Cougar meanings and symbolism include protection, agility, adaptability, secrecy, beauty, and wealth. The cougar (also referred to as a mountain lion, puma, or panther) is native to the Americas, with a range that spans from the Yukon in Canada all the way to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. As a result, these wild cats are subjects in the mythology of cultures throughout the Americas. In this post, we’ll explore cougar symbolism and meanings, including cougar spiritual meanings, as well as the cougar spirit animal, cougar mythology, and more. This post will also include the symbolism and meanings of the mountain lion, panther, and puma (the alternative names for cougar) and I may use the words interchangeably throughout this post.
What does a cougar symbolize?
Etymology of the Names for Cougar
Before we begin, I thought I would mention some of the meanings behind the many names given to this tawny-colored cat.
Are cougars panthers?
While cougars, mountain lions, and pumas are sometimes referred to as panthers, the word “panther” is a general term that can be used to describe leopards, jaguars, cougars, pumas, mountain lions, tigers, and lions. The word “panther” is derived from Latin and it loosely means a hunter’s catch.
What is the meaning of the word cougar?
The word “cougar” is most-likely derived from Indigenous South American words for cougar as they were interpreted by 18th century French and Portuguese explorers. For example, these words include çuçuarana, susuarana (which combines suasu, which means deer, and rana, which means false.)1
The word “puma” is derived from the Inca term for “powerful” as well as Kay Pacha, which loosely translates to “this world” or the “world of the living.”2 (We’ll get into Incan mountain lion mythology more below.) Cougars are also called “catamounts,” which means cat of the mountains.
Detailed Cougar Symbols and Meanings
Here are details on cougar symbols and meanings and what they might mean in your life:
Mountain lions are fiercely protective creatures. When male mountain lions fight for a territory, it is often to the death. Even cougar cubs are ferocious. In fact, wildlife biologists say they are nearly impossible to tame. Furthermore, a mother mountain lion is especially protective of her babies.
You might have seen the viral video by Kyle Burgess, the hiker who had a run-in with a mother mountain lion in Utah. At the very beginning of his video, you can see a cougar cub coming out of the brush and then hiding again. What is more difficult to see right away is the mother mountain lion camouflaged in the road. In this video, you can see how fiercely protective cougars are:
As an archetype for protectiveness, the cougar reminds us that we should never become passive when it comes to protecting those we love and that which we hold dear. This can mean protecting our family and friends or it can extend to our communities and colleagues. It can also mean protecting nature or other causes we care about. In addition, protectiveness can extend to our health, our creative ideas, and our homes.
The cougar spirit animal reminds you to be fierce when it comes to protecting those and that which are important to you.
Mountain Lion Symbolism: Agility
The mountain is the hiker, trail runner, and rock climber of the animal kingdom. They can easily scale steep rock faces, jump as high as 18 feet (5.5 meters), and leap distances of 40 feet (12 meters).
For these reasons, the cougar is a symbol of agility. They remind us to be quick on our feet – both literally and figuratively. Instead of being rigid, we should strive to be flexible in mind and body. This doesn’t mean being weak – the cougar is anything but weak. It means to be ready to pounce on whatever comes our way – whether it’s challenges or opportunities.
The cougar can live in a variety or environments, from arid deserts to forests to high mountain ranges. And while they’re primary diet is deer, elk, and other ungulates, the cougar will also eat small animals, like rabbits and mice, as well as insects. While the cougar is not as omnivorous as the bear, they demonstrate an impressive ability to adapt.
Thus, the cougar spirit animal is a helpful symbol that reminds us of how important it is to be willing to adapt and try new things. Change is inevitable and resisting change can be worse than embracing it. The cougar adapts to survive and thrive and you can too.
Mountain Lion Meaning: Secrecy
The Native Americans say the mountain lion walks in moccasins that no one can hear. Like the tiger and the alligator, the cougar is an ambush predator. They stalk their prey silently, waiting for the perfect time to attack.
The cougar is also a symbol for the art of camouflage. Cougar cubs have spots for protection in their dens. However, when the mountain lion grows up, their tawny coats help to camouflage them on rocks and other landscapes so they are more successful hunters.
As a symbol of secrecy, the cougar is a reminder of the importance of patience and discretion. After all, we live in a society that values attention-seeking behavior. The cougar reminds us of the advantage of privacy and discretion.
Business people understand the importance of operating in stealth mode before going to market with a product or idea. By the same token, creative people know to keep their ideas under wraps until they are ready for showtime.
The cougar spirit animal reminds you that the best approach can be patience and self-containment even though you might want to pounce.
Known for their ferocity, the cougar is also beautiful. With their golden-green eyes and tawny coats, they simultaneously mesmerize and terrify us. Yet their beauty doesn’t stop at how they look; it’s also in how they move. The cougar maneuvers in their environment with agility, strength, grace/
As a symbol of beauty, the cougar reminds us that beauty goes beyond the superficial. It’s also in how we move, how we conduct ourselves, and the actions we take.
In South America, the Quechua People believe that seeing a puma is a positive omen that will bring good fortune. Thus, the Quechua associate the cougar with wealth.
To the north, the Native Americans learned about good hunting spots from mountain lions. They also say they learned hunting skills from the cougar.
Thus, for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, the mountain lion is a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
Pop Culture Cougar: Older Women Who Date Younger Men
In popular culture, the term cougar has also come to symbolize a woman who dates a younger man. Some say the term originated in Canada to describe women in bars who were “on the prowl” to find a mate.
While initially the term was intended to be derogatory, its wide use in popular culture has softened the intended insult to a degree, but not by much. In fact, the way the term is used is disrespectful to both women and mountain lions – just as calling every man who dates a younger woman a “sugar daddy.” Perhaps we can all agree that if two adults are in a consensual relationship it’s their business and we don’t have to try to insult or hurt them with name-calling?
Cougar and Mountain Lion Mythology
Native American Cougar Meanings
While every Native American tribe has their own set of beliefs and traditions, in general, most tribes revere and fear the mountain lion. However, some tribes have a more negative view while others have a more positive one. For example, the Apache believed the sound of a cougar growling was an evil omen and a harbinger of death. They also associated the cougar with witchcraft.3
A number of Native Americans tribes tell tales of an underwater panther who guarded waterways. The creature was most likely based on an alligator or crocodile, but it’s telling that the tribes described it as a fierce panther. (For the Ojibwe of the northern Midwest U.S. and Canada saw the underwater panther as a lynx spirit animal, whom they called Mishebijiw, which translates to Great Lynx.)4
Seminole and Shawnee
While the Seminole People spoke of the underwater panther, they, along with the Shawnee, saw the cougar as a powerful medicine animal who brought good luck in hunting.
In fact, many tribes used parts of the mountain lion, including their fur, for various spiritual ceremonies.
Shoshone Mountain Lion Meanings
For the Shoshone People, the cougar is a sacred animal along with the bobcat, wolf, and fox. In Shoshone tradition, these animals are never to be hunted.
According to Shoshone legends, once a very violent and bloodthirsty tribe invaded their territory. So the Shoshone sought out the help of their medicine man. During a vision quest, the medicine man spoke to the cougar who told him that he, the wolf spirit animal, the fox spirit, and the bobcat would protect the Shoshone People on the grounds if they vowed to never hunt them. Thus, a pact between the Shoshone and these power animals was made.
For the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest, the mountain lion is one of six directional guardians:
- The mountain lion is the protector of the North.
- The bear is the protector of the West.
- The wolf is the guardian of the East.
- The badger protects the South.
- The mole is the guardian of the inner Earth.
- The eagle is the protector of the Sky.
Toho Spirit Guide
The Zuni, Mohave, and Hopi tribes tell stories of a guardian spirit named Toho who takes the form of a mountain lion (or bobcat.) Toho provides protection and good luck in hunting.
The Navajo tell stories of the Changing Woman, who is a fertility goddess and protector of the people. The Changing Woman told the Navajo that cougar would be one of the protectors of the people.5
Cougars are known to yield part of their prey to bears, wolves, and even alligators. The Navajo believed they would also leave part of their prey for the people to eat.
Hopi Mountain Lion Meanings
For the Hopi, the cougar is a powerful and sacred being. The Hopi view the mountain lion as the strongest and most fearless hunter as well as a protector of the tribe.6
Most Native American tribes are based around a clan system, which is a community organization that is rooted in the maternal family line. Each clan is associated with a specific animal, including hummingbird clans, bear clans, fox clans, wolf clans, and others. The clan animal serves as a guardian and special protector of the members of the clan. Native American tribes with cougar clans include the Chippewa, Creek, Chickasaw, Caddo, Shawnee, Osage, and Pueblo.7
Puma in Inca Mythology
For the ancient peoples of the Andes, including the Incas, the cougar, or puma, was an attendant of their creator deity Viracocha. As the creator of the Universe, the sun, moon, and stars, Viracocha oversaw the three worlds of the gods, the living, and the dead.8
Viracocha is sometimes depicted with three guardian animals: a condor, a puma, and a serpent. The Incas believed the condor communicated with the gods in the upper world and the middle world, which was the world of humans. Meanwhile, the puma, or cougar, represented the world of humans, which the Incas called Kay Pacha, or the world of the living. Finally, the serpent, or snake, was the guardian of the underworld, or the world of the dead.
The Incas also viewed the puma as a doorway between worlds. They saw the constellation that is known as Geminis as two pumas in the sky. In fact, they call it the Puma Yunta constellation. Furthermore, they said that when solar or lunar eclipses happen, it means one of the pumas is jumping at the sun or moon and taking a bite out of it.9
Cougar Spirit Animal
If a cougar makes themselves known to you in real life or art, literature, or the media, pay attention. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as a guide to help you on your soul’s journey.
As symbols of protection, agility, wealth, and beauty, the cougar spirit animal reminds you that you have the ability to tap into these attributes. In addition, you have a fierce protector on your side.
Mountain Lion Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, consider the attributes that your power animal represents. For example, you can summon the cougar power animal when you:
- Feel that you need to be more protective of your boundaries, whether they be physical, spiritual, financial, or psychological.
- Think there may be people in your life or your community who need more protection and you want to take actions to help them.
- Want to find your inner radiance again. The cougar power animal reminds you to move like a cougar – find your agility, strength, and grace and your vitality will shine.
Cougar Totem Animal
An animal totem encapsulates the protective powers of the animal it represents. Thus, the mountain lion totem is a helpful symbol for being more agile and adaptable in your life. The cougar totem is also a good luck symbol for protection if you’re going into a challenging situation. In addition, the cougar totem is a helpful talisman for living in a more beautiful way – from your actions to your words, how you feel about yourself, and your environment.
Cougar Dream Meanings
Mountain lions are ferocious creatures who can strike fear in anyone. However, dreaming of a cougar should not necessarily be viewed negatively or as a bad omen. If you dream about a mountain lion and you wonder what the dream is telling you, consider the emotions you felt in your dream. For example, was it fear, anxiety, or wonder? Dream meanings and interpretations are personal to every individual. However, one thing we have in common is that our subconscious works through our emotions, and understanding our emotions gives us insights into what the dream might mean.
Dreaming of a mountain lion attacking you can be a sign that you’re unprepared for something. So, the dream can be a wakeup call to work on planning and preparation for an upcoming event or activity. The dream can also mean that you need to be more protective of yourself, a person in your life, or in a specific situation.
Scary or anxious dreams can be unpleasant, but they are often gifts because it was “just a dream.” Yet our dreams can be our subconscious or super-conscious sending us messages about things that we might be overriding or ignoring in our conscious state but something that we should address. Hopefully, insights into cougar symbolism and mythology can shed light on what your dream means.
Cougar Tattoo Meaning
A cougar or mountain lion tattoo sends powerful messages. It can mean that you are a person who values being agile and quick on your feet. Or it may mean that you are a fierce protector. A cougar tattoo can also be a testament to your love for the mountains and the great outdoors. Obviously, tattoos are deeply personal to every individual. And how your tattoo artist presents your cougar tattoo will convey its own unique message. Hopefully learning more about cougar meanings and mythology will add deeper meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Mountain Lions
As apex predators, cougars face a number of threats, namely from human beings. To begin, they are hunted for sport or by people who feel threatened by them, whether for themselves, their families, livestock, or pets. However, in most cases, the hunting of cougars is overkill. In fact, cougars rarely attack human beings. In the past century, 27 people have been killed by mountain lions in North America. Compare this to about 30 – 50 people who are killed by dogs –every year.10
Cougars also face threats from habitat loss and being hit by cars. Yet, because they are an umbrella species, it’s vitally important that we protect them. In wildlife and biodiversity conservation, protecting an umbrella species means that many other species within that animal’s ecosystem will also be protected. By the same token, if that umbrella species disappears, it throws the entire ecosystem out of balance.
If you care about cougars, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are helping to protect mountain lions and their habitats: