Symbolic definitions of the sparrow

Updated November 21, 2016

The sparrow, a common and dull-coloured bird that nests in many domestic areas in the United States, has a lot of mythology and symbolism associated with it. Sparrows find a place in religious iconography and folklore, representing anything from life to death to rebirth. The powerful presence of the sparrow as a cultural symbol has been around for thousands of years.


References to sparrows are numerous in the Bible, which causes Christians to find a particular significance in the bird's symbolic meaning. The sparrow represents God's acknowledgement of the minor or seemingly insignificant aspects of life. Some Christians, primarily Catholics, adorn themselves with images of sparrows in order to signify their importance to God. In addition, in the very early stages of Christianity, Christians would use simple sketches or markings of sparrows to signify secret meeting places when Christians were being persecuted.


After a voyage, sailors would sometimes get sparrows tattooed on their body, in order to symbolise the accomplishment of completing a long journey. These tattoos were not only images of sparrows, but they were special nautical sparrows that may have had cardinal directions on them. Sparrows, which also symbolise the acquisition of love, hold a meaning for sailors that they've found something for which they had been looking. To sailors, a sparrow symbolises the completion of a long journey and finally finding a destination.


Sparrows have a large presence in literature. A well-known example is the poem "The Blossom" in William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" which features a sparrow. In the poem, he uses the sparrow as a metaphor for passion, sacrifice and sexual exploits. Blake ties the traditional and spiritual linkages between sparrows and Christianity with the passionate act of sexual intercourse, making the sparrow a symbol of swift action. Blake's poem has spurned numerous other references to sparrows and "The Blossom" in later poetry.


In numerous folk tales, ballads and poems, the sparrow and other birds have been rendered as a symbol of travel or soul-searching. For example, an ancient Japanese folk tale describes a sparrow as a symbol of moral action, in which a man and woman bicker about taking care of it as a pet. The tale seeks to exemplify the way in which the sparrow should be respected and regarded as a powerful creature, although it may seem minuscule to humans. The sparrow's association with moral action posits it as a special bird for humans.

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