Saturday, 19 October 2019

Bat symbolism

Dr Joe Nunez-Mino (Director of Communications and Fundraising) ponders on the symbolism of bats. [This blog is based on an article originaly published in the June 2014 edition of Bat News - the Bat Conservation Trust membership magazine]

We get a few "odd" phone calls at BCT but in 2014 one particular call got my heart racing when the voice on the phone said “There are bats at Angel underground station”. My initial excitement was a little more subdued when told the bats were in fact part of an advertising campaign by Bacardi, one of the most famous companies using a bat as its logo. I rushed to see the spectacle that same evening and to be honest was very impressed. The bats were everywhere but the highlight was a tunnel where bats were flying above my head as I walked down.

Obviously, as members of BCT we all love bats but this experience got me thinking about what they symbolise for society at large. The most famous bat logo known across the world is that of Batman, an unusual superheroe since he has no super powers; yet in this, his 80th anniversary year, he is as popular as ever.

A quick look through the Bat News archives revealed an article from 2010 eloquently describing the celebration of bats in Chinese culture, in particular the five blessing motif Wu fu, of five bats surrounding the tree of life and representing long life, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death. In Europe, bats have more often been associated with witchcraft and magic sometimes with horrific consequences. In 1332 at Bayonne (France), Lady Jacaume was burned in public after a neighbour affirmed that “crowds of bats” harboured “around her house and walled-in garden”. Thankfully most people are more enlightened nowadays. This association of bats with the darker aspects of humanity is also seen in other cultures such as the Maya from South America where Camazotz (Bat God) represented night, death and sacrifice. By contrast, Native American cultures incorporate more positive bat traits such as communication and rebirth.

Japanese bat netsuke made of boxwood. Like in Chinese culture a symbol of luck.

The mystical powers often associated with bats are not always portrayed in a negative light.In fact the background to the bat becoming Bacardi’s logo may well be traced back to the use of the bat as a heraldic symbol by the former crown of Aragon which included the area in Spain where the Bacardi family originated. This, combined with the fact that bats roosted in the first commercial distillery building in the city of Santiago (Cuba), ensured the bat as part of the brand since 1862. Other drinks companies also use bats as part of their logo. Waxed Bat shiraz incorporates bats remembering bats in his grandfather’s wine cellars, while Bats blood wine from Transylvania makes the obvious connection with Dracula.

Bats are still used in the coat of arms of several Spanish cities once belonging to the crown of Aragon. All explanations for this date back to the reign of the King James I the Conqueror in the 13th century. The most popular story recounts how a bat woke the kingdom’s soldiers as they lay siege to Valencia (which still has a bat on its coat of arms) and saved them from a surprise attack.

In more modern times, military units across the globe have continued to use bats as their logos, mostly to reflect the fact that they operate under the cover of night. Examples include Australia, Canada, USA, Israel, Belgium, Czech Republic, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and South Africa. In Russia, the bat has been used as part of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU Spetsnaz) since the end of World War II. In the UK, the RAF 9th squadron have a bat in the centre of their badge along with their motto “Per noctum volamus” (Throughout the night we fly). It is claimed that the bat was chosen to make good humoured fun of Air Marshall Trenchard, often credited as the founder of the RAF, who stated "Only bats and bloody fools fly at night!” The squadron’s base at Honington (Suffolk) is nicknamed “Gotham city” because of its bat themed insignia.

I have not had the chance to mention all the sports teams, including many from Spain (again showing the crown of Aragon influence), which proudly display bats on their badges. It’s definitely worth encouraging more people to use the bat in their logos and we have recently been in touch with a school that may be incorporating bats into their emblem.

Have you got any bat logos or symbolism that you would like to share with us? – send details and photos to comms@bats.org.uk

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