Another Non-believer's symbol

I've always enjoyed playing around with different sorts of symbolism. I don't know if I'm any good at creating new symbols, but I do have fun with it.

So when I saw the request for the creation of a new symbol for Atheism on PZ Myers's Pharyngula blog I thought, “I'll bet I could design something that would work!” And of course I promptly forgot about it. But later, after the contest ended, I kept thinking of what might make a good symbol that represented non-belief, ration thought, and critical skepticism. Since then, the call has gone out again with results that I've found less than satisfying.

I think a good symbol should easily be silk-screened or stenciled in a single color, or easily doodled, or turned into recognizable jewelery. I wanted a symbol that would be easy to remember, that would be difficult to mistake for something else. A symbol that would still be recognizable even if the proportions were a bit off. So I started looking at other symbols for inspiration. Of course I've found that existing symbols are either complex or trademarked.

The one symbol that kept reappearing again and again in my reading was the Pansy flower. It has seemed like the most acceptable for many non-believers due to the depth of history behind it. The Pansy's name comes from the French word pensée, which means “Thought”, and it was so named because the face of the flower resembles a person nodding deep in thought. The Pansy has been identified with thought for a long time and first appeared as a Freethought symbol late in the 1800's.

In 1885 the famous orator Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll was elected president of the American Secular Union. This organization was allied with the Freethought Federation, and dedicated to promoting the separation of Church and State in the United States. These were the first groups to start using the Pansy flower as a symbol, and that tradition continues today with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who also uses the Pansy as a symbol of Freethought and as a reminder of our natural, and only, world.

The modern cultivated Pansy has experienced almost 200 years of breeding to make it hardy, give a wider variety of colors, and to increase its size. Because of this I think is an excellent symbol to apply toward non-believers, Secular Humanists, Skeptics, Freethinkers and others who promote the methods of science and rational, critical thought. I've seen many Atheistic symbols based upon the tools of science – but I think a symbol based upon the results of science is more appropriate.

The Pansy flower would be a perfect symbol if only it were easier to draw!

I was inspired by my copy of the Boy Scout Handbook where I was reminded that the Fleur-de-lis symbol is a part of the Scout uniform. I find the source of my inspiration to be somewhat ironic.

“Fleur de lis” is literally translated as “Flower of the Lilly” and is thought to be based upon Iris pseudacorus, which I'm also showing here. You can see that the complex, hard to draw shape of this flower becomes an easily recognized, fairly easy to draw heraldic symbol. I thought I could do the same thing with the Pansy Flower.

And this is what I've come up with – a simple symbol that represents the 5 petals of the Pansy, with associated flash on the three lower petals, all joined at the throat of the flower. Since it is based upon simple triangles and rectangles with rounded corners, it is easier to draw than the FFRF's pansy, and it is distinct from it. It is a Fleur-de-pensée, a “flower of thought”.

By itself, or inside of a circular hoop, it would make great jewelery. It is easy to recreate freehand – the proportions are not as critical as, say, the Biohazard symbol or the circle of the IPU. It can be colored, and other symbols can be overlaid on top of it or embedded inside of it in much the same way that different organizations use the Fleur-de-lis.

Since I've created this Fleur-de-pensée, I could easily copyright it, trademark it and market it if I so wished, but I think that is counter productive. So I'm releasing this symbol to the public domain, free for anyone to use, with only one restriction.

The only requirement that I make is what this symbol represents. As long as anyone uses a symbol that is recognizably based upon or derived from the Fleur-de-pensée, it will always represent scientific, skeptical and rational inquiry into our natural world, without the need to resort to the supernatural. It also indicates a willingness to explore moral philosophies that originate with humans and benefit all humanity while respecting individual human rights.

And that's it. Maybe this symbol will be a flop – non-believers are notorious for refusing to herd together under a single banner, nor do I expect them to do so. But maybe this symbol will succeed in the marketplace of successful memes where others have not. Go ahead, put the symbol on your own products and sell them. Embed the symbol into your personal symbol, or embed your symbol into this. Color it, use it in Heraldry, play with it. And although I'd appreciate a mention that I invented this symbol, I won't require it. (I'll insert my completely optional hint for swag here!)

And it won't matter to me a bit if you don't “play nice” with the Fleur-de-pensée, or if you re-define it to mean something else. The Internet won't forget where it came from, or that this symbol acknowledges that a belief in the supernatural is unnecessary to rational thought, scientific progress, and human morality.

Have fun with it!

17 Aug 07 Update: I've recreated the symbol in Scalable Vector Graphics format and have saved copies in SVG and Adobe PDF. You can find them in this post.

26 Sept 08 Update: The
Fleur-de-pensée has become a tattoo! See it here!


Anonymous said...

I followed PZ's effort to find an Atheist symbol with interest and hope. There were many creative ideas but none that felt exactly right. Many of the suggestions incorporated a world view (naturalism, humanism, etc.), thereby making "Atheist" an umbrella covering other principles, philosophies, or world view's. It occurred to me later that this is exactly backward. Being an Atheist neither means nor implies anything else. Atheism cannot be an umbrella for anything, hence the famous "herding cats" thing.
I really like the "Fluer de Pensee". The "Flower of Thought" has an appropriate historical meaning. Your drawing is neato, neato. But most important, the umbrella is "THOUGHT" which will nicely cover atheism, skepticism, rationality, etc.
I like it. I like it. I like it and hope it catches on. One point: Would you mind if I substituted "ethical questions" for "moral philosophies" in your second requirement for use? It's a connotation thing.

Calladus said...

trailrider, I think I could easily accept "ethical questions" instead of "moral philosophies", since "Ethics" is just another way of saying "moral philosophy".

Glad you like the symbol. I hope others do too. Spread the meme!

Anonymous said...

I like it much better than the "A" for Atheist. I hope it will catch on.

Unknown said...

Hello, Calladus. I'm not quite sure what my tag is going to say, but sufice to say, I've been intrigued by your blog since I found it (via the atelier posts) some time ago. I wanted to say that I liked your approach to coming up with an atheist symbol, and the subject you decided to try does seem appropriate. But there's something that's been bothering me since I first read about it (over a year ago now1!), and today seemed like as good a day as any to come back and ask; You do know that 'pansy' is a rare-yet-somehow-well-known insult, meaning "without courage" or "coward" or "wimp," yes?

I know it sounds a little petty to bring thus up, given all the history and thought that went into the choice, that maybe disassociating "coward" and "thought" may have been part of the point in the first place. But, as it was not mentioned in your original post, I was just wondering if it had crossed your mind, and, if so, what your thought process was. Hopefully you will still be around enough to see my comment and reply, but I guess if you don't feel the need that's all right. Thank you for reading (if you do) and for all the content that's here, and I hope you enjoy your summer.


Calladus said...

Where I grew up (in the South) Pansy meant 'effeminate', in a weak, cowardly, homosexual sort of way.

Pretty rough huh?

But this isn't a "Pansy", it's a "Fluer de Pensee" - pronounced in the French style (something like 'Pen-say'). That definitely means thought, and it can imply whatever we wish.

Yes, some people will use "Pansy" as an insult. So what? Religious people already use "Atheist" as an insult, and then they are arrogant enough to define the word for us and argue with us when we object to their definition.

Big deal.

The pensee has a history, it has meaning, and it has been used for far longer than any other freethought symbol. The FFRF uses it, at least one atheist has it tattooed (twice!) to her body, and we can do with it as we like.

Personally, I'd like to see some of our larger, scarier-looking members with the fluer de pensee on a T-shirt. Let us see who calls them 'coward' or 'effeminate'.

SBIMEZM86 said...

I must say, out of all the atheist symbols I've seen thus far, this is the only one I like (well, I was actually somewhat fond of the empty element mathematical symbol but it does work, in the end of things).

I've been made a co-chair for the InterFaith group on my campus for next year and I wanted to let you know I'm going to use the Fleur de pensée in the logo for the group (given our atheist group doesn't really have a recognized symbol to represent them yet).

That's really awesome, I truly hope this catches on.

Jaft said...

I must say, out of all the atheist symbols I've seen thus far, this is the only one I like (well, I was actually somewhat fond of the empty element mathematical symbol but it does work, in the end of things).

I've been made a co-chair for the InterFaith group on my campus for next year and I wanted to let you know I'm going to use the Fleur de pensée in the logo for the group (given our atheist group doesn't really have a recognized symbol to represent them yet).

That's really awesome, I truly hope this catches on.

Calladus said...


I got your comment, but blogger ate it for some reason. If you want to repost it, please do.

Thanks for letting me know you're using this symbol. I too, hope it catches on.

The atheist / skeptic group that I cofounded is currently looking for a new logo. It's a logo contest. You could actually win something for helping us with our logo.