Animal symbolism is all around us and it works as a pointer to guide us and help us make better decisions. Animal symbols and meanings can arise in our dreams or daily encounters and even as pictures, images, or in conversations.
Understanding an animal’s symbolic meaning can help us tap into their essence and even helps us observe ourselves, our path, and the things that are going on around us at a given time.
Table of contents
- Animal Symbolism and meaning
- Animal Native American Symbolism
- Animal Eastern Symbolism
- Animal Christianity Symbolism
- Animal Celtic Symbolism
- Animal Medicine
- Animal in Dreams
- Animal Encounters and Omens
- Animal’ Mythology and Folklore
- Spirit Animal
- Totem Animal
- Power Animal
- Animal Tattoo Meaning
Animal symbolism and meaning
Whether or not you are on the spiritual path, animal symbolism and meanings can help each and every one of us. And even if we are not aware of it, there are animals that are constantly guiding us and ‘telling us things.’
That is the reason why many ancient cultures looked up to animals and birds as their teachers and guides. For example, to date, in America, the groundhog can tell us whether spring will arrive early.
In Siberia, people look up to the bears to tell them about the winter’s duration. For centuries, the Native Americans sought guidance from Native American spirit animals prior to going on their hunts.
The reason for this: Animals are more deeply connected to nature than human beings. That is why; animal symbolism can guide humans into connecting more deeply with the Universe. Animals as symbols can even guide us into making better decisions.
While each animal has a different meaning and symbolism, the underlying meaning is the same in that; each animal helps us establish a deeper spiritual connection with the Higher Realm.
The best way to utilize animal symbolism deeply is to accept the fact that animals are indeed our symbolic guides. Once you accept this, you will start to get deeper wisdom from animals, either in your dreams or through daily encounters.
Animal Native American symbolism
Native Americans received deep knowledge and valuable life lessons from animals. In many tribes, the elders communicated with animals and this was never considered as something odd or funny.
In fact, as societies have become more sophisticated, we have lost touch with nature and forgotten to communicate with these spiritual guides as the Native Americans would. Native Americans relied heavily upon animal meat and hunting for their existence and survival.
They also used animals for clothing, shelter, and bedding. Animals’ parts like bones, teeth, and, in some cases, even the penises became tools for these tribes. Therefore, for the Natives, hunting, fishing, and consumption of animals were not only a means of sustenance but also instrumental and symbolic.
Their art, songs, stories, and prayers all had animal themes. Animal masks were used during dances, rituals, story-telling, and for magic and healing ceremonies.
In native American totem, different animals started representing different things. For example, rabbits and hares became symbolic of female sexuality owing to their well-known fertility. The bear symbolized introspection as it lived solitary and even hibernated in the winters.
The bison- whose meat and skin the Natives used extensively for food and clothing- became symbolic of ‘life’ itself. Pigeons and doves, which mate for life, became symbols of monogamy and enduring love. (1)
Animal Eastern Symbolism
The Japanese have used animal symbolism for centuries. Japanese artwork often depicted animals and many ancient Japanese art pieces have been found with animals as the primary theme.
Japanese nobles enjoyed the artwork of hawks and eagles, which represent power and money. The koi fish – which live for a very long time – represented longevity to the Japanese. Peacocks, because of their beautiful tails and feathers-became the symbol of pride and even service to the Gods.
Cranes have long since symbolized good luck and were always used in Japanese pottery and art gift of Japanese origami cranes was always given to someone one wanted to wish well. In China, too, animal symbolism has very deep roots beginning with the zodiac.
The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals and people born in that year are supposed to have the qualities of that animal. So, if you are born in the year of the Horse, you would be intelligent, loyal, free-spirited, and independent.
In both countries, monkeys were revered. Monkeys and apes are very similar to humans. They walk, talk, and even look like humans to an extent. Therefore, Japanese and Chinese artwork often depicted monkeys and in Japan, monkeys were revered as the sacred animals and messengers of Shinto Gods.
Symbolism sometimes changed with time in eastern countries as it did in the West. Foxes, which were earlier revered as Gods, later came to be associated as tricksters that bewitched human beings. (2)
Animal Christianity symbolism
Animals are central to Christianity and many animals have been mentioned in the Bible as well as Christian artwork. According to the book Signs & Symbols in Christian Art by George Ferguson and George Wells Ferguson (3), the following are some common animals and their Christian symbolic animals’ meanings:
The Ape symbolizes sin, lust, greed, and in general, the slothful soul of man. Ass and ox were present during the birth of Christ and they recognized Him as the Son of God.
The basilisk is the symbol of the Devil or Antichrist. The Bear symbolizes cruelty and evil influence. Bees, because of their activity and hardworking nature, have become the symbol of activity, diligence, and good order.
Since the bee never sleeps, it has also become the animal symbol of vigilance and zeal. Bull indicates brute strength. Camels symbolize temperance and its hair has become the symbol of St. John the Baptist.
Cat is taken as the symbol of laziness and lust while the dog has become the Christian symbol of watchfulness and fidelity. The dolphin is depicted in Christian art more than other fish and has become the symbol of resurrection and salvation.
Ermine is a small animal that represents purity. The fox is a symbol of cunning and guile and has also become the symbol of the Devil. Frogs were one of the plagues of the exodus and conveyed repulsive aspects of sin.
Animal Celtic symbolism
Evidence from early Celtic documents, archaeology, and iconography shows us that animals were the basis of elaborate rituals and beliefs. The Celts revered animals, which is why they were depicted as having supernatural or divine qualities.
Early Celtic artwork also depicted animals and birds. Many times, these artistic representations were not fully realistic but seemed to reflect the perceived characteristics of the animals in a more symbolic sense.
Many Celtic legends and tales describe animals associated with magic connected with hunting. Celtic hunters are seen on horseback chasing stags and boars, animals symbolic of war because of their savagery and courage. Bulls were revered for their strength.
Domesticated animals like cows, goats, pigs, and even birds like ravens and cranes were venerated. Boars were associated with wars and hunting but also with feasts. Ravens symbolized death and many shape-shifting tales were told about these birds.
Many Celtic legends talk about humans, Gods, and Goddesses shape-shifting into animals. The Legend of Arthur (who is originally a Celt) hunts down a boar that was actually the human form of Twrch Trwyth.
Similarly, the Irish hero Finn hunts hounds that are actually his nephews. All these stories tell us that the Celts revered animals and believed them to have supernatural and magical properties.
The term animal medicine was used by Native Americans. It does not mean ‘medicine’ in the literal sense – like antibiotics or aspirin. Rather, animal medicine refers to the animal’s magical powers.
It also means the animal’s ability to heal us. Dr. Loretta Standley, who is the tribal member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, refers to the healing that an animal brings to our consciousness.
Thus, animal medicine is anything that heals, empowers, strengthens, repairs, protects, and nourishes the human body physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Thus, your spirit or power animal will offer you its ‘medicine’ when you need protection or empowerment. Animal medicine can change from time to time, based on the situation you are facing.
For example, one day, you might need hawk medicine to see more clearly; other days, you may need squirrel medicine to invest and plan for the future. Native Indians believe that when an animal wants to give us its medicine, we might encounter it often or see that animal or bird in our dreams.
You might also feel suddenly drawn to a particular animal. This is the signal that the animal is bringing its medicine to you. When this happens, you may want to find out the characteristics of the animal in question. (4)
Animal in dreams
Animals signify primal, instinctive, and sometimes base desires in dreams. Dreaming of fighting an animal may symbolize that something is worrying or frightening you.
It also indicates that you are grappling with your shadow – the hidden part of yourself that the conscious mind has rejected. Dreaming of the tail of an animal also represents your animal nature. Since the tail is behind you, it may refer to the rejection of the sexual side of yourself.
When you dream of an animal, always consider the animal’s characteristics. For example, dreaming of the bull may mean your sexuality; a growling dog represents your anger, and so on. Dreaming of an animal biting, you can also represent unexpressed aggression.
It may be an innate desire to feel wanted and loved. You may also be pestered by a problem or difficulty in your waking life. If an animal bites you in your dream, consider what its individual characteristics are.
Sometimes the dream may also be a ‘play on words.’ For example, “being bitten by a shark” could be caution about loan sharks and so on. An animal dream is also a symbol of the inner relation between you and your animal nature.
Some animals symbolize loyalty, love, and guidance. In some cases, the animal may represent a person in your waking life. Dead animals indicate aspects of yourself or your nature that you may be rejecting. Dreaming of a caged animal shows that you are holding that instinctive side of you in check. (5)
Animal encounters and omens
Here are some animals we commonly encounter and what animals symbolize or the omens they bring:
Ants – Ants signal the beginning of a busy period in your life. They are social animals, so it might also mean you need to socialize.
Beavers – beavers work in teams to achieve objectives. If a beaver swims your way, ask yourself if you have been distancing yourself from people lately?
Butterfly – Teaches about transformation.
Cat – A black cat is crossing the path is a negative omen. Other cats symbolize that magic is about to enter your life but be patient! Stay attuned to your senses.
Crow – Be prepared for some Inner Wisdom. A crow brings you a message from the Other World.
Deer – A deer teaches you about gentleness and caring. Send out love and kindness and it will be returned threefold to you!
Dog – Strive to give service and love to others and a dog will always walk by your side and show you the way!
Snake – You will have a spiritual transformation soon. Stand firm and balanced and you will weather whatever you are called to change. Create healing energy through meditation and grounding.
Squirrel – Ask yourself, are you prepared. Spend some time in planning and determination like the squirrel. (6)
Animal mythology and folklore
What do animals represent in mythology? Animals have played an important role in mythology and folklore. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner talks about the albatross. The ants created the Myrmidons, who followed Achilles in Greek mythology.
Native Americans talked of ants in their stories on patience. The apes have been portrayed in many Hollywood movies. Egyptians believed apes to be friends of the Moon God. Hindus worship the ape-God Hanuman.
The ass or donkey is revered in the Middle East for its water-carrying service. In ancient Hindu Rig-Veda, the ass/donkey/mule is demonic as well as revered. Badgers are revered by Native Americans. In Hopi legend, before coming to Planet Earth, the ancestors of a man sent the Badger Clan to check the conditions. In Greek Lore, bats are depicted as timid and shrewd.
Homer’s Odyssey mentions bats as souls of the dead in the underworld. Egyptians worshipped bats as a Mother Goddess. The bear was sacred across cultures, and in many mythological tales in Japan, Iceland, Finland, Siberia, etc., the bear was depicted as God.
The bull is a dominant figure of strength in many cultures. Ishtar, the Goddess of love and war, begs her father to – the Sky god- to create the bull of heaven and destroy Gilgamesh, who rejected her. In many cultural tales, frogs are associated with witches and poison.
In Greek mythology, hares or rabbits were associated with Hecate and also known to be Aphrodite’s favorite because of its sexual activity and fecundity. Raccoons were trickster figures in most mythological tales. Egyptian God Amon was depicted as a Ram. (7)
Animal spirit animal
In this section, we will talk about how do u find your spirit animal and what is a spirit animal?Finding your spirit animal can help you reconnect with your Inner Guidance and Wisdom.
It can take you on a higher spiritual path and get in touch with your spirit guides. In this hyper-industrialized world, we are so fraught by day-to-day mundane matters that rarely do we pause to think about or take a look at nature.
In reality, our spirit animals are waiting for us to guide us, heal us, protect us, and nourish us on physical, emotional, and spiritual planes. To find your spirit animal, take some time daily to breathe and meditate.
Reconnect with your inner self and the answer might come to you. You can look at photographs of animals and choose one that you feel drawn to the most.
In some cases, the spirit animal can come to you in your dreams. You might even encounter the animal in the most unusual places or places where you least expect to see them.
In most cases, domesticated animals like dogs, cats, cows, etc. are not spirit animals as they are subordinate to human beings. Wild animals or animals rarely encountered in cities are likely to be spirit animals. Mythical beasts like dragons, unicorns, phoenixes, etc. are also found in the spirit animal list. (8)
Animal totem animal
How to find your animal totems? Every person has nine animal totems, guiding them physically, spiritually, and emotionally. These totem animals walk beside each of us to protect, guide, teach, and communicate Wisdom through our hearts and soul.
They are our guardian angels that can be domestic animals or even from the wild animal kingdom. They can also be birds, reptiles, and insects.
On the East, your totem animal takes you on the path to spiritual illumination. Your Southern totem animal protects your pathways, whereas the west-side totem animal helps you find the Truth and get Inner answers.
Your Northern totem animal helps you become silent and makes you more balanced, teaching you when to remain silent and when to speak. The Upper totem animal connects you with the Upper realm and with your angels and spirit guides.
The Lower totem animal connects you to Mother Earth and the lower realms, keeping you more grounded. The totem animal on your Right side represents your male side and your warrior spirit or protector.
Likewise, the totem animal on your Left side is your feminine side and your nurturer. If each of us learns to connect with our spirit animals and be good guardians of Mother Earth and the environment, this planet will be healed. (9)
Animal power animal
Power animals are like totems and spirit animals. They are spiritual guides that help us navigate through life’s transformations and challenges.
You can turn to your power animals for advice and counsel when faced with questions or concerns. Power animals are exceptional teachers that teach us about the spirit world and the natural world.
Working with power animals on a regular basis will change your life for the better; it will make you more aware of your ability to manifest desires and also enhance your spiritual abilities.
Your power animal can appear to you when you meditate or while you dream in your sleep. They can also come to you when you undertake a shamanic or spiritual journey.
They can also make their way into your life in their worldly physical form. Since power animals are drawn from a person’s wild and instinctual nature, domesticated animals can rarely become a person’s power animal.
The power animal’s source of power does not stem from a single animal; rather, it derives power from its entire species. So, if your power animal is a puma, it will derive its power from the entire Felinae species, which includes cougars, mountain lions, etc.
On your part, you must extend your love and gratitude to the entire species. Thus, if your power animal is a dolphin, extend your care to all the creatures of the sea! (10)
Animal tattoo meaning
It is estimated that nearly 25% of tattoos are animal tattoos. People can relate to certain animal characteristics of their chosen tattoo. These characteristics include prowess, beauty, temperament, strength, and, sometimes, the ability to transform.
Animal tattoos then become a way for us to express our emotions, instincts, and even experiences. Naturally, animal tattoo meanings can be subjective and they largely depend on what meaning the individual ascribes to a particular animal.
In most cases, though, animal tattoos have a symbolic representation of swiftness, grace, beauty, stealth, courage, strength, purity, or poison, which are typically all based on stories, mythological or historical representations, and also the behavior of the animal in question.
Animal tattoo symbolism and meaning have been among the most ancient of representational tattoo styles. Many ancient cultures inscribed animal tattoos to invoke that animal’s instincts and characteristics.
Some animals also have historical and mythological associations. Naturally, animal symbolism has deep roots, but they vary from culture to culture.
Some of the most common animal tattoos are bats, bears, antlers, bulls, cats, deer, dogs, cheetahs, dolphins, coyotes, fox, seal, tiger, snake, panther, wolf, rabbit, etc.
Discuss your exact vision you have in mind with an experienced tattoo artist in order to get the animal tattoo you have always wanted. (11)
Animal symbolism has deep roots in traditions, cultures, and mythology. The subject is vast and there are books upon books written on this subject. One thing is for certain: an understanding of animal symbolism can help us deepen our connection with Nature and the environment and can also help us heal and even heal the climate and the planet in the process.