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The Deep Meaning and Symbolism of Wings Across Cultures

Used by birds, angels, insects, and planes, wings enable a thing to soar and reach heights that would otherwise be unattainable. This function has given wings deep symbolism, making it a perfect symbol to represent a variety of meanings, including success, aspiration, purity, and freedom.

What Are Wings?

Wings are contraptions used for flying and can differ based on the type of object or creature it’s used by. In birds and insects, wings are forelimbs that have been modified and have feathers to aid in flight. Wings on airplanes are structures designed to provide lift, allowing the aircraft to overcome gravity and stay in flight.

While all birds have wings, not all birds fly. Wings in flightless birds are used for other functions such as incubating eggs, providing balance while in movement, and for some birds like the ostrich, wings are used for displays of courtship.

What Do Wings Symbolize?

Symbolism of wings

Wings have attracted quite several symbolic meanings over time, based mostly on their functions. Here is what wings symbolize.

1. Freedom

If you were granted wings, where would you go? The kind of answer you imagine for this question is a mark of freedom. Wings give birds the freedom to fly over land, mountains, and oceans. It’s because they have wings that birds can migrate in search of greener pastures.

2. Escape

Closely related to the freedom symbolism, wings are a symbol of escape because they allow birds to fly over walls and other confinements. If you were in prison and then suddenly found yourself with wings, wouldn’t you escape to freedom? An example of the use of wings for escape is in Greek mythology whereby in a bid to escape the Island of Crete, Daedalus and Icarus make wings using wax and feathers that allow them to fly out.

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3. Success

Because wings help birds and insects soar, they are seen as a symbol of success. For example, the song “I believe I can fly” by R Kelly uses the concept of flight to mean soaring high to achieve your goals.

4. Purity

Wings are associated with purity because of birds like doves that are seen to be pure and to bring peace and divine messages. Angels, also winged creatures, are also representative of purity.

5. Refuge and Support

This symbolic meaning derives from the nature of birds to protect their eggs and their chicks with their wings. It can also be seen in the phrase to take someone under your wing which basically means to provide refuge and support to someone.

6. Show Off

A lot of winged animals use their wings to show off their prowess to potential mates and to their opponents in fights. Examples of such animals are butterflies, ostriches, turkeys, and the bird of paradise.

7. Protection

This symbolic meaning is twofold. Firstly, its closely related to refuge and support, stemming from the habit of birds to cover their young with their wings. Secondly, it’s derived from griffins, mythical creatures that are half lion, half eagle, said to have guarded palaces in ancient Levant, Asia, and Greece.

8. Broken Wings

Wings that are broken or clipped symbolize a loss of freedom and independence.

Symbolism of Wings in Dreams

Seeing wings in a dream can be an indication that God is trying to send you a message. This is because angles are believed to have wings and also because most animals that are traditionally believed to carry messages from divinity had wings. A specific message that comes with seeing wings in a dream is that of impending accomplishments.

Being visited by a winged animal in your dream means that you have been presented with an opportunity to try new things and to dare take up a challenge or follow a new path. On the other hand, dreaming that you have wings and are soaring high is a reminder to look at the bigger picture.

Symbolism of Wing Tattoos

Wings tattoo meaning

Tattoos carry a deep meaning and can also be drawn to encourage one along a certain path. Tattoos of wings are an indication of freedom and the ability to liberate yourself from whatever shackles bind you.

When drawn on the feet, wing tattoos are an indication of speed, stemming from the symbolism of Hermes’ winged sandals. Wing tattoos also have varying meanings depending on the bird chosen. The meaning of the latter is however usually more about the bird than just wings in general.

Stories and Myths About Wings

Icarus daedalus flying

In Greek mythology, Daedalus, an inventor, helped Ariadne, the daughter of Minos to free Theseus from a labyrinth where he was being kept waiting to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. When Theseus took Ariadne with him as he escaped Crete, Minos was furious. He retaliated by imprisoning Daedalus and his son Icarus in the same labyrinth. Mino’s wife Pasiphae, however, decided to release them but was unable to offer them safe passage considering Minos controlled the ships.

Being the inventor he was, Daedalus decided to solve this problem by designing wings for his son and himself using feathers and wax. Unfortunately, in his excitement, Icarus failed to heed his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun and his wings melted off causing him to fall to his death.

In this tale, the wings symbolize freedom and escape, but Icarus’ flight towards the sun symbolizes overconfidence and arrogance.

Most legends concerning wings are intertwined with mythical creatures, probably because mankind has always revered wings. Some of these creatures include:

Griffin symbol
Illustration of a Griffin
  • Griffins – The concept of griffins originated in Levant before spreading to Asia and Greece. They were believed to be strong creatures with the body of a lion and the face of an eagle. Because of their strong wings, griffins are known as protectors, and their carvings can be found outside important buildings like temples.
  • FairiesFairies are believed to be beautiful, winged creatures that are half-human- half angels in nature. The most prevalent fairy legends are found in Celtic mythology where it is believed that they once lived on earth but went into hiding to escape humans who were taking over the world and harnessing them for their power.
  • Pegasus – Originating in Greek mythology, the Pegasus is a winged horse, pure white in color and believed to be an offspring of the god Poseidon. Pegasus is believed to have been later turned into a constellation by Zeus in appreciation for years of good service.

Wrapping Up

The symbolism of wings makes them one of the most popular motifs used in jewelry, art, literature, and others. Wings offer artists endless options for customization, and their beauty and symmetry are ideal in tattoos and art.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.