Every Rose Has Its Thorn: Exploring the Symbolism and Spirituality of Thorns

green branch close up with thorns main

Plants have thorns to protect themselves. Humans also are prickly to guard against dangers. Thorns are little things that can fester and become really harmful. They can entangle us and choke our self-confidence. It is very important to have a support system, sometimes arising from surprising places. Thorns also can have positive spiritual meanings, including things that protect, keep us strong, and be able to take all comers.  

Spirituality and Symbols 

Spirituality is all about providing meaning in one’s life.  

Symbols play an important part in our spiritual journey. The biblical scholar Bart Ehrman tells us that symbols reveal our “deepest values, commitments, perspectives, and beliefs.”  

Thorns are powerful symbols.  We talk about someone being a “thorn in our side.”  We tell our children stories about a mouse becoming friends with a lion by taking a thorn out of his foot.  Christians believe Jesus died for our sins wearing a crown of thorns.  A lot of meaning there.

Why Do Plants Have Thorns?  

Every rose has its thorn
Just like every night has its dawn
Just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song
Every rose has its thorn, yeah, it does

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison

We talked all about the symbolism of roses, which are usually given for happy occasions, even if some people don’t like “friends zone” varieties.  That is until you prick your finger. 

Roses technically have prickles, but let’s not ruin the song.  Plants have thorns as a means of protection.  Animals know better than to mess with them after they get stung.  

Humans Have Thorns Too 

Thorns symbolize those things that we use to protect ourselves.  We put up barriers and become “prickly” because deep down we are fragile.  Others might only see the thorns and not the softer part of us underneath.  When others prick us and cause us to bleed, ask why.  

Thorns also symbolize all things that sting.  It is hard to think about anything that will not perhaps provide some pain.  As the song says, every rose has its thorn.  

Lion and the Mouse

There is an ancient fable about a powerful lion in a great deal of pain. The lion cried out but no one would help.  Then, a little mouse took out a thorn stuck in its paw.  The lion suddenly felt much better.  The lion and the mouse were now great friends.  What are the spiritual lessons? 

First, small things (like the thorn) can cause a lot of pain, guilt, and anxiety.  A little thing can fester and the resulting trouble will be very hard to remove or solve.  

Second, we should not ignore the pain of others, including when we think it’s trivial.  We should not think “someone else will help them” or that they will be able to help themselves.  

Finally, and maybe most importantly, our saviors can come from the most unlikely places.  And, we should repay them, if we can, in kind.  Because your helper surely will have their own thorns.

Jesus and His Crown of Thorns 

In the Bible, thorns symbolize the many difficulties we suffer through in life.  Some birds find food among thistles and thorns.  But, for most people, thorns were painful signs of danger and the absence of productive crops necessary to feed themselves and their animals.  

The gospels tell us that when Jesus died, he wore a crown of thorns.  The thorns were used by the Romans as a means of shame and punishment.  For Christians, they are a symbol of Jesus Christ’s suffering, as well also a symbol of sorrow.  Many different possible spiritual meanings.  

Christians believe his suffering was a great act of love, a means to redeem our sins.  Thorns can symbolize suffering and sacrifice for the good of others.  

Beware the Thorns 

Abraham Lincoln loved to tell amusing stories that also have a moral.  A bit of sugar to help the medicine go down.  Jesus loved to tell stories too.  They are known as parables.  

He told on story about someone planting some seeds.  The seeds here symbolize the success of the lessons of his ministry.  The seeds were scattered all over, some found fruitful ground to grow but “some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”  

Thorns can be many things such as not trusting ourselves or misplaced shame. The thorns entangle and choke us.  They symbolize our spiritual failures, those things that we must resist.  

Thorn Tattoos 

Tattoos are an important means of self-expression that uses our body as a canvas.  

Thorns and similar-looking images (such as barbed wire) are the choices of many people.  Such imagery has both positive and negative meanings.  

We saw that thorns are used for protection.  Many cultures, including Africans, Celts, and Native Americans, believe thorns symbolize protection. They also show that the person is strong, tenacious, and someone who can survive whatever is thrown at them.  

A thorn tattoo, however, also can have a spiritual meaning that tells of the person’s pain and suffering.  They also might have had to make a difficult sacrifice in their lives.  

Like many symbols, thorns provide a complex range of spiritual meanings.