Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers shows us a world where doves, in addition to serving day-to-day purposes, represent so much more. Along with their close cousin, the pigeon, doves make up the bird family Columbidae. And while they're often thought of as bright white birds, with over 300 species, they actually come in all shapes and sizes.
Throughout the ages, steeped in rich tradition and lore, doves have served to symbolize many aspects connected with the "Divine." In the ancient world, the dove was a symbol for the Mother goddess, the "feminine divine". Doves served as icons of fertility and procreation and were associated with the goddesses Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite and the early Judaic goddess of Canaan, Asherah (statue pictured). Early Israelites believed Asherah to be the consort of their god Yahweh. As the Judaic religion evolved, the dove came to represent the feminine spirit of God and God's love for his people. White doves, a sign of immaculacy, were sacrificed as offerings, both as restitution for guilty acts and as a rite of purification. The gospel of Luke states that Mary and Joseph went to the Temple and sacrificed two doves after Jesus was born, as prescribed by law.
Appearing throughout the Bible, the dove was also regarded as oracular, a means by which the divine could communicate with man. Noah sent a dove out in search of land. When the dove returned holding an olive branch in its beak, Noah knew it was safe to leave the ark - a sign from God that penance had been served.
According to the Pet Doves website, these birds remain faithfully monogamous to their mates; "Dove couples who have bonded with each other will remain together for life unless separated by death or other means beyond their control. They will defend and protect each other..." This fact explains why doves are also seen as symbols of love and loyalty.
As time has progressed, Christian lore has used the dove to represent the Holy Spirit or "heavenly messenger." In Circlot's A Dictionary of Symbols, the dove "is also symbolic of souls, a motif which is common in Visigothic and Romanesque art. Christianity, inspired in the Scriptures, depicts the third person in the Trinity - the Holy Ghost - in the shape of a dove, although he is also represented by the image of a tongue of Pentecostal fire." This illuminates why, in art doves are frequently depicted hovering over the heads of saints or flying into their mouths - a sign of God's spirit and divine authority. As an extension of that symbol, today's modern Western world often considers the dove an icon of innocence, love, gentleness and Peace.
This article is from the April 4, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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