Why is it that the dove is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit? Would not a more majestic bird have been a better choice? To announce Gods presence would not a rooster fit the bill; their reputation is for announcing the morning. Geese too cackle to make their presence known, could they not do the same for the spirit of God? Owls are the symbol of wisdom, why are they not the picture of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit? Herons and Cranes have long legs to keep them out of troubled waters, ducks wade through the same. Hawks and eagles are a majestic presence and are as fierce fighters as the angel Michael, songbirds are known for their heavenly speech; were they not even considered? Why is it that the dove is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit?
For a start, the dove was one of the first birds to be named in the bible. It was the bird that brought back the olive leaf signifying the end of the flood. Though the Raven was sent first, that bird is thought to have fed on the dying flesh floating on the floodwaters; it had neither need nor desire to act as a messenger. To add to the theme of messenger, the dove’s rapid flight hints of deliverance, and its vacillating flight also gives hint of a messenger.
Doves, especially the turtle dove, are faithful to their mates; this was seen as a symbol for human love. The Hellenic goddess Aphrodite was also symbolized with the dove, as were many near-east fertility gods. Doves are also a symbol of purity. Pigeons have a long association with man’s civilization. Images of these birds in the holy lands date back 3000BC and sacred white doves were first breed in ancient Mesopotamia by the Sumerians. The Hebrew word for dove is Yownah or Yona which is similar to the Jonas(Yona )who was swallowed by the whale. Yona literally means moaner. The doves low, soft cooing is a symbol of mourning.
Like a swallow or a crane I clamor,
I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
O Lord, I am oppressed; be thou my security
Doves were the only type of bird allowed for Jewish temple sacrificial offerings or Qorbanot. In Leviticus, the law prescribes the offering of two turtledoves or two young pigeons for a woman’s purification after childbirth.Qorbanot is commonly translated to sacrifices or offerings, yet that is not the literal meaning of this Hebrew word. Qorbanot comes from the root Qof-Reish-Beit, which means “to draw near.” the primary purpose of the offering is to draw one near to God. Isn’t that what the Holy Spirit does?
From its early association to civilization, to its varied meanings in ancient mid east cultures, to its references in Jewish rituals and literature; it seems this softly cooing, ever present, darting, flittering bird has a well deserved reason for being the visual representative of the Holy Spirit.