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Meaning and Symbolism of Elephants

Among the most majestic of all animals, elephants have been respected and revered since ancient times. They are highly symbolic animals, valued for their loyalty, beauty, and majesty, and in parts of the world, for the services that they do for humans.

Meaning and Symbolism of Elephants

Elephants are revered across cultures and even worshipped in some. Paintings and drawings of elephants found in caves of early humans indicate that humanity has taken a keen interest in these majestic animals since the beginning of time. Over time, elephants have come to be associated with these meanings.

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Elephants meaning
  • Loyalty and Memory– As big as they are, elephants can be very gentle and care for their young and each other with loyalty. They live and move in herds and don’t leave any one of them behind no matter what. As they move, the young ones are placed in the middle for protection. In addition to this, elephants are said to have excellent memories. The saying Elephants never forget is well-known.
  • Power – Elephants are strong animals that can whisk even animals as strong as lions with their tusks. They can also easily bring down big trees which is the basis of their symbolizing strength and power.
  • Wisdom – From their way of living to their feeding habits, the way they care for each other, and their ability to know when to migrate in search of greener pastures, elephants have proved to be highly intelligent creatures and have thus become a symbol of wisdom.
  • Patience – As big and powerful as they are, elephants are calm and slow to anger. They keep to themselves and do not attack unless threatened. This is why they are a symbol of patience.
  • Virility /Femininity –  This symbolism derives from a Buddhist ancient legend which states that Buddha’s mother, Maya fell pregnant with him after being visited in a dream by a white elephant.
  • Good luck – This symbolism derives from the Hindu faiths whereby Ganesha, the god of luck, is usually depicted as an elephant. Another association comes from Indra, the Hindu god of rain, who is represented riding an elephant white in color.
  • Royalty –  Traditionally, kings rode on tamed elephants, using them as a mode of transport. Due to this, elephants have acquired the symbolism of majesty and royalty.
Elephants in dreams

Elephant Dream Symbolism

The appearance of an elephant in your dream has several meanings. It may mean that you need to exercise more patience, or you’ve held onto the past too long and need to let go, that you are a good leader who is well in control, or that you need to take more control of your life.

Elephant as a Spirit Animal

A spirit animal is a messenger sent to help you in your life’s journey that comes in the form of an animal and can manifest itself to you in dreams or as an incessant pull to a certain animal. Having an elephant as a spirit guide helps you become patient, loyal, strong, and be able to form strong familial and friendship bonds. The elephant can be called upon when you want to heal trauma and unearth forgotten memories.

Elephant as a Totem Animal

A totem animal is a lifetime spirit guide that keeps you company in both the physical and spiritual realms. Having the elephant as your totem animal serves as a reminder to protect your divinity to foster good luck and prosperity.

Elephant as a Power Animal

Power animals are supernatural creatures in the form of animals that embody a person endowing them with desired characteristics. Having the elephant as your power animal endows you with compassion and kindness.

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Elephants in Folklore

African elephant

Across the globe, elephants are respected and revered animals that have over time become a part of folklore, most of them African because the biggest population of elephants is found in Africa.

  • Ghana

In the Ghanaian Ashanti tribe, elephants were believed to be a reincarnation of past chiefs and as such were accorded proper burial ceremonies after their death.

  • India

In Hindu mythology, Shiva, the sustainer of the universe, startled by the sight of a young boy near his home, slew him but immediately felt guilty.

He then sent his soldiers to bring him the head of an animal so he could attach it to the boy and breathe life into him. After getting a new elephant head, the boy came to be known as Ganesh the elephant god, son of Shiva.

For this reason, Indians gift their loved ones figures of the elephant god as a wish for good luck and positivity.

  • Kenya

The Akamba tribe of Kenya believes that the elephant was born of a female human. After seeking advice from a wise man on how to get rich, this woman’s poor husband was directed to apply an ointment on his wife’s canine teeth.

Over time, the teeth grew long, and the man plucked and sold them to become rich. The wife’s body, however, did not stop changing after that, as it became large, thick, grey, and wrinkly. It is at this point that she ran to the bush and brought forth elephant children who over time repopulated the bush with elephants.

In another Kenyan folktale, it is said that in the beginning humans, elephants, and thunder all lived together on the earth but were in constant squabble. Tired of the spat, Thunder took off to heaven, leaving the trusting elephants to find a way to live with the humans.

The humans however made a poisoned arrow which they used to shoot the elephant. The elephant’s cry of help to thunder went unanswered and thus humans, fueled by ego, made more poisoned arrows to kill even more animals.

  • South Africa

In South African folklore, the elephant initially had a short nose until an unfavorable encounter with a crocodile who jumped him while he was drinking water and tried to pull him under by the nose.

In a bid to save his life, the elephant dug in his heels and eventually won the battle but came out of it with a very long nose. At first, he wasn’t pleased with his nose but over time, came to love it because of the benefits it gave him.

In envy of his long nose, other elephants went to the river to pick a nose stretching fight with the crocodile.

In another South African myth, a tale is told of a girl that was exiled from her community because her height was associated with witchcraft. While sadly wandering the wilderness, the girl encountered an elephant who took care of her and eventually married her, later bringing forth four sons who gave rise to the Indhlovu clan known for paramount chiefs.

  • Chad

Among the Chad tribe in West Africa, a story is told of a selfish hunter who found a beautiful elephant skin and kept it for himself.

When later he met a woman crying for the loss of her beautiful cloth, he married her with the promise of new clothes. The woman later discovered her hidden skin and ran back with it to the forest to live like an elephant.

From this woman was born a clan that adorned the elephant totem to show kinsman ship with the elephant.

About Elephants

Elephants are majestic and highly intelligent mammals found in African and Asian tropical and subtropical regions. They are the largest living land mammals and feed on grass, leaves, and fruits. The color of elephants ranges from grayish to brownish and these animals can weigh from 5,500 kgs to 8000 kgs depending on the type.

These types are the African savannah/bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. Elephants are mostly known for their large tusks made of ivory. They use these tusks to defend themselves during a fight, to dig for and gather food and water, lift objects, and to protect their trunk which, incidentally, is sensitive.

In the recent past, campaigns have been launched to protect elephants that are now enlisted as endangered animals. From illegal poaching to conflicts with the ever-encroaching humans, elephants have felt the brunt of the human superiority complex to a point of needing protection lest they face the same fate as their relatives, the mammoths.

Wrapping Up

From early man’s cave paintings to traditional myths and stories, it is clear that elephants and humanity have been inseparable since time immemorial. Even though part of humanity has encroached on this majestic animal’s habitat, like they do all nature, there is still a part of humanity that still reveres elephants and keeps statues and figurines of the for worship, beauty, and as a wish of good luck and prosperity.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.