Animal symbolism has been around for thousands of years and animal symbolism has a part of many different cultures. Animals can represent ideas that have been passed down through legends, stories, and songs. Many animals have powerful metaphors attached to them as universal concepts.
What is Symbolism?
Symbolism is a device used to represent ideas or qualities beyond the literal meaning. Using symbols is one of the earliest recorded forms of human storytelling with hieroglyphics found on the insides of cave walls.
Since then, symbolism has been utilized in literature and artwork to carry a deeper meaning.
Symbolism of Animals in Art and Literature
Animals have been used as symbols in art and literature throughout human history to allude to a more profound understanding.
Whenever an artist place animals in painting, sculptures, portraits, and prints, there’s usually a reason. Artists give meaning to the animals in their work, and an animal can have an impact on the artist’s intended message.
In literature, authors use animal symbolism as a literary device to represent something greater than what’s coming through in the literal text. Some common animal symbols you can find in literature include bears, doves, foxes, lions, owls, and more.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell is an animal-driven allegory. Orwell uses animals to symbolize and satirize the events of the Russian Revolution and the Communist Party-ruled Soviet Union.
- Another example of symbolism in literature is Edgar Allen Poe’s use of ravens to convey dread and mortality in his poem “The Raven.”
Native American Animal Symbolism
Native American animal symbolism is reflected in their totem animals. In fact, animals often appear in Native American art and can have a cultural meaning or an individual meaning.
A totem animal, also a guiding spirit, can be defined as the spirit animal of individuals, families, or tribes. Generally, these animals serve as your principal guide or protector.
Common Native American totem animals include bears, raccoons, turtles, butterflies, and crows. Raccoons represent curiosity, disguise, and exploration. In contrast, crows symbolize cunning, creativity, spiritual balance, and strength.
Native Americans say that a totem animal chooses you, rather than you deciding it for yourself.
Animal Symbolism in Chinese Culture
Animal symbolism in Chinese culture can be seen in artwork and certain architectural structures. Many beliefs are based on nature and because of this, animals play an integral part in Chinese culture.
In China, animals are sorted into five different groups based on the animal’s characteristics.
- If an animal is led by the dragon, these animals most likely have scales.
- Some animals are led by the Chinese unicorn, such as furry animals.
- Feathered birds are led by the phoenix.
- Animals that have shells are led by the turtle.
- Humans represent naked creatures.
In Chinese culture, many animals are considered to be a sign of luck. Some of these animals are bats, deer, cranes, and elephants, but there are many more.
Animal Symbolism and Zodiac Signs
Animal symbolism provides a deeper meaning into the zodiac signs. Each zodiac sign has ancient symbols and totems, and all 12 are symbolic of the stages of human development.
Each zodiac sign has a spirit animal, so to speak, that encompasses the compatible personality of each zodiac sign.
- The Greeks and Egyptians associated Aries with the ram. This animal symbolizes action, determination, and taking initiative.
- Gemini is symbolized by the butterfly. Butterflies are considered to be fickle, playful, and hard to catch.
- While the archetype of Sagittarius is depicted by the centaur, horses are also representative of this zodiac sign. They go in line with Sagittarius’ free spirit. Horses represent travel, movement, and desire.
Animal Symbolism and Their Spiritual Meaning
Birds are considered to signify the transition between life and death. Because birds are able to fly to any location, birds also symbolize freedom.
Bears symbolize healing, strength, introspection, and embarking on a spiritual journey. Because of a bear’s size, bears can also mean strength and power.
Owls represent wisdom, patience, and solitude. It’s rare to encounter an owl, and if you do, you can view the sighting as a sign from the universe. This animal also represents a deep connection and intuitive knowledge.
Dogs are symbols of friendship. They are often referred to as a “man’s best friend,” which makes sense as dogs represent loyalty, being noble, and being a true and loyal friend. In Celtic myths, dogs were known as shapeshifters. During the Renaissance era, they symbolized fertility and female seduction.
Cows are an animal connected to the earth. So, this animal represents power, nurturing, and fertility. In addition, other meanings for cows include compassion, steadfastness, and perception.
Elephants are symbols of luck, fertility, and protection. However, the elephant has many different meanings across cultures. For example, the Greeks view elephants as a symbol of military strength and power.
Within folklore that can be found throughout the African continent, elephants have a strong connection to people. In Indian culture, the symbol of the elephant was regularly used in battle and as a part of religion.
Butterflies represent transformation and are symbols of change. You can think of it as your old self dying so that a newer version of you emerges.
Snakes symbolize regeneration and renewal, female sexuality, and agricultural fertility. In religion, snakes can be associated with the underworld, such as in The Book of Genesis.
The snake can symbolize ideas or things that have a negative connotation, such as malice or poison.
A wolf symbolizes perseverance, stability, intuition, loyalty, and success. Also, wolves are known for their intelligence, desire for freedom, and being self-reliant.
Horses are considered to be powerful. In addition, this animal is representative of freedom, stamina, intellect, wisdom, and more.
Frogs are symbols of wealth, fertility, and wisdom. In some Native American traditions, frogs represent rain and abundance. This species embodies luck when considering prosperity, health, growth, development, and more.
Buffalo symbolizes bravery, freedom, kindness, strength, and respect. They’re also known for life’s sacredness, power, safety, and durability. In Native American culture, the buffalo is a large piece of different legends and oral traditions.