12 Symbols That Represent Freedom (And Their Origins)

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Freedom is one thing that humanity has strived to achieve since the beginning of time. It has influenced our decisions, our actions, and our way of life. However, the concept of freedom differs from one person to another, from race to race, and even from one religion to the next.

Hence, symbols of freedom vary depending on which context it is being used in and the kind of oppressor it is being used against. In this article, we’ve outlined the most popular symbols of freedom and how they came to be. Let’s get started.

List of freedom symbols

Bird in Flight

Bird necklace symbol of freedom
Bird in flight a symbol of freedom. See this necklace here.

Birds can fly naturally, whereas humans can’t. As such, birds represent a natural ability to escape. A flying bird is a universal symbol for freedom because it represents the ability of birds to take to the skies whenever necessary, to escape and be free. In the same way, a bird in a cage is a symbol of one’s freedom taken away from you. The very phrase bird in a cage represents the lack of true freedom.

However, not all birds can be used as symbols of freedom.

  • A dove is a common bird used to depict freedom, but it can also symbolize peace, purity, and hope.
  • For Americans, the bird used to depict freedom is the Bald Eagle. But this bird is associated with a multitude of other concepts, including strength, courage, and leadership.
  • Meanwhile, ravens, vultures, and owls are rarely used to depict freedom. Ravens and vultures are known to represent ill omens. An owl, on the other hand, symbolizes wisdom but its cry is also associated with forthcoming misfortune.

Wings

Just like flying birds, a wing is a common symbolism for freedom because it represents being able to leave and literally take flight when things go awry. It is also the part of the bird’s body that allows them to fly. Therefore, if something happens to a bird’s wing, it surely loses its freedom. The phrase to clip one’s wings means to lose or restrain one’s freedom and independence, originating from the ancient Roman practice of clipping bird’s wings to keep them from flying away.

Open or Broken Birdcage

Another bird-related symbol of freedom, birdcages often depict the loss of freedom or something that restricts movement and life. This is because they’re meant to imprison birds, which are amongst nature’s freest creatures. An open or broken birdcage symbolizes being able to claim one’s freedom and to escape oppression.

Statue of Liberty

As its name suggests, the Statue of Liberty, standing in Upper New York Bay, represents freedom, not just for Americans but for anyone hoping to live a better life by coming to the States. The Statue of Liberty was first conceived as a symbol of friendship between France and the United States, but its meaning has progressed to something more than just that. With the mounting of the 1883 poem written by Emma Lazarus on the Statue’s pedestal entitled ‘The Colossus’, it served as a symbol of freedom to immigrants who chose to make America their home.

Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is the oldest known symbol of freedom in America after having been created for the Independence Hall in 1752, which was then the Pennsylvania State House. The bell became a symbol of the American Revolution and the people’s fight for independence. Inscribed on the bell itself is a Bible verse from Leviticus 25:10: Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof. This pretty much proves why the Liberty Bell has become a symbol of freedom and independence for over three centuries.

Flags

Each country and state’s flag has a story, and more often than not, it has something to do with how a nation ultimately freed itself from bondage and colonization. This is why, more often than not, a country’s flag is a symbol of freedom for its people.

The Cross

This religious symbol is one of the most famous and represents the way upwards to heaven, much like a ladder. The cross is the Roman Catholic symbol for their Savior, Jesus Christ. Catholics believe that the cross is a symbol of freedom because it represented Jesus’ selfless act of putting his life on the cross to free his people from original sin. There are many types of crosses, each with its own meaning and history. However, most have been Christianized and were used in early Christian evangelizing efforts. Some examples are the Celtic Cross and the Ankh.

Buddha in Lotus Position

Buddha in the Lotus position signifies freedom of the mind from worldly troubles, otherwise known as Nirvana or Enlightenment. It’s one of the most important Buddhist symbols as it represents what Buddhists should strive for. Buddhists believe that this is achieved after following the Eightfold Path and internalizing the Four Noble Truths of the world. In this case, the freedom that the Buddha in Lotus posture is representing is spiritual freedom and contentment.

Fawohodie

This symbol represents freedom, independence, and emancipation in African culture. Fawohodie is a derivative of the expression “Fawodhodieeneobrenaenam” which translates to independence comes with its responsibilities. The symbol reminds people that freedom and independence should not be taken lightly because it comes at a price.

The Bono people of Gyaman in Ghana and Ivory coast created this symbol along with several others that are known as the Adinkra symbols. These symbols are largely used in pottery, stools, clothing, and even architectural structures to convey traditional wisdom in various aspects of life and nature.

Broken Chains

The purpose of chains is to curb a person’s freedom, to restrain their movement and keep them under control. In other words, to hold them as a slave or a prisoner. Broken chains symbolize freedom from unjust imprisonment and slavery. This is one of the most powerful and persistent symbols of freedom.

Back in the day, slaves had to wear chains on their arms, feet, and sometimes their neck which literally meant stripping away their freedom.  It was also used during the French Revolution to signify the freedom of the peasants from the control of the monarchy or the Third Estate.

Raised Fist

A raised or a clenched fist is one of the most popular symbols of defiance, unity, and solidarity. It’s a simple gesture but it represents the spirit to fight and to overcome adversity and injustice. In the 1960s to the 1970s, it was also used as a symbol of freedom and power by black nationalist groups across the globe to break free from racial discrimination.

Rainbow

The rainbow and all of its variants seen on the Pride flag is a symbol of hope and liberation for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It was first used in 1987 for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Celebration. Since then, it has been used to signify LGBT pride and freedom around the world. Today, the rainbow has transcended its original religious meanings to represent freedom for all sexes.

In Brief

Freedom is symbolized differently in various cultures and histories. There are countless tales of freedom and emancipation from all around the world, and surely humanity is not yet done with its quest for complete liberation. It will be interesting to note what other symbols emerge to represent freedom in artwork and literary text in the future.