Understanding Death: What things symbolize death?

Death is a part of life that we all must face, but despite its inevitability, it remains one of the most mysterious and feared aspects of our existence. Throughout human history, we have developed countless symbols and rituals to help us come to terms with death and find meaning in the face of mortality. From skulls and skeletons to flowers and candles, these symbols help us celebrate the lives of those who have passed, while providing us with a sense of comfort and closure.

One of the most enduring symbols of death is the skull. Whether it’s the classic pirate flag or the many depictions of the Grim Reaper, the skull has a long history of representing the finality of death. Its bony visage reminds us that we all share the same fate and that life is fleeting. But despite its macabre associations, the skull can also be seen as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, as many cultures believe that death is simply the beginning of a new journey.

Another common symbol of death is the flower. Perhaps most famously represented by the rose, flowers have long been associated with life, death, and rebirth. While they are often used as a gesture of sympathy or as a way to decorate funeral services, flowers are also a symbol of the continuity of life. As one bloom fades and dies, another takes its place, reminding us that everything in life is connected and that death is simply a part of the natural cycle of existence.


One of the most widely recognized symbols of death is the skull. This symbol can be found in various cultures and has different meanings, depending on the context. In many ancient civilizations, the skull was considered to be a symbol of transformation and regeneration. It was believed that the skull was the seat of the soul, and that by displaying skulls, people would be able to invoke the presence of the departed.

One famous example of this symbolism is the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This holiday is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd and is a time for families to honor and remember loved ones who have passed away. One of the most recognizable symbols of this holiday is the calavera, or skull. During this time, people create elaborate altars and display sugar skulls, which are decorated with bright colors and patterns.

  • In some cultures, the skull is also a symbol of danger and warning. For example, the skull and crossbones is commonly used as a warning on toxic substances.
  • In others, the skull represents the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. In some Buddhist traditions, for example, the skull is used as a reminder to meditate on the transience of life.
  • In art, the skull has been a popular subject for centuries. Many famous painters, including Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe, have incorporated skulls into their work.

Despite its association with death, the skull is also a symbol of rebellion and nonconformity. In the punk and goth subcultures, for example, wearing skull jewelry or clothing is often seen as a way to express individuality and reject mainstream culture.

Symbolism Description
Transformation and regeneration The skull was believed to be the seat of the soul and invoke the presence of the departed.
Danger and warning The skull and crossbones is commonly used as a warning on toxic substances.
Impermanence of life The skull represents the inevitability of death and the transience of life.
Rebellion and nonconformity Wearing skull jewelry or clothing is often seen as a way to express individuality and reject mainstream culture.

Despite its many meanings and interpretations, the skull remains a powerful symbol of death and the mysteries of life beyond. Whether as a representation of transformation or danger, it continues to fascinate and inspire people around the world.


When we think of death, one of the first images that come to mind is often that of a coffin. Coffins have been used for centuries as a way to signify the end of life and provide a final resting place for the deceased. But what is the symbolism behind this funeral tradition? Let’s dive in and explore.

Materials Used in Coffins

  • Wood – The most commonly used material for coffins, wood has been used for centuries due to its natural and sustainable properties.
  • Metal – More modern coffins can be made from metal, which offers more durability but less of a natural feel.
  • Cardboard – Some eco-friendly coffins are now made from cardboard, which can be more sustainable and affordable.

The Symbolism of Coffins

While the material of a coffin may have practical purposes, the symbolism of a coffin itself is much more significant. Coffins can represent the finality of life and the end of our physical existence. They also provide a sense of closure for loved ones left behind, as the body is given a proper resting place.

In some cultures, the shape of the coffin is also significant. For example, a rectangular coffin is the most common in Western cultures, but in some Eastern cultures, a rounded coffin is used to symbolize the cyclical nature of life and death.

The Size of Coffins

The size of a coffin is also significant. Traditional coffins are made to fit a single adult body, but there are also smaller coffins designed for infants and children. In some cases, coffins can also be used to represent the loss of a family member, friend, or even a beloved pet.

Coffin Size Symbolism
Adult The final resting place for a full life lived.
Child/Infant Sadness and loss of youth and potential.
Family or Friend A symbol of love and loss.

Overall, coffins are a significant symbol of death and offer a way to honor and remember our loved ones who have passed on.


Gravestones or tombstones are one of the most commonly known symbols of death. These markers are often made of stone or metal and are placed on or near a burial site to commemorate the life of the deceased. They can also serve as a reminder of our own mortality, as we visit the final resting place of our loved ones.

  • Epitaphs: Many gravestones have inscriptions or epitaphs that commemorate the life of the deceased. These messages can range from heartfelt and loving, to somber and haunting, to humorous and lighthearted. Some of the most famous epitaphs include “Rest in peace” and “Gone but not forgotten”.
  • Symbols: Many gravestones are adorned with symbols that represent the life, beliefs, and personality of the deceased. Common symbols include crosses for Christians, Stars of David for Jews, and flowers for remembrance and mourning.
  • Placement: The placement of a gravestone is also significant. In many cultures, it is common to place the headstone at the head of the grave, facing east. This is based on the belief that the deceased will rise to heaven with the rising sun.

Gravestones and tombstones have also been featured in popular culture, from classic horror films to contemporary literature. These iconic symbols will continue to serve as a reminder of our own mortality and the indelible mark that we leave on the world.

In addition, some cultures have specific traditions surrounding gravestones. For example, in Ireland, many gravestones feature a Celtic Cross, which represents the unity of heaven and earth. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a holiday where people honor their deceased loved ones by decorating gravestones with vibrant colors and intricate designs.

Symbol Meaning
Celtic Cross Unity of heaven and earth
Angel Guidance and protection in the afterlife
Butterfly Transformation and rebirth
Heart Love and devotion

Whether looking at gravestones as a symbol of death, a tribute to a lost loved one, or as an integral part of cultural traditions, these markers have a deep and lasting impact on our lives.

Black/Dark Colors

Black and dark colors are often associated with death and grief in many cultures. These colors symbolize sadness, mourning, and a sense of finality.

  • Black clothing: Wearing black clothing to a funeral is a common practice in many cultures. It is seen as a sign of respect for the deceased and their family.
  • Black flowers: Black flowers, such as black roses, are often used to symbolize death or the end of a relationship.
  • Dark makeup: In some cultures, wearing dark makeup or painting black tears on the face is a symbol of mourning.

In addition to clothing and accessories, black and dark colors can also be seen in funeral decorations. For example, a coffin is often draped in a black or dark-colored cloth, and funeral wreaths and banners may feature black ribbons or lettering.

The association of black with death can be traced back to ancient times. In ancient Egypt, black was associated with the underworld and mourning, and was often used in funerary art and ceremonies. In medieval Europe, mourners often wore black clothing to funerals as a sign of respect for the deceased.

Black/Dark Colors Symbolism in Different Cultures
Ancient Egypt Black was associated with the underworld and mourning
Medieval Europe Mourners often wore black clothing to funerals as a sign of respect for the deceased.
Mexico (Dia de los Muertos) Black represents death and the underworld, while purple is associated with mourning and grief.
China Black is associated with the north and the element of water, which is said to have cleansing and purifying properties.

While the use of black and dark colors in funerals and mourning is a common practice in many cultures, it is important to note that not all cultures associate these colors with death. In some cultures, white is the traditional color of mourning, while in others, bright and vibrant colors are used to celebrate the life of the deceased.


Scythes have long been associated with death, especially in cultures where they were once commonly used as a tool for harvesting crops. The curved, sharp blade of a scythe is reminiscent of the Grim Reaper’s iconic weapon, and many people have come to view the scythe as a symbol of death and mortality.

  • Scythes are often depicted in art as a tool of the Grim Reaper, who is often shown carrying one while he collects souls.
  • In some cultures, the scythe is associated with the idea of a harvest, which can represent the end of a life cycle.
  • The scythe is sometimes seen as a symbol of the inevitability of death, since the blade can cut down anything in its path.

Here is a table showing other symbols associated with death:

Symbol Meaning
Skeleton The physical remains of a deceased person
Coffin A burial container used to hold a deceased person’s body
Black A color associated with mourning and grief
Raven A bird associated with death and the afterlife in some cultures

Despite its association with death, the scythe also has positive connotations in some cultures. For example, in Japan, the scythe is seen as a tool that can help cut away negative influences and promote growth and renewal. Similarly, in some Wiccan traditions, the scythe is associated with the goddess Hecate, who is seen as a protector and guide for those who are dying and transitioning to the afterlife.


Vultures and buzzards are scavenger birds often associated with death and decay. They are known for feeding on the carcasses of dead animals, making them a symbol of death, but they also serve an important ecological function.

  • In some cultures, these birds are associated with death. According to the Native American tradition, vultures are seen as messengers of the spirit world and are believed to help the souls of the deceased to transition into the afterlife.
  • In ancient Egyptian mythology, the vulture was a symbol of the goddess Nekhbet, the patron of childbirth and death.
  • The association between vultures and death is also reflected in popular culture. In movies and literature, vultures often appear in scenes depicting desolate, abandoned places or imminent death.

Despite their association with death, vultures and buzzards play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature. These birds prevent the spread of diseases by consuming the flesh of dead animals and are an important part of the food chain. In the absence of vultures, the carcasses of dead animals can attract other scavengers like rats and feral dogs which can spread diseases to humans.

Vulture/Buzzard Symbolism in Different Cultures Meaning
Native American Messenger of the spirit world, helps souls of the deceased to transition into the afterlife
Ancient Egyptian Symbol of the goddess Nekhbet, the patron of childbirth and death
Western culture Represents death and decay

In some cultures, vultures and buzzards are revered for their ability to clean up dead animals and as a result, are a symbol of renewal and regeneration. While these birds may not be the most pleasant creatures to look at, they remind us of the natural cycle of life and death and the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Black Cats

Black cats have long been associated with death and bad luck. In ancient Egypt, they were considered sacred and even worshipped, but in medieval Europe, they were thought to be the familiars of witches. This led to the belief that if a black cat crossed your path, it was a sign that you would soon die.

  • Superstitions surrounding black cats have led to the mistreatment and even killing of these animals throughout history.
  • In some cultures, however, black cats are considered lucky and even bring good fortune.
  • In Japan, for example, a black cat is believed to bring good luck to single women looking for a mate.

But why are black cats associated with death? One theory is that their dark coloration makes them seem mysterious and ominous, which aligns with the common perception of death. Additionally, the association between cats and witches in European folklore may have contributed to the idea that black cats are evil.

Despite these negative associations, many people see black cats as symbols of protection and good fortune. In fact, some cultures believe that owning a black cat can ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. As with many symbols, the meaning of black cats is ultimately up to the individual’s interpretation.

Symbol: Meaning:
Black cat crossing your path A sign of bad luck or impending death
Black cat in a dream A warning of danger or impending misfortune
Black cat as a pet A symbol of protection and good luck

Whether you see black cats as a symbol of death or good fortune likely depends on your cultural and personal beliefs. Regardless of how you view these animals, it’s important to treat them with respect and kindness.


Throughout various cultures, owls have been associated with death and are often viewed as ominous creatures. This is likely because they are nocturnal and are often seen flying silently through the night sky.

In some Native American cultures, the appearance of an owl is seen as a symbol of impending death. The Hopi believe that owls represent the spirits of deceased ancestors and that the hooting of an owl is a message from the afterlife.

What the number 8 symbolizes in relation to death

  • In Chinese culture, the number 8 is often associated with death because it is pronounced similarly to the word for “to die” in Mandarin Chinese.
  • Some cultures believe that the number 8 represents infinity, and that death is simply a transition into an infinite afterlife.
  • On the other hand, in many Christian traditions, the number 8 is associated with rebirth and new beginnings because it symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the eighth day.

Other symbols of death

There are many other symbols of death across different cultures and belief systems:

  • The Grim Reaper in Western culture is a personification of death and is often depicted as a cloaked figure carrying a scythe.
  • The skull is a common symbol of death across various cultures. In Mexican culture, it is often associated with the Day of the Dead celebrations.
  • Black is often seen as a color that symbolizes death and mourning in Western culture.

The symbolism of owls in different cultures

In addition to being associated with death, owls have different symbolic meanings in various cultures:

Culture Symbolic Meaning of Owls
Native American Wisdom, protection, but also death and supernatural powers
Greek Wisdom, prophecy, and protection, but also death and the underworld
Japanese Peace, protection, and good luck
Ancient Egyptian Wisdom, death, and afterlife. The goddess of death and the underworld, Isis, was sometimes depicted with the head of an owl.

Overall, the symbolism of owls and other symbols of death vary widely across cultures and belief systems. While they often evoke feelings of fear and uncertainty, they can also offer comfort and serve as reminders of the cyclical nature of life and death.


In many cultures, crows and ravens are considered as symbols of death. Such is their association with death that they have been portrayed as messengers of gods in many mythologies. The Celtic goddess, Morrigan, is often depicted with a crow perched on her shoulder. Huginn and Muninn, the two crows belonging to Odin, the Norse god of death, were said to fly the world during the day before returning to whisper the news of the world in Odin’s ear. In Hinduism, crows are believed to be the spirits of ancestors, which adds a new dimension to their symbolism.

  • As messengers of gods and goddesses, crows and ravens were considered important creatures to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed that the birds possessed knowledge of the future that could help them make important decisions.
  • Some cultures also believed that crows and ravens possess the ability to guide souls to the afterlife, which is why the birds were seen as protectors of the dead.
  • Another interesting fact is that crows and ravens are very intelligent birds, which adds to their symbolism of death. They have been known to remember faces and even hold grudges against people who have harmed them.

In some cultures, the number 9 is associated with crows and ravens and death. The reason for this is that crows and ravens have nine primary feathers on their wings, which has led to the number being seen as a symbol of death. This association is particularly strong in Hinduism, where the number 9 is believed to be a powerful number. In Hinduism, there are nine planets, nine realms of existence and nine forms of goddess Durga, who is often depicted as riding a lion and holding weapons in her hands.

Here is a table summarizing some of the key cultural symbolism associated with crows and ravens:

Culture Symbolism
Celtic Messengers of the god
Norse Guides of the soul
Hindu Spirits of ancestors

Overall, the symbolism of crows and ravens regarding death is a complex and fascinating topic with deep roots in many cultures around the world. Whether you see them as messengers, guides, or protectors of the dead, these birds continue to fascinate and inspire.

Ankh (Egyptian Symbol of Life and Death)

The Ankh is a symbol that represents both life and death in ancient Egyptian culture. It is said to symbolize eternal life, with its looped shape resembling a key that unlocks the gates to the afterlife. Many different elements are incorporated into this symbol, including the number 10.

The number 10 was a significant number in ancient Egyptian culture, as it was associated with completion and perfection. The Ankh symbol often includes ten petals on the flower at the top of the loop, representing the completeness of life and the transition into the afterlife.

Here are some additional meanings associated with the number 10 in relation to the Ankh symbol:

  • Represents the ten stages of life
  • Associated with the ten gods who ruled over the afterlife
  • Symbolizes the ten fingers of the gods

In addition to the flower at the top of the loop, the Ankh symbol also includes a horizontal line, which represents the horizon and the crossing between life and death. The vertical line beneath represents the path of the sun across the sky and the journey of the soul through life and into the afterlife.

The Ankh was a powerful symbol in ancient Egyptian culture, and it continues to carry meaning and significance in modern times. Its intricate design and embedded meanings make it a fascinating artifact that offers insight into the beliefs and values of this ancient civilization.

Overall, the Ankh symbol is a powerful representation of both life and death, with the number 10 playing an important role in its meaning and significance.

If you are interested in learning more about the Ankh symbol and its role in ancient Egyptian culture, there are many resources available online and at museums. Take some time to explore this fascinating symbol and the rich history and mythology that surrounds it.

What Things Symbolize Death?

What does a skull symbolize?

A skull is a widely recognized symbol of death. It represents the end of life and the physical body becoming earth. It is often associated with danger, fear, and mystery.

Why is black associated with death?

Black is often associated with mourning and sadness, which makes it a common symbol of death. It represents the absence of light and life, and serves as a reminder of the somberness of death.

What does a scythe symbolize?

A scythe is a farming tool used for cutting crops and is often associated with the Grim Reaper, who is a symbol of death. It represents the inevitability of death and the idea that death comes for all living things.

What does a raven symbolize?

A raven is often associated with death and is seen as a messenger of the dead. In some cultures, it is believed that the presence of a raven can signify the nearing of death or the presence of a spirit.

Why are flowers associated with death?

Flowers are often associated with death because they serve as a reminder of life’s fleeting beauty. They are often used in funeral arrangements as a way to express condolences and pay tribute to the deceased.

What does a coffin symbolize?

A coffin is a symbol of death as it represents the final resting place of the deceased. It serves as a reminder that all living things must eventually come to an end.

What does a crescent moon symbolize in relation to death?

The crescent moon is often associated with death and is a symbol of the end of life’s journey. It represents the cyclical nature of life and the idea that death is not an end, but rather a new beginning.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to explore the various symbols of death with us. While death is a difficult topic to discuss, it is important to remember that it is a natural part of life. Whether you find comfort in the symbolism of flowers or are curious about the mysteries of the raven, there is no right or wrong way to explore these ideas. We hope that this article has provided some insight and inspiration, and we invite you to come back and visit us again soon.