Native American Animal Symbols - Who are They, What do They Mean and Why

The Raven - Symbol and Alive

Native American Animal Symbols


"Regard heaven as your father, earth as your mother, and all things as your brothers and sisters."

Now you can decipher Native American animal symbols on a piece of jewelry, clothing, rug, etc...
Now you can purchase knowledgeably and purposefully...
Now you can understand why the artist is incorporating a particular animal symbol...

Background of Native American Animal Symbols

To Native people, the Creator is in everything that breathes, hears, tastes, smells, senses and sees, and all have lessons to be shared. The lessons that nature teaches set a pattern, and each person must find a way to fit into this pattern to ensure happiness and harmony with self and nature. All creatures and plants are equal, each performing its talents according to its abilities.

Animal symbols and their totems represent the physical form of one's spirit helper - his or her guardian or guide.

Info Snippet: Did you know... Many tribal creation stories say that earth was born on the back of Turtle.

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Info Snippet: Did you know... Ancient Native cultures from Florida to California also have portrayed the avanyu, or mythical plumed serpent, as a reference to water and the underworld.

With the level of spirituality permeating most facets of Native peoples life, animal symbols, symbols, fetishes and totem images are inter-related. Visit my other pages that address these similar areas.

Native American Symbols

Native American Fetishes

Native American Totem Images

Visit my links page for sites offering Native American Animal Symbol items for sale. Tribe Azure and Bear Claw both have some wonderful pieces.

"Links" page...

To wet your appetite and expand on Native American animal symbols, check out Amazon...

Native American Animal Symbols: Who Are They? What do They Mean?

  • Alligator: Symbolizes stealth and a fight for survival.
  • Ant: Symbolizes group effort, teamwork and overall perseverance.
  • Antelope: Quick to bound into action (if you need to act while taking a leap of faith – just do it); calm down, be still and look before you leap.
  • Armadillo: Understands personal boundary and respects the boundaries of others; carries protection at all times; understanding of vulnerabilities; empathy; discrimination.
  • Avanyu: A feathered sky snake. He can bring on storms and change of seasons. Associated with thunderstorms, lightning and sudden violent changes.
  • Badger: Symbolizes aggressiveness, passion and drive. A healing animal and tenacious hunter. Their tracks signify strength and well-being; also considered symbols of leadership and authority.
  • Bat: The guardian of the night.
  • Bear: The protector and symbolizes physical strength and leadership as well as the wild, untamable side of humanity.
  • Bear Paw: Good omen; symbol of direction and power.
  • Beaver: Best known as a hunter and gatherer.
  • Bird: Free of worry, carefree, light-hearted.
  • Bobcat: clear vision in dark places; vigilance; suspicion; seeking ancient mystical mysteries; ability to live in solitude; ability to see through masks.
  • Buffalo: Provides the good things for those living as well as sacredness. Wisdom, renewal and personal power based on knowledge.
  • Butterfly: A transformer and a symbol of metamorphosis; everlasting life.
  • Cat: guardians of the spirit and good fortune; can see energy and self-sufficient. If you are drawn to cats, you may need to be more protective of your time and resources or you may be learning to take better care of yourself and to receive.
  • Cougar: Stands for power, leadership, and swiftness.
  • Coyote: Sometimes considered an omen of bad things; also considered a trickster. The embodiment of the things we cannot change or understand. He is about acceptance of human limitation.
  • Coyote: The "trickster" and a powerful hunting symbol. Very keen to find things, often considered as an omen that something not pleasant could happen.
  • Crane: Connected with water and the end of the growing season. A symbol of solitude and independence.
  • Cricket: a singer. Connected with fertility, water, and springtime.
  • Crow: A Carrier of souls from darkness into light and guards against fear in the dark. Also a Shapeshifter; keeper of spiritual law; likes to steal shiny bright objects; always a clown. Look for the bright and shiny aspects of life.
  • Deer: Symbolizes speed and family protection; plenty of game. Watch, listen, be patient, consider irreversible decisions carefully.
  • Dog: Heals emotional wounds; understands duality of doubt and faith; companionship; unquestioned loyalty; love; knowledge of all things sensual; protection; ability to smell trouble.
  • Dolphin: A symbol of power and control. Also a symbol of kindness, but has the nature to be playful.
  • Donkey: Stubbornness; ability to make decisions; refusing to move when you know it’s not right; saying “NO” to others; ignoring other’s opinions.
  • Dragonfly: Associated with water and springtime. Considered a messenger.
  • Duck: Graceful on the water; sees clearly through emotions; spirit helper of mystics and seers.
  • Eagle: Freedom, courage, wisdom, and a special connection to the creator; considered the protector, carrier of prayers, visions & spirits. Emissaries from the sky.
  • Eagle Feather: Sacred pieces of spirit - a reflection of a person's vision and accomplishments - bravery, good judgment, humility and special perspective. Prayers floating in the wind. Chief.
  • Elk: A symbol of nobility, power, freedom, and great strength and agility.
  • Falcon: Assists in soul healing; accompanies the soul back to the soul world; teaches swiftness and aerobatics of life; controls speed and movement.
  • Fox: A very cunning, intelligent, and providing animal.
  • Frog: Symbolizes renewal, fertility & springtime.
  • Hawk: The great messenger and observer of the sky.
  • Horned Lizard: to the Navajo, perseverance and keeping past secrets.
  • Horse, Saddle bags: Journey.
  • Hummingbird: Symbolizes devotion, permanence and eternity. Although the hummingbird is small in stature, it is an extremely ferocious fighter and defender in it's own territory.
  • Lizard: Promotes dreaming, agility, and conservation.
  • Loon: Symbolizes peace, tranquility, and generosity. Loyalty and leadership. Brave and courageous. The best parents.
  • Mole: Guardian of the lower regions; connects with the energies of the Earth; knowledge of herbs, roots, minerals, seeds, rivers and other hidden bounties of the earth; ability to turn inward; blindness to all but light and dark in the material world; love expressed in nature.
  • Moose: Symbolizes scrutiny and attention to detail.
  • Mountain Lion / Cougar / Puma: Wise leadership without ego; balancing power, intention, strength; self-confidence; freedom from guilt; cunning.
  • Mouse: Symbolizes humility and is the pathfinder. Humble, generous and innocent; small and hard to find, just as humility is.
  • Owl: A very respected animal and is thought to symbolize the souls of the departed. They are connected with darkness and night and are considered a bad omen.
  • Otter: A mischievous creature that is also a symbol of laughter, curiosity, grace, and empathy.
  • Parrot: Connected with both the sun and the coming of the rainy season. Considered bringers of specific prayers and could bestow blessings.
  • Pheasant: Symbolizes warning and concealment.
  • Polar Bear: Never gets lost; solitude; expert swimmer through emotional waters; ability to find food where none seems to exist; strength in the face of adversity; communication with the spirit; creature of dreamers, shamans, mystics and visionaries; defense and revenge.
  • Porcupine: Symbolizes gentle innocence and trust.
  • Possum / Opossum: Proper use of deception; sensibility; guidance to uncovering talent, psychic or physical; gains wisdom; recovery.
  • Quail: lives close to the earth; ability to blend into the background; finds peaceful solutions to peril; courage to face hardships.
  • Rabbit: Symbolizes fear and overcoming limiting beliefs.
  • Raccoon: Understands the nature of masks / disguises; dexterity; seeks guidance and confidence; questioning without fear; balancing curiosity.
  • Raven: Sometimes considered a trickster like the coyote. It is also known to be a teacher, hoarder and the mark of a shape shifter. He is creator, deity, clown, caretaker and mischief-maker.
  • Robin: Understands the power of song; happy; guide n the wisdom of change.
  • Salmon: Symbolizes instinct, persistence, and determination.
  • Seahorse: Symbolizes confidence and grace.
  • Shark: A great symbol of survival, adaptability, and hunting prowess.
  • Skunk: Understands energy flows; self-respect; courage; will power; self-confidence.
  • Snake: Usually seen in healing and fertility rites. Connected with lightning, male organ, speed, and the ability to move undetected. He is often considered a hunter.
  • Sparrow: Symbol of desire and fertility; manifests new love in someone’s life; understands the aspects of race; ability to use the power of song; understands all aspects of color.
  • Spider: The story weaver-creating something from almost nothing. Said to connect the past with the future; creative and weaves the pattern of life.
  • Starling: Ability to control mobs; imitation, adaptability and intelligence; mental receptivity.
  • Swan: The symbol of total grace, serenity, and innocence.
  • Tadpole: Immature frogs implying fertility and renewal. They change and are therefore considered a very powerful figure. They are a symbol of fertility, change, and renewal.
  • Turkey (Earth Eagle): Sacrifice of self for a higher purpose; understands the gift of giving; honors Earth Mother; harvest bounties.
  • Turtle: A water animal. A very powerful fetish for women. It symbolizes fertility, long life, and perseverance. It is sometimes even considered able to defy death.
  • Water Bird: symbol of the renewal of life, rainy seasons, rivers, distant travel, distant vision and wisdom. Mistaken for the Thunder Bird.
  • Weasel: Stealth; cunning; ingenuity; revenge; ability to see hidden reasons behind things; power of observation; Weasel and otter hides, because they come from "tough little animals", are linked to the Crow sun dance, probably conferring endurance. For the Lakota, these two animals are especially "wakan", meaning akin to sacred.
  • Wolf: The teacher of new ideas and wisdom; shows intense loyalty with a balance of independence. Teaches cooperation, protectiveness and the value of extended families.
  • Wolf Print: This print symbolizes tracking and movement; authority and leadership.
  • Wren: Messenger from the gods; sibling relationships (brother/sister); power of the voice; fearlessness; sees future events.

Info Snippet: Did you know... Bird symbols of importance in the Southwest are the giant Knife-wing of the Zuni or the vulture, Kwatoko, of the Hopi. These Native American animal symbols and bird signs are often listed by traders as meaning "carefree or light-hearted," but the symbol is the macaw, a Zuni symbol for summer.

Chief Dan George...If you talk to animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.

...and Why:

In the tradition of Native peoples, man and nature interact as a means of communication with the Creator. The Creator gives characteristics to each person and those characteristics can be translated to an animal's qualities. An animal is chosen as a totem based on it's qualities to be a guide and to teach lessons. The animal considered most appropriate is actually thought to choose the person, not the other way around. Each animal has symbolic significance and it's qualities are a key to lessons that might need to be taught, that need to be learned and are needed at that particular time.

Info Snippet: Did you know... Among the Pueblo Indians, snakes and lightning are equated with and symbolize rain, hence, fertility.

Deciding how to choose a Native American animal symbol as a totem may be a matter of looking for the signs and interpreting them - for instance, ever see/notice the same animal over and over again? Pay attention to the "signs"...the animal has chosen the person.

The result? If you know the animal's significance, it can be a religious or spiritual epiphany or a more down-to-earth lesson in wisdom. It's all about finding the true path and learning many lessons. There is no one lesson to be learned and a person may go from one totem animal or Native American animal symbol to another, one lesson to the next. Life to Native people is not a destination, it is a journey.

Info Snippet: Did you know... The Thunderbird came to the Southwest via industrial dies furnished to Indian artists. Although an important symbol to the Plains Indians, this immense bird is neither characterized by the Southwestern Indians, nor do their myths offer explanations.

World Mythology has a nice run-down of Native American Animal Symbols.

If you're interest in Native American animal symbols and totems for collecting or either buying for yourself or giving as an Indian gift, become familiar with it. Visit museums to study the various forms, materials, tribal affiliations and designs. Go to art shows that showcase Native American artisans. Antique shows are also a good venue - go through the booths of vendors selling these items. If they are passionate about what they have for sale, they will answer your questions. And, of course, inter-tribal powwows are excellent venues to look and ask about Native American animal symbols.

You can also go the The Indian Arts and Crafts Association for a listing of registered and certified Native American Artisans.

Above all, anything being marketed as genuine Native American art must legally be just that. The spirit of the law is that any artwork or craft fashioned by a Native American, the artisan must be a member of an Indian Tribe, and their membership has been verified and certified.

These Native American artisans are practicing their art perhaps as a livelihood. And, through their art, they are keeping their culture, history and spirituality alive.

Let me know if you are interested in contacting a Native American artisan. I can help with historic items as well as an appraisal service too! Use my contact form and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Check out the page with more information about Bears as an Animal Symbol

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