Freedom is a basic human right and one that people have been fighting for since ancient times. While freedom can mean different things to different people, whether it’s freedom from slavery or oppression, or the freedom to choose the one you love, the bottom line remains the same – it’s the right to speak, think, or act without restraint.
Over the centuries, various symbols have been used to represent freedom. Most of these symbols are universal, and are popular in jewelry, fashion, and décor.
1. North Star
Symbolism: Freedom, hope, and guidance
For centuries, navigators and travelers depended on the North Star to guide them on their voyages. In the US, the North Star was used by runaway slaves during the 1800s, helping the escaping African Americans to find their way to the northern states and Canada.
Slaves would travel via the Underground Railroad—not a physical railroad—consisted of secret routes like caves, forests, rivers, safe houses, and churches. Most slaves didn’t have maps or compasses, so the North Star showed them the path on their journey northward. Over time, the North Star became associated with freedom and hope.
The star is also associated with life’s purpose, making it a meaningful symbol to wear in jewelry. Most jewelry designs depict it as a pointed star with a central stone. Whether it’s a pair of earrings, or necklace, North Star jewelry will inspire you to achieve your full potential.
Symbolism: Freedom, idealism, and change
In astrology, each planet has its own symbolism, which is believed to influence a person’s mood and personality, depending on when they were born. Uranus represents individual freedom, idealism, change, and even rebellion.
The planetary symbol for Uranus is a combination of two other signs: The Sun’s symbol and Mars’ spear. It’s said that Uranus was the personification of heaven in Roman mythology, and the ancients thought that the Sun’s light and Mars’ power ruled the heavens.
Some jewelry designs depict Uranus as a planet with bluish color, while others feature its planetary sign. This is a subtle way to incorporate the concepts of individual freedom in your jewelry choices.
Symbolism: Freedom and independence
Birds are the first thing that comes to mind when we think of freedom and independence. They have the ability to fly and explore places, hence the expression “free as a bird”. Some cultures also imbue specific meanings to certain birds.
In some cultures, the falcon is used to symbolize freedom from slavery, as the bird tends to escape the keeper’s hand and flies free, never to return. Other birds, such as the seagull, are also associated with freedom and the ability to fly away from restrictions. The novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach firmly fixed the association between seagulls and freedom.
However, not all birds are used to represent freedom, as owls, ravens, and vultures are often associated with ill omens in superstitions and folklore.
Because of how versatile bird motifs are, there are many options to choose when thinking of bird jewelry to represent freedom. For example, a bird flying away from a birdcage or a bird in flight are two popular depictions of birds in jewelry.
Symbolism: Freedom, speed, and vitality
Known for being as “fast as the wind”, horses are a popular symbol of freedom, speed, and vitality. They like to wander freely without any restrictions. In fact, when we think of horses, we tend to picture them running wild and free. However, during the 17th and 18th centuries, horses were the primary means of transportation, and were used to pull chariots and wagon – much like caged birds. In the Chinese zodiac, people born in the year of the horse are believed to be high-spirited and energetic.
Horses aren’t a typical motif for jewelry – but they can be incorporated into unique designs. Jewelry featuring horses are statement pieces that catch the eye – just like horses themselves.
Symbolism: Freedom and perseverance
Fish represent freedom from all restraint, as they move freely in the water. In some religions and cultures, different fish hold various symbolism. For example, in Chinese culture, the carp is admired for its struggles against the current, associating it with perseverance. A tank containing goldfish or carp is a common sight in temples.
Fish in jewelry, like horses, isn’t common. But it’s a subtle way to incorporate the concept of individuality and freedom.
Symbolism: Freedom, success, and spirituality
If a bird loses its wings, it also loses its freedom and ability to fly. Therefore, the expression to clip someone’s wings means to limit his or her ability to do things. Apart from birds, fairies and angels are also depicted with wings, associating the symbol with spirituality. In Hinduism, wings are symbolic of the freedom of leaving earthly things behind, in order to reach paradise.
In Greek mythology, Hermes had winged sandals, which allowed him to fly, travel quickly, and deliver messages. In another myth, Daedalus and Icarus make wings to escape the Island of Crete. In all these myths, wings symbolize the ability to escape, move freely, and be independent of normal human restraints.
Whether it’s a pair of winged earrings or winged pendant, your jewelry will surely inspire you to soar high and reach your goals.
Symbolism: Freedom and balance
Since most kites can fly in the lightest breeze, they are associated with freedom and balance. It’s unclear when they were invented, but the earliest known Chinese kites were made of silk fabric and bamboo. Later, they were decorated with legendary figures and mythological motifs. Chinese merchants even used them to determine whether a voyage would be prosperous or not.
Throughout history, kites have been used to deliver messages, spy on enemies, and ward off evil. Interestingly, the Wright Brothers were also skilled at kite flying, and many believe that their skills led to the invention of the airplane. In India, kites are flown every Independence Day to mark freedom from British rule.
If you need a constant reminder to soar high in the sky, think of kite motifs in jewelry. The kite symbol in jewelry is quite subtle since it looks like a diamond shape – a popular shape in jewelry.
8. Broken Birdcage
Symbolism: Freedom and independence
A bird has the ability to fly, but flying is impossible inside a cage, associating cages with confinement or oppression. On the other hand, an empty or broken birdcage means being able to claim one’s freedom and independence.
In art, birdcages are used to represent dependence and lack of freedom. In The Birdcage by Henry Tonks, a woman is depicted wearing a luxurious gown, with a birdcage decoration in the scene, suggesting her wealth and financial dependence upon her husband. In some interpretations, the birdcage can also imply being trapped within marriage. In the play Trifles, it symbolizes the prison of Mrs. Wright’s marriage.
This is why the image of an empty birdcage is striking, representing escape from oppression. Apart from empty birdcages, you could also consider jewelry designs that depict birds escaping their cages as a reminder of breaking free from a caged life.
Symbolism: Freedom, authority, and success
In medieval Europe, cities were walled, and gates were locked at night, so residents were given keys, suggesting their freedom and authority to enter or leave the city as they please. Keys open locks, doors, and passageways, associating them with success and achievements that were previously out of reach. Whether it’s a skeleton key pendant or bracelet charm, the symbol will remind you of the freedom to enjoy life.
10. Raised Fist
Symbolism: Freedom, resistance, and power
A common gesture in protests, the raised fist has become a symbol of political solidarity, freedom, and power. In Honoré Daumier’s The Uprising, the gesture captured the revolutionary’s spirit to fight against European monarchies during the French revolution. It was also adopted by the Black power movement in the 1960s.
In the United States, a country that continues to break free from racial discrimination, the raised fist remains a common sight. The symbol can be found spray painted on the sides of buildings and sidewalks. To remind you to fight for your rights, think of incorporating the raised fist gesture in your jewelry. Who knows, the symbol might also inspire others to fight for their freedom.
11. Red Carnation
Symbolism: Freedom, independence, and democracy
Flowers have been used as political symbols, and their names have been used to label revolutionary movements. In Portugal, red carnations are credited for bringing democracy to the country. They’re associated with the Carnation Revolution in 1974, when civilians gave the flowers to the soldiers who then placed them in their guns, so almost no shots were fired.
It’s said that the Carnation Revolution was Portugal’s third successful military coup of the 20th century, so the flowers became symbols of freedom and independence of the country. Even though the revolution brought down years of dictatorship in the country, it was bloodless and peaceful. After the revolution, the country has been a democratic republic.
Later, the colonialized territories of Africa, including the São Tomé, Mozambique, and Cape Verde gained their independence from Portugal. Today, April 25 is celebrated in Portugal as Freedom Day.
Red carnations are rooted in patriotism, but they also remind us that we have the freedom to make choices in life. Some jewelry design features dried flowers in resin, while others depict the frilly petals of the flower.
Symbolism: Freedom, fertility, and good luck
Legend has it that the ancient Druids worshipped mistletoe and climbed the trees to harvest it. Since it’s a parasitic plant that grows on branches of trees, the ancients regarded it as a symbol of freedom and liberation. In Virgil’s Aeneid, it signifies good luck, as Trojan hero Aeneas carries a golden bough, which is believed to be a mistletoe, in order to enter the underworld.
Eventually, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe became popular. It’s believed to have originated from an ancient fertility tradition, where the mistletoe served as an emblem of fertility. While it feels festive to wear it in jewelry, it can also remind you to get away from the restraints of life and be free. You may also think of minimalist and architectural jewelry styles, instead of Christmas-inspired designs.
Freedom is thought to bring lasting happiness and satisfaction in life so many people have taken steps to experience that independence. However, the concept of freedom differs from one person to another. Whether cultural, political, or religious emblem, these symbols are great reminders for you to choose what you want to choose.