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OAK TREE: An oak was often the guardian tree of a family. It is the emblem of virtue and strength and resiliency. Long associated with thunder gods such as Thor, Zeus and Jupiter; denotes steadfastness, endurance. Known as the holy oak by ancient Christians, denoting worship. The Oak was the most sacred tree of all to the Celts. They believed the Oak tree symbolized the center of the universe and that the leaves of the oak tree had the power to heal.

OAR: Signifies power, skill, and knowledge; a sign of respect and salutation. Often granted for successful enterprises at sea.

OCTOFOIL: An eight leaved flower; also called a double quatrefoil. A mark of cadency of the eighth son. See Cadency.

OGRESS (same as a pellet): See Roundles.

OLIVE TREE: This popular bearing has much symbolism. Chastity: In ancient Greece the newly married bride wore an olive-garland. Fecundity: The fruit of the olive is produced in vast profusion; so that olive-trees are valuable to their owners. Merit: In ancient Greece a crown of olive-twigs was the highest distinction of a citizen who had deserved well of his country. Peace: An olive branch was anciently a symbol of peace. The vanquished that sued for peace carried olive branches in their hands. An olive-twig in the hands of a king (on medals), as in the case of Numa, indicated a reign of peace. Victory: The highest prize in the Olympic games was a crown of olive-leaves. It is said that Athene (Minerva) and Poseidon (Neptune) disputed the honour of giving a name of a certain city of Greece, and agreed to settle the question by a trial of which could produce the best gift for the new city. Athena commanded the earth to bring forth the olive-tree. Poseidon commanded the sea to bring forth the war-horse. Athena's gift was judged the better, and the city was called Athens, hence the origin of the Olive Tree.

OPINICUS: A beast with the body and fore legs of a lion, the head, neck and wings of an eagle, with the tail of a camel; a medieval monster, emblematic of a valiant protector that could defy all dangers, and embolden the weak.

ORDINARIES: Are certain charges in common use in arms, and in their simple forms are bounded by straight lines. Their number has never been precisely agreed upon, but most heralds recognize nine principal ones, which they call honourable, namely, the cross, the chief, the pale, the bend, the bend sinister, the fesse, the bar, the saltire, and the chevron.


Chief: Honourable ordinary occupying the whole of the top and one-third of the total surface of the shield, and it has often been granted as a special reward for prudence and wisdom, as well as for successful command in war. The chief betoken a senator or honourable personage borrowed from the Greeks, and is a word signifying a 'head', in which sense we call capitaneous (so named for caput, the head), a chieftain. As the head is the chief part of a man, so the chief in the escutcheon should be a reward of such only, whose high merits have procured them chief place, esteem, or love amongst men.

Cross: Faith; service in the Crusades. See Crosses.

Saltire Cross or St. Andrews Cross: Symbol of resolution; reward of such as has scaled the walls of towns.

Chevron: Protection; granted as a reward to one who has achieved some notable enterprise. Said to represent the rooftree of a house, and has sometimes been given to those who have built churches or fortresses or who have accomplished some work of faithful service.

Fesse: Represents a military belt or girdle of honour. The word Fesse is a French word; and signifies the loins of a man. The girdle of honour may seem to have been in ancient time given by Emperors, and Kings, and their Generals of the field unto soldiers, for reward of some special service performed by them. This Ordinary has been anciently taken for the same that we call Baltheum militare or a belt of honour. The bestowing of this military girdle was reputed very honourable because none were to receive it but men of merit. If a knight was disarmed of his Military girdle by his demerits and offence, he is there-with-all deprived of all Military privileges.

Bar: For one who sets the bar of conscience, religion and honour against angry passions and evil temptations; denotes some high excellence in its first bearer.

Pale: Military strength and fortitude; bestowed upon those who have impaled or otherwise defended cities, or who have supported the government of their sovereigns, and for standing uprightly for their prince and country.

Bend: Bearing of high honour; represents the scarf or shield suspender of a knight commander signifying defence or protection; granted to those who have distinguished themselves as commanders. The symbolism also applies to the Bends diminutives the Bendlet and the Cotise.

OSPREY: Also known as the fish hawk, the Osprey is the only bird of prey that feeds solely on live fish. Known for its acuity of sight, the Osprey has been used to represent those of vision; it is also a symbol of abundance and long used as a totem of the Fisherman.

OSTRICH: First domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and Romans who used them to pull their triumphal chariots. The parent does not sit and hatch its eggs, but lets the sun do its work while it guards them vigilantly. Denotes willing obedience and serenity and is also a symbol of meditation.

OTTER: Related to the minks and weasels and having webbed feet and dense, dark brown fur. Otter hunting was once a favourite pastime and the fur was quite prized by those of noble blood. The otter is a symbol of grace and empathy. It is said the otter is also emblematic of a man who lives life to the fullest measure; it may also represent a person of great dexterity and adroitness.

OUNCE: A fierce animal granted to a warrior who had proven an ability to devise and execute stratagems and cunning to the great disadvantage of the enemy. Usually borne as a snow leopard, which is smaller than a leopard, with a tawny white top, grey bottom and strewn with spots.

OWL: Usually shown full-faced or guardant, a hawk-like creature, the owl is the bird of Athena (Minerva), Greek goddess of wisdom and favourite daughter of Zeus. Athena is best known for her embodiment of reason, strength and wisdom and for assisting others on their heroic journey for self-mastery and understanding; since this century's old connection with Athena/Minerva the owl has been used to denote one who is vigilant, prudent and of acute wit.

OYSTER CATCHER: It is said the bearer is shy, yet vigilant, and always on the alert.

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Heraldry Symbolism Library by Armorial Gold Heraldry Services is provided as a free resource tool for Heraldry enthusiasts. The Heraldry Symbolism Library and the information contained therein, has been researched through original manuscripts and Armorial Gold’s own sources. The Heraldry Symbolism Library is provided as a free resource tool for Heraldry enthusiasts. Reproduction in any form is prohibited.