and carriages. By the 12th century, samurai incorporated the symbol to their flags, armors and swords so that they could be identified on the battlefield. By the Meiji period, commoners were also allowed to use their own monsho.
The most common motifs used on the design are plants, animals, and religious symbols, which also contribute to the meaning of each monsho. While monsho’s are rarely used in daily life, it remains a tradition and commonly featured during ceremonial occasions like wedding and funeral.
The meaning of family has changed over the years. Today, family means more than blood. Regardless of how you choose to define your family unit, these symbols remain relevant as a representation of family values and relationships.