Birth and new beginnings are an integral part of life: a new stage, the birth of a child, the start of your adult life, so on and so forth. And since they are common to us all, they hold a certain spiritual power over us. The concepts of death, birth and eternal life hold a certain mysticism that continue to fascinate us even to this day. As it is to be expected many cultures have come up with symbols to represent these stages of life, and have seen symbolism on the natural and the extraordinary that can be associated to these processes.
Symbols for birth, rebirth, reincarnation, transformation and new beginnings are very abundant across cultures. Let’s explore some of the most common ones.
1. The phoenix
In most legends, this majestic animal is made out of fire. As it gets old its flame gets brighter, until it combusts and “dies”. However the phoenix never truly dies, as it gets reborn from its ashes. The phoenix cycle of death and rebirth is a beautiful symbol for death and rebirth, renewals and new beginnings.
In a similar way to the phoenix, butterflies are a symbol of change, rebirth and renewal. Butterflies start their life as a caterpillar, and they have to spin a cocoon to charge to their butterfly form. Inside the cocoon, this animal undergoes a deep transformation and in a couple of weeks it emerges from the cocoon in its final form. The butterfly and its life represents renewal and change.
The symbolism of the bat is a little bit more complex. This creature lives deep in caves, which can be seen as a symbol of the “belly” of the Earth. When they need to feed, they come out of the cave through an opening. The bat coming out of the “belly” of the Earth through an opening is symbolic of birth, and thus the bat is “reborn” every morning.
This ancient deity of Egypt was associated with the Sun, creation and rebirth. In fact, it’s myth might have been what originated the legend of the phoenix. Bennu was associated with the Ibis Bird an extinct type of heron with gold and red feathers, and this birth and its connection to the God of rebirth might have passed onto Greek myth as the “phoenix”.
5. Spring equinox
The Spring equinox is a sign for renewal and rebirth as during winter, most fauna and flora is either dead or dormant. Plants and animals hibernate until the return of warm climate, and as soon as Spring arrives they emerge and become lively again. A lot of animals also give birth during Spring, which is why numerous Spring festivities celebrate birth, renewal and nature becoming lively again.
The lotus is a symbol of rebirth and regeneration in many different cultures. This is because it emerges from muddy, dirty waters and blooms during the day, but as soon as it gets dark it closes up and retreats back into the water only to repeat this cycle the next day. Every culture has a myth surrounding this flower but most of them link it to rebirth and renewal.
As winter approaches, the bear becomes lethargic. When winter arrives, the bear moves into a cave and sleeps until Spring, when the animal emerges from its deep sleep. This cycle of hibernation and wakefulness is seen as representative of new beginnings and it is often used as a symbol of a new start.
8. Easter Lily flower
The Easter lily flower is a symbol of rebirth in Christian culture and mythology. Its trumpet shape is similar to the trumpets that angels played when Christ was born, and when he was resurrected and came out of the cave he had been buried in. For this reason, Christians see Easter Lilies as a flower that brings renewals and fresh starts. These flowers are a popular Easter decoration as well, since Easter is a celebration of Spring, and of the rebirth of nature!
The pinecone is a symbol of eternal life, but it is also a symbol of rebirth and a new life. Inside pinecones we find little nuts, which are the seeds of the pine. When the pinecone falls, these pine nuts have the chance to sprout and become a new tree, symbolically “giving birth” to it.
Swans are full of symbolism, and they represent different things in different cultures. However, one of the most common symbols swans are linked to is change and transformation: many stories say that beautiful women could turn into swans thanks to a coat made out of swan feathers, and in Celtic culture it was believed this bird could change into another if it wanted to avoid death.
11. Sabzeh (Norouz Sprouts)
Sabzeh is a group of different seeds that sprout and grow into a plant. Just like with most other seeds, this process is seen as symbolic of rejuvenation, rebirth and a new start. These sprouts are often planted during Spring celebrations like Norouz (Iranian New Year), when we honor the rebirth of nature and it becoming lively again.
The egg is a symbol of birth, as when it is fertilized an animal is born out of it. The egg is associated with birth, rebirth and new life in many different cultures: in Christian culture, it is linked to the resurrection of Christ and in most pagan cultures, the egg and the animals that spring from it are a symbol of new life.
The Sun is a clear symbol of cycles and of rebirth. Every morning, the Sun rises in the horizon and helps other living beings emerge from their rest (such as flowers and animals). As the day goes by, the Sun weakens and hides during the night, only to be “reborn”, and rise again, the next morning. Numerous cultures link the Sun with rebirth and new beginning and with deities that are representative of such a process: Bennu, Atum, Kephri, Apollo and Ah Kin.
14. Octagon and star octagram
In Ancient Chinese culture, octagrams and stars with points are linked to rebirth and new beginnings. It is believed that heaven is divided in 8 parts that are constantly changing and evolving. Other cultures, such as Hinduism, have a similar belief: Lakhsmi, the Goddess of wealth, has 8 emanations that form an octagram where new wealth can originate from.
In many cultures in Central America the hummingbird is seen as a powerful symbol of rebirth. In these cultures, hummingbirds were often seen as a healer spirit, sent by the Gods to help people and heal them. It was also believed that hummingbirds were born from flowers, and that they would come back every Spring to thank the flowers from which they were born. This myth made hummingbirds into a symbol of healing and hope, but also of birth and rebirth.
Osiris is an ancient Egyptian deity that is commonly associated with the realm of the dead and death. However, Osiris was also said to have the ability to resurrect the dead (and thus give them a new life). He was often depicted with green skin, which is representative of nature and the generative nature of this deity.
17. Tteokguk (Korean rice cake soup)
Tteokguk is a rice cake soup that is often served during Korean New Year celebrations and birthdays. The whiteness of the rice cakes is associated with cleanliness and purity, so this soup is served during the New Year to cleanse past energies and start the new year in the right spirit. This tradition came to be associated with the New Year and therefore with new starts, new beginnings and rebirth.
Peacocks are culturally significant to many mythologies and folklores. They symbolize different things to every culture, but a common symbolism that they have is that of rebirth: their deep, vibrant green colour reminds us of the bright green grass of spring, and thus their color became linked to grass, to spring and to the new life that spring brings forth.
19. Tree of life
The tree of life is another myth common to many different cultures, but in all of them it shares its meaning: origin, creation and birth. The tree of life symbolizes death, birth and rebirth as trees undergo an “hibernation phase” during winter, but become lively and alive again during Spring. This cycle of life has come to be associated with rebirth. Trees are also at the origin of many creation myths in different folklore: trees are said to “give birth” to cultures such as the Greek, the Celts, the Norse… by providing shade and nourishment once it is planted.
The triquetra, an ancient Celtic symbol, also has numerous meanings. To the celtic druids it represented oneness and the unity between the land, the sea and the spirit. However, as time went on the symbolism evolved and came to represent “an unbreakable cycle”, as this figure can be drawn from a single stroke over an over. Because of this, the triquetra came to represent bonds that are unbreakable, unity and wholeness, and cycles that repeat themselves over and over – such as that of death and birth. The triquetra is now one of the most popular symbols for rebirth and new beginnings.
The dharmachakra or wheel of dharma is a Buddhist symbol, but it is also used in other cultures across Asia. This wheel represents the cycle of life, of death and rebirth: according to the teachings of Buddha, one must go through many deaths and rebirths (samsara) to refine oneself and become better. Thus, this wheel became a symbol of rebirth and renewal.
22. Yarilo (Deity)
Yarilo is a deity of the slavic pantheon. This Russian God’s name means “bright Lord”, and this deity commonly associated with Spring and thus rebirth, fertility and new life springing forth.
Pluto, the ancient Roman deity and the planet, have a lot of meanings. Some of them are deep intuition, hidden power, obsession… but also death and rebirth. This is because Pluto is the Roman God associated with the underground and the next life, and he reigns over death; but he could also grant new life to the deceased. This is the reason he came to be associated with death but also life, rebirth and new beginnings.
Lamat is the eighth day in the Mayan calender. It is a symbol of rebirth and renewal as it is associated with planet Venus. In the Mayan culture Venus represents fertility, abundance, transformation, self love and new beginnings.
Since ancient times, Cicadas are a symbol of renewal, rebirth, spiritual realization, resurrection, immortality and personal transformation.
The reason why Cicadas represent all this is because of their fascinating life cycle which can be divided into three stages – Eggs, Nymphs and Adults. Cicadas lay their eggs on tree branches and twigs. Upon hatching the nymphs fall to the ground where to borrow themselves underground. The nymphs stay underground for almost 12 to 17 years before they emerge as fully grown adults with wings.
Snowflakes are a symbol of uniqueness, purity, rebirth and transformation. This is because, snowflakes cover the earth’s surface with snow but only temporarily. They don’t last forever and soon melt to get transformed into water. This transformation makes them a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings.
Eostre is an East-Germanic pagan Goddess associated with springtime. She symbolizes birth, growth, creation, fertility and transformation.
The starfish isn’t really a fish and is more accurately called the sea star. This name is well deserved, as they are total stars when it comes to survival.
Sea stars can detach and regrow limbs, enabling them to escape the clutches of the most determined predators. It makes sense then that sea stars are a symbol of renewal and regeneration.
However bad it gets, sea stars offer proof that healing is possible. Whatever the difficulties you face, the starfish encourages you to let go of hurt so you can move forward.
29. Cherry Blossoms
In Japanese culture, Cherry Blossoms symbolize renewal and new beginnings as these beautiful flowers bloom during spring time. They also represent femininity, beauty and mystique.
These are only some of the most well known, famous symbols for birth, rebirth and new beginnings. The stages of life are common to all living beings, yet they are deeply fascinating to humans and thus many cultures have incorporated symbols, stories and imagery to try to explain them and represent them through symbolism.