Animal Symbolism

Animals symbolize different things to different people depending on their culture and personal circumstances. Ancient civilizations observed animal traits and physical characteristics and made specific associations with the gods and the spirit realm. Certain animals have come to be considered as bearers of good fortune, signs of impending danger, providers of protection and almost anything else that we humans desire in our lives. 

Mythical animal creatures are among the most popularly used animal symbols. The magical nature of the ancient stories surrounding these creatures appealed to the human psyche and our natural need to explain things that we do not totally and completely comprehend.


Dragons are mythical warm-blooded reptilian/serpentine creatures that fly and breathe fire. They are master of all the elements of nature. All at the same time, dragons are depicted as teachers, protectors and fiercely powerful warriors.  They represent longevity and wisdom, creation and destruction, fame and prosperity.


A Gryphon (also Griffon/Griffin) is half eagle – half lion. Because of its dual nature it is probably the most confusing creature in animal symbolism because a great many opposing attributes have been associated with it. It is both good and evil, guardian and punisher, Satan and Christ. It also symbolizes the relationship between cosmic forces and psychic energy. It represents spiritual enlightenment, the seasons, the sun, the Earth, the Sky and even Apollo and Nemesis.
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The phoenix is a mythical bird of great beauty and majesty that enjoys immortality by continually rising from the ashes of its former self. It is a favorite symbol of rebirth, of hope and renewal, resurrection, spiritual growth and triumph over adversity. It is sometimes depicted carrying a palm branch symbolizing triumph over death, or carrying an olive branch symbolizing peace as offered by God to humans.  


The unicorn appears in both eastern and western mythologies of the ancient world. Descriptions vary but it has the general physical attributes of a horse with a single horn. It is often depicted as pure white in color, emphasizing that it symbolizes purity more than anything else.  It is a wild creature, strong and untamable except by a true virgin. Its horn is said to have the power to detect poison and to heal sickness.


The butterfly almost universally represents new life, resurrection, transformation and regeneration. In some parts of the world, butterflies are believed to be the souls of the dead, waiting for their final transition. Others look upon the butterfly’s occupation of moving from flower to flower, staying only a short time on each one as a symbol of instability and superficiality. 


Birds in Alchemy

In alchemical writings we meet a seemingly bewildering multiplicity of animal symbols.
Bird Headed Beings   


Owl Symbolism
Nocturnal creatures are symbolic of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition. Birds are considered by many cultures to be messengers between earthly creatures and spirit.


Animal Symbolism in Art
Animals in Art of India, Aberdeen Bestiary, Celtic Animals in Celtic and Welsh mythology, Digital Art of Daniel Lee, and more.


Symbolism: Animals
Since young girls are, according to story tradition, more in-tune with nature, the natural world, and magic, they are more likely to be befriended by natures creatures. Animals are more likely to shyly come up to the girl, and intrinsically trust her.


Animal Alchemy Symbols
Animals are viewed with just as much reverence and high regard in alchemy as they are in other deeply spiritual traditions such as Native American.


Art - Animal Symbolism
Alphabetized list of animals with their meanings.