Animal symbolism has appeared in many cultures in various forms for since ancient times. Cultures as diverse as the Native American Indians, the Romans, the Gypsies and Greeks have sought to explain aspects of their world using the characteristics of certain animals. Much folklore and many fairytales have an animal character to teach the moral of the story.

The use of animal symbolism in the Tarot maintains a connection between ourselves and the natural world. In the same way as astrological signs suggest personality characteristics, animals have certain qualities that may have a bearing on our own attributes and qualities.

The animal guides and symbols in the Tarot can show us a deeper understanding and allows us to receive impressions when requesting insights or inner-awareness, without clouding the intuitive perceptions.

Initiation, transition, rebirth, letting go of the old, the ability to navigate in the dark.

Butterflies symbolize metamorphic transformation. The butterfly is a symbol for the astrological sign of Gemini. The butterfly is quick, witty and versatile, and it is no coincidence that the term ‘social butterfly’ was coined to indicate someone who flits around from activity to activity.

In Native American teachings, the butterfly represents transformation, which takes on many stages before completion. 

* The egg stage represents a thought or idea. 
* The larva stage indicates that a decision needs to be made. 
* The cocoon stage represents development turning into reality.
* The birth of the butterfly stage indicates that the transformation is complete.

The butterfly, being an airy and mental creature, generally gives us mental processes necessary to help affect change.

In esoteric teachings, the butterfly represents immortality of the soul, because the caterpillar must lie dormant in a cocoon before it emerges from its womb, beautiful and flamboyant.

The butterfly in the Tarot symbolizes that the inquirer is currently experiencing a change, allowing them to grow or evolve and follow a new direction, or will in the near future have this experience. This change will have been coming for a long time and has been worked for and is a certainty.

The butterfly is seen in the Minor Arcana on the Knight, Queen and King of Swords.

The bull, symbol of the astrological sign of Taurus, also represents the Earth element, and is assigned to the suit of Pentacles. It is stable, reliable, enduring and sensual. The bull is extremely patient and steadfast when working on attaining a goal for himself.

The bull appears on The Wheel of Fortune and The World.

Cats are magical and independent, intuitive, psychic, instinctive, aloof, and detached. Sometimes they are uncaring, sneaky, relaxed, unco-operative and playful. 

Cats often symbolize hidden fears or loving memories.

The black cat represents the more negative aspects of the planet Venus. The black cat is pictured on the Queen of Wands.

A trickster who loves playing tricks on others. 

The coyote can be seen on The Moon.

Divine cosmic and karmic law.

Dogs are friends, helpers and companions to mankind. Dogs love unconditionally and are totally loyal to their masters. It is not in a dog’s nature to be nasty or vicious, but some lose their compassionate natures through abuse, trauma or a sort of perverse loyalty to their masters. Because dogs are so adoring, humans could learn a few lessons about unconditional love and compassion from them.

Dogs are servants of humanity, and are guardians of the world we live in. Throughout history dogs have guarded the ancient secrets, hidden treasures and babies and infants whilst their mothers were out working in the fields.

The symbol of the dog indicates that all non-human forms of life are elevated and improved by the evolving advancement in human consciousness.

The dog is seen in the Major Arcana on The Fool and The Moon.

Spiritual good fortune.

Inner-peace, spiritual trinity and awareness. 

The dove has historically been a symbol of peace, and is associated with the astrological sign of Scorpio, where the emotional and sexual power is transformed into the healing grace of the dove.

In occult teachings, the dove is also associated with the group spirit, which is made up of humans who have purified their ‘desire natures’ to a degree that allows them to experience transpersonal unity in the form of empathy and rapport.

In Christianity, the dove is a symbol of peace attained through the arbitrating and healing presence of the Holy Spirit.

The dove can be seen on the Ace of Cups.


Great Spirit. Sacred Authority.

The eagle is associated with the astrological sign of Scorpio. Where the Scorpion is used to denote the lesser-evolved Scorpio who stings anything or anyone who crosses his path, the eagle represents the more highly evolved Scorpio who has transcend his tribulations and flies high into the sky like the mythological phoenix rising out of its ashes.

In Native American teachings, the eagle is a spiritual being who has the ability to live in the realm of spirit while remaining connected and balanced within the Earth realm. 

The eagle represents a state of grace achieved through hard work, understanding and a completion of the tests required to achieve personal power.

Eagle feathers are sacred to the Native Americans and are used for healing and ceremonies.

The eagle is seen in the Major Arcana on The Wheel of Fortune and The World.



The fish symbolizes the astrological sign of Pisces, considered to be the most spiritual of the twelve signs of the zodiac. This sign symbolizes emotion, compassion, empathy, psychic impulses and love for all.

There is a theory that due to the precession of the equinox about 2,000 years ago, the earth left the age of warring, aggressive Aries, and moved into the sacrificial age of Pisces.

Christians have historically used the fish to symbolize their religious beliefs and followings.  At about the same time, the precession of the equinox was causing the earth to change signs, a man called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ walked the earth.

Based on astrological and biblical evidence, Don Jacobs, a Methodist minister, Bible scholar and astrologer, has been able to rectify Jesus’ birth date and time as March 1, 7BC at 1:30am in Bethlehem. This date would make Jesus a Pisces and not a Capricorn, as has been traditionally assumed to be his sign of birth to coincide with pre-Christian ceremonies of the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere). Therefore, it would have been only fitting to use the symbol of the Piscean fish to represent their belief in Christ in lieu of the goat. 

Incidentally, the Capricornian goat is actually an animal that has the upper body of a goat and the lower anatomy of a fish. Although well hidden, Capricorn can display the emotional depth and sensitivity of the fish, but it is generally well-grounded by the serious and earthly influence of the goat, which tends to maintain dominance.

The Fish is seen on the Page of Cups, the Knight of Cups, Queen of Cups and the King of Cups.

Resourceful and tenacious.

In earlier times, the goat was associated with the more evolved members of the human race who were responsible for imparting the impulses that guide and inspire human culture throughout the centuries. 

The goat is a symbol for the astrological sign of Capricorn, which is serious, responsible and materialistic. Because the goat is so close to earthly concerns, it can easily succumb to its most basal desires, which may be seen as the vices of lust, greed, envy and avarice. 

The goat is also seen as a fertility symbol to some.

In the Major Arcana, the goat is represented on The Devil and is also shown in the arms of the Queen of Pentacles.


Power and action.

Horses represent solar energy or the ‘controller’ and subdued life force. They represent strong forces or energies, and in Native American teaching they are considered to be very powerful beings. 

The domestication of horses enabled humanity to make a great leap forward in its evolution by providing a means of transport with the speed to travel greater distances and the strength to carry heavy loads. Before the use of the horse, humans were slow, heavy, earth-bound being. When they were able to climb on the back of a horse, they were free and could carry heavy burdens over great distances. Humanity developed a special working relationship with the horse that altered their self-concept tremendously. The horse has had such a powerful impact on civilization that even today, power from engines is measured in ‘horsepower’.

In Norse Runic Law, the Ehwaz rune represents the horse. The horse has been a powerful symbol in every culture, in every age, and in Norse mythology, it is believed that the Sun is drawn through the sky by horses. 

The horse is seen in the Major Arcana on Death, The Sun and in the Minor Arcana on the Knight of Wands, the Knight of Cups, the Knight of Swords and the Knight of Pentacles.

Blissfulness, happiness and joy, and a call to awakening and alerting us to the beauty of the present moment.

In many cultures, the hummingbird has powerful spiritual significance, and are seen as a symbol of resurrection. One of the widespread beliefs is that hummingbirds are messengers between the worlds.

Hummingbirds appear on the tarot cards to remind us of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Hummingbirds help to bring our awareness out of the mundane so that we can recognize and value the magnificence of all of Creation.

Strength, action and power.

The lion is the ‘king of the beasts’ and represents the astrological sign of Leo. The lion is royal, dynamic and magnanimous, a proud and glamorous being who is strong and warm.

In Native American teachings, the lion is a leader. Because the lion is the leader, it is often placed in a position to be a target for the problems of others. When no one wants to, or cannot take the lead, the lion will take charge of the situation, but is then often blamed when things go wrong. Therefore, before the lion is fully evolved, it must learn many lessons about the proper use of power, and how to lead without insisting others follow his lead. 

The lion is also a hunter, but it is the female lion that hunts, and she only takes what she and her family need.

The lion is depicted in the Major Arcana on the Strength card, The Wheel of Fortune and The World.

Cyclic activity.

Sacred Song.

Symbol of the soul.

Pride, delusions of grandeur, vanity.

The rabbit is considered to be a symbol of fertility. Rabbits signify sexual prowess, quick changes of partners, and fast multiplication of off-spring.

In Native American teachings, the rabbit is the symbol for fear and is call the ‘Fear Caller’, because he calls his fear to him so that it can become reality. The rabbit, when in a state of fear, warns his fellow rabbits by thumping the ground repetitively with his hind legs.

A rabbit can be seen on the Queen of Pentacles in the Minor Arcana.

The ram symbolizes leadership, which is often achieved through force. The ram’s head is the symbol for the planet Mars and the astrological sign of Aries. Aries is the sign of the conqueror who wants to be first and have it all. While Leo is in a position of leadership because of his regal persona, Aries leads because he has the prowess to pursue and take what he wants.

The ram’s head is seen in the Major Arcana on The Emperor.

Psychic abilities/powers, shape-shifting and magic.

The salamander is a mythical lizard-like animal that has the ability to endure fire without harm. Salamanders are fire spirits who guard the secrets of transformational fire energy. Salamanders are most often found in large numbers around volcanoes.

This being represents the Suit of Wands because of its’ fiery qualities. Fire spirits teach us about the dynamic energy of our life-force  -  the spark of Divine fire that resides in each and every one of us. This force calls us daily towards the light, and awakens us from our slumber.

The salamander can be seen on the Court Cards in the Suit of Wands.

The shellfish symbolizes the early stages of conscious unfoldment. Shellfish can also symbolize the defensive shell we build up around ourselves to avoid hurt, or sexual or emotional involvement.

Shellfish are seen in the Major Arcana on The Moon card.

The snake or serpent is known as  the ‘awakener ‘and the sign of the ‘healer’. It is seen as a symbol of wisdom, secrecy and subtlety.

The serpent or snake is one of the symbols for the astrological sign of Scorpio because of its reptilian ability to transform and regenerate yearly through shedding its’ skin.

The Root Chakra is symbolically depicted as a serpent asleep at the base of the spine. This ‘sleeping serpent’ is called the ‘Kundalini’. When the Kundalini is stimulated, the serpent travels up from the base of the spine (the Root Chakra) all the way to the Crown Chakra.

In Native American teachings, the snake is seen as a symbol of transmutation because it sheds it’s skin once each year. The snake is enigmatic as it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy, reproduction and immortality. 

In the Bible, the serpent is the only animal cunning enough to trick Eve into eating of the forbidden fruit. Although the serpent is seen as ‘evil’ in the Genesis account by many, some Bible scholars postulate that the serpent did not in fact trick Eve, but was actually symbolic of the Kundalini energy awakening within the couple. Even the Bible depicts the serpent as a powerful being who has healing and transforming capabilities. When Moses was in the desert with the Israelites, poisonous snakes invaded the camp. Moses was instructed by Jehovah to fashion/make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole so that anyone who was bitten by a snake only had to look at the bronze serpent to survive. 

Even to this day, the medical profession has chosen to use the serpent as a symbol for its profession, thus verifying its healing qualities.

The serpent/snake is seen in the Major Arcana on The Lovers and upon The Wheel of Fortune.

Weaver of the web of fate.


The sylph is an elemental being said to inhibit both the elements of Air and Water. Water Elementals teach us to cleanse and balance our emotions, and teach us to ‘go with the flow’ by taking the path of least resistance. Water Elementals have a great deal to teach us about adapting to different situations without losing our basic receptivity.

Generous and giving.  Shared blessings.

Death, purification, rebirth via renewed vision.

Wolves are very social animals, and their family and social structures are much like those of humans. Wolves select one partner and mate for life. Wolves are very socially oriented, but at the same time possess their own individuality. Since the wolves’ social milieu is so similar to human’s, wolves can teach us much about the world in which we live.

The wolf, being a wild animal, also symbolizes nature before it was tamed and civilized by man.

In Native American teachings, the wolf is the teacher of the Animal Kingdom.

The wolf can be seen in the Major Arcana on The Moon.

The worm Ouroboros is depicted with its tail in its mouth and indicates ‘the end in the beginning’.

The worm Ouroboros is depicted on The Wheel of Fortune in the Major Arcana.


Joanne Walmsley    
Sacred Scribes

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