Heron Meaning and Symbolism and the Heron Spirit Animal

Great Blue Heron
Great blue heron, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Heron meaning and symbolism include elegance, patience, wisdom, messages, self-possession, transformation, and good fortune.

There are 72 species of herons and they belong to the family of birds called Ardeidae, which also includes egrets and bitterns.1 Today, these elegant birds live on every continent except Antarctica. So, they appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultures around the world.

In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of heron symbolism and meanings, including heron spiritual meanings and the heron spirit animal, plus heron mythology, great blue heron meanings, and more.

Black Crowned Night Heron
Black crowned night heron. Photo: Ian Fox.

What do herons symbolize?

  • Elegance
  • Patience
  • Self-possession
  • Wisdom
  • Messages
  • Transformation
  • Good Fortune

The following are details on what herons symbolize and what these associations could mean in your life:

Heron Meaning: Elegance

With their long, elegant necks and legs, herons are beloved subjects to artists, writers, photographers, and bird enthusiasts alike. As the heron gracefully wades in the water, they remind us of how importance elegance and gentility are in what can be a crude and chaotic world.

If a heron appears in your life, it can be a sign to pause, take a deep breath, and embrace a moment of calm. Everyday we have a choice to either bring more elegance or more crassness to the world. When the heron chooses you, you are being called upon to gift the world with more elegance!

Patience and Self-possession

Black Heron
Black heron, South Africa. Photo: JMX Images.

The heron is a relatively quiet bird, especially when compared to the boisterous blue jay or singing cardinal. They are also stealthy hunters. In fact, they exhibit the virtue of patience as they quietly hunt along the seashore, in a lagoon, or some other aquatic setting. 

As a symbol of patience, the heron teaches us to have faith that the Universe is working in our favor, even if things aren’t happening as quickly as we like. 

In addition to being patient hunters, herons are omnivores. For example, they’ll eat fish, crabs, frogs, lizards, insects, worms, grasshoppers, baby birds, eggs, and more.2 

This level of adaptability and open-mindedness has led to the heron being a symbol of self-possession. The heron isn’t picky or dissatisfied. In fact, they are far from neurotic. The heron is calm and in command of themselves. They accept things as they are and make situations work for in their favor.

A note from my own experience: I am fortunate in that I get to see great blue herons and egrets on a daily basis where I live in Sausalito, California. I also happen to have a dog who loves the water and loves to swim. A German shepherd-husky mix, Fin is not a bird dog. So, thankfully, he is not bird-obsessed. Still, I try to be careful so he doesn’t bother the birds around us. 

Nevertheless, there have been a few occasions where he’s been a little too curious about the egrets and great blue herons. But what has always struck me about these encounters is the birds’ astuteness with how they handle my dog. They never panic. They just calmly lift off and fly away to a more peaceful spot. I think it’s their cool, calm, and collected manner that makes Fin think – Nah, why bother?

So, as a symbol of self-possession, the heron is a beautiful example for us humans. No matter what is happening in the outside world, if we can manage our own emotions and reactions, and maintain a level of calm and self-possession, we can influence outcomes.

Heron Symbolism: Wisdom

As an aquatic bird, the heron transcends three elements: water, earth, and air. Thus, they represent our own potential to understand things beyond our immediate environment or worldview. When we have this capacity, we are wise.

We all have the capacity to expand our consciousness and gain wisdom. Of course, this comes from life experience. In addition, we can do so through prayer and meditation. I am a big fan of the spiritual teacher and human development coach, Joe Dispenza, who teaches how we can expand the potential of our minds to achieve greater wisdom.

Messages

As mentioned above, because they can move through three elements – earth, water, and air – the heron also embodies the idea of expanded awareness, or different states of consciousness. These include the conscious/wakeful state, the subconscious, and the superconscious. 

When we can traverse these states of awareness, we are able to pick up and understand messages from our spirit guides and the divine.

In fact, in a number of cultures, including Native American, Mayan, Aztec, and ancient Egyptian, the heron was viewed as a messenger from the spirit world. 

Heron Symbolism: Transformation

Many herons are aquatic birds who make their nests near wetlands, marshes, estuaries, lagoons, or in trees near water.

Because they are born near water and then mature to fly great distances, the heron is also a symbol of transformation.

Like a lotus flower that sprouts in the mud and then grows through the water to bloom above the surface, the heron shows us that no matter where we start in life, we all have the potential to transform into something greater.

By focusing on who we want to be, whether it’s our physical, mental, or emotional state or our spiritual selves, we can work towards making that vision a reality.

Good Fortune

For many Indigenous Peoples the heron is also a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. This is because they are associated with abundant fishing harvests. In general, where there are herons, there are fish. 

So, seeing a heron is a positive sign of good fortune and more abundance coming your way.

Great Blue Heron Meaning

Great Blue Heron Closeup

As the largest heron species in North America, the great blue heron is a favorite among artists and bird enthusiasts. 

In conjunction with other heron meanings, the great blue heron also symbolizes aspiration and truth. With their sky-colored feathers and long, elegant necks, they remind us to reach for the stars. The sky’s the limit, so dream big! 

As with blue butterflies, the blue heron also embodies the idea of truth and integrity. Both on a material level and a spiritual level, the message of the great blue heron is to stand in your truth, speak your truth, and be true to who you are. 

Heron Mythology and Folklore

Because herons live in so many parts of the world, they are subjects in the mythologies and folklore of many cultures. Here are some of those stories:

Heron Symbolism in Japan

In Japan, herons, like cranes, are beloved. For example, the Japanese believe that herons ward off bad luck.

In addition, as mentioned earlier, like the duck, the heron can move through three elements: air, earth, and water. Thus, the Japanese view them as spiritual intermediaries and good omens who bring positive messages.3

White Heron Meaning

Also in Japan, a white heron symbolizes purity and peace. In addition, the Japanese do a white heron dance to dispel illness and negative energy.4

Aosaginohi, the Yokai

The Japanese also tell tales of black-crowned night heron who can shape-shift into a yokai, or supernatural entity. According to their tales, the heron’s feathers emit an iridescent blue glow at night, and the creature emits a golden powder into the air.5

Heron Meaning in China

The Chinese say that a white heron carries the soul of a person who had died into Heaven.6

Thus, in China, the heron symbolizes transformation. 

In fact, the Chinese word for heron – lu – sounds like the word for path, or way. So, the Chinese will often portray the blessing, “May your path be ever harmonious.” with a heron (a symbol for a path) with a lotus flower (a symbol for transformation and continuous harmony.)7

Māori Heron Mythology

In New Zealand, the Māori People consider the heron, whom they call Kōtuku, a sacred bird.

There is a Māori saying that goes, “‘te kōtuku rerenga tahi’,” which translates to a “white heron of a single flight.” It’s a special compliment that the Māori give to distinguished guests.

Like the Japanese, the Māori believe that herons carry the souls of those who have died into the afterlife.8

Native American Heron Mythology

Each Native American tribe has their own set of customs and traditions. But one thing they all have in common is a reverence for animals and nature. For many tribes, such as the Iroquois and Cherokee, the heron symbolizes patience, good fortune, and peacefulness. 

Heron symbolism includes good luck and prosperity, particularly for the tribes of the west coast of the U.S. because they are associated with bountiful fishing. Generally, where there are herons, local hunters can find fish.

In addition, for the Cherokee and other tribes, the heron symbolizes harmony and peace. Thus, Cherokee diplomats wear herons feathers (compared to warriors who wear eagle feathers.)9

For some tribes, however, the heron is a trickster like the crow. In addition, some portray the heron as a vain and shallow creature.10

The Heron and the Hummingbird

The Hitchiti People of what is now western Georgia have a legend about a heron and a hummingbird that’s similar to the story of the tortoise and the hare

According to the story, the heron and the hummingbird entered a race to win all of the fish in the rivers and lakes. The hummingbird was confident about how fast they could fly. So, they made frequent stops along the way, even sleeping at night. 

However, the heron, knowing they were at a disadvantage to the speedy hummingbird, was consistent in their pursuit, and never took a break. In the end, it was the heron who won the race. 

That’s why today herons get to eat fish while hummingbirds have to rely on nectar from flowers.11

The Wolf and the Heron

The Algonquin tribes tell a story about a great blue heron and a wolf.

According to the tale, a great blue heron helped two weasels cross a river when they politely asked for help. 

Seeing this, the wolf walked up to the heron and demanded the heron take him across the river too.

The heron was annoyed by the wolf’s arrogance, but he maintained his calm disposition. “Sure,” said the heron, “just climb upon my back and I’ll take you across.”

But when they reached the middle of the river, the heron said to the wolf, “I’m sorry, I misjudged your weight. I can’t carry you the rest of the way.” And he dumped the wolf into the river.12

Why the Heron Hunts Alone

The Cherokee also have legends about herons. Many people don’t know this, but just as the Irish have leprechauns and the Icelanders have elves, the Cherokee also tell tales of the Cherokee Little People. 

According to one story, the Cherokee Little People lived happily among the flowers, in the woods, and in the marshes. However, the winged ones (the birds) were increasingly starting to bother them, often mistaking them for food.

One day, a Cherokee hunter was passing through the woods and happened upon a Cherokee Little Person who had lost a family member. So, the hunter taught the Little People to craft bows and arrows to defend themselves from the winged ones.

The Great Spirit had told the winged ones not to eat the Little People. However, he was  glad the Little People had a new way to defend themselves. 

The only problem was the great blue heron. His neck was so long that the Little People’s arrows couldn’t reach him. So, he continued to eat them.

The Great Spirit was so angry at the heron for ignoring his wishes that he forced the great blue heron to hunt far away from the Little People and all by himself, without the company of the other birds. And this is why the heron hunts alone.13

Aztec Heron Mythology

In Aztec cosmology, the Aztec People originated from a place called Aztlan, which translates to “place of whiteness” or “place of the herons.”

This mythical place so intrigued the Spanish in their quest to conquer the New World, that they ventured northward in an attempt to find it. This eventually led to their colonization of the American Southwest.14

For the Aztecs, herons were sacred birds. They associated them with their god Tlaloc, who ruled rain, water, caves, springs, and agriculture. (Historians believe that Tlaloc is based on the Mayan deity Chaac.)15

Heron in Ancient Egypt

Bennu, Egyptian Phoeniz
Egyptian papyrus featuring the phoenix-like bird god Bennu. Source: Unknown.

The ancient Egyptians also associated herons with important deities.

For example, Thoth, the god of mathematics, science, magic, and knowledge, was depicted with the head of a bird and the body of a man. According to some historians, he was inspired to invent the written language – hieroglyphics – by the flying patterns of the heron or ibis.

The Egyptians also associated the deity Osiris, the god of the Underworld and the judge of the dead, with the heron. Thus, the Egyptians believed that the heron carried messages between the physical world and the afterlife.

Furthermore, the heron is also associated with the Egyptian avian creator deity, Bennu. According to Egyptian legends, Bennu flew over the waters of Nun, which were the waters of total chaos, before landing on a rock. Upon landing on the rock, Bennu let out a primordial cry, which marked the beginning of the end of the chaos.16

Herons in Greek Mythology

In ancient Greece, blue and white herons were said to be the messengers for the gods.

The Greeks also associated herons with the solar god Apollo, who ruled music, prophecy, and archery. In addition, they associated herons with goddess Athena, who ruled wisdom, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love who was born from the sea.

Heron in Celtic Mythology

In Celtic mythology, the heron, along with the crane, is a guardian of the treasures of the spiritual world. In addition, the Celts believed the heron was an incarnation of the goddess called Rhiannon, who rules lakes and water.17 

The Irish have some superstitions about herons being bad omens, howwever. For example, they say that a heron is a sign of bad weather to come. (This is likely because some believe that herons like to fish when there’s a flood.)

In other superstitions, some believed that if a heron flew over a house it meant that someone in the house was about to die.18

Frigga in Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, the heron, notably the gray heron, is associated with the goddess Frigga. According to Norse mythology, Frigga lives in marshes and waterways. She was also said to harvest the souls that swam in the water of life and ruled on their fate.19

Alkonost in Slavic Mythology

Sirin and Alkonost
“Sirin and Alkonost” by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, 1896. Image: A. K. Lazuko: Victor Vasnetsov.

In Slavic mythology, the heron is associated with the mythical half-woman and half-bird creature called Alkonost. According to folktales, Alkonost makes such beautiful sounds that people become bewitched when they hear them. 

Alkonost lays her eggs on the beach and then rolls them into the sea. Then, when they hatch, thunderstorms ensue. 

She is also a fertility goddess. As the legend goes, if she perches in a tree and brushes dew from her wings onto the branches, healthy fruit will grow.20 

Heron Meaning in Buddhism

In Buddhism, a white heron symbolizes purity, transformation, and the wisdom of the Buddha.

In addition, as a bird who transcends elements – earth, water, and air – the heron also symbolizes the expansion of awareness and the ubiquity of consciousness.

Furthermore, the flight of the heron embodies the Buddhist practice of non-attachment.

Heron Meaning in the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity

Herons are mentioned in the Bible, though only in terms of being “unclean” animals who shouldn’t be eaten.21

However, from a modern-day viewpoint, the heron symbolizes spiritual transformation, such as Jesus Christ’s evolution from mortal man to enlightened being.

Heron Symbolism in the Middle East

Persian Phoenix Simurgh
The Flight of the Simurgh. ca. 1590, Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection. Artwork: Basawan.

In Islam, the heron is associated with the mythical bird called the anqa. According to Arab mythology, like the phoenix, the anqa is practically immortal. In the case of the anqa, she lives for 1,700 years and gives birth to a chick at 500 years of age.22

Similarly, in Persian mythology, the heron is associated with two other phoenix-like birds. The simurgh is an ancient mythical bird that possesses universal wisdom and  purifies land and water. She is also viewed as a messenger between the material and physical worlds. 

Another mythical bird in Persian mythology that’s compared to the heron is the huma. According to the legends, the huma can self-regenerate and can deliver good fortune and kingdoms to human beings.23

3 Heron Spiritual Meanings

In conjunction with what has been written above, here are some spiritual meanings that are associated with herons:

1. Faith – The self-possession displayed by the heron is akin to having spiritual faith. Regardless of what is happening externally, including how other people treat you, the heron embodies the idea that, ultimately, only you have control over your own attitude and your spiritual faith. 

2. Spiritual Transformation – The heron also symbolizes the idea that we are all spiritual beings who are undergoing a transformation, ideally to become enlightened souls, as we live and learn on Earth. 

3. Messages and Universal Wisdom – The elegant beauty of the heron and their ability to move from earth to water to air symbolizes our own capacity to connect with divine energy. It is up to us to hone our spiritual practice and fine tune our intuition so that we can connect with the angelic realm. 

In other words, the heron reminds us to tune in. This can happen during meditation, prayer, or as we sleep. As the passage from Job 33:15-16 says, 

“In a dream, a vision of the night, When sound sleep falls on men, While they slumber in their beds, Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction.”24

Heron Spirit Animal

Great Blue Heron in Waves
Great Blue Heron, Gulf of Mexico, Florida. Photo: Mike Gibson.

When the heron is your spirit animal, you have a beautiful and elegant guardian on your side.

Heron people are often open-minded with aspirations to learn more about their spiritual path.

You are generally curious and most likely aspire to having a greater understanding of who you are and why you’re here. You’re willing to try new experiences and learn about different faiths to expand your knowledge and wisdom. 

Heron people are also contemplative. The saying, “Still waters run deep,” applies to you. 

Furthermore, when the heron is your spirit animal, you are a person who can maintain a sense of quietude, certainty, and dignity, even when there is chaos all around you.

In addition to the heron, if you are curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal test and read more about them in my overview post on spirit animals.

Heron Power Animal and Totem

As the name implies, a power animal can inspire you with their most dynamic traits. Thus, if you want to transform an area of your life, consider the attributes that the power animal represents. In addition, an animal totem encapsulates the protective powers of the animal they represent.

For example, you can meditate on the heron power animal or keep a good luck heron totem animal in situations where you:

  • Want to incorporate more peacefulness, gentility, and elegance in your life.
  • Feel that you need some good luck or are trying to create more abundance in your life.
  • Aspire to transform an area of your life, whether that’s emotional, physical, or spiritual. 

The heron power animal is on your side!

Heron Dream Meaning

Heron Dream

What does it mean if you dream of a heron or flock of herons? Dreams and dream interpretations are uniquely personal, so there is never one cut and dry answer. 

However, delving into the emotions you felt in your heron dream, and your feelings when you awoke, can shed light on what the dream meant.

Analyzing the emotions you felt in your dream can provide insights. In addition, your personal perceptions about herons can help you to understand what your dream is telling you.

For example, herons are very regal and peaceful birds. So, your heron dream can be a positive sign that you will be able to keep your cool in a stressful situation and even change the dynamic into something peaceful and positive. 

Herons are also seen as spiritual messengers. So, dreaming of a heron can be a sign that you have connected with one of your angels – a loved one who has passed or another spirit guide.

Your heron dream can also be a gentle reminder that you are surrounded by divine energy and to put positive and elegant energy into everything you do.

Herons are beautiful and stately birds with deep cultural and spiritual associations. Hopefully understanding more about heron symbolism and meanings can bring insights into what your dream is trying to tell you.

Heron Tattoo Meaning

A heron tattoo is a lovely symbol that shows the world that you are a self-possessed and elegant soul.

It can also mean that you are undergoing or have undergone a personal transformation of some kind.

Or it can also mean that you are deeply intuitive and in touch with messages from the divine. 

Tattoos are extremely personal for the person whose skin they adorn. But hopefully understanding more about heron symbolism and mythology can bring even deeper meanings to your tattoo.

How You Can Help Herons

Today, heron populations around the world face threats, notably from natural habitat loss and degradation. If you care about herons, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that are working on heron protection and conservation:

You might like these other articles on UniGuide:

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