As an author of allegorical Christian fantasy set in the middle ages, I am perhaps more tuned in to symbolism than the average person. That's whay I'm blaming for my fascination with medieval heraldry, anyway. Animals, important symbols in medievel heraldry, were divided into natural classifications like beasts, birds, sea creatures, and others. For purposes of brevity, I'll focus here on the most popular heraldic beasts found in nature. I cover mythical creatures and their symbolism at Fantasy Worlds, my fantasy book extras site.
By far the animal most often used in medieval heraldry was the lion, depicted standing erect with forepaws raised. One lower leg might also be raised as well. All heraldic beasts can most often be found in this rampant position. This was not necessarily how the animal represented would actually hold itself, but experience of exotic heraldic animals was limited, and rampant position seemed most natural to medieval artists.
Other beasts occurring often in heraldry include the wolf, bear, boar, horse, bull, and stag. All were used to convey specific meanings.
Symbolism of Popular Animals in Medieval Heraldry
Stag: This emblem of the ancestors of the Celtic race shows the wisdom not to fight unless provoked. A favorite in Ireland, it is a symbol of peace and harmony, purity and fleetness. Its branch-like antlers are said to represent the Tree of Life. The regenerating of its antlers also makes the stag representative of renewal. The stag was also used as a symbol of healing.
I've covered the most popular heraldic animals. Do you have a favorite?
Below you will find links for further study and to look up your own family's coat of arms, if one exists. Discovering the meanings it contains can be very enlightening when considered in light of your family history.
About Janalyn VoigtDawnSinger, carries the reader into a land only imagined in dreams.
Janalyn is represented by Sarah Joy Freese of Wordserve Literary. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA.
When she's not writing, Janalyn loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors.
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Research Your Family's Coat of Arms