Throughout our history, humans have looked to the natural world for wisdom and guidance. The owl, fox, tortoise, snake, elephant, and crow have been deemed as the most prominent symbols of wisdom in the animal kingdom.
But there are many animals that symbolize wisdom throughout human stories and mythology. Below we explore a range of animals that are considered holders of wisdom.
While ants aren’t the first animals you’d think of, they’re actually regularly symbols of wisdom in our culture.
Perhaps the best example is the ant in Aesop’s table The Ant and the Grasshopper. In this story, the ant is the wise creature who is supposed to be the one whose preparation and foresight brings him success.
The grasshopper in this story, on the other hand, is foolish and doesn’t prepare for the winter. He therefore doesn’t have the food to survive the winter and doesn’t make it through.
The ant, on the other hand, has a cozy place to burrow and wait out the winter with his food supplies and warmth.
In some American Indian cultures, bears are believed to be ancestors and spirit creatures.
For these cultures, it’s important to care for and protect the bears while also keeping them at a respected distance.
The fact that bears were seen as ancestors meant that there was an inherent wisdom and cultural memory that was carried by the bears.
Furthermore, bears are often depicted in literature and film as wise creatures. Baloo in Jungle book, for example, was a wise bear who would give counsel to Mowgli, the man cub.
The extreme intelligence of the crow intrinsically links this bird to themes of wisdom and knowledge across cultures.
In some cultures, they have even been believed to have a mystic, if not supernatural knowledge far beyond human understanding.
The notable intelligence of crows, as well as some of their behaviors (such as holding “crow funerals”) which are strikingly similar to humans, has led many to see them as an obvious symbol of wisdom. They are often presented as storytellers in literature and are often believed to hold valuable knowledge that humans lack.
In Native American culture, it is not uncommon for tribal leaders and shamans to consult the crow for guidance and wisdom.
The totem of the crow represents unusually deep insight and a knack for observation, and problem-solving through unorthodox means. Those linked to the crow are rare and often eccentric people.
Related: Black Crow Symbolism
Dolphins are believed to be wise because of their high degree of intelligence.
They are one of the most intelligent animals in the world. They’re able to solve puzzles, play together, and communicate with one another.
Dolphins have also been known to empathize with humans and save them from trouble. This incredible insight into emotions makes us think they must be wise creatures.
Dolphin dream meanings include playfulness and joy, which don’t tend to make us think of wisdom. But dolphins are creatures that remind us to be both playful and thoughtful.
Related: Dolphin Symbolism
In Asia and Africa, where Elephants originate from, these majestic beasts are heavily associated with wisdom. This may be due to their famously strong memory, and comparatively long life span.
Elephants are patient, careful, and believed to hold ancient wisdom and knowledge that is passed between generations.
Some believe that the elephant’s memory is so strong that it can recall the exact memories of its ancestors.
As a spiritual symbol, the elephant may indicate your personal need to call on your abilities of wisdom and memory to store the stories and traditions of your lineage or heritage.
Related: Elephant Symbolism
Though foxes are often thought of as only clever or cunning, the quick wit that is associated with this animal can easily be interpreted as a kind of wisdom.
This misconception of the animal can also symbolize the presence of deeper knowledge – and indicate that you may need to look beyond appearances to excavate and learn from this wisdom.
Particularly in Celtic lore, the fox is held in high regard as a symbol of sharp instincts and unmatchable wisdom. This was due to the foxes’ in-depth knowledge of the forests in central Europe.
It was seen by Celt’s as a teacher and guide through these forests and was admired for the ease with which it traversed the environment.
However, the appearance of the fox in your life may not necessarily be a good omen. It may be a sign that you need to pay closer scrutiny to what is going on around you, in order to avoid potential issues from arising.
Related: Fox Symbolism
Horses are believed to symbolize the balance of wisdom and power.
This symbolism may come from the relationship between the Greek mythology centaur (half-horse, half-human) named Chiron. He was the tutor of Achilles and Jason.
Chiron is said to have risen to the heavens and become the constellation Sagittarius, which today is looked upon for wisdom.
Related: Horse Symbolism
Lions have been seen as symbols of wisdom because of their role as leaders in the wild.
In literature and film, you can find examples of lions who are extremely wise, including in Narnia and The Lion King.
In The Lion King, the wise king Mufasa comes to his son in a vision to give him advice. This acts as a turning point in the story where the lion is the only animal who can get through to the rebellious youth.
In Narnia, Aslan is the wise lion who is analogous to Jesus. He returns to the land to expel the white witch and provide counsel to the four humans who would go on to rule the realm in his absence.
Related: Mountain Lion Symbolism
The owl, above all animals, is most associated with wisdom.
More specifically, it has been a symbol of otherworldly wisdom and knowledge for thousands of years, due to its sharp instincts and physical features.
Much of the owl’s connection to wisdom and knowledge in western culture goes back to ancient Greece, and the goddess Athena. The owl was known as a companion and even symbol of Athena, who was also the virgin goddess of wisdom.
It is in part because of these associations between the qualities of the goddess that owls are now seen as synonymous with wisdom and knowledge in the western world.
But the animal has also become a similar symbol in non-western cultures, such as amongst some Native American tribes and eastern nations. One thread that links the owl throughout even more cultures is its perceived role as a messenger or teacher.
The owl can be seen as an indicator of hidden knowledge or secrets that need to be uncovered.
Related: Barn Owl Symbolism
Praying Mantises are wise animals. This is closely connected to their age in this world – it is estimated that they’ve been around since 250 million years ago, making them one of the oldest species on Earth.
Despite the fact that they’re vulnerable to predators, they have been able to survive for a very long time by blending into their surrounds and stalking their prey quietly.
But above and beyond their old age, a key reason they’re considered to be wise is that they are still, quiet creatures who appear to sit, pray, and contemplate. They are the thoughtful monks of nature.
Despite its often negative associations in western mythologies, folklore, and religions, the snake is often seen as a symbol of wisdom for some cultures, particularly in Africa, Asia, and North America.
In some of these cultures the snake, and other reptilian species, are deemed to represent more logical, objective, and analytical thinking compared to humans and other mammalian species.
The appearance of snakes in your dreams and waking life can have varying interpretations, but in some cases, it may mean that you are faced with the challenge of interpreting and understanding new phenomena, particularly of the spiritual kind, and particularly if you are communicating verbally with the snake. This is where the wisdom of the snake comes in.
Related: Snake Symbolism
As one of the longest-living beings in the animal kingdom, it’s no surprise that the graceful tortoise has become synonymous with wisdom, just as we humans turn to our wiser elders for advice and guidance.
The tortoise is known for taking things at a slow and steady pace, and the success that comes with slower and more deliberate strategies.
This is seen as a necessary form of wisdom in itself- just think of the tortoise from Aesop’s proverbial fable, The Hare & The Tortoise. The tortoise utilizes the wisdom it has gained from its many years to win the race.
It is for these reasons that the appearance of tortoises may be a sign for you to take a leaf from this animal’s book. You may need to slow down, move more consistently, and consider the details of a situation before you make any moves.
There is much to be learned from the wisdom of the tortoise.
Related: Turtle Symbolism
Whales are believed to be wise creatures because they have been on this earth for such a long period of time.
They are therefore the keepers of our history and connections to the wisdom of the past.
Like dolphins, whales also have great intelligence. They have complex social relationships and show highly complex emotions. They mourn their dead, play together, and coordinate their group behaviors when hunting.
Related: Orca Symbolism
Symbols of wisdom in the animal kingdom certainly vary between cultures, but there are also some animals that hold the same connotations regardless of geography, ethnicity, or religion. This is particularly true for the owl, crow, and tortoise.
Whether through their innate behavior or through the stories humanity has woven around them, there is much that can be learned from these creatures. They are a reminder that humans are far from the only intelligent species on this earth.
I’m Chris and I run this website – a resource about symbolism, metaphors, idioms, and a whole lot more! Thanks for dropping by.