Ever wondered why a certain animal is chosen for a coat of arms for a faction in a story? Or maybe you've daydreamed about which animal you'd select for your own personal coat of arms? Or for a crest if you owned an English football team?
So how does one go about selecting such a symbol? I'm not sure I can tell you, but I recently came across the reproduction of a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote arguing for the adoption of the rattlesnake as the symbol of America. I found the letter illuminating (besides being convinced that a rattlesnake would have been an excellent choice) and wanted to post it here in case you might find it useful in your symbol creating endeavors.
Benjamin Franklin writes:
I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising,
there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, "Don't
tread on me." As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of
every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America;
and as I have nothing to do with public affairs, and as my time is perfectly
my own, in order to divert an idle hour, I sat down to guess what could have
been intended by this uncommon device -- I took care, however, to consult on
this occasion a person who is acquainted with heraldry, from whom I learned,
that it is a rule among the learned of that science "That the worthy properties
of the animal, in the crest-born, shall be considered," and, "That the base ones
cannot have been intended;" he likewise informed me that the ancients considered
the serpent as an emblem of wisdom, and in a certain attitude of endless duration
- both which circumstances I suppose may have been had in view. Having gained
this intelligence, and recollecting that countries are sometimes represented
by animals peculiar to them, it occurred to me that the Rattle-Snake is found
in no other quarter of the world besides America, and may therefore have been
chosen, on that account, to represent her.
But then "the worldly properties" of a Snake I judged would be hard to point
out. This rather raised than suppressed my curiosity, and having frequently seen
the Rattle-Snake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished,
not only from other animals, but from those of the same genus or class of animals,
endeavoring to fix some meaning to each, not wholly inconsistent with common sense.
I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal,
and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.
She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is
therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent
all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has
furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who
are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and
even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear
weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal.
Conscious of this, she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even
to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.
Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct
of America? The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food,
and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood
to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us
not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence. I confess I was
wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, 'till I went back and counted
them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united
in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake
which increased in numbers. Perhaps it might be only fancy, but, I conceited
the painter had shown a half formed additional rattle, which, I suppose, may
have been intended to represent the province of Canada.
'Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each
other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together,
so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles
singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together,
is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.
The Rattle-Snake is solitary, and associates with her kind only when it is
necessary for their preservation. In winter, the warmth of a number together
will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish. The power
of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood
to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America
affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend
their lives with her. She strongly resembles America in this, that she is
beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth with her age, "her tongue also
is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks."