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 giants, elephants are so 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.”
Elephant meanings and symbolism vary in different cultures, as well as in individuals’ own interpretations. After all, elephants are complex beings. What an elephant can symbolize in your own life will depend on that which you seek guidance about. The elephant can spark your subconscious and provide insights into a given issue. While animal meanings vary from individual to individual and culture to culture, there is such a thing as collective consciousness – commonalities in our awareness that we all share. Below are some of those common meanings.
Here are some common elephant meanings:
Strength and Protection
Unity, Family, and Friendships
Loyalty and Devotion
When you see an elephant…
If an elephant comes into your purview, pay attention. There are no coincidences. Seeing an elephant in real life, in a dream, in art, or the media can help to reconnect you to Universal Wisdom, and with that, messages from your spirit guides. The key is being open and receptive to these messages.
Elephant Spirit Animal
How do you know if the elephant is one of your spirit animals?
As mentioned in my overview post about spirit animals, according to Native American traditions, you can have more than one spirit animal. And in most cases, you don’t choose your spirit animal; rather 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.
A Preoccupation with Humanness
Too often, people don’t take the time to notice animal – we become overly preoccupied with our humanness. As human beings, we all run the risk of becoming too absorbed in ourselves and other humans. Spirit animals form a kinship with us that reminds us that we are all connected. As family-oriented animals, elephants reminds us of deep bond with others and the oneness of the Universe.
If you’re wondering whether the elephant is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. If you already know, you may learn some new things about elephants in this post that will help to guide you on your soul’s journey. There is always more that we can learn from these loving beings. If you are curious about other animals that could be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal quiz.
Questions to consider:
- Has an elephant made himself of herself known to you in a way that riveted your attention? While many of us don’t get the opportunity to meet live elephants on a day-to-day basis, perhaps there was an elephant in a story, a movie, on a piece of jewelry, in the media, or elsewhere that had a powerful effect on you.
- Were you especially interested in elephants as a child? Children come into this world remembering aspects of their past lives, so their interests should never be taken for granted.
- Do you ever dream about elephants or one elephant?
- Have certain stories, books, or movies that involved elephants had a strong impact on you?
- Do you feel an affinity with elephants and experience a powerful sense of curiosity about them?
When the elephant is your spirit guide, you have been blessed with the wisdom of the ages. Study their qualities and you will understand yourself better and gain insights to guide you on your life path. Here are some of those qualities and what they could mean for you or for a specific inquiry.
Intelligence and Consciousness
Aristotle described the elephant as “the animal that surpasses all others in wit and mind.” In fact, elephants are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. 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 connectivity and functionality.
Because of their brain structure, elephants are believed to have deep thoughts and emotions. Animal behaviorists, or 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 in complex communication.
The elephant spirit reminds you to use your intellect to solve a challenge that may be in front of you. While you may feel incredibly emotional about a given situation, you have a rational mind that is capable of making logical decisions. Try to look at a situation and detach from the emotional aspects of it. Imagine you’re Einstein solving a problem. Do you view it differently? 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.
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. When not unnaturally killed by poachers, elephants can live to around 70 years of age. Scientists partially credit this longevity with elephants’ 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, animal behaviorists had elephants see and smell different objects and gauged their reactions. In Kenya, it’s traditional for young Maasai men to throw spears at elephants as a display of their manhood. When the scientists presented articles of clothing worn by the young Maasai warriors to the elephants, they exhibited strong negative reactions.
Let your memories serve you.
We all have memories of both positive and negative experiences. Some of us want to “black out” certain memories, while others of us live in the past – seeing only memories instead of what is directly in front of us, or envisioning what the future could hold.
All we have is the present. So, it makes sense do the best we can with what we have right now. The elephant spirit reminds you that memories can be powerful tools, but only if you use them for positive purposes. Whether they’re positive or negative, make your memories serve you, to help you achieve your full potential as a human being today. After all, isn’t that what wisdom is? Taking the knowledge of your own experiences, and using it to create a better life for yourself and others? You memories are a gift that you can apply to the present.
Every memory can be a force for good.
The elephant spirit 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 elephant spirit guide 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. This is how you harness the power of the Universe.
Strength and Protection
Known for their protectiveness, elephants will personally endanger themselves to protect their babies and their herd. The following videos are just two examples 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 in your life now may also mean you need to be more protective of those you hold dear. If your instincts tell you that a certain person “is off” whether in your personal life or that of someone you love, in a work environment, or elsewhere, summon your inner mama or bull elephant and be more protective!
Don’t back down.
The elephant does not back down when they or their loved ones are threatened in any way. 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 reminding you to be more protective of your ideas, your work, or even material assets. After all, you don’t just hand the keys to your castle to anyone. Envision elephants 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, as well as other locations, elephants were used in warfare to win battles at least as far back as the 6th century BC. While this was an exploitation of these wild animals, it’s possible that the origin of elephants as symbols of good luck in Asia came from this period. Today, practitioners of feng shui believe a stature of an elephant with their trunk up can improve the inflow of good fortune.
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 elephants are also considered majestic in Asian cultures.
Similarly, the Ashanti People, who hail from the area that is is southern Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, believe that elephants are reincarnated from former chiefs.
Elephants are also considered symbols of good luck and royalty in India, possibly because of their association with Buddha, which you can read more about later in this post.
Unity, Family, and Friendships
One of the most notable traits of 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. Female elephants stay with their mothers and grandmothers for their entire lives.
The young male, or bull elephants, will often strike out on their own or with other male elephants. However, they 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 is resonating with you, it could mean that it’s time for you to rely more closely on the special 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 does not 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 elephants 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 owls 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, and in such cases, the healthiest thing you can do is to it find a healthier herd to devote your time and attention to. 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 Meanings in Ancient Cultures
Fossil records indicate that the ancestors of modern-day elephants roamed the Earth some 55 millions years ago. So, you can say the DNA in today’s elephants carries in it the wisdom of the ages. In fact, elephant fossils have been found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
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. In modern times, wild elephants can be found in Africa and Asia, thus most elephant folklore and symbolism has arisen from the cultures from these two continents. Here are some elephant meanings in these cultures:
Elephant Meaning in African Cultures
As mentioned early, the Ashanti People revere elephants, as they view them as their reincarnated leaders. In western Africa in Benin, the Kingdom of Dahomey associates elephants with Guezo and his son Glele, who were rulers in the 19th century. 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.
Elephant Meaning in Asian Cultures
As mentioned earlier, in many Asian cultures, elephants are viewed positively, as symbols of strength, royalty, and good luck.
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.
Elephants in Buddhism
In Buddhism, there are a few specific symbols that represent the Buddha, such as a bell, a lotus flower, and 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 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, elephants are viewed by Buddhists as having wisdom and compassion.
White Elephant Symbolism
In addition to Buddhism, white elephants appear in other cultures. In Indian mythology, a deity named Airavata is a white elephant who carries Indra, the god of war and monsoons. Thus, in India, white elephants are symbols for rain, and often depicted flying in the sky like white clouds.
In Thailand, Burma, and Laos, white elephants are sacred and mean 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.
Elephants in Indian and Hindu Culture
In Indian Hindu culture, the deity Ganesha is depicted with an elephant head and is a symbol of good luck and wisdom.
In Kerala in South India, elephants are revered and the subject of local folklore. However, elephants are also held captive and abused, as they are use in human ceremonies, parades, and tourist attractions.
Elephant Dream Meaning
If you dream of an elephant or elephants, it could have any number of meanings. Because dreams are so subjective, I never venture to tell someone what an elephant in a dream could mean unless I know them personally. However, I always encourage people to analyze their dreams because your subconscious (your inner mind) and your super-conscious (your connection to the spiritual world) have much to teach you.
What’s important is to explore your own perceptions about elephants and how they may be related to your day-to-day life. Furthermore, how you felt about the elephant in the dream plays a role in what the elephant might signify to you. For example, did you feel peaceful, fearful, or anxious? Exploring your emotions and your own thought processes is a step to elevating your level of consciousness, and thus, a step towards enlightenment.
In places areas where elephants are native, it’s not surprising that they are the subjects of many proverbs. However, even in other cultures, people are fascinated with elephants, and thus they appear in figures of speech even in places where they aren’t native. Here are some elephant proverbs from around the world:
When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.
An elephant does not die from one broken rib.
An elephant does not get tired carrying his trunk.
Be thine enemy an ant, see in him an elephant.
A man’s greed is like a snake that wants to swallow an elephant.
A man who is trampled to death by an elephant is a man who is blind and deaf.
The elephant and the tiger do not go hunting on the same pasture.
In addition to appearing in proverbs, these beloved animals are the subject of many quotes:
“Only elephants should own ivory.”
– Yao Ming
“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.”
– Bill Murray
“The elephant is never won by anger; nor must that man who would reclaim a lion take him by the teeth.”
– John Dryden
“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behavior.”
– Graydon Carter
“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.”
– John Donne
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”
– Dr. Seuss
“If elephants didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent one. They belong to a small group of living things so unlikely they challenge credulity and common sense.”
– Lyall Watson
“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.”
– Robert McCammon
“There is no creature among all the Beasts of the world which hath so great and ample demonstration of the power and wisdom of almighty God as the Elephant.”
– Edward Topsell
Books About Elephants
If you feel the elephant is one of your spirit guides, by all means learn as much as you can about them. Here are some top-rated books about these special pachyderms:
The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild
By Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
An Elephant in My Kitchen: What the Herd Taught Me About Love, Courage and Survival
By Françoise Malby-Anthony and Katja Willemsen
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals
By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy
The Last Elephants
By Don Pinnock, Colin Bell, and Prince William Duke of Cambridge (Foreword)
If you consider yourself to be an “Elephant Person,” by all means, let the world know! One way to do that is with an eco-friendly elephant t-shirt. The shirts featured here are all made with organic cotton. Whenever possible, opt for organic cotton because non-organic cotton is sprayed heavily with chemical pesticides and grown with genetically modified seeds, which are toxic to wildlife.
UrganicWear Organic Cotton Elephant T-Shirts
The Great Wild Co. Organic Cotton Elephant T-Shirts and Bags
myuniT Eco-Friendly Elephant T-Shirts
Organizations that Protect Elephants
Since the 1970s, African elephants have lost over 50 percent of their natural habitat to humans. Asian elephants have lost 85 percent, in part due to palm oil production. In addition, at least 100 elephants are killed every day by poachers who want their tusks. If you care about elephants, please do what you can to help them.
Here are some resources and organizations that protect elephants:
This article in the Guardian has a variety of resources and ideas for helping elephants.
This article in Africa Geographic assesses different elephant conservation efforts.