Death Symbols: Explained

Ever locked eyes with a black raven and wondered if it was a sign from a loved one? Turns out, it could be.
Death Symbols: Explained

Bet you didn’t think you’d be reading about death symbols today, but here we are. So, where do death symbols come from and what do they mean? All will be revealed below (and don’t worry – they’re not all as scary as they sound).

Death symbols explained

So you’ve got your typical run-of-the-mill death symbols, like a skull and crossbones, the grim reaper, a banshee or a skeleton – but there are also symbols in the form of animals (like crows) and inanimate objects (like clocks!).

Ready to learn what they all mean? Prepare yourself for a trip down spooky lane. (Jokes – this stuff’s actually pretty fascinating).

Death symbols related to animals

Birds are commonly viewed as death symbols, but did you know that so are bats and cats? Read all about it below.


Bats represent periods of transition, letting go of the old and bringing in the new… but there are also some darker meanings behind the nocturnal bat. Some believe that if a bat flies into your home, it’s a symbol of death and bad luck. Bats can also be seen as a weather omen, and if one hits a window, it’s a sign that rain is about to fall.


Yep, your cuddly cats are in this list of death symbols – black cats in particular! Cast your memory back to the witch trial era, when *terrible* people believed that witches could transform into black cats to lurk in the darkness and cast spells. Well, some still consider the black cat to be a symbol of bad luck today.

In Germany, there’s a belief that if a black cat steps in front of you from right to left, it’s a bad omen. However, a cat stepping from left to right is a good omen! (The more you know).

Look – we don’t know about you, but we feel like a cat is just a cat. And black cats have suffered enough historically, so we should all help to end the stigma. Who’s with us?!


Firstly, a group of crows is called a ‘murder’. So that’s noteworthy, here. However, depending on the number of crows and the context, crows can be good or bad omens. For example, seeing a single crow could be a bad omen, but seeing two could indicate good luck. But get this – seeing three might indicate that change is about to come.


Like bats and teenagers, owls are nocturnal. Considered to be symbolic of death in many cultures, some believe that the owl is also a messenger from the dead, or that it can carry the dead to heaven or the afterlife.


Ravens get a bad rap. Viewed as death omens or as a symbol of loss, their collective nouns go so far as to label them as an ‘unkindness’, a ‘treachery’ or a ‘conspiracy’ of ravens. When the raven appears after a gory battle, it is classed as a symbol of death. But Edgar Allen Poe and some cultures understood their majesty – seeing the raven as a sign of good fortune to come. Ravens are thought to be messengers from the other world, so seeing one in real life or in dreams could mean that a loved one is trying to communicate with you. 


As another bird symbol of death, vultures are known to circle above the dying… and they also eat decayed carcasses. The word has been adapted in our modern era to describe people who are trying to gain from another person’s troubles (like the media or paparazzi, for example).

Death symbols related to plants and flowers

Often used in funerals and cemeteries, many plants, flowers and trees are considered to be symbols of symbols. Here are a few:


Chrysanthemums are commonly used in Western funeral arrangements. The flower is historically symbolic of death and mourning, so in countries like France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Croatia – they are traditionally the sole choice for funerals. Similarly, in China, Japan and Korea, white chrysanthemums symbolise grief.

Red poppies

Since ancient times, poppies have been placed on tombstones to represent eternal sleep. Poppies also symbolise consolation, remembrance and death, and are the symbol of remembrance for those who fought and died in World War I. 

Cypress trees

Cypress trees are also known as the graveyard, mourning or Chinese weeping cypress trees. Certain cultures associate them with longevity, endurance and mourning. For instance, in ancient mythology, they were often linked to the realm of the dead. Additionally, because they don’t grow around buried caskets, they were planted near cemeteries or used to build burial monuments.


The use of hyacinth flowers in funerals has roots in Greek mythology. The hyacinth flower is connected to the myth of Hyakinthos, who is believed to have been killed by his friend Apollo whilst throwing a discus. These tall, purple flowers represent deep sorrow and longing and are often used in funeral wreaths and flower arrangements.

Death symbols related to time


When turned upside down, the grains in an hourglass eventually run out. This is emblematic of our days on earth passing by and can be seen as a time-related symbol of death. 


Less obvious symbols of death allude to the concept of time and the fragility of life. This includes clocks, which remind us that time is running out. 


If you haven’t heard of a sundial, it’s a device that can tell the time, based on where the sun casts a shadow on it. The sunrise symbolises that there is still time, whereas nightfall alludes to the fact that death is drawing closer. Kinda heavy. Yeah.

Wrap up

Don’t let all this talk of limited time and impending doom get you down. If you’re spotting death symbols left right and centre, there’s no need to freak out. It’s not necessarily a sign that death is near, but perhaps that your loved ones are watching over you, or that good fortune is coming your way. However, these symbols may serve as a good reminder to create or update your legal Will… you know … for when the time comes.

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