Elephant meanings and symbolism include intelligence, wisdom, majesty, good luck, loyalty, strength, unity, and other noble qualities. Native to Africa and Asia, the elephant is an important figure in the cultural mythology of these regions and beyond. In addition, the elephant spirit animal appears in the devotional beliefs of people around the world. In this post, we’ll explore all facets of elephant symbolism and meaning, including spiritual meanings, the elephant spirit animal, and elephant mythology and folklore around the world.
Table of Contents
- What do elephants symbolize?
- Elephant Mythology and Folklore
- African Elephant Meanings
- Native American Elephant Meanings
- Elephant Meaning in Asia
- Elephant Symbolism in Buddhism
- White Elephant Symbolism
- Elephant Meaning in Islam
- Elephant Symbolism in India and Hinduism
- 3 Elephant Spiritual Meanings
- Elephant Spirit Animal
- Elephant Power Animal
- Elephant Totem Animal
- Elephant Dream Meaning
- Elephant Tattoo Meaning
- How You Can Help Elephants
What do elephants symbolize?
Here are some high-level elephant meanings. We’ll go into more detail on these throughout this post.
- Strength and Protection
- Good Luck
- Unity, Family, and Friendships
- Loyalty and Devotion
The majestic elephant – loyal and wise. Who cannot love these divine beings? While elephants are not here on Earth for us, they have much to teach us. Often referred to as the world’s most gentle giant, the elephant is much greater than their physical stature alone. If elephants are special to you, you are not alone. They have held positive meanings to people around the world since time immemorial. In fact, on an ancient Grecian tablet were carved the words:
“Plato told me that everything I needed to know about life can be seen in elephants.”1
Here are more details about elephant meanings:
Elephant Symbolism: Intelligence and Consciousness
Aristotle described the elephant as “the animal that surpasses all others in wit and mind.”2
In fact, the elephant is one of the most intelligent animals on Earth. An elephant’s brain weighs over 11 pounds (5 kg) and has a total of 300 billion neurons, which is on par with the human brain when it comes to interconnectivity and functionality.3
Because of their brain structure, elephants are believed to have deep thoughts and emotions. Animal behaviorists (called ethologists) note that elephants exhibit complex behaviors that demonstrate their intelligence, such as using tools, showing compassion and grief, engaging in cooperation for desired outcomes, and engaging in complex communication.4
So, if an elephant appears in your life, whether in real life, the media, or elsewhere, it can be a sign to use your intellect to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle that’s front of you. While you may feel incredibly emotional about a given situation, you have a rational mind that’s capable of making logical decisions.
Try to look at a situation and detach from the emotional aspects of it. Emotions are powerful forces, but at times, they can cloud our judgement. The elephant reminds you to use your wits – you have a powerful intellect that you can use to find the answers you seek.
Elephant Meaning: Wisdom and Memory
You may have heard the saying, “An elephant never forgets.” This expression came from the fact that elephants do have excellent memories. In fact, an elephant’s natural life span can reach 70 years of age. Scientists partially credit this longevity with the elephant’s ability to remember food and water sources, as well as dangerous situations that should be avoided, including dangerous people.
In one study of elephants’ memories, researchers had elephants see and smell different objects. Then they gauged their reactions. In Kenya, it’s traditional for young Maasai warriors to throw their spears at elephants as a display of their manhood. When the scientists presented articles of clothing worn by young Maasai men to the elephants, the elephants exhibited strong negative reactions.5
Elephants are also the symbol for Alzheimer’s disease awareness because they give people who are losing their memory hope og finding a cure.
Let your memories serve you.
We all have recollections of both positive and negative experiences. Some of us want to “black out” certain experiences. While others of us live in the past instead of experiencing what is directly in front of us or envisioning what the future could hold.
All we have is the present. So, it makes sense to do the best we can with what we have right now. The elephant spirit animal reminds you that remembering experiences can be powerful, but only if you use it for positive purposes.
Whether they’re positive or negative, make your past experiences serve you, to help you achieve your full potential as a human living today. After all, isn’t that what wisdom is?
The elephant says to take the knowledge of your own experiences and use it to create a better life for yourself and others. Your recollections are a gift that you can apply to the present and a better future.
Every memory can be a force for good.
The elephant reminds you to utilize the breadth of your life experience to guide you on your life path. Memories – good or bad – can be used for positive transformation. The spirit of the elephant says to use all that you have been through in your life, no matter how unfair or painful, to be a force for good in the world.
Elephant Symbolism: Strength and Protection
Known for their protectiveness, an elephant will personally endanger themselves to protect their calves and their herd. The following video is just one example of how protective elephants can be:
If you feel that you need protection, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual, meditate on the elephant’s powerful strength and protectiveness. Whatever form your spiritual practice takes, asking for protection is perfectly acceptable!
Elephant meaning as it applies to your life may also mean you need to be more protective of those you love. If your instincts tell you that a certain person “is off” in a work environment, personal life, or elsewhere, summon your inner mama or bull elephant and be more protective!
Don’t back down.
The elephant doesn’t back down when they or their loved ones are threatened. Like the bear, wolf, or owl, the elephant knows when to establish boundaries and to be fiercely protective if someone doesn’t respect them.
The elephant may also be a reminder to you to be more protective of your ideas, your work, or even your material assets. After all, you don’t just hand the keys to your castle to anyone. Envision an elephant guarding your “castle” of intellectual property, creativity, your home, or life’s work.
Majesty and Good Luck
In Asian traditions, which you can read more about later in this post, the elephant is a symbol of good luck. In ancient China and Cambodia, elephants were used in warfare to win battles as far back as the 6th century BC.6
While this was an exploitation of these wild animals, it’s possible that the origin of the elephant as a symbol of good luck came from this period. In fact, practitioners of feng shui believe that a statue of an elephant with their trunk up can improve the inflow of good fortune coming into your life.
Because elephants were known for their strength, ancient Chinese emperors placed elephant statues in front of their palaces for protection and to bring good fortune. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that the elephant is also associated with majesty in Asian cultures.
Similarly, in Africa, the Ashanti People, who hail from the area that is southern Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, believe that elephants are reincarnated from former chiefs.7
In India, the elephant is also considered a symbol of good luck and royalty. This is possibly because of their association with the Buddha, which you can read more about later in this post.
Unity, Family, and Friendships
One of the most notable traits about elephants is their unwavering dedication to their families or herds. As social animals, elephants live in large family groups with whom they remain for their entire lives.
As matriarchal societies, the leader of the elephant herd is generally the oldest female. She has the experience and knowledge to ensure the survival of the herd. In fact, female elephants will remain with their mother and grandmother for their entire life.8
A young male, or bull elephant, will often strike out on his own or with other males. However, the group will usually remain close to their original herds, keeping an eye on the baby elephants and staying nearby to protect them.
Rely on your nearest and dearest.
If the elephant spirit animal is resonating with you, it could mean that it’s time for you to rely more closely on the people with whom you are the closest in your life. This could be your immediate family or a close circle of friends. Never take your loved ones for granted – they are one of your greatest gifts in this life.
The elephant may also be inspiring you to take on more of a leadership role in an area of your life. These days, the world doesn’t have enough leaders who lead with empathy and who truly believe that to lead is to serve. The lead elephant doesn’t take on a leadership role out of ego, but instead does so with a sense of duty and love for her herd.
Loyalty and Devotion
The quality that makes an elephant so protective of their family groups is why are they are also symbols of loyalty and devotion. Elephants are not known to be monogamous, as eagles and seahorses are. However, like wolves, they put their family’s needs above their own. Whether your own “herd” is your family or a close group of friends, honor those relationships.
Of course, not everyone comes from a family they love. In such cases, the healthiest thing you can do is to it find a healthier herd to join.
Your love and devotion are among your greatest gifts to the world. Don’t squander them on those who are unworthy or who don’t reciprocate. Life is short and there are people, animals, and causes that may be far worthier of your loyalty and devotion. And of course, first and foremost, you must be loyal to yourself!
Elephant Mythology and Folklore
Fossil records indicate that the ancestors of the modern-day elephant roamed the Earth some 55 million years ago. So, you can say the DNA in today’s elephant carries in it the wisdom of the ages. In fact, fossils of elephants or their earlier ancestors have been found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.9
Our own ancestors depicted elephants in cave art during the Stone Age, around 2.6 million years ago. So, you and I are not the first people to be fascinated with these mighty beings. Today wild elephants can only be found in Africa and Asia. Thus, most elephant folklore and symbolism has arisen from the cultures of these continents.
African Elephant Meanings
As mentioned earlier, the Ashanti People revere the elephant, as they view them as their reincarnated leaders. In western Africa in Benin, the Kingdom of Dahomey associates the elephant with Guezo and his son Glele, who were rulers in the 19th century.10 A proverb that is popular with local people there expresses their reverence for elephants:
“The animal steps on the ground, but the elephant steps down with strength.”
Native American Elephant Meanings
While modern-day elephants are native only to Asia and Africa, we know that the elephant’s early ancestors – the woolly mammoth and the mastodon – did roam in North America as recently as 11,000 years ago.
In fact, a number of Native American tribes tell stories of hunting these massive animals. In general, the early Native Americans feared them but were in awe of their great power. We can only surmise that they respected these animals and viewed them with similar spiritual reverence as they do bears, wolves, buffalo, and whales.
Elephant Meaning in Asia
As mentioned earlier, in many Asian cultures, the elephant is viewed positively as a symbol of strength, royalty, and good luck. For example, in Vietnam, the elephant symbolizes strength, freedom, and independence because the Vietnamese used them for transformation during the Vietnam War. However, even before then, elephants were fixtures on royal grounds.11
In Japan, Buddhists have a deity named Kangiten, which means “Deva of Bliss.” Kangiten is depicted as a man and woman in an embrace, both of whom have elephant heads.12
Elephant Symbolism in Buddhism
In Buddhism, there are a few specific symbols that represent the Buddha, such as a bell, a lotus flower, a fig leaf, or bodhi tree leaf. The other is an elephant, and specifically a white elephant.
When Queen Maya, who was the mother of Siddhartha, the man who became the Buddha, was pregnant, she dreamed of a white elephant who brought her a lotus flower. In Buddhism, the color white is a symbol for purity, holiness, and enlightenment. In addition, the elephant is viewed by Buddhists as having wisdom and compassion.13
White Elephant Symbolism
In addition to Buddhism, a white elephant appears in other cultures. In Indian mythology, a deity named Airavata is a white elephant who carries Indra, the god of war and monsoons.14 Thus, in India, a white elephant is associated with rain and is often depicted flying in the sky like a white cloud.
In Thailand, Burma, and Laos, the white elephant is sacred and is associated with good luck and royalty.
Elephant Meaning in Islam
In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad was born in 570, which was also the Year of the Elephant. According to Islamic legend, the ruler of Yemen, a man named Abraha, tried to conquer Mecca and destroy the Kaaba. However, he was unable to do so because the white elephant he rode, whose name was Mahmud, refused to walk into Mecca.15
Elephant Symbolism in India and Hinduism
In Hindu culture, the god Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head. He is a symbol of good luck and wisdom.
In Kerala in South India, the elephant is highly revered and is the subject of local folklore. However, tragically, elephants are also held captive and abused there, as they are used in human ceremonies, parades, and tourist attractions.16
3 Elephant Spiritual Meanings
It’s clear that elephants have fascinated people for centuries, and many people past and present have viewed them as highly evolved beings. Some (including me) view them as spiritual beings as well. So, here is a quick list of elephant spiritual meanings:
1. Elevated Consciousness
Because elephants possess a rare combination of deep intelligence and compassion, on a spiritual level, they embody the idea of elevating our own level of consciousness to spiritual enlightenment. Instead of taking things at face value, the elephant reminds us to look for the divine in everything around us. It’s no coincidence that they are a symbols of the Buddha.
2. Love and Compassion
Qualities that the most revered spiritual teachers throughout history have possessed include empathy, compassion, and unconditional love for others. The elephant’s love and devotion for their heard, combined with their gentle nature, embodies these spiritual qualities.
3. Universal Wisdom
Some believe that we have the capacity to tap into all of the wisdom in the universe, which is higher consciousness, or universal wisdom. The elephant’s powerful memory and deep intelligence, like that of whales and dolphins, is representative of our own capacity to tap into metaphysical awareness.
Elephant Spirit Animal
When the elephant is your spirit animal, you have been blessed with a powerful and wise guide. Our spirit animals form a kinship with us that reminds us that we are all connected. As a family-oriented animal, the elephant reminds us of our deep bond with others and the interconnectedness of our world.
According to Native American traditions, you can have more than one spirit animal. And in most cases, you don’t just choose them – they choose you. This might happen on a vision quest or when a particular animal rivets your attention and has a profound effect on your life.
If an elephant makes themselves know to you in real life, the media, artwork, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences. Seeing an elephant in real life or even in a dream can be a message from your spirit guides to learn more about these special beings. The key is being open and receptive to these messages.
Studying the elephant’s noble qualities as well as what they symbolize in ancient cultures around the world can expand your consciousness. As you understand them, you will gain new insights for navigating your life path here on Earth and your soul’s journey.
If you are curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal quiz.
Elephant Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can inspire you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, mediate on the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can summon the elephant power animal when you:
- Need to find the strength and energy to overcome obstacles on your life.
- Feel alone and need the support of others who will protect, care for, and guide you.
- Wish you had more wisdom when it comes to making important decisions.
- Want to summon good luck for positive outcomes!
Elephant Totem Animal
An animal totem encapsulates the protective powers of the animal they represent. Thus, the elephant totem is a helpful symbol for manifesting deeper, more meaningful, and longer-lasting relationships in your life. In addition, the elephant totem is a helpful symbol for protection for you, your loved ones, and those things you hold dear. And of course, the elephant totem is a good luck charm!
Elephant Dream Meaning
If you dream of an elephant, it could have any number of meanings. What’s important is to understand the feelings and emotions you experienced in the dream – such as joy, fear, peacefulness, or anxiety. And then consider your own perceptions about elephants.
The saying, “the elephant in the room” can easily be applied to our dream interpretation. Often things that we try to avoid thinking about in our conscious, wakeful state can manifest in our dreams. An elephant dream can be your sub-conscious – or even your super-conscious (which is connected to the spirit world) – telling you that you can no longer avoid dealing with an issue. It’s time to face it bravely and head-on, just as a protective, fearless elephant would.
Exploring your emotions and your own thought processes is a step to elevating your level of consciousness, and thus, a step towards better insights in your life.
Elephant Tattoo Meaning
An elephant tattoo shows the world that you are loyal and devoted to those you love. It also shows the world that you value gentle power, sound judgement, and wisdom. It may also mean that you value conservation and biodiversity protection. Of course, tattoos are deeply personal to the person whose skin they adorn. But hopefully learning more about elephant mythology and symbolism can bring extra meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Elephants
Since the 1970s, African elephants have lost over 50 percent of their natural habitat to humans. And Asian elephants have lost 85 percent, in part due to palm oil production.17 In addition, at least 100 elephants are killed every day by poachers who want their tusks.18 If you care about elephants, please do what you can to help them. Here are some organizations that are working to protect elephants:
- Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
- Save the Elephants
- International Fund for Animal Welfare
- Space for Elephants
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
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