The Ubiquitous Heart in Cremation Necklaces
by Maggie Thompson
The first piece of jewelry I remember is a small gold heart locket, with a tiny diagonal row of two pearls and three garnets on one side and a little bird etched on the other. When I was a child, my mother would gently fasten it around my neck for special occasions. I still have it, along with warm memories of my parents and childhood.
The ubiquitous heart shape carries symbolic meaning, resonating with notes of love and devotion. But how did this originate? And how has it evolved today?
The heart long ago
In ancient Egypt, the heart was thought to hold the mind and soul of the individual – the pulse and life force. During divine judgment of the deceased, the heart was weighed against the feather of truth. A heart unburdened with the weight of sin and corruption would balance with the feather, and its possessor would be admitted to eternal paradise.
Many classical and medieval philosophers and scientists, including Aristotle and the Roman physician Galen, considered the heart as the seat of thought, reason or emotion. The Stoics taught that the heart was where the human soul resided.
The earliest heart images found in Egyptian iconography were vases with handles. The vases faithfully represented the heart of a sheep. The handles corresponded to the placement of veins and arteries.
In European traditional art and folklore, the heart symbol evolved into the stylized shape that we recognize today. It first appeared on a Valentine’s Day card in 1910.
Possible origins of the heart in jewelry
A 3000-year-old Bronze Age heart ring found in Armenia indicates that hearts have been a symbol of adornment for millennia.
In 15th century Europe, hearts began to be a popular symbol in jewelry. The distinctive open heart brooch was called a Witch’s Heart. It wasn't necessarily seen as a love token. This heart was thought to be a talisman with protective qualities that warded off the evil eye. It also protected a mother during childbirth and nursing. In Scotland, they became known as Luckenbooths, named for the closed booths in Edinburgh where these tokens were sold. They were pinned to a baby’s blanket to protect the sleeping child.
In the 1600’s, the heart was seen in the Stuart crystal heart-shaped locket, which almost always contained a lock of hair of a loved one. Initials or other images could be superimposed. If worn empty, the transparent heart signified truth or purity. It could also be a necklace of mourning jewelry, featuring hair or other mementos in the transparent dedication area.
During the Georgian era of British history, the Witch’s Heart gained its distinctive appearance of a twist to one side at the bottom of the brooch. The symbolism of a Witch’s Heart took on the meaning of love between two people. Images of a crown, symbolizing loyalty, were often incorporated atop Witch’s Heart designs as betrothal jewelry. Many were made of garnets, themselves a symbol of love and affection. The Witch’s Heart meant that the wearer had “bewitched” the giver. A double heart brooch signified serious commitment.
The heart of necklaces today
Hearts continue to be prevalent in jewelry, with as many variations as there are tastes in design and fashion.
In a recent news article covering a current exhibit of Yves Saint Laurent creations at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, there is a heart necklace on a model wearing a wedding gown. It is noted that a heart necklace was the secret designation of the designer’s favorite dress in each of his runway shows.
The Heart of the Ocean, a sapphire and diamond necklace, survived the sinking of the Titanic, and became a mystical symbol for the 1997 movie.
The heart in memorial jewelry
Not surprisingly, hearts have made their way into cremation jewelry for ashes.
A OneWorld Memorials’ customer favorite is the Ultramarine Heart cremation necklace, a radiant blue gemstone held in its setting with two curved silver bands, suggestive of loving arms.
Other necklaces for ashes in the same style with different gemstones include:
- the Byzantine heart with a rich purple stone
- the heart of Obsidian, said to symbolize protection
- the Halcyon Clarity, a clear gemstone, perhaps stemming from Stuart crystal heart lockets
Hearts find their way into specifically-designed pendants, such as those below:
- the Baby Feet cremation necklace is a subtle, discreet memorial necklace for those who have lost an infant
- a Teddy Bear heart holds a small portion of ashes
- the silhouette of a cat highlights the Black Cat cremation necklace
- a gold-plated paw print accents the Golden Paw necklace for ashes
Though many of the heart necklaces and other pendants offered by OneWorld Memorials are designed as jewelry that holds ashes, one can be creative. Instead of ashes, add a lock of hair, dried flowers, a bit of pet fur, a snippet from a bridal veil, or any small meaningful memento.
Today in 2017, the integrity of the heart continues to stand sure as a symbol of love.
Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.