Raccoon meanings and symbolism include disguise, trickery, adaptability, dexterity, resourcefulness, and training. In this post, you’ll learn about raccoon symbols and meaning and the raccoon spirit animal. Plus, you’ll learn about the raccoon in cultural mythology and more.
What does a raccoon symbolize?
Etymology of the Word Raccoon
Before we begin, I thought you might be interested in how the English word for raccoon was derived…
In the winter of 1607, Englishman John Smith was exploring and hunting on the Chickahominy River in what would become the U.S. state of Virginia. While exploring, Smith was abducted by Powhatan Native American warriors led by a leader named Opechancanough.1
The braves eventually presented Smith to Opechancanough’s father, who was the supreme leader of the Indigenous tribes of the Chesapeake Bay region, Chief Powhatan. Luckily for Smith, Opechancanough had a compassionate sister who stepped in and prevented Smith from being killed. Opechancanough’s sister, Chief Powhatan’s daughter, was none other than Pocahontas.2
From this fateful meeting, Smith began to learn the Powhatan Algonquian language. One of the first words he and his fellow settlers learned was aroughcun. (Some of them recorded it in their journals as arathkone or rahaugcum.) The Algonquian root of the word they learned was wasor ahrah-koon-em, which means “the one who rubs, scrubs, and scratches with his hands.” In other words, Smith and his colleagues learned the Powhatan word for raccoon.
Over time, as the adaptable raccoon spread to other parts of the world, the name given to them always included the concept of washing. For example, the Latin word for raccoon is Procyon lotor, which combines “before the dog” and “washer.” And the German, Italian, and Japanese words for raccoon all translate to “washing bear.”3
Detailed Racoon Symbols and Meanings
While the raccoon is native to North America, in the past century, they have made their way to Europe, Central and East Asia, and the Middle East as introduced species. Exploited for their fur and the pet trade, some raccoons managed to escape captivity, going on to successfully establish themselves in their new environments.4
Today, many people around the world can identify a raccoon. Thus, these clever animals have acquired distinct symbolic meanings for many people. Here are some of those meanings and what they might mean in your life if you’re so lucky as to encounter a raccoon:
Donning a black bandit mask and coming out at night, the raccoon is the embodiment of disguise. While biologists theorize that the raccoon’s mask helps to cut down on glare so they can see at night, for the rest of us – the raccoon looks like Zorro.
As a master of disguise and stealth, the raccoon reminds us that sometimes we have to put on appearances. And in some matters we should be discreet.
The Native Americans believed the raccoon’s mask gave them the ability to transform themselves into something else. So, the raccoon reminds us that sometimes in life we have to put on a happy face or fake it ‘til we make it. While there are times for full disclosure, the raccoon says – not all the time.
In addition, the stealthy raccoon reminds us that there are times when we should keep our opinions to ourselves.
Perhaps it’s their black masks or their habit of stealing pets’ food and knocking over garbage cans, but raccoons have maintained a long-standing reputation for being tricksters. Indeed, along with the coyote and the crow, the raccoon is a classic trickster in Native American mythology. However, the raccoon would probably argue that they are not really tricksters; they’re just trying to make their way in the world like everybody else.
The raccoon spirit animal reminds you that playful tricks can be fun, providing no one gets hurt. And there might be a need for a little trickery when it comes to things like dating and business dealings. However, if you earn a reputation as a trickster, it’s going to be hard to shake it. Best to always use your tricks as a force for good in the world.
The raccoon has become a very successful species in terms of how they’ve learned to survive and thrive in the human-dominated world. While they prefer living in woodland environments near rivers and lakes, the raccoon can also survive in agricultural areas, suburbs, and cities.
The raccoon is also equally adept at climbing and swimming, so they can get away from predators.
Another key to their survival is that they’re scavengers and omnivores. So, they can easily find things to eat. In fact, the raccoon has a remarkably balanced diet: They’ll eat anything from fruit to nuts, acorns, insects, rodents, frogs, fish, eggs, and human garbage.
Because they are so flexible, the raccoon is also a symbol of adaptability.
People for whom the raccoon is their spirit animal are the types who make the best of any situation they find themselves in. You can take them to a foreign country and they’ll find their way around, or you can take them to a weird restaurant and they’ll be willing to try whatever is on the menu.
If a raccoon has made themselves known to you in real life, art, or the media, it can be a sign to be more flexible in your own life. Be open to trying new things, meeting new people, or otherwise switching up your routine.
Next to primates, the raccoon is one of the most dexterous creatures in the animal kingdom. With their human-like hands, they can open jars, lids, latches, and doors. In addition, they can climb trees, fences, and other objects with ease. Plus, they’re coordinated enough to wash their food or wipe debris off of it before they eat it.
A little known fact about the raccoon is that their hands are 4 – 5 times more sensitive than our own. So, they can practically see with their hands to get information about an object.5
As a symbol of dexterity, the raccoon begs the question: Are you using your hands enough? The raccoon says: Using your hands to express yourself creatively, whether it’s through art, music, or sculpture, or in a way that’s healing, through cooking, massage, or fixing something, can be incredibly rewarding.
There’s an Aesop’s fable about a thirsty crow who finds a pitcher full of water in the desert. The crow’s beak is too short to reach the water. However, she knows that if she tips the pitcher over, she could lose all of the water in it. So, the clever crow innovates and starts putting pebbles in the pitcher of water. Eventually, the pebbles displace the water at the bottom of the pitcher, and the water rises to a level where the crow can drink it.
This story demonstrates the cleverness of the crow. However, researchers have found raccoons to be clever in a similar way, notably in how they learn and innovate.
In an experiment, researchers placed marshmallows in a large cylinder of water. The marshmallows floated, yet they were out of reach of the raccoons. The researchers then demonstrated to the raccoons how to put stones into the cylinder to raise the water level so the marshmallows would be within reach.
The clever raccoons quickly caught on, placing stones in the cylinder to access the marshmallows. However, one rogue raccoon just knocked the cylinder over to get his treat.6
As a dexterous scavenger, the raccoon is also a symbol of resourcefulness. The raccoon doesn’t lament that conditions are not ideal. Instead, the practical raccoon works with the conditions at hand.
The self-help guru Tony Robbins says that many entrepreneurs and creative people complain when they don’t have the resources to achieve their aims. Yet Tony always tells them, “Your problem is not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of resourcefulness.”
The raccoon spirit animal reminds you that you have what you need to succeed. If at first you don’t think you do, the raccoon says – think again. Use your imagination and your wits to achieve your goals.
As demonstrated in the story about the raccoons getting their marshmallows, one of the raccoon’s special characteristics is their ability to learn.
In another experiment, researchers studied the difference between urban and rural raccoons. They put cat food in trash cans and presented the trash cans to raccoons in the city and then raccoons from a wilderness environment.
The city raccoons immediately went to the lid of the trash can to remove it, while the rural raccoons sniffed at the bottom of the trash can trying to figure out how to get the cat food. The city raccoons had clearly learned from experience, and they demonstrated that they had adapted to a specific environment.
Another example of the way raccoons learn is in this video from Jeff Reid.7 In the video, a mother raccoon patiently teaches her kit how to climb a tree. The mother raccoon makes sure her baby doesn’t fall while at the same time, she literally pushes him to new heights. Even though he doesn’t get it at first, mom keeps pushing him until he does.
Whether you already know that the raccoon is your spirit animal or if one suddenly makes themselves known to you, the raccoon can be a reminder that it’s time for you to up your training in an area of your life. No matter what age we are or where we are in a given career path, it’s always good to learn new skills and to take things to the next level. The raccoon spirit animal says: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. And then: Practice, practice, practice.
Raccoon Mythology and Folklore
As a native animal to North America, the raccoon is an important figure in the stories of many Native American cultures. Here are some stories about the raccoon in mythology and folklore:
Native American Raccoon Meanings
Every Native American tribe has their own unique set of customs and beliefs. However, one thing they have in common is a deep reverence for nature and animals. For many tribes, the raccoon is a sacred animal who is also a trickster like the coyote or crow.
Raccoon in Natchez Culture
The Natchez People, who are from what is now Mississippi, have a creation myth that includes the raccoon. The Natchez tell of a giant cedar tree that’s similar to the Tree of Life in other cultures. This tree connects the three worlds: the world of the spirits, the world of people (or the Earth), and the underworld.
While birds, like the hawk, eagle, and thunderbird, are connected to the sky and snakes to the underworld, the raccoon is part of the Earth, inhabiting it along with the people. So, the people are said to have a special kinship with their fellow Earth dwellers, including the raccoon.
Choctaw Raccoon Meanings
For the Choctaw of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the raccoon is both a mischief-maker and a teacher. In one legend, a racoon and an opossum are friends. The opossum looks covetously at the raccoon’s bushy tail and says he also wants a fluffy tail with stripes on it. So, the raccoon says, “If you wrap bark around your tail and then put it over a campfire, you’ll get a fluffy striped tail.”
So, the opossum wraps his tail in bark and puts it over the fire. When the fire gets too hot, the opossum takes his tail out and removes the bark. All he sees is that the fur of this tail has been singed off. The opossum says, “This is horrible. This isn’t a raccoon tail.” And the raccoon says, “Because you are not a raccoon.” And the opossum says, “You are right. I should have been happy with what I had.”8
Abenaki Tribe: Azeban the Trickster
The Abenaki People have many stories about a character named Azeban who is a trickster raccoon. Here’s one:
How the Raccoon Got His Mask
Two old blind men lived together and got along well. They lived on their own and knew that Glooscap, the Creator, would always look after them.
When they needed water from the river, they would tie their bucket to a rope and toss it into the river, then pull it back.
One day, Azeban the raccoon watched from the riverbank as one of the old men came to fetch water. Feeling bored, Azeban decided to cause some mischief.
When the old man threw his bucket down, Azeban intercepted it and filled it with sand. The old man carried the bucket back to his camp. But when his friend went to take a drink, all he got was a cup full of sand. He accused his friend of being lazy and not getting the water.
The next day, one of the old men was cooking four pieces of meat in a pot. Two were for his friend and two were for himself. As the old man turned to get some seasoning, Azeban snuck down and took two pieces of meat from the pot and ate them.
After seasoning the meat, the old man took two pieces out of the pot for himself and called his friend, telling him dinner was ready. When his friend reached into the pot, there was no meat, and another quarrel and accusations ensued.
Seeing the trouble that Azeban was causing between the two friends, Glooscap the Creator came down and pulled a stick from the fire. He then grabbed raccoon and marked his eyes and tails with the charred stick. He said to Azeban, “This is for stealing and causing mischief, so people will always know you are a bandit.”9
The Sioux, who are from the U.S. midwestern plains, have their own raccoon trickster stories. In one legend, the raccoon is very hungry. So, he finds some maggots in a log and goes to the riverbank. Laying down, he closes his eyes and puts the maggots over his eyelids and pretends he’s dead. A crawfish comes along and sees the dead raccoon. Excited that he and his family will have a big feast, he goes and tells all of his relatives to come out of the mud to eat. But when all of the crawfish come and feast on the raccoon, the raccoon jumps up and eats them all.10
For the Winnebago, the raccoon was a shapeshifter animal who was associated with the water. In fact, in a number of Winnebago legends, the raccoon shapeshifts into a fish and back. Thus they saw the raccoon as both a forest and water spirit.
In one legend, hunters were chasing a raccoon who found refuge in a hole in a tree. When the hunters got to the tree, they looked in the hole, but all they saw was water. They then discovered that there were fish in the water. So, one of them captured the fish and ate them. However, right after he ate them, he also turned into a fish but he was not in water.
For the Winnebago, the raccoon is also a celestial spirit. They call any star that has a tail Wojijé, which means a meteor spirit. So, the Winnebago associate raccoons, with their long, bushy tails, with meteors or shooting stars.11
Most Native American tribes are based around a clan system, which is a form of community organization that is rooted in the maternal family line. Each clan is associated with a specific animal who serves as a guardian and protector of the members of the clan.
Examples of clan animals include the hummingbird, bear, fox, wolf, otter, and mountain lion. Native American tribes with raccoon clans include the Chickasaw, Chippewa, Muskogee Creek, Shawnee, and the Menominee. In addition, tribes including the Shawnee, Lenape, and Iroquois have sacred raccoon dances.12
Biblical Meaning of the Raccoon
Some people may wonder about what the raccoon means in the Bible. Raccoons are actually not mentioned in the Bible. This is most likely because raccoons did not exist in the Middle East at the time the Bible was written, from around 1200 BC – 1 AD.13
Japanese “Raccoon”: The Tanuki
Raccoons did not live in Japan until the 20th century when they began to be imported as pets. However, as wild animals, they did not make good pets and many people released them into the wild.14
While raccoons did not live in Japan until the 20th century, there is an animal that looks nearly identical to the raccoon, which is indigenous to Japan. The tanuki also goes by the name of racoon dog. Although the tanuki looks very much like a raccoon, they are actually more closely related to the fox.15
In Japanese stories, the tanuki is very much like the raccoon in North American mythology. The tanuki is portrayed as mischievous, a master of disguise, and a shapeshifter.
China: The Red Panda
Another animal that is sometimes confused with a raccoon is the red panda, which is native to China. Although the red panda has a striped tail and a mask like the raccoon’s, they are not related to raccoons. And despite their name, they are not related to panda bears either. The red panda is actually their own species in their own family and genus of animals.16
Raccoon Spirit Animal
If you have an encounter with a raccoon or if you have a special kinship with these clever animals, by all means learn more about them. You can develop a spiritual connection with these animals that enriches your life.
When the raccoon is your spirit animal, you have been blessed with natural abilities that you can use to achieve your dreams. However, the raccoon reminds you that getting the training you need to expand your skills and diligently honing your craft are what it takes to become an expert.
In addition, when the raccoon is your spirit animal, you have an innate cleverness that helps you adapt to new situations and overcome challenges that come your way.
Raccoon 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 raccoon power animal when you:
- Want to brush up your image in some way and transform the way others see you.
- Would like to handle changes better or if you want to enrich your life with new experiences.
- Want to learn a new skill or become an expert in your field.
- Are facing a challenge and feel like you don’t have the resources to achieve the outcomes you desire. The raccoon reminds you that it’s not about resources but resourcefulness!
Raccoon Totem Animal
An animal totem encapsulates the protective powers of the animal it represents. Thus, the raccoon totem is a helpful symbol when you need the cleverness and tenacity to make things work in an area of your life. The raccoon totem is also a good luck symbol for going into a negotiation of some kind when you don’t want to be outsmarted. Furthermore, the raccoon totem is a helpful symbol for when you want to learn new things faster and develop an expertise.
Raccoon Dream Meaning
What does it mean when you dream of a raccoon or raccoons? Dreams and dream interpretations are personal, so there is never one cut and dry answer. However, understanding the emotions you felt in your dream can shed light on what it’s trying to tell you.
For example, if you feel a sense of anxiety in your raccoon dream, it could mean that you fear something is being stolen from you. I actually had a young raccoon come in through my cat door once, and for weeks after, I would dream that he was coming in and taking things. By the same token, if you have a pleasant dream about a racoon, it can mean that you’re feeling at ease adjusting to a new situation or environment.
Our dreams can be our mind simply processing events from our daily lives or they can be our spirit guides sending us messages. Either way, it’s also good to think about your dreams instead of just brushing them aside as inconsequential. Hopefully, learning more about raccoon meanings and mythology can bring new insights into what your dream means.
Raccoon Tattoo Meaning
A raccoon tattoo is a fun tattoo that shows your appreciation for these clever and adaptable animals. A raccoon tattoo can also convey that you’re a bit of a trickster, or that you’re an artist who works with your hands. It can also mean that you’re a survivor or the type of person your friends or lover can take anywhere. While tattoos are personal to each individual, hopefully understanding more about raccoon symbolism can bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Raccoons
Raccoons are a successful species in terms of their ability to survive in the human-dominated world. However, they are frequently misunderstood by people and they do face threats. These threats include hunting, trapping, getting hit by cars, and having run-ins with domesticated dogs. If you care about raccoons, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that look out for raccoons and their welfare:
You might like these other articles on UniGuide:
- Hawk Symbolism
- Mountain Lion Meaning
- Deer Symbolism
- Coyote Meaning
- White Wolf Meaning
- Acorn Symbolism