A Quick Guide to Animal Symbolism


A Quick Guide to Animal Symbolism

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From an anthropological perspective, symbolism is one of the ways that different cultures create and share meaning. Because we create it through collective experience and shared history, symbolism tends to differ from culture to culture. It can also shift and evolve over time.

Animal symbolism appears in every culture and can be found throughout history. Because we share this earth with the animal kingdom, it makes sense that they’ve always caught our attention.

Even if you aren’t spiritual, understanding animal symbolism can help you to feel more connected to the world around you. 

The history of animals in symbolism is rich and diverse. To give you an introduction to animal symbolism, lets look at some of the most popular animals that appear in animal symbolism and what they often symbolize.

Mammals In Animal Symbolism

There are over 5,400 identified mammals on the planet. Mammals are grouped by their shared traits including warm-bloodedness, hair, and vertebrae. Let’s take a look at the symbolism behind bears, bison, and dogs.


Because bears hibernate in the winter and awaken in the spring, they represent both survival and rejuvenation. Bears are also large, strong creatures and some associate them with masculinity. That being said, female bears are known for defending their young, and so female bears often represent motherhood.


The bison (or buffalo) plays a large role in Native American culture and symbolism. It often represents bravery and strength. It can also signify safety as well as the durability of the land.


Dogs offer a good example of how different an animal’s meaning may be from culture to culture. In North America, we tend to consider the dog to be man’s best friend–loyal, friendly, and good natured. In Celtic lore, dogs were shapeshifters, and therefore represented deceit. 

Birds In Animal Symbolism

There may be up to 10,000 different species of birds, a class of animals marked by feathers and nesting habits. It is now believed that birds evolved from dinosaurs, which may impact our bird symbolism over time. Let’s take a look at the the symbolism behind crows, eagles, and peacocks.


Crows are intelligent creatures that have strong facial recognition. It has been noted across cultures that crows develop peculiar relationships with humans. This is perhaps why crows symbolize trickery but also magic and mystery.


In some European cultures, the eagle is considered a dangerous scavenger and harbinger of death. However, most cultures consider the eagle an important spiritual guide. Seeing an eagle is said to mean that you are reconnecting with your higher self and unearthing your true purpose in life.


Peacocks are some of the most breath-taking creatures on earth. Many consider the peacock a sign of immortality or resurrection. However, they are also used to symbolize vanity, extravagance, and pride.

Reptiles and Fish In Animal Symbolism

Reptiles and fish are some of the most mysterious animals in the animal kingdom. Many of them are prehistoric or bear close resemblances to their prehistoric ancestors. Because they dwell in vast ecosystems (like the ocean), we aren’t sure how many there truly are.

Let’s take a look at the symbolism behind crocodiles, snakes, and fish.


Crocodiles are one of the most identifiable predators across the globe. Due to their sheer strength and quiet nature, they have often been associated with royalty and power. For example, the Ancient Egyptians used a crocodile head on a human body to depict the god, Sobek. 


Even if you don’t know much about animal symbolism, you’ve likely encountered the symbolism of snakes. While some cultures deviate from this pattern, most use the snake to symbolize deception, theft, and evil. One of the most well-known depictions of the snake in popular symbolism comes from the Christian Bible, which uses the snake to represent Satan. 


Fish bear symbolic meanings on both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, they can represent faith, times of prosperity and feasting, and fertility. On the other hand, they can represent cold-bloodedness, emotionless decision making, and objectivity. 

Insects In Animal Symbolism

Did you know that insects are part of the animal kingdom? In fact, insects are the largest class of animalia as well as the most diverse. Let’s take a look at the symbolism of ants, butterflies, and spiders.


Ants live in massive colonies and work together to survive. They tend to represent communalism, teamwork, and the importance of working in unity with our society. Ants may also represent the faith in our natural world to provide.


Butterflies undergo a beautiful and well-documented transformation in their lifetime. Overall, butterflies represent transformation, growth, and rebirth. 

Different types of butterflies may also take on unique symbolism. The white butterfly meaning is of particular interest and importance in spiritualism. 


If you don’t like spiders, you might assume that spiders have a negative connotation in symbology. This is not the case!

Spiders are natural weavers and create intricate, beautiful webs. Spiders often represent creativity or weaving the life you’re meant to live. To some, they symbolize fate, destiny, or the possibilities you may face in life.

Enrich Your Life With the Symbolism of Animals

Symbolism is an important part of how we communicate, share meaning, tell stories, and create art. Animal symbolism is an important part of spirtualism but it can also enrich the lives of anyone, spiritual or not. We hope that our introduction to animal symbolism has enriched your cultural understanding and encouraged you to learn more.

As a society, we create meaning and share stories every single day. Take a look around for the latest news and find out how people are making meaning and relating to one another today. You may be surprised at how much spiritualism touches us all.

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