Tiger symbolism and meanings include strength, cunning, majesty, independence, and immortality. As they are native to Asia and Siberia, Russia, tigers appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultures throughout these regions and beyond. In addition, the tiger spirit animal is an important figure in the spiritual beliefs of local people from these cultures as well as many others around the world.
Table of Contents
- What does a tiger symbolize?
- White Tiger Symbolism
- The Tiger in Mythology and Folklore
- Tiger Symbolism in India and Hindu Mythology
- Tiger Symbolism in China
- The Year of the Tiger
- Tiger Meaning in Russia
- Tiger Spirit Animal
- Tiger Totem
- Tiger Power Animal
- Tiger Dream Meanings
- Tiger Tattoo Meaning
- How You Can Help Tigers
In this post, you’ll learn about tiger symbolism, mythology, the spiritual meanings applied to tigers, and more. To begin, here are some commonly shared tiger meanings:
What does a tiger symbolize?
As the apex predator of their domain, the tiger is a revered symbol of strength. Besides human beings and other tigers in their natural habitats – tigers have no rivals. Weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, the tiger is the largest cat in the animal kingdom and they have one of the strongest bites. Their powerful jaws exert over 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi), which is even stronger than a lion’s at 640 psi.1
Thus, the tiger is a helpful totem when you need to feel stronger in your life or even in specific situations.
Primarily nocturnal, the tiger is known to be a stealthy hunter. They are extremely independent animals. In fact, tigers are more elusive than lions, who live in large family groups called prides. The tiger hunts and lives on their own, thinking for themselves. Because of these traits, they symbolize shrewdness and cunning.
The tiger spirit animal reminds you that being book smart and following the crowd will only get you so far. Being street smart, on the other hand, is the key to survival and success. The tiger reminds you that you should always be calculating your next move. In other words, don’t wait for life to happen to you. Instead, make life happen.
Because of their unrivaled status, the tiger exudes confidence over their domain. Thus, they are powerful symbols of confidence and courage.
The tiger power animal reminds you that even if you don’t feel confident in a given situation, you can still act as if you are. Summon your inner tiger! Believe in yourself and others will believe in you too.
In China and Japan, the alphabetical symbol for king is reminiscent of a tiger’s stripes, notably the markings on the tiger’s forehead. Because they are the apex predators of their domains, tigers are considered to be the king of all animals. In addition, their proud, regal bearing garners respect from humans and animals alike. This is why they are symbols of majesty and nobility. The tiger bows to no one. They remind us to respect our own self-worth and that of others.
Tigers are solitary animals who only come together to mate, or when the female is raising her young. However, once tiger kittens reach the age of about two years old, they venture off to live independent lives.
In this video from BBC Earth2, you can see how adventurous and independently-minded even very young tigers can be:
The tiger spirit animal is a helpful symbol when you need the confidence to strike out on your own, whether it’s in a creative or business venture, or even an emotional one.
The tiger is very protective of their territory and they guard it with ferocity. This, coupled with their eminent strength, is why they are symbols of protection in many ancient Asian cultures and throughout the world.
So, a tiger totem is a helpful symbol when you need to protect your boundaries, whether they are physical, emotional, psychological, or even financial. The tiger stands their ground and will not tolerate those who fail to respect their boundaries and what is theirs.
As an apex predator, the tiger is associated with death. Yet, they are also associated with immortality. Indeed, in some ancient Asian cultures, the tiger was seen as a shapeshifter, having the power to transform from human to animal and spirit. They were believed to transition from the physical to supernatural worlds and back.
The term the “eye of the tiger” to describe an ultimate experience or living on the edge was inspired by the moment a tiger attacks. Before the tiger attacks, their ears go back, revealing the markings on the backs of their ears, which look like two big eyes with white spots inside a black perimeter.
The term comes from the idea that those “eyes” are the last thing you see before death. As macabre as it sounds, many cultures believed that if you were killed and eaten by a tiger, your soul lived on through the tiger. In some stories, your soul rode on the tiger’s back. For this reason, it’s considered verboten in many cultures to kill a tiger.
White Tiger Symbolism
In nature, a white tiger is a rare genetic variant of a typical Bengal tiger.3 Modern-day humans have tragically exploited white tigers and inbred them for entertainment purposes. However, the natural, genetically-healthy white tiger is revered. Tigers should never be a circus act. White tigers have inspired ancient cultures.
Historically, white tiger symbolism included virtue, courage, and peace.
According to one Japanese legend, a white tiger named Byakko was a supernatural, celestial being. He was also the guardian of the West. He would appear in the sky if the current human ruler was virtuous and brought peace to the land.4
The Tiger in Mythology and Folklore
The tiger appears in the mythology of many cultures where they are native. Here are some of those stories.
Tiger Symbolism in India and Hindu Mythology
The tiger is revered throughout India. In fact, some ancient Indian cultures believed they were descendants of tigers.
A Naga Tiger Legend
The Naga People tell a creation story about three brothers who were born from the union of the Sky and Earth. One brother was a spirit, the other a human, and the third a tiger. The brothers began to squabble, as brothers do. While the spirit managed to stay neutral, the man and the tiger battled. The man managed to outwit his tiger brother. So, the tiger left to go live in the forest. The spirit brother, upset by the rupture, pulled away from the man. Thus, when the tiger was forced to retreat to the forest, the man lost his connection to both his spirit brother and his tiger brother.
This video from Tara Purnima tells the story of the spirit, the man, and the tiger:
Hindu Deities and the Tiger
The Hindu deity Durga, who is the goddess of war, strength, and protection, rides a tiger. And another deity, Vaghadeva, is a tiger god, who is the guardian of the forest.
For many in India, the tiger symbolizes strength and regeneration.
Tiger Symbolism in China
In ancient China, the tiger symbolized the protection of goodness and the destruction of evil.
In fact, in Chinese culture, the founder of Taoism – the celestial master Zhang Daoling – was depicted riding a mighty tiger much like the Hindu goddess Durga. The tiger helped Zhang Daoling to destroy demons so he could ascend to the heavens.5
In Chinese and other Asian cultures, the tiger is viewed as a balancing spirituals force to the dragon. While the dragon represents yang, or masculine energy, the tiger represents yin, or feminine energy. Without one, the world will fall out of balance.
The Year of the Tiger
In Eastern astrology, the Year of the Tiger is a time for adventure, change, and even taking risks. People born in the Year of the Tiger are naturally courageous, ambitious, and competitive. However, they are also known to be generous and extremely loving, wanting the best for all. The Year of the Tiger happens every 12 years and with each cycle and element is associated with the animal sign. The year 2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger. So, people will be feeling the need for change and adventure and it will be combined with strong emotions and feelings.
Tiger Meaning in Russia
The Indigenous Peoples of Siberia and Eastern Russia call the tiger the guardian of the forest. They view the tiger as a protective spirit who keeps the forest healthy and nature in balance.
Tiger Spirit Animal
If a tiger captures your attention, whether in real life or in art, a film, or the media, pay attention. There are no coincidences. The tiger has special messages for you that can help to guide you on your soul’s journey.
When the tiger is your spirit guide, you are blessed with an omnipotent protector. The tiger possesses a winning combination of strength, beauty, independence, and shrewd perception.
The tiger spirit animal inspires you to become the master of your domain, whether that’s a field of knowledge, a skill – or even mastery over yourself in some way. In becoming a master, you can fulfill your potential on Earth, becoming the person your spirit intends to be in this lifetime.
In addition to the tiger spirit animals, if you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take UniGuide’s spirit animal test and read more about the history of spirit animals.
An animal totem encapsulate the protective powers of the animal it represents. Thus, the tiger totem serves as a helpful symbol for manifesting strength, confidence, and independence in your life. The tiger totem is also helpful when you want to command the respect of others and demonstrate your right to be who you are meant to be.
Tiger Power Animal
Summon the spirit of the majestic tiger power animal when you are facing adversity or need to summon more confidence in a given situation. The spirit of the tiger can help to infuse courage and fiery determination in your heart. The tiger power animal is also a helpful reminder when you go into situations where you need to “own it” whether it’s an interview, a negotiation, or a performance of some kind.
Tiger Dream Meanings
If a tiger enters your dreams, and you’re left wondering what your dream could be telling you, consider the emotions you felt in your dream. While dream meanings and interpretations are personal to every individual, one thing we all have in common is that our sub-conscious emotions don’t lie to us.
For example, if you felt fearful, anxious, excited, or even comforted in your dream, it’s worth analyzing those emotions further. The emotions you felt in the dream can provide clues into what the dream is meant to teach you.
Tigers can be scary animals. If you dream of a tiger attacking you, it can mean that you are ready to “kill off” and transform a part of your life. Or, it can mean that you feel powerless so you should focus on gaining the knowledge, experience, and confidence needed to “own” a situation. Negative emotions in a dream can be powerful reminders to take action in an area of your life. It’s your subconscious mind’s way of grabbing your attention.
Likewise, if you have a pleasant dream with a tiger, it can mean that you have finally “arrived” or will soon arrive in an area of your life, meaning you have achieved mastery.
Tiger Tattoo Meaning
A tiger tattoo sends a powerful message to the world because the tiger embodies so many majestic qualities. Of course, tattoos are deeply personal to the person whose skin they adorn. In addition, how the tattoo artist presents the tiger will speak volumes. For instance, tigers can both ferocious and cuddly.
A tattoo of a relaxed tiger in repose can show the world that you have arrived – you’ve reached a level of mastery over yourself, your emotions, you career, or other area of your life. By comparison, a tattoo of a snarling tiger can demonstrate that you are fiercely independent or protective of your boundaries and those you hold dear.
On a spiritual level a tiger tattoo, especially one with a dragon, can demonstrate that you seek harmony in your life, the balance of yin and yang energy.
Hopefully learning more about tiger mythology and symbolism can bring extra meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Tigers
In the wild, tigers have lost a staggering 93 percent of their natural range due to human development, including the building of highways.6 Furthermore, habitat loss, hunting and exploitation, and lack of food have caused the population of wild tigers to plummet. In fact, fewer than 4,000 wild tigers remain in the wild. These majestic animals clearly need more human protection. If you care about tigers, please do what you can to help them. Here are some organizations that are working on tiger conservation: