Forgiveness is one of humankind’s most challenging topics. Though some religions emphasize it more directly than others do, ultimately everyone, no matter what their culture or creed, must deal with the problem of how to move forward after being hurt.
The basic question of forgiveness often boils down to the following: how do you find peace when justice may not be possible? The symbolism of forgiveness therefore can intersect with the symbolism of peace and the symbolism of justice.
When forgiveness goes well, it can offer the opportunity for redemption, renewal, and rebirth. The symbolism of forgiveness therefore also overlaps with the symbolism of redemption, renewal, and rebirth.
Overlap With Symbols of Peace
In a best-case scenario, forgiveness can result in peace between two people or groups that had been in conflict. In other situations, forgiveness might be more about finding inner peace within yourself. Some symbols of peace could therefore be read as symbols of forgiveness as well.
The olive branch is one such symbol of peace that can also represent forgiveness. World History Encyclopedia notes that the ancient Greeks used olive branches as a symbol of peace as early as the 5th century BCE, and that the Romans continued this association after they conquered Greece.
As described in dove dream symbolism, the Bible story of the great flood ended with a dove carrying an olive branch in its mouth. This had a practical significance of showing Noah that there was finally enough dry land available for there to be a tree for the bird to grab a branch from.
Symbolically, however, the appearance of the dove with the olive branch was associated with the flood ending and God promising not to destroy humankind like that again in the future. A dove could therefore symbolize the peace that comes with forgiveness as well.
Extend an Olive Branch actually sells olive branches with the idea that they could be used to request reconciliation or forgiveness in a troubled relationship. If you’d prefer more conventional flowers, however, read on.
Flowers Associated With Forgiveness
White tulips, purple hyacinths, and daffodils
Garden Guides reports that flowers associated with forgiveness include white tulips, purple hyacinths, and daffodils. Giving these flowers could be used to indicate that you are sorry and would like to be forgiven.
FTD elaborates that soft colors like white, yellow, pink, and blue are best for apology flowers. You can choose flowers that reflect the nature of the relationship you’re trying to repair and your specific emotions about it.
However, not everyone is familiar with the symbolism of different flowers. If you really want someone to know that you’re sorry, or that you forgive them, or that you would like them to forgive you, you might be better off using your words. You can write them on a card accompanying a nice bouquet, though!
Overlap With Symbols of Justice
In some cases, forgiveness comes after the person who caused the hurt apologizes to the person who was hurt. That said, sometimes saying one is sorry doesn’t undo physical or material harm that was done to the injured person.
The issue, then, becomes one of justice. A common symbol of justice is the scales, where things are supposed to balance out fairly.
As described regarding symbols of truth and lies, the scales are featured in the story of the Egyptian goddess Maat, who weighed the heart of a dead person on a scale balanced against an ostrich feather. A heart light enough to balance against the feather was deemed worthy of an afterlife.
If there are things you can do to balance the scales in a situation where you have wronged someone, it would generally make sense to do them. Restoring justice in this way can be a powerful part of the process of forgiveness.
However, there are situations where the damage is so deep that balancing the scales isn’t possible in terms of physical or material reparations. At that point, some people may consider other forms of justice.
Some early religions used animal sacrifice as a means of obtaining divine forgiveness for human sins or for other reasons. Christianity began in an environment where animal sacrifice was a common practice, and it made the then-revolutionary claim that the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ was sufficient to end all further animal sacrifice.
As Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, the cross on which Jesus was crucified is considered a symbol of forgiveness within the context of Christianity.
Unnecessary Item Destruction
Many people, on some level, tend to think in terms of a record of their actions somewhere that follows them throughout their lives. They may or may not hold this idea as part of an established religion, though the book of Revelation in the Bible mentions people being judged according to their deeds as written in the book of life.
The destruction of such records, physically or metaphorically, could be a powerful act of forgiveness. Whether one prefers a bonfire or a paper shredder, anything that serves to destroy items that are no longer needed can be a symbol of forgiveness. Being purged of old conflicts and resentments in this way makes you free to start anew.
Overlap With Symbols of Redemption, Renewal, and Rebirth
Whether you forgive yourself for a difficult past, or someone else forgives you for ways you have harmed them, being forgiven can be an opportunity for a fresh start.
On the other side of it, if you’re the one forgiving someone else, you might feel a huge relief no longer carrying negative feelings about them. This can be the case even if your forgiveness process does not involve direct contact with the other person for whatever reason.
In this way, the symbolism of forgiveness can take in symbols of redemption, renewal, and rebirth.
One of the main purposes of water is cleansing. Baths and showers can obviously get you clean physically, but some religious practices also use water for spiritual cleansing, like the Christian sacrament of baptism and the Jewish mikveh.
Water could therefore be a symbol of forgiveness, as it washes away whatever made you feel dirty, physically or spiritually. Water is also reminiscent of the womb, so it might also be a symbol of forgiveness in the sense of being reborn to start anew.
Fresh Plant Life and Baby Animals
Other symbols of rebirth and renewal include fresh plant life and baby animals. Even a human baby could be a symbol of an opportunity to start over, in the sense of innocence.
When it happens successfully, forgiveness gives people the ability to move forward instead of remaining stuck in the past. A symbol of forgiveness should therefore feel light rather than heavy, even if it isn’t an entirely uncomplicated happiness at first — forgiveness can be a big change in a relationship or in how you see yourself, and that can be awkward even if it’s a change you want.
Though cultural symbols of forgiveness may be useful in guiding your journey, feel free to use whatever forgiveness symbols feel most genuine to you. Forgiveness goes best when people do it at their own pace and on their own terms rather than being forced into it, so the most important thing when you are considering forgiveness is to be in touch with your own honest process.