The History of the Heart

Feb. 12, 2010, 12:10 a.m.

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, it is inevitable that boxes of chocolate, red roses and stuffed animals will soon be everywhere. You really can’t have Valentine’s Day without these various items — at least if you want a Valentine. People will soon be decorating their rooms red and pink, and be given Hallmark cards covered in hearts. Another critical staple of V-day — the heart symbol. Trust me, on Sunday you won’t be able to escape it! If you ask me, it really doesn’t make any sense. I’ve taken sciences classes and I know my heart does not look anything like that! I’ve always wondered where the symbol came from, so I conducted a little investigation in preparation for the coming holiday; it turns out the symbol for the heart has undergone quite a transformation. Let’s start at the beginning.

In ancient India, the word “yoni” was mentioned in The Vedas, a collection of religious texts, in several different contexts. From this source, “yoni” came to mean “origin of life,” epitomizing femininity and symbolized by a shape conveying the external female genitalia. It happens to look like a crude, unrefined heart. The belief was that women were endowed with divine energy because of their ability to create life. The yoni symbol can be found on thousands of ancient Indian artifacts as an image of fertility and womanly energy. This figure laid the foundation for what we today call a heart.

The History of the HeartAlchemy is responsible for the symbol’s next mutation. Eventually, the yoni symbol evolved into an upside down triangle. Alchemists used this symbol to represent water, or downward flow. This graphic mirrors that of the pubic bone and the image continued to represent femininity and womanhood. One particular alchemist, Aristotle, believed that the human heart was the center of all emotions because it is so easily affected by how we are feeling; for example, it beats faster when we are excited or nervous. Although he was incorrect, due to his theories and because the symbol was related to affection and intimacy (having sex and giving birth), the shape that evolved from the yoni was soon called a “heart.”

Over time, the upside down triangle’s shape was modified, reworked and commercialized to become the form it is known as today. So this Valentine’s Day, whenever you see the classic heart shape, and you definitely will see it a lot, you will now know that it originated from a shape representing a woman’s capacity to make life and give birth, and that it slowly evolved into the quintessential symbol for love and affection.

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