Vulture Meaning, Symbolism & Mythology + the Vulture Spirit Animal

Vulture in Flight

Vulture symbolism and meanings include resourcefulness, family, transformation, insight, and other special qualities. While they are perhaps one of the most misunderstood birds in the world, vultures are special to many people and they appear in the mythologies of many cultures around the world. In this post, we’ll explore the intriguing symbolism and meanings of vultures, including their spiritual meanings. Plus, we’ll take a look at the vulture spirit animal, vulture mythology, and more.

Cinereous Vulture
Cinereous vulture. Photo: Jecqan.

What does a vulture symbolize? 

Here are some qualities that the vulture represents. We’ll go into more detail on these below:

  • Practicality 
  • Resourcefulness
  • Adaptability
  • Patience
  • Family
  • Transformation
  • Renewal
  • Purification
  • Protection
  • Insight

Vulture Symbolism: Practicality 

Even though they’re birds, vultures are not nest builders. Instead, like owls, they roost in whatever is readily available to them, from trees to billboards to radio towers.1 So, the vulture is a very practical bird. 

As a symbol of practicality, the vulture can be a reminder to get back to the basics. If we lose a sense of the fundamentals in life, we can easily get sidetracked, wasting our energy on minutiae. The vulture teaches us to be practical and ignore what doesn’t really matter. When we do this, we’ll be able to soar.


In addition to being practical, the vulture is resourceful and efficient. For example, vultures use thermal currents to coast in the air, which conserves their energy when flying. 

The vulture also has remarkable scavenging skills. They can make a hearty meal out of the leftovers that other animals might turn away from.

Thus, the vulture is a powerful symbol for using the resources at hand to fuel what you want to do. As human potential guru Tony Robbins says, you can’t blame not achieving your goals on a lack of resources; it’s a lack of resourcefulness. If you’re resourceful, you will find a way.

So, if a vulture appears to you, they can be reminding you that you can find value in every aspect of your life, whether it’s an unfortunate past or aspects of yourself you want to change. Turn garbage into fuel and funnel it into achieving your dreams. 


In a world that’s too hostile to wild creatures, many vulture species have figured out a way to not only survive but thrive. They do so by being adaptable. 

The vulture reminds us of the importance of being flexible and resourceful in the face of challenges. So, a vulture appearing to you can be a reminder that you have the capacity to endure, adapt, and thrive, no matter the harsh conditions at hand. You have what you need to succeed!

Vulture Meaning: Patience

The vulture is also a patient bird. They can soar and circle for hours without flapping their wings as they await the ideal opportunity to dive and eat.2 

So, the vulture is a positive symbol for practicing patience. For those of us who believe in the power of the Law of Attraction and manifesting, the vulture can be an important teacher. Just because your dreams haven’t happened yet, doesn’t mean they’re not going to happen. The vulture says, “Be patient.” 


Flock of Vultures

Most vulture species, including the well-known black vulture, mate for life. In addition, both the male and female take part in raising their chicks. In fact, vultures are family-oriented birds who keep their chicks close for about eight months. And even after they fledge, vultures tend to stick together in family groups.3

If a vulture appears to you or you have always felt a special connection to these special birds, you are likely a person who deeply values your close ties.

If you feel lonely or disconnected in some way, it can mean that you haven’t found the right flock for you yet. The vulture is a reminder to cherish your family or friends or a close network of people. And if you don’t have this in your life yet, it’s time to go out and create it. 

Vulture Symbolism: Transformation

Vultures play a vital role in keeping ecosystems healthy because they’re carrion-eating birds. Basically, they clean up dead stuff. In this way, they share symbolism with crows and ravens as they are often associated with death, which is a state of transformation, or transition.

So, a vulture appearing in your life can represent that an aspect of your life is changing or going through a phase of transformation. Envision going through these changes like a vulture effortlessly soaring in the sky. Remember that through change, we experience personal growth. Everything is in flow.


Griffon Vulture

In addition to symbolizing transformation, the vulture also represents renewal. The vulture is the clean up crew who comes in and restores  a messy scene. So, the vulture also symbolizes renewal and new beginnings

Thus, a vulture appearing in your life can be a sign to think about how you can renew something in your life. Also, to have faith in your power to renew and rebuild.

Changing a Negative to a Positive

In this way, the vulture also represents changing a negative into positive. So, if a vulture makes an appearance in your life, whether by soaring overhead or appearing to you in art or the media, it can be like a nudge from the Universe to pay attention to your self talk and the vibrations you’re putting out. 

Your thoughts and actions send frequencies. This is what the Law of Attraction is and how manifestation happens. So, be mindful and turn any thoughts that are not serving you into something more positive and productive. Keep doing it, and it will eventually become automatic.

Vulture Meaning: Purification

Turkey Vulture Horaltic Pose

Because vultures are scavengers, many people view them as dirty or gross birds. In reality, vultures love a good bath if water is available, especially after they eat.   

Vultures also take part in a morning ritual known as the “horaltic pose,” in which they spread their wings wide to absorb the warmth of the sun.

This pose is also known as the “Ben Franklin.” The American founding father was known for going outside naked and outstretching his arms to the sun’s rays. Whether he knew it or not at the time, the sun is a strong disinfectant, which can eliminate body odor. 

Purifying the Environment for Other Animals

So, far from being a dirty bird, the vulture is a symbol of purification. Indeed, vultures actually help to purify the environment and prevent other animals from catching diseases.  

The vulture’s stomach acids are so strong that they can feed on animals that have died from pathogens, including botulism, anthrax, salmonella, and cholera, without getting sick themselves. In doing so, they remove these illnesses from the environment, protecting other animals and humans.4

As a symbol of purification, the vulture can be a sign to consider doing a physical or emotional (or both) detox. Consider where you’re directing your energy in life and what you’re doing to sustain it. Everything is energy, including your thoughts. So, your vulture can be a sign that it’s time to purify and clean out the clutter.


The ancient Egyptians and Hebrews saw that vulture as a protective bird. For the Hebrew, the vulture represented commitment to your mate, family, and values.

The Egyptians adorned pharaohs’ tombs and other important places with vulture figurines and drawings because they viewed them as guardians and protectors in both the current life and the afterlife.

So, the vulture is a positive symbol for exerting or even summoning more protective power in your life. This could be in the form of protecting loved ones who are vulnerable or setting stronger personal boundaries for yourself.


Vulture with Beautiful Eyes

With their keen eyesight, vultures are like hawks in that they symbolize the ability to see things clearly and from a higher perspective. Also like the hawk, the vulture represents intuitive awareness. This is because they have their eyes on the ground, or what is happening in the material world, but they also fly high in the sky, representing a connection to spiritual, or metaphysical, realms.

So, those who feel a special kinship with vultures are likely to be very intuitive. You have the ability to see into situations and perceive things that others do not. 

Seeing a vulture soaring above can also be a sign to look at things from a different perspective. This might be in the form of spiritual lessons you can learn from a situation. Or it can mean trying to better understand where people are coming from even if you don’t readily share their views. 

Vulture Mythology and Folklore

Egyptian Vulture

Vultures have played a role in the mythologies and folklore of cultures around the world for as long as people have been telling stories. And while they’re sometimes portrayed as ominous beings associated with death and decay, vultures also embody noble and redeeming qualities that deserve more recognition. 

Here are some ways the vulture is portrayed in the mythologies and folklore of people around the world. 


Stele of the Vultures
Stele of the Vultures. Ca 2450 BCE. Source: Louvre Museum. Photo: Kikuyu3.

In ancient Mesopotamia, vultures were associated with warfare. Archaeologists and anthropologists deduced this from an ancient Mesopotamian artifact known as the Stele of the Vultures. 

Dating back to around 2500 BCE, the stele (which is a stone slab) depicts the aftermath of a battle. In the scene, vultures carry the severed heads and limbs of defeated soldiers.

As the vultures carried away the remains of the defeated enemy, they likely represented victory and a transition of power. 

Furthermore, vultures might have also represented the purification of the battlefield for the ancient Mesopotamians. This reinforced the victorious king’s divine right to establish order through his triumph.5  

Vulture Mythology in Ancient Turkey

Mudbrick houses and other buildings at the archeological site at Çatalhöyük. Murals revealed vulture artwork. Photo: Murat Özsoy.

In south central Turkey, an ancient archeological site known as Çatalhöyük reveals vivid murals and figurines that include vultures. 

Dating back to about 7000 BCE or earlier, these murals revealed the transition of humans from a nomadic way of life to one of agriculture and the domestication of animals. 

Some anthropologists believe the Neolithic people living in this area were shamanistic. Indeed, some of their artwork reveals a person who seems to be part vulture/part man, or is dressed as a vulture.

The locals likely believed that as vultures, their shamans could fly between the physical and supernatural worlds. There is also evidence that this culture believed in a vulture goddess.6

For the ancient Turks, the vulture likely represented the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, life and death, the cycle of life, and rebirth. 

The Zoroastrians and Vultures in Ancient Iran and India

Tower of Silence
A dakhma, or Tower of Silence, in Yazd, Iran. Photo: Bernard Gagnon.

Before the birth of Islam, around 1500 BCE, the Zoroastrians were a religious sect in ancient Iran and India who had dualistic spiritual views. For example, they believed in an ongoing battle between good and evil. 

One of their rituals was to offer their dead to vultures. Known as the Tower of Silence, or the dakhma, a raised platform held the body of the deceased. This would prevent the body from having direct contact with the ground.

In addition, the Zoroastrians wouldn’t allow the body to have contact with fire. They believed both the ground and fire were sacred and that a dead body could defile them.

The Zoroastrians also believed that the vultures helped to release the soul from the deceased person’s body. They also saw that the deceased person feeding the birds with their body was a final act of charity,7

Nasr, the Vulture God

Nasr the Arabian Vulture God

Nasr, whose name translates to “vulture” in Arabic, was a deity worshiped in ancient Arabia, particularly by the Himyarites. The Himyarites were a pre-Islamic tribe who lived in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Reliefs and artifacts depicting vultures were discovered in various Himyarite locations, including Maṣna’at Māriya and Haddat Gulays in what is now Yemen.

The Book of Idols, which was written by  an 8th-century historian named Hisham ibn Al-Kalbi, mentions a temple dedicated to Nasr located at a place called Balkha, which remains unidentified. However, this underscores Nasr’s importance to the local people of this time.

The Griffin

Griffin. Source: Unknown.

Vultures are sometimes linked to the mythical bird creature known as the griffin. Originating in the Levant around 2000 BCE, the griffin was a creature that was part bird and part lion. It was a guardian and protector known for its courage and strength. 

The griffin came to be an important mythical creature in many cultures, from ancient Egypt to Greece, and Persia as well as in Christianity.

Vultures in Tibetan Buddhism: the Sky Burial

Sky Burial
Depiction of a Tibetan Buddhist sky burial, Litang Monastery, Sichuan, China.
Photo: Antoine Taveneaux.

Like the Zoroastrians’ funerary ritual, Tibetan Buddhists as far back as the 12th century held what was known as Jhator, or sky burials. 

In this ritual, the Buddhists put a deceased person’s body on a mountaintop where it could be eaten by vultures and other scavenging birds.

If there were many dead bodies, sometimes the birds would have to be coaxed to eat them by holding a ritual dance. If the birds didn’t eat, it was considered a bad omen.8 

Nevertheless, the ritual reflected the Buddhist philosophies of impermanence and selflessness.

Vultures in Hinduism

Vultures in Hinduism
Hanuman with Jambavan and Angada meet Sampati, the elder brother of Jatayu. Source: National Museum, New Delhi, India.

Vultures also play a role in Hindu mythology, in which they are associated with courage, self-sacrifice, and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. 

Sampati and Jatayu

In the epic story the Ramayana, there are two vulture brothers, Sampati and Jatayu. The two brothers played a role in the rescue of Sita, the wife of Prince Rama. 


In another Indian story, the vulture is responsible for saving the world from the burning sun.

According to the tale, a long time ago the sun was too close to the Earth and was burning all of the animals. Some animals volunteered to try to pick it up and move it away from the Earth, but all got burned in the process. 

Finally, the vulture volunteered. And while he did get burned, he was able to fly the sun further away and save the world.

However, the sun singed the flowers on his head and that’s why vultures have bald heads to this day.9


Vultures are also linked with the goddess Kali in Hindu culture. She embodies the kind of destruction that leads to regeneration and the transformation of death into new life. This connection with Kali amplifies the vulture’s symbolic associations with purification and renewal.

Vultures in Ancient Egypt

For the ancient Egyptians, the vulture represented protection. The Egyptians depicted vultures on tombs to guard the pharaohs. They were also associated with the transition to the afterlife.


Nekhbet Vulture Goddess

The Egyptians connected the vulture with their goddess Nekhbet who was the guardian of Upper Egypt and its rulers.10 She was viewed as a protective mother goddess.

Nekhbet was frequently portrayed spreading her wings over the pharaoh while grasping in her claw the cartouche symbol or other emblems. She also appeared as a woman, often with a vulture’s head, wearing a white crown, and was sometimes depicted suckling the pharaoh. 


Another Egyptian goddess, Mut, was also associated with vultures. Mut embodied the protective aspects of motherhood. Vultures were revered as symbols of her nurturing and maternal power.

Vulture Mythology in Africa

The Yoruban People of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo tell stories of a goddess named Yemonja. She is a fertility goddess and protector of children. She also safeguards rivers, stream, and other bodies of water. The vulture is one of Yemonja’s totem animals, along with the snake, the duck, and snail.11

Vultures in Greek Mythology

The ancient Greeks had mixed views of vultures. On the one hand, they associated the vulture with the mythical bird, the griffin. For the Greeks, the griffin and the vulture represented polarities: Heaven and Earth, life and death, good and evil. 

The Greeks also associated vultures with the god Ares, who ruled war and battle scenes. Most likely this is because these carrion-eating birds appeared after bloody battles. 

Prometheus and Aethon

Aethon eating the liver of Prometheus. Jacob Jordaens, 1640.

While the myth of Prometheus is most often told with an eagle named Aethon, the bird could have easily been a vulture.

In the story, the giant bird was sent as punishment from Zeus. The crime? Prometheus stole fire and gave it to human beings. The child of monsters, Aethon would perpetually eat out the liver of Prometheus.12

Roman Mythology 

Birds were held in high regard in ancient Roman culture as they were viewed as messengers for the gods. In fact, the Romans used a form of divination called augury, in which they studied the behaviors of birds for guidance and insights into human events.

In Roman culture, the vulture was especially highly respected. The Romans associated vultures with foresight and strategy, qualities valued by the Roman military. In addition, the bird’s keen sight and high-flying nature represented having a broad perspective and the ability to see the big picture.

The Romans also admired the vulture for their role in the natural cycle of life and death, acknowledging its importance in maintaining balance and order in the natural world. 

Vultures and the Founding of Rome

In the story of Romulus and Remus, who were the sons of the war god Mars, it was vultures who settled a heated disagreement.

According to the story, the two brothers argued over on which hill to build the new city, which would be Rome. They settled the argument by going to sleep on their respective hills. The next morning, the hill with the most vultures on it would be the winner.

The Guardians of Roman Armies

Vultures with Roman Army

In another Roman story, a pair of vultures would appear when the Roman army was to win a battle.

According to the account, between 113 – 103 BC, Celtic and Germanic tribes were making their way towards Italy, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. These battles marked some of the worst military defeats for Rome. They lost tens of thousands of soldiers to the northern tribes.

Amidst all the defeats, the famed commander Marius was sent to take over the military. The Roman military began to prevail and soldiers noticed that a pair of vultures were always present when they were victorious.13

Filipino Vulture Folktale

Filipinos have a folktale about a girl who turns into a vulture. 

According to the story, a girl named Bereti came from a very wealthy family. Feeling bored and in spite of her privileged life, she sought out new experiences.

One day, she befriended a girl named Karing, who was a palace worker’s daughter. Bereti was intrigued by Karing’s less affluent lifestyle, which included scavenging for food and eating leftovers. 

So, for fun, Bereti chose to join Karing and her family in their scavenging activities. 

When Bereti’s father learned of her escapades, he was outraged, cursing and disowning her. 

By the next day, Bereti had disappeared. Feeling remorseful, her father went out to find her. However, all he found was a vulture pecking the carcass of a dead cow.14

Native American Vulture Meanings

Turkey Vulture Flying in Canyon

Native American tribes have mixed views of vultures. But in general, they are associated with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth as well as cleansing and purification. In some cases, such as with the Hopi, vultures are believed to bring good fortune.

For all of the Pueblo tribes, the vulture is a medicine bird who can restore harmony and balance to people and the land. 

Pueblo medicine men use vulture feathers in shapeshifting rituals. They also use them for grounding purposes and to bring someone back into their body or to their true self. 

Notably, the Pueblo believe turkey vultures can help to ward off evil and purify or remove spells from certain objects. In addition, they can help facilitate connections with warriors who have been killed as well as help to disconnect from certain spiritual entities when needed.15

South American Vulture Mythology

Two-Headed Vulture God

The Indigenous People of Brazil have some intriguing vulture stories. A common theme is that vultures are associated with fire and light. 


The Kuikuro People of Mato Grosso tell stories about a giant two-headed mythical bird who was the king of vultures.

Named Uguvu-cuengo, the vulture king was known to stare off into space with a blank look. Displeased with his boredom, the creator, Kanassa, caught Uguvu-cuengo and told him that he must fly to the sun and take a bite of it so that he could possess light and fire.16


Further north, the Kamayura People, a Brazilian Indigenous tribe who live in the  Amazonian Basin, also tell stories of a two-headed vulture. Named Urubutsin, the beast lived in the sky in the Milky Way.

According to the Kamayura, Urubutsin once owned all of the light in the Universe. However, he refused to let anyone see it. 

Kuat and Iae, who were twin brothers born in primordial darkness, learned that Urubutsin was hoarding the light. 

So, Kuat sent Urubutsin a gift of an animal carcass, thinking that it would be a generous exchange for a little light. 

Urubutsin ate up the carcass, but refused to share any light. 

So, the twins left another carcass out for Urubutsin. Only, they were hiding inside of it. When Urubutsin swooped down to eat the carcass, the twins grabbed him.

A battle ensued, causing Urubutsin to lose all of the feathers on his head.

The twins won the battle and Urubutsin gave up the light. Kuat threw handfuls of light into the sky and he became the god of the sun. Iae did the same and became the god of the stars and the moon.17

Vulture Spiritual Meanings

Vulture and Blue Sky

In addition to what has been referenced earlier, vultures have special spiritual meanings. Indeed, few birds, other than the raven and crow, are so closely associated with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

In fact, vultures represent one of the most profound spiritual lessons that we humans often have a hard time accepting. That is separation from the material world and connection to the spiritual realms. 

Transcending the Material

Ted Andrews, the author of the classic book on spirit animals, Animal Speak, explains that the vulture represents the “mystical secret” of levitation as they can soar in the sky for hours without even flapping their wings.

According to Andrews, “Levitation is the law of spirituality. Gravity is the impulse toward the material and mundane, or physical.” 

So, vultures can inspire us to channel, distribute, and use our energy in a way that doesn’t weigh us down. The vulture reminds us that we all have a presence in this material world, but we don’t have to get trapped in it. We are far more than our possessions and even our physical bodies.

Just as many people think vultures are unappealing birds, many fear death. The vulture teaches us that while life is precious, death is a natural process that releases us from the restrictions of the material world.

3 Vulture Spiritual Meanings

To summarize some of these concepts, here are some high-level spiritual meanings that the vulture represents:

  1. Releasing outdated beliefs, behaviors, and attachments that weigh us down and hinder our spiritual growth.
  2. Contemplating our divine potential above and beyond the material world.
  3. Nurturing our spiritual development and finding a family of like minded souls who we can learn from and grow with.

Vulture Spirit Animal

Pair of Vultures

You may already know that the vulture is your spirit animal. Or one may have suddenly riveted your attention in real life, art, or the media. Either way, if the vulture spirit animal resonates with you, you have a wise and special guardian on your side.

Vulture people are resourceful, practical, and patient. While you are down to Earth, you are also spiritually evolved and you don’t get caught up in trivial, mundane things. You have your sights on the bigger picture view. 

You are also very devoted to your family or a close group of friends. And while you might appear to have a mild disposition compared to, say, hawk people, you are nevertheless fiercely protective and not someone anyone would want to tangle with. 

The vulture may not be as glamorous a spirit animal as the flamingo or humminbird. However, they are one of the most powerful medicine birds in the sky. So, the lucky people they choose as their own should be filled with honor.

Vulture Power Animal

As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits. For example, you can summon the vulture power animal when you:

  • Feel you don’t have the resources you need to accomplish your goals. The vulture says to focus on being resourceful instead of focusing on lack. Be inventive and make the most of your circumstances. Turn any perceived scarcity into visions of abundance.
  • Are suffering from a lack of patience. Envision the vulture gliding effortlessly on thermal currents, waiting for the optimal time to act. Believe that everything is in flow and the Universe is working in your favor.
  • Are going through a change. The vulture is a powerful symbol for transformation and renewal. Sometimes we have to go through a purification process that can be challenging but will ultimately lead to greater things.
  • Seek answers or insights into a situation or turning point. The vulture embodies the concept of getting a higher perspective and tapping into the spiritual realms for insights and answers. If you don’t have the answer you need now, seek out more information. Or give your question to the Universe and ask for guidance for your highest good. 

Vulture Totem Animal

A totem animal encapsulates the protective powers of the animal it represents. So, the vulture totem animal is a helpful talisman for not getting too caught up in the mundane aspects of life so that you can soar to your highest potential.

In addition, the vulture totem animal is a good luck symbol for navigating life’s changes and transitions, and for transforming challenging experiences into opportunities for growth and reward.

The vulture totem can also be a helpful symbol for releasing old patterns, beliefs, or behaviors that are holding you back. The vulture embodies getting rid of what no longer serves you, going through a purification process, and coming out better than you ever were before.

Closing Thoughts 

Vultures are perhaps one of the world’s most under-appreciated birds. However, once we get to know them, we soon realize how spectacular they actually are.

Holding deeply profound symbolic and spiritual meanings, vultures teach us to find value in what others overlook and to not get too bogged down in the material world. We have the ability to soar effortlessly through life’s challenges with grace and insight.

By understanding and valuing the vulture’s remarkable traits and the wisdom they embody, we can learn to navigate our own lives with a broader perspective and a renewed sense of purpose.

How You Can Help Vultures

While vultures are remarkably adaptable, like so many wild animals on our planet today, some species are facing major challenges. Notably, the IUCN Red List identifies two species of vultures: the Egyptian vulture and the lappet-faced vulture as endangered.

In addition, four species are critically endangered: the hooded vulture, the white-headed vulture, Rüppell’s vulture, and the white-backed vulture.18 If you care about vultures, please do what you can to help protect them. Here are some organizations that are working on vulture conservation and protection:

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Kristen M. Stanton

Hello. Thanks for visiting UniGuide. My name is Kristen and I started UniGuide as a tribute to nature, animals, and spiritual exploration. I hope you enjoy your experience here!