Animals are also symbolic. Many cultures through the ages have regarded specific animals as representing gods, divine functions and principles, power, the supernatural, etc. They also represent our feelings and affections, some good and some bad. We can look at animals, on their own, or in groups and see a possible reflection of our own inner state. After all we sometimes say that a person is “as cunning as a fox” or “as stubborn as a mule” so we are already used to making some link between animals and how we feel and act.
The place that animal symbols hold in the Chinese culture is perhaps considered to be unparalleled than what we find to be true regarding other cultures. The Chinese philosophers using their profound knowledge and careful observation of the natural world identified certain animals with specific qualities that symbolize certain divine functions and principles and were chosen as symbols for that particular aspect of divinity. Chinese philosophers divided the 12 animals into two categories of Yin and Yang (the underlying principles of Chinese philosophy and medicine), corresponding to the Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth), and then created a set of fortune telling methods which proclaim that the twelve Chinese horoscope animals decide people’s fates. As a result, the Chinese Zodiac began to connect with people’s characters, friendship, love, marriage, career, health, fortune and so on. People thought that when a person came to the year of his attribute (decided by the year when he was born), he must wear a red belt to pursue good fortune and shun calamity. Even children had to wear a red vest and underpants in their birth year. This custom of ‘Birth Year’ is still popular throughout China.
Symbols of the Chinese Horoscope Cycle – The Twelve Earthly Branches and Their Attributes
RAT: intelligent, enterprising, has devotion to purpose, but can be devious and scheming at times.
OX: strong, steadfast and dependable, but not necessarily stupid; faithful to the end, slow to anger, but can be very forceful.
TIGER: loyal, courageous, energetic, strong, cunning. The tigress tends to be shrewish.
RABBIT: modest, fast mover, has delicate senses, and is a good listener.
DRAGON: benign, embodies wisdom, strength and goodness, protector of the weak.
SNAKE: observant, quick to anger, usually possesses great physical beauty and is not necessarily venomous except when protecting the family.
HORSE: strong and powerful, usually vain if a woman, warlike and chivalrous.
SHEEP: proud, domineering, strive to help and guard their fellows, and are sometimes excellent doctors.
MONKEYS: quick and keen of wit, highly observant, curious, loving, a good parent, and excellent in small enterprises.
ROOSTER: quick to fight, single-purposed and persistent.
DOG: loyal, steadfast, persistent in adversity, sensitive to feelings.
PIG: highly intelligent, scholarly, easily angered, easily swayed and affected by emotions.
Egyptian towns usually had their own local sacred animal. It was thought that some gods and goddesses represented themselves on earth in the form of a single representative of a specific species, and honoring that species of animal would please the god or goddess associated with the animal. The animal believed to be the incarnation of the god or goddess lived a pampered life in and near the temples and religious centers
The following animals appear in a variety of cultures and represent a variety of things. In one case an animal might symbolize something good, while in another culture might consider it representative of evil. Each animal below is followed by symbols from different cultures and religions.
Alligator – Aggression, survival, adaptability, cunning, deceptive.
Ant – Group-minded, perseverance, self-discipline, group effort, teamwork, industriousness, orderliness, strength, stamina, and honour.
Ape/Monkey – Mischief, mimicry, cunning, benevolence.
Bat – Guardian of the night, cleaner, obscurity, messenger, double nature, happiness, good luck, longevity, peace; also – hypocrisy, melancholy, revenge, wisdom.
Buffalo – Sacredness, life builder. The buffalo provides all good things for living, and bestows great curing powers.
Bull – Wealth, potency, beneficence, generative force, male procreative strength, kingship, taming of the masculine and animal nature, destructive force.
Butterfly – Metamorphosis, carefree, transformer, immortality, rebirth, resurrection, grace, light, soul.
Cat – Guardianship, detachment, sensuality, stealth, desire, liberty, pleasure, magic, lust, pride, vanity.
Cow – Nourishment, motherhood, power of Earth, plenty, procreation, gentleness, nurturing.
Crow – Messenger, death, wisdom, communication, the underworld.
Deer – Love, gentleness, kindness, gracefulness, sensitivity, purity of purpose, walking in the light, swift, nimble, meek, gentle, meditation, love, longevity, wealth.
Dog – Guidance, protection, loyalty, fidelity, faithfulness, watchfulness, the Hunt.
Dolphin – Kindness, play, savior, guide, sea power, swift, intelligence, communication, breath control, awareness of tone.
Donkey – Humility, patience, peace, stupidity, stubbornness, lewdness.
Dragon – Power of Earth, combining bird and serpent as matter and spirit, breath of life, supernatural power, magic, strength, wisdom, knowledge, guardian.
Eagle – Divine spirit, air, the sun, power in battle, protection from evil, clear vision, success, prosperity, wealth, intelligence, renewal, courage.
Elephant – Strength, fidelity, memory, patience, wisdom, intelligence, power.
Fox – Cunning, provider, intelligence, feminine magic, diplomacy, wildness.
Frog – Power of water, sensitivity, medicine, hidden beauty, power.
Goat – Vitality, fertility, creativity, virility, abundance, lust.
Hare – rebirth, rejuvenation, resurrection, intuition, balance, fertility, fire, madness, transformation.
Hawk – Nobility, recollection, cleansing, messenger, observer, Solar, clarity, discrimination, inspiration, the soul.
Horse – Stamina, mobility, strength and power, coping under difficult circumstances, love, devotion, loyalty, the land, travel. Life and death symbol, intellect, wisdom, power, nobility, energy, freedom, wildness, divination, prophecy, fertility.
Jackal – Guide of souls, associated with cemeteries.
Kingfisher – Beauty, dignity, speed, calmness, serenity.
Leopard – Ferocity, aggression, intrepid, Great Watcher, courage, activity, speed.
Lion – Solar, splendor, power, majesty, strength, courage, nobility.
Lizard – Conservation, agility, promotes dreaming.
Mouse- Shyness, Quiet, Attention to Detail, Sneakiness.
Owl – Wisdom, truth, patience, darkness, a death messenger, divination, solitude, detachment, wisdom, change, totem of clairvoyants and mystics.
Python – Darkness, feminine, power of Earth, wisdom.
Rabbit – Alertness, nurturing.
Ram – Sacrifice, breakthrough, achievement, virility, creativity, the Sun, solar power.
Salmon – Instinct, persistence, determination, wisdom, inspiration, rejuvenation.
Serpent – Life, rebirth, resurrection, wisdom, passion, healing, poison, preserver, destroyer, malice, fertility.
Snake – Shrewdness, transformation, life, death and rebirth, rain, fertility.
Spider – Creative, pattern of life, connects the past with the future, creating possibilities.
Swan – Grace, balance, innocence, faithfulness, solitude, retreat, poetry, sincerity.
Tiger – Creator, destroyer, strength, ferocity, power, anger, power of Earth.
Turtle – Self – contained, creative source, Earth, informed decisions, planning, and adaptability.
Wolf – Loyalty, success, perseverance, stability, thought, pathfinder, teacher, intuition, learning, the shadow.