Symbol: the love-heart

27 02 2012

You know the shape I mean –  the one that’s meant to visually represent the heart, is traditionally used to indicate love, and is often either red or pink.

image from Wiki; click on image for original source

It makes me shiver a little. I really don’t like it. Though I’m not sure why …

Looking at Wiki, a few interesting points:

  • In European traditional art and folklore, the heart symbol is drawn in a stylized shape. This shape is typically coloured red, suggesting both blood and, in many cultures, passion and strong emotion.
  • The hearts have constituted, since the 15th century, one of the red suits in most playing card decks.” – I didn’t know that!
  • What the traditional “heart shape” actually depicts is a matter of some controversy. It only vaguely resembles the human heart. The seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive, has been suggested as the source of the heart symbol. The heart symbol could also be considered to depict features of the human female body, such as the female’s buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva.”

From an alternative source, Symbols:

  • The heart sign is as old as 0650, 2612, 0431b, 2439, 0221, and 4204. Its meaning for the people living in Europe before the last Ice Age of course is not known, but since these Cro-Magnons were hunters one can be reasonably sure it meant that life sustaining organ pumping around the blood of the organism every second of its lifetime. ” – so that answers the question I had about when the symbol was first seen in art
  • The heart does not appear in any established sign system. It is an anarchistic graph that has yet to find a place in any conventional sign system. Nontheless it is well known throughout the Western world as a sign for togetherness or love, especially sexual love, making love, affection and so on.
  • The heart sign appears as a symbol in all the major cultural spheres.

There is also a suggestion that the love-heart shape has evolved from the upside-down triangle; where the triangle is an ancient symbol for the divine feminine (puberty mound) or feminine power in general.

Hysterically, it is also reported Sweden the sign is related to defecation and is used as the symbol for toilets. More seriously though, this same source suggests a potential root of symbol creation: “is actually a combination of other ideograms. It incorporates the symbols for fire/flight (from the middle ages) along with its equivalent counterpart from the open sign structures. The heart symbol also incorporates the symbol which represents togetherness.

+ + =

Further reading brought me to another site which suggests that the symbol evolved from the ivy leaf, and is now “probably most popular non-geometric symbol“.

I’ve always felt an aversion to the love-heart shape. When it’s used in artwork it often feels like it’s a short-cut (when genuinely used; as opposed to used in critique or irony) or somehow its historic weight it too much and can outweigh the context of its use. Further, it often feels naive or childish. It’s a symbol that’s been over-commercialised and I find it hard to connect with it.

I’m not a heartless or loveless person, oh heavens no! I just find it hard to like this shape.

Will you share your relationship with the love-heart symbol?

… last post in Symbol series: the swastika



One response

11 04 2012
One more thing… « Melbourne Jeweller

[…] I recently wrote about the love-heart symbol… […]

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