Eagle meanings and symbolism appear in the legends and folklore of people around the world. These magnificent birds can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia, and wherever they are, they leave a strong impression. In many ancient cultures, the eagle was considered the king of all birds, and some believed in the eagle spirit animal.
Table of Contents
- Eagle Symbols and Meanings
- Eagle Spirit Animal
- Detailed Eagle Symbolism and Meanings
- Eagle Meanings in Ancient Cultures
- Native American Eagle Meanings
- Bald Eagle Symbol of The United States
- Eagle Symbolism in Aztec and Mexican Culture
- Eagles in Zulu Culture
- Eagle Meaning in Ancient Egypt
- Eagles in Greek and Roman Mythology
- Eagles in Celtic Mythology
- Eagles in Nordic Mythology
- Eagle Symbolism in the Bible
- Eagles in Arabic Culture
- Eagles in Hinduism and Buddhism
- Eagles and the Paiwan People of Taiwan
- Chinese Eagle Symbolism
- Eagle Symbolism in Japan
- Eagles in Mongolia
- Eagles in Aboriginal Australian Culture
- Organizations that Protect Eagles
Eagles exist for themselves. They are not here for us. But they have much to teach us. In this post, you’ll find stories about the meanings that humans have attributed to eagles in ancient times, as well as what they symbolize in our modern world. You’ll also learn about the eagle spirit animal. To go directly to a specific section in this post, simply click the jump links in the table of contents below. But first, here’s a list of common meanings applied to eagles:
Eagle Symbols and Meanings
Loyalty and Devotion
Freedom and Independence
Truth and Honor
Hope and Salvation
Foresight and Psychic Awareness
Eagle Spirit Animal
The Eagle as a spirit guide occurs in cultures around the world. According to Native American traditions, a spirit animal will come to you in a vision quest, a dream, or another powerful experience that affects the course or your life.
If an eagle makes himself or herself known to you in a way that rivets your attention – be mindful; there are no coincidences. You may have felt a kinship with eagles throughout your life, or you see one in the wild or in films, art, or the media – and you are left with a strong impression. If the eagle spirit resonates with you, by all means, learn as much as you can about these majestic creatures. They can expand your awareness about why you are here on Earth.
How do you know if the eagle is your spirit animal?
If you’re wondering whether the eagle is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. And as you read this post, you’ll learn more about eagle meanings in cultures around the world, so it may become even more clear to you.
If you already feel that the eagle is one of your power animals, you may learn some new things in this post that further guide you in your life. And if you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take a spirit animal test in UniGuide’s post about spirit animals.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in eagles when you were a child?
- Has an eagle or eagles made themselves known to you, whether perching nearby, flying above you, or in some other way that captured your attention?
- Has a book, movie, or a piece of art that depicted an eagle rivetted your attention in a way that stuck with you?
- Do you feel an unexplained connection to eagles?
- Has an eagle entered your dreams?
- Have friends, family members, or colleagues described you as a free spirit?
- Do you consider yourself to be a deeply spiritual person, but also very rooted in the material world?
- Do you consider yourself to be an extremely loyal person, whether to your mate, your career path, or even a cause you believe in?
If you answered yes to a majority of these questions, you may very well be an eagle person!
Detailed Eagle Symbolism and Meanings
Loyalty and Devotion
Eagles are monogamous animals who mate for life. Male eagles stay with their female partners to help raise their eaglets. Any many eagle pairs return to the same nest year after year. Consequently, older eagles who have been together for a long time tend to have large nests. One nest discovered in Vermilion, Ohio, which was over 20 years old, was 9 feet in diameter by 12 feet tall. Researchers estimated it weighed more than 2 tons.
This dedication to their mates, maintaining their nests, and raising their young together is why eagles are symbols of loyalty and devotion.
When the eagle is your spirit animal, you believe in the idea of a soul mate and you feel a part of you is missing when your soul mate is not in your life. You may be a person whom others have called a loner or one who is afraid of commitment. But you know deep down that you are still trying to find your soul mate in this lifetime. If you are single, the eagle spirit reminds you to focus on your own self-development because when your soul mate comes along, you will be the best manifestation of yourself.
If you are coupled already, the eagle spirit is a reminder to reinforce your commitment to each other. Too often we project our own dissatisfactions on to our partners, thinking they are to blame for our unhappiness. This is treating your relationship like a dumping ground instead of something sacred. The eagle’s nest is symbolic of everything you and your partner create together, from experiences to interactions. It’s up to you to be responsible for all that your bring to the nest.
Freedom and Independence
While the eagle is devoted to their mate, they are also symbols of freedom and independence because they are powerful flyers. Eagles can fly to 10,000 feet and, when diving, they can achieve speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.
If an eagle has made himself or herself known to you, it may be a sign that you need to exert your freedom and independence more. This could be freedom or thought, acknowledging a need to strike out on your own, or even the physical freedom of letting yourself move more.
Having deep commitments to your mate, your children, pets, a home, or job doesn’t mean you aren’t free. The eagle spirit reminds you that freedom begins in the mind. We all need and deserve freedom and autonomy. With creativity, we can figure out a way to have freedom while still maintaining the commitments we have made to ourselves and others.
Truth and Honor
The eagle epitomizes the saying, “The truth will set you free.” Sometimes the truth and honor can feel like weighty responsibilities. The eagle spirit animal tells you that when live in the truth, you have the power to soar higher than you ever imagined.
Living in the truth means not living in delusion about who you are, about your relationships, any aspect of your life, or the world. We are all capable of telling ourselves white lies, such as: “He or she is really interested in me, they just don’t realize I’m the one yet.” Or “Even though they treat me badly, they really love me.” Or, “I can have one more drink.” Or, “If I buy this now, I can afford it later.” Or, “My parents want me to be a doctor, so that’s what I’ll study, even though I’d rather be a musician.” On and on. We owe it to ourselves to live in the truth because when we don’t, we erode fulfilling our purpose here on Earth.
In addition, we owe it to others to speak our truth. In the long run, purposefully misleading others only brings more negative energy into the world, when the reason we are here is to make the world better.
The eagle spirit animal reminds you to fearlessly live in the truth. As Henry David Thoreau said,
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
The Native Americans and people of other ancient cultures saw the eagle soar to unimaginable heights. Thus, they believed they were an intermediary between humans and the Great Spirit. The eagle reminds us that we are far more than our day-to-day thoughts, challenges, and fears. When we allow our imaginations to soar to new heights, we can become more than we ever thought possible.
On our soul’s journey here on Earth, we are here to learn, do good work, and to ultimately become more enlightened. This brings us closer to the Source, or God, our Higher Power. When you see an eagle, it’s a reminder that the Divine exists in everything – all that we are, all that we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. When we recognize that every moment is sacred, we fly closer to the Divine.
Hope and Salvation
The wingspan of an eagle can range from 6 to nearly 8 feet wide. When an eagle dives, they are streamlined for speed, but when they soar, their wings are spread wide as they allow the air currents to elevate them what looks like effortless grace. This ability of eagles to soar towards the heavens with such grace is why they are also symbols of hope and salvation.
It’s no coincidence that an eagle with outstretched wings was a symbol of victory in ancient Rome. Just as it was a symbol of the triumph of good over evil in ancient Greece.
Interestingly, human beings express a similar type of body language when they experience victory. Consider a marathon runner crossing the finish line with outstretched arms.
This TED Talk by Amy Cuddy talks about the how body language not only reflects how we feel inside but also how it can change the way we feel inside. What she describes as “power posing” is not unlike the eagle with outstretched wings.
Yet beyond the personal feeling of victory that this posture can give us, it also symbolizes a level of vulnerability and openness. When you open yourself with outstretch arms, you open your heart chakra. You also open yourself to your Higher Power, inviting enlightenment to come in.
Foresight and Psychic Awareness
Like owls, hawks, and other birds of prey, eagles have incredibly powerful eyesight. But while owls hunt at night, eagles and their hawk cousins are diurnal, hunting during the daylight hours. Eagles can see eight times as far as we can. In fact, they can see a small rodent from two miles away. In addition, their eyes also have the ability to zoom in on prey, and they see more colors than we do.
Because eagles can soar towards the heavens, yet see details of what’s happening on the ground, they are symbols of foresight and psychic awareness.
Blessed with such keen eyesight, the eagle sees things from a viewpoint that humans cannot. Because eagles were viewed as connected to the Creator, ancient cultures believed they could see what would happen on Earth before it actually occurred.
Some of my favorite videos from Red Bull are the eagle cams. In these videos, an eagle with a video camera attached to them gives us an eagle’s eye view of they see when they fly.
Here’s an eagle cam video above the Alps:
Here’s one over the Dolomites:
When the eagle is your spirit animal, you have the gift of strong intuition and the potential for prophecy. When you meditate, envision the eagle flying over the world, and ask for greater awareness. This heightened awareness can help you fulfill your purpose here on Earth as you evolve as a spiritual being in your human experience.
Eagle Meanings in Ancient Cultures
Eagles are part of the Accipitridae family, a classification of birds who hunt by day, which includes hawks, kites, harriers, and vultures. There are over 60 species of eagles, and, as mentioned earlier, they live in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia.
What’s clear is that wherever eagles go, they leave a strong impression on people. This is reflected in the folklore of the places where they exist. Here are some of the cultural symbols and meanings applied to eagles around the world.
Native American Eagle Meanings
Every Native American tribe has their own distinct set of traditions and beliefs, so eagle symbolism and meanings may vary depending on the tribe. However, for virtually every Native American tribe, the eagle is a powerful medicine animal who symbolizes unparalleled bravery and honor, as well as vision and intuition.
Because eagles can soar to the heavens, they are also considered to be closely connected to the Creator, possessing the ability to communicate with the supernatural and material worlds.
Some Native Americans believe in a thunderbird, which is a mystical eagle that has even greater powers than the Earthly eagle. For one, the thunderbird is capable of creating thunder and lighting by flapping their wings. Because the thunderbird is such an important being in Native American culture, I plant to write a separate post dedicated to this mythical creature.
Native Americans have a clan system that’s organized around family groups, which are based on the maternal line. Clans serve as a system of community organization and division of labor. In addition, historians theorize that the system helped to keep gene lines healthy. Clans have animals that are associated with them, such as the bear, crow, fox, hummingbird, snake, and others.
Many Native American tribes have eagle clans. These include the Caddo, Osage, Haida, Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo, and Chippewa.
Eagle Feather Meaning
As eagles are highly revered in Native American culture, their feathers are considered sacred. When a warrior displayed bravery in battle, they were given an eagle feather. And when an eagle feather is found on the ground, it is considered a gift from the sky and the Earth. The famous headdresses worn by the plains tribes are made with eagle feathers.
Eagles are protected under U.S. law, so, only Native Americans with certified ancestry are allowed to obtain and use eagle feathers for spiritual ceremonies.
Here are some meanings applied to eagles in difference tribes:
Tribes of the Pacific Northwest
The Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest saw the eagle as having supernatural powers. One story tells the tale of how the eagle delivered the people from famine. In the tale, a brave warrior gave an eagle a salmon to eat. The eagle was so grateful that he showed his gratitude by bringing the warrior’s people salmon, then sea lions, and even whales to eat during times of famine.
Eagle on a totem pole. Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Peter Graham.
The Northwest tribes carved eagles in their totem poles to depict stories about their clans. The totem poles also show the clans’ guardian spirits.
The Comanche tell the story of a chief whose young sone died. Heartbroken, the chief prayed to the Great Spirit to restore his son to life. The Great Spirit answered the chief’s prayer by turning his son into a magnificent bird who could fly from the Earth to the heavens. This is how the first eagle was created. Today, the Comanche do the Eagle Dance to honor this creation story.
The Pawnee saw the large nests that eagles build, so eagles are symbols of fertility in Pawnee culture. The Pawnee also have an Eagle Dance and honor eagles with songs and chanting.
The Navajos have a legend about a warrior who kills a powerful monster. After he slays the beast, he realizes the monster has a nest with two babies in it. Knowing that if he leaves them unattended, the babies will grow up to be evil and destructive like their mother. So the warrior takes them and raises them as his own. One of the babies grows up to an owl and the other an eagle.
For the Zuni, the eagle is one of six directional guardians. The mountain lion is the guardian of the North, while the badger is the guardian of the South. The bear is the guardian of the West, and the wolf is the guardian of the East. The mole is the guardian of the inner Earth and the eagle is the guardian of the Sky.
As the guardian of the Sky, the eagle possesses the power of vision, intuition, and creativity, as well as the power of the spirit. The eagle spirit symbolizes transcending your personal problems as you seek out higher truths, ultimately becoming one with the Great Spirit.
Pueblo and Hopi
The Hopi and Pueblo share the Zuni’s belief in six directional guardians. They also perform the Eagle Dance, which is one of their most important ceremonial dances.
This video from EarthWalk Medicine, shared by Elah & AuSierra, shows the Hopi Eagle Dance:
For the Cherokee, the eagle is also sacred and is particularly helpful during battles. A feather from a golden eagle is considered so powerful that the Cherokee equated one eagle feather with the value of a horse. But while eagle feathers are valuable, it’s forbidden for anyone to kill an eagle unless they’re blessed as a designated eagle killer. Furthermore, an eagle can only be killed under specific conditions, such as in late fall or winter after crops have been harvested and snakes have returned to their dens in the ground.
Bald Eagle Symbol of The United States
In the 1700s, after years of bickering over what would become the symbol of The United States of America, Congress finally agreed on the bald eagle in 1789. While Benjamin Franklin argued in favor of the turkey, the bald eagle was chosen for a few reasons. One, they were Indigenous to North America. And two, worldwide eagles were symbols of highly respected qualities, including courage, strength, and immortality. But probably most important – eagles also symbolized freedom, which was the foundation of why the U.S. was started: people wanted to live freely from persecution.
Eagle Symbolism in Aztec and Mexican Culture
The ancient Aztecs were somewhat nomadic until the 14th century. According to Aztec legend, their patron god, Huitzilpochtli, told a priest that their wandering would end and that they would found a magnificent city in a place where an eagle rested on a cactus.
This vision did materialize in the middle of Lake Texcoco, and the area became the center of Aztec civilization. The village of Tenochtitlan eventually became the historic center of Mexico City.
Huitzilopochtli is the Aztec god of the sun and war and he is represented by an eagle. The Aztecs believed that eagles played a role in leading the sun across the sky.
Today, the eagle is a symbol of Mexico and is depicted on the Mexican flag.
Eagles in Zulu Culture
For the Zulu People of South Africa, the Bateleur eagle, whom the Zulus call “Ingonghulu,” is sacred. They believe that when the Tree of Life gave birth to all living beings, the Ingonghulu was the first bird to emerge from the Tree. When the bird flapped his wings, we announced his birth. Thus, the eagle in Zulu culture is a symbol of creation.
The black-chested snake eagle was also considered sacred and a symbol of God’s power.
Eagle Meaning in Ancient Egypt
For the ancient Egyptians, eagles were symbols of protection. The goddess Nekhbet was depicted as an eagle with outstretched wings. She was the protector of the Pharaoh, and is often shown behind the Pharaoh’s crown. Indeed, the Nubian eagle appears on the wall art of many of the temples in Luxor, underscoring the importance of this special bird in ancient Egyptian society.
The ancient Sumerians have a legend about the founding of the great city of Kish. According to the legend, the gods created the city and they choose a man named Etana to rule it. Etana built a shrine there, which he dedicated to the god Adad. A poplar tree grew nearby, where an eagle made her nest and a serpent lived in the roots.
The eagle and the serpent were good friends and even looked after each other’s children, However, one day when the serpent is out, the eagle had a change of heart and ate the serpent’s children. When the serpent returned and saw what happened, she cried out to the solar god Shamash, who punished the eagle by clipping her wings and putting her in a pit.
The eagle begged for help. And Shamash eventually took pity on her, and mentioned her to King Etana. Etana had previously come to Shamash for help because he and his wife were not able to have children. When learning of the eagle, Etana rescued her and nursed her back to health so she could fly again.
The eagle was able to interpret Etana’s dreams, and told him that she could fly him to the heavens to beg the god Ishtar for a child. On the second ascent, the eagle and Etana reached the heavens and Etana and his wife eventually had a son.
Eagles in Greek and Roman Mythology
In Greek mythology, eagles are associated with the mighty god Zeus, who controls all of the forces of nature, including thunder and lightning. The Greeks also saw eagles as messengers for the gods, as they were depicted in the Iliad and Odyssey.
Similar to Zeus, in ancient Rome, eagles were special to the god Jupiter. Eagles were considered storm birds who could create violent winds by flapping their wings. Eagles were also associated with war in ancient Rome, and were depicted carrying thunderbolts like weapons in their talons. Eventually, the eagle became a symbol of the Roman Empire.
Eagles in Celtic Mythology
In Celtic mythology, Eagles are considered to be among the oldest creatures on Earth, second only to salmon. While eagles were not as prominent in Celtic mythology as ravens, in the tale of Blodeuwedd, the character Prince Llew Llaw Gyffes is turned into an eagle. You can read about this story in my post about owls.
Eagles in Nordic Mythology
In Nordic stories, a hawk sits between the eyes of an eagle in the World Tree Yggdrasill, which is a magical tree that connects the world of humans with that of the gods. The hawk is called Veðrfölnir, but the eagle is unnamed. Thus some historians surmise that the hawk and eagle are one, and that the hawk represents the wisdom and knowledge of the eagle.
Eagle Symbolism in the Bible
In Revelation 4:7, John, the apostle, describes four creatures who surround God’s throne. The first is a lion, the second an ox, the third is a human, and the fourth an eagle. As the eagle is capable of flying above the other creatures, biblical scholars theorize that the eagle is a metaphor for Jesus’ level of enlightenment beyond other humans. And likewise, his ability to come to Earth to help his fellow humans become enlightened, and then ascend to Heaven.
Eagles in Arabic Culture
Arabic folklore tells tales of a giant eagle-like creature called a roc. The roc is so mighty that he is able to lift and carry an elephant in his talons. In the story of the fifth voyage of Sinbad, a roc seeks revenge by destroying ships because her egg is disturbed.
Archaeologists believe the legend of the roc has its roots in the crowned eagle of Madagascar, which weighs around 15 pounds.
Eagles in Hinduism and Buddhism
In Hindu and Buddhist culture, the Garuda deity is depicted as a divine eagle. The Garuda possesses supernatural powers, including the ability to stop the spinning of the Earth, Heaven, and Hell. The Garuda is also the mount for the Hindu god Vishnu. In addition, the Garuda personifies power and courage.
Eagles and the Paiwan People of Taiwan
For the Indigenous Paiwan People of Taiwan, the mountain hawk-eagle is a sacred bird who symbolizes bravery, beauty, and the sacredness of ancestral spirits. The Paiwanese believe in four states of the afterlife. In the first state, a person’s soul transforms into a viper. Then, it transforms into a mountain eagle. The eagle then transforms into water, and then the soul is set free. As in Native American societies, only certain people can wear eagle feathers. For the Paiwanese, this includes chiefs or other nobles.
Chinese Eagle Symbolism
In Chinese culture, an eagle and a bear together symbolize strength. And for the Huns, the eagle was symbolic for a ruler. Thus, as in Native American cultures, eagle feathers are considered to have powerful qualities in China. Eagles were also associated with thunder in China, as they were in other cultures. Lei Gong, the Daoist god of thunder, is depicted as half-man, half-eagle.
Eagle Symbolism in Japan
For the Japanese, eagle sightings are considered to be auspicious signs. In a Shinto tale, the sun goddess Amaterasu hides herself in a cave, thus casting the world into total darkness. As she hides, evil spirits overrun the Earth.
To lure Amaterasu out of the cave, Amenohiwashi-no-kami plays a beautiful stringed instrument. As he does, an eagle comes and perches on the end of the instrument, and light is brought to the world again.
Eagles in Mongolia
In ancient times, the Mongols were fond of falconry, as they still are today. In one tale told by Marco Polo, Emperor Kubai Khan put on a display of his eagles to 70,000 attendants. The eagles were so massive, reported Marco Polo, that they could carry away wolves. For the Mongols, eagles symbolized courage, boldness, and clear-headedness.
Eagles in Aboriginal Australian Culture
The Aboriginal Australians also revered eagles. They have a creator deity called
Bunjil who is an ancestral being and a cultural hero. The Aborigines describe Bunjil as traveling as a great eagle.
One Aboriginal tale about Bunjil reminds me of the state of the environment in the hands of modern-day humans.
Years ago, the people hunted kangaroos and cultivated yams. All was well until the world began to fall into chaos. The Boonwurrung and the other Kulin nations were in conflict. During this conflict, they neglected their children and the land. Animals were killed but not eaten, and fish were caught and killed during spawning season. Even the yam crop languished. As the chaos escalated, the sea began to rise and flood the land.
So, the people went to their spiritual leader, Bunjil, for help. Bunjil told the people that they would have to change their ways to save the Earth. The people agreed, and the sea receded.
Organizations that Protect Eagles
In the U.S. in the ‘60s and ‘70s, bald eagle populations plummeted due to the use of the dangerous pesticide DDT. When the substance was banned and bald eagles were placed on the newly implemented Endangered Species List, they began to make a comeback. Eventually, their numbers increased to the point where they were taking off the Endangered Species List in 2007.
Despite successes like this, eagles and birds of prey are still very vulnerable. For example, it’s estimated that there are only around 200-500 Philippine eagles left on Earth. The main culprit for their decline is deforestation.
The publication Mongabay provides a list of birds of prey who are endangered. Threats to eagles include conflicts with humans, habitat loss and starvation, toxics in the environment, and the illegal wildlife trade. If you care about eagles, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working to protect eagles and other birds of prey: