What Are the Symbols Associated With the Seven Deadly Sins?

By David NaarLast Updated May 12, 2021 1:53:50 PM ET
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Envy, lust, greed, wrath, sloth, gluttony, and pride are commonly referred to as the seven deadly sins. But, what you might not know, is that they don’t actually originate from the Bible. In fact, they were created thousands of years ago by Evagrius Ponticus, a Greek monk. One of his students later introduced them to the Christian church, which, in turn, spread our now-traditional view of the sins — as well as the notion that committing one of these sins would result in the death of one’s soul.

7 Deadly Sins Meanings

Here, we’ll explore each of the seven deadly sins in more detail by unpacking their meaning and origins as well as instances of them in folklore, pop culture, and other stories.

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Envy | Symbolism & Meaning

Envy involves wanting, or coveting, something others have — and that you don't. Often, dogs and snakes are associated with envy, as is the color green, hence the popular phrase "you're so green with envy."

One of the most well-known stories revolving around envy is that of Cain and Abel. In the tale, one brother was loved, while the other was overlooked. The overlooked brother became envious of the other one’s success and ended up killing his sibling.

Lust | Symbolism & Meaning

When you’re overwhelmed with desire, you’re experiencing the sin of lust. The animals associated with lust include cows or snakes, while blue is often the color attached to the sin — namely because folks are said to feel melancholy in the aftermath of lust.

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The theme of lust can be found just about anywhere — in fact, a character's curiosity can often lead to lust. In some interpretations of the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit is seen as a symbol of lust.

Greed | Symbolism & Meaning

Similar to envy, the sin of greed is all about desiring what you don’t have. However, the main difference is that those who are greedy actually get those things, and, as a result, Greed is commonly associated with materialism and selfishness. The unofficial symbol for greed? The frog. The color most often attached to greed is yellow due to its similarity to gold.

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Greed is a popular theme in folk stories. You might remember the story of Rumpelstiltskin, in which a greedy king keeps the miller’s daughter locked up so he can accumulate more and more gold. Additionally, the Brothers Grimm frequently explored the theme of greed and how it affected people’s lives. In more contemporary stories, Scrooge McDuck and The Simpsons' Mr. Burns are also caricatures of greed.

Wrath | Symbolism & Meaning

Uncontrolled anger leads to wrath, an intense emotion that can lead to violence. The symbol for wrath is the bear, while the color associated with it is red. Unsurprisingly, both the bear and the color red represent passion, aggression and anger.

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Homer’s Iliad provides a perfect example of wrath in literature. Achilles’ fury leads to horrible events, and, by the end, he realizes what he’s done and is filled with terrible regret. Although Achilles thought he was doing the right thing at the time, he later realized just how many people he hurt through his wrath.

Sloth | Symbolism & Meaning

Sloth is usually associated with doing nothing, but it can also go hand-in-hand with procrastination. That is, being intentionally unproductive, instead of doing things that are good for you, is considered a sin by some believers. You'd expect the animal symbol for the sin of sloth to be, well, the sloth, right? It’s actually the goat. Moreover, the color associated with sloth is light blue, which represents daydreaming.

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Lazy Heinz is a popular folk tale by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a lazy boy who never wanted to do anything and, of course, never accomplished anything. Moreover, laziness is commonly portrayed in pop culture as an unattractive characteristic.

Gluttony | Symbolism & Meaning

When you overindulge, you’re experiencing the sin of gluttony. Gluttony can also refer to acquiring too many material possessions or pleasurable things. The animal most often associated with gluttony is the pig, while the sin's color is orange. (Interestingly, you can often find shades of orange in fast food restaurants as it’s believed to stimulate your appetite — a potential source of gluttony.)

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Gluttony is a common theme in many fairy tales, including Jack and the Beanstalk. Remember the hungry giant? He represents gluttony. The Hansel and Gretel story is another example of gluttony: the titular kids just can’t stop eating a house made of candy. Of course, it turns out that the homeowner is a witch, who, in turn, wants to eat the kids to show them that their gluttonous actions have major consequences.

Pride | Symbolism & Meaning

The sin of pride is associated with big egos and high opinions of one's self. People who exhibit an unhealthy amount of pride are often unable to exhibit self-awareness. Symbols associated with pride include the horse, lion, and peacock. Moreover, the sin is represented by the color purple — historically, the hue of royalty.

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One of the most well-known Biblical stories of pride centers on the angel Lucifer, who was supposedly overly concerned with his beauty. According to some interpretations, his pride eventually corrupted him, turning him into Satan.