Bison Symbolism, Spiritual Meanings & Mythology


Bison symbolism and meanings include powerful qualities, such as abundance, prosperity, strength, freedom, and unity. These majestic creatures are native to the plains and grasslands of North America, and their presence here has formed a lasting impression on those who love the American West. Indeed, the bison has many powerful symbolic and spiritual associations in Native American culture, where they are highly revered sacred animals.

In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of bison symbolism, including bison spiritual meanings and the bison spirit animal, as well as bison mythology and folklore.

White Bison

First, is a bison the same as a buffalo? 

Before we get started, I thought you might be curious about whether a bison is the same as a buffalo. Though these terms are commonly used interchangeably, bison and buffalo are actually two distinct animals. 

While it’s not certain when bison were first called buffalo, some historians believe the word came from 17th century French trappers in North America who referred to these large animals as bœuf, which came from their word for “cow.” In addition, American bison do bear a resemblance to “true” buffalo – Cape buffalo and water buffalo, which are native to Africa and Asia, respectively.  

In this post, I will use the two terms interchangeably.

What does a bison symbolize? 

Bison Magical Sky

These powerful animals have important symbolic meanings. Here are some of the qualities they are associated with. We’ll go into more details on these below:

  • Abundance and Prosperity
  • Strength and Fortitude
  • Freedom
  • Unity

Abundance and Prosperity

The plains and other Native American tribes of the past relied heavily on the bison for food, clothing, and shelter. And some modern-day Native Americans still include bison for these uses. Thus, the bison represents abundance and prosperity in Native American culture. In fact, like the caribou to the Inuit, bison represent life itself to these tribes.

Before European settlers came to North America, it’s estimated that there were 60 million bison roaming the North American continent. Today, that number has dwindled to around 500,000. However, just over a century ago, the American bison faced extinction when their numbers dropped to the low hundreds. Thankfully, focused conservation efforts have brought their populations back.1

So, the bison teaches us about how conservation and protection of biodiversity is a key to abundance, prosperity, and wealth for all. This is a tenet in many Native American traditions: the Earth can sustain us all but it cannot sustain greed.

Strength and Fortitude

Weighing up to 2,200 pounds and living for around 20 years,2 the bison is also a beautiful symbol of strength and fortitude.

The bison teaches us that we can find inner reserves of power and strength even in the most challenging of times. 


American Bison Running
American bison running. Image: Eadweard Muybridge.

Though bison have massive frames, they are strong animals who can run 35 miles per hour (56 km per hour). Watching a herd of bison move in tandem across the wide-open plains is a breathtaking sight that embodies the essence of unrestrained liberty.

The bison also reminds us of a time in history when there were few fences and borders and the wilderness still reigned supreme. Thus, the bison is a dynamic symbol of freedom and carving your own path.  


Bison Herd

Bison are social animals who congregate in herds with as many as 200 individuals in summer, and these herds can increase to 1,000 during breeding seasons.3

In addition, watching a herd of bison run across the plains in a fluid and coordinated manner embodies the essence of unity and the idea that all of us are more powerful than one of us.  

By observing the bison, we learn that true strength comes from working together, supporting one another, and valuing the contributions of each individual. 

5 Bison Spiritual Meanings

For Native Americans, the bison is a sacred being. And for anyone who reveres these animals, they sense their powerful spiritual associations. Here are some spiritual meanings associated with the bison:

  • Faith – The bison symbolizes staying true to your faith and convictions. The bison stays strong despite harsh conditions they might face from environmental factors, predators, or even human hunters,. They remind us to be steadfast and unwavering in our spiritual beliefs, even when faced with life’s challenges.
  • Spiritual Exploration – On a spiritual level, the bison encourages you to be a seeker, to study, explore, experiment, and gain wisdom on a path of spiritual growth. The bison’s journey across vast landscapes represents the endless quest for spiritual knowledge and understanding, urging you to embrace new experiences and to be open to possibilities.
  • Collective Spiritual Consciousness – As the bison is devoted to and relies on their herd, on a spiritual level, they represent connecting with people who share your spiritual values and curiosity. The bison family can also inspire you to connect with those who are on a similar path when it comes to spiritual growth. If you regularly surround yourself with people who are skeptics or close-minded or even cynical about the spiritual journey, it might be time to find a new herd to run with, at least part-time.
  • Manifestation – The bison teaches us that everything is energy and vibration, and the fortitude of your thoughts and actions can make your dreams come true. You have the power to make the world a better place! It all starts in your mind. By embodying the bison’s resilience and determination, you can harness your inner power to manifest your desires and create positive change.

Bison Spirit Animal

Bison Spirit Animal

When the bison is your spirit animal, you have a powerful and steadfast guide by your side. Bison people exude a grounded and calming presence that draws others in. They possess an innate strength and resilience, navigating life’s challenges with grace and determination. Bison people are also people people. They are calm and comforting while also being strong and courageous. Others naturally gravitate towards you and want to run in your crowd.

The bison spirit animal encourages you to stay true to your values and remain steadfast in your beliefs. As a totem animal, the bison is a helpful talisman that represents strength, support, and security especially in times of uncertainty or anxiety.

Native American Bison Meanings and Mythology

Before Native Americans hunted bison with guns on horseback (brought by European settlers), they did so on foot with bows and arrows. Because the task was so difficult, the Plains tribes had many rituals, dances, and prayers that were centered around hunting buffalo. They also believed that if a brave died during a buffalo hunt, it meant he had not shown enough respect to the animal. While Native Americans relied on the bison and hunted them, they also held them in the highest regard.

For the Plains tribes, bison horns and hides were used in religious ceremonies, where they represented generosity and honor. 

Native Americans also believe that buffalo spirits impart sacred knowledge, such as with plant medicines, to humanity.4 

Buffalo Clans

Some tribes even have buffalo clans, including the Caddo, Osage, and Pueblo tribes of the Southwest. Clan animals serve as guardians and spiritual protectors for the clan.

Legend of the White Buffalo Woman

Legend of the White Buffalo Woman

Legend of the White Buffalo Woman from the book “Images of Primordial and Mystic Beauty: Paintings by Frithjof Schuon.”

One of the most widely known bison legends is the story of the White Buffalo Woman, which is a deeply revered story among the Lakota and other Native American tribes. 

As the story goes, during a time of great famine, the Lakota chief sent out two scouts to hunt for buffalo. As the scouts ventured over the hills, they encountered a beautiful woman carrying a parcel. 

One of the scouts felt trepidation at the apparition. However, the other was consumed with desire. The first scout warned his friend not to venture towards her, but the second scout could not control himself, saying he wanted her for his wife. 

The lecherous scout reached for her, but a mist soon enveloped them. When the mist cleared, all that remained of the scout was a pile of bones. And the beautiful woman still stood there with her parcel. 

The remaining scout, although frightened, approached her respectfully. The woman revealed herself as a wakan, or holy spirit, and instructed him to inform his people of her arrival. The scout did as she asked.

When the White Buffalo Woman came to the village, she taught the chief and his tribe important prayers. She also granted the chief the gift she was carrying: a sacred peace pipe.

Before leaving the village, she rolled on the Earth four times. Each time she rose, she changed colors, from black to brown to red, and finally to white. Before disappearing, she promised that peace, harmony, and abundance would be restored to the world, and soon large herds of bison appeared.5

The Birth of a White Buffalo Calf

White Buffalo Calf
White buffalo calf, born 2024. Image: @LakokitaMan1.

Because of this legend, the birth of a white buffalo calf is an extraordinarily sacred event for the Lakota and other tribes. It means that  prayers are answered and the prophecy of abundance will be fulfilled. 

Buffalo Soldiers

After the Civil War, as white settlers fought Native Americans in an attempt to conquer and control the West, they enlisted the help of black soldiers. The black soldiers saw joining the military as a way to gain a new post-slavery life. Many of the black soldiers were forced to fight Native Americans in the westward expansion by the white settlers.

The black soldiers were fierce fighters. Although they were forced foes, the Native Americans respected their fighting spirit. They Native Americans dubbed them the Buffalo Soldiers because of this spirit and their woolly hair, which reminded them of the bison’s coat.6

Closing Thoughts

Herd of Bison in Snow
Artwork: Canvas Hub ARA.

The bison stands as a powerful symbol of abundance, strength, freedom, and unity. They also remind us to keep the faith and to run with gusto on our spiritual journey. Indeed, the bison power animal reminds us of our own capacity to come back from the brink and to manifest blessings in our lives and those of others.

How You Can Help American Bison

Bison are known as a “keystone species” because they help to support many other species in their natural habitat, such as grassland birds, many plant species, and even wolves and bears. (Though these apex predators primarily focus on the calves, as full-grown bison are formidable to hunt.) In addition, when bison forage, they help to aerate the soil with their hooves. This aids in plant growth by dispersing native seeds, helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem.7 While bison populations have come back from the brink of extinction, conservation efforts are ongoing. If you care about bison, you can help them by supporting conservation efforts, such as those by these organizations and others:

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Kristen M. Stanton

Hello. Thanks for visiting UniGuide. My name is Kristen and I started UniGuide as a tribute to nature, animals, and spiritual exploration. I hope you enjoy your experience here!