Animals have held symbolic meaning in cultures around the world for thousands of years. They have been depicted in art, stories, myths, and folklore as representing various human traits, supernatural powers, spiritual guides, clan protectors, and much more. Here we explore some of the common symbolic meanings associated with various animals.
- Strength, power
- Ferocity when provoked
- Nurturing protective nature
- Connection to primal instincts
The bear is often revered for its raw strength and power. At the same time, the female bear’s nurturing protection of her cubs reveals a softer, caring side. The bear reminds us to connect to our primal wild instincts while maintaining compassion.
- Freedom, limitless potential
- Connection to air/sky/heavens
- Messengers, carrying messages between worlds
- Hope, inspiration
With their ability to soar high in the sky, birds have long symbolized concepts like freedom, limitless potential, hope, and inspiration. Their connection to the air and heavens also symbolizes a connection between the earthly and spiritual realms truespiritanimal.com, as well as the ability to traverse between worlds as messengers.
- Feminine power, goddess energy
- Curiosity, cleverness
The cat has long been associated with feminine power and the energy of the goddess. This is connected to the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. Cats are also thought to represent mystery, curiosity, independence, cleverness, and unpredictability due to their aloof and mysterious yet playful qualities.
- Gentleness, grace
- Connection to Forest Spirits
- Longing for spiritual enlightenment
- Swiftness, speed
- Startled wariness
The deer’s gentle, graceful movements through the forest have inspired symbolic meaning relating to forest spirits, longing for spiritual enlightenment, swiftness, and a wary gentleness. Deer startle easily and bound swiftly away, reminding us to embrace gentleness while maintaining awareness.
- Loyalty, faithfulness
- Communication between worlds
Man’s best friend, the dog represents traits like loyalty, protection, companionship, and communication between worlds. Dogs guard the gates between worlds in myths around the globe. They also symbolize our capacity for unconditional love and ability to forge lasting interspecies friendships.
- Connection to water elements
- Bridge between conscious and unconscious worlds
- Protectiveness of young
Dolphins are often revered for their high intelligence compared to other animals. Their playful nature and connection to water associates them with elements like joy, pleasure, dreams, and the subconscious realms. Dolphins protect their young at all costs, representing protectiveness and family bonds.
- Peace, pacifism
- New beginnings
- Promise, commitment
- Spirit, soul
White doves depict peace in many cultures and serve as a symbol of hope, promise, commitment, and new beginnings. Doves represent the human spirit or soul ascending to heaven in Christian artwork.
- Perspective from on high
- Connection to sun or sky gods
The eagle’s ability to soar high in the sky and hunt powerfully on land and water associates it with attributes like courage, strength, and leadership. A bird of prey with sharp vision, the eagle symbolizes an ability to see the big picture and discern important details.
- Long memory
- Ancient wisdom
- Strength, support
- Connection to water
Elephants symbolize ancient wisdom, memory, and patience. Known for their advanced emotional sensitivity, they represent support of the community, nurturing of the young and knowledge passed down through generations. Elephants also connect to elementals like water and the moon.
- Silent observation
- Ability to see in darkness
- Omens, messages
The owl is a bird of wisdom revered for its ability to see at night and fly silently. Living between the world of light and dark, day and night, the owl bridges visible and hidden worlds as a messenger master of secrets. The owl’s appearance is thought to be an omen carrying messages from beyond.
- Feminine power
- Connection to earth
Snakes represent the power of rebirth and transformation because they shed their skin. Historically they symbolized fertility and were seen as guardians of wells or springs – connections to the earth and water elements. Snakes also symbolize healing wisdom through venom and medicine.
- Loyalty to pack
- Societal roles
- Spiritual guidance
Wolves live in highly structured packs with complex communication. They represent loyalty, effective communication, and the importance of each societal role functioning for the good of the whole. Revered for intelligence approaching human levels, wolves symbolize spiritual guidance and understanding.
Frequently Asked Questions
What animal represents strength?
The bear and lion are most commonly used to represent strength, ferocity and raw power. The elephant also indicates great strength.
What animal symbolizes family?
Wolves are pack animals that represent loyalty, communication and supporting society members, symbolizing strong family bonds. Elephants with their herds represent generations of wisdom passed on.
What animal is known for speed?
The cheetah is the fastest land animal, representing swiftness and speed. Deer also indicate speed and agility. Falcons and eagles are known for swiftly swooping in for the kill.
What animal symbolizes protection?
Dogs and elephants are known for using their strength to protect their pack/herd, especially the young. Mother bears also symbolize the protective force of maternal love.
What animal represents freedom?
Birds soaring through the open skies have long symbolized freedom, limitless potential and transcendence of earthly bounds. Fish also represent freedom in the open water.
What animal symbolizes rebirth?
Snakes represent rebirth because they shed their skin. The phoenix rising from ashes symbolizes being reborn from destruction. Butterflies emerging transformed from cocoons also suggest rebirth.
This article explored common animal symbols and their meanings which have developed throughout human history, culture and storytelling traditions around the world. From ancient cave paintings to modern tales, the animals around us continue to be vessels carrying deeper meaning about ourselves and the world we inhabit. Their symbols speak to our own inner traits, guiding principles and connections to nature.