Widely known as an animal with almost human-like emotions, elephant has been adored and praised in many of the world’s greatest cultures. Even in societies where people rarely see an actual elephant, this irresistible giant plays an important symbolic role.
Elephants are known to have an incredible power of memorizing things and remembering past events, which is not so common in the animal kingdom. We believe elephants grieve over their lost relatives and keep strong family bonds with one another.
Since far past, elephants have been acquiring numerous symbolic meanings. That has made the palette of elephant’s symbolism rich and colorful.
What is even more important to say is that elephants’ symbolic meanings are positive, for a greater part. You could rarely hear people talk negatively about these calm and beautiful giants.
Talking about elephants’ symbolism, we usually refer to the Asian specie, not its larger and dangerous African relative. African elephants’ have special symbolism.
In several of the World’s traditions, elephants have a place of honor. In some cultures, this incredible animal is considered a sacred one, such as in India. We could say people in India not only see elephants as sacred, but also useful animal, but they also consider elephants their national treasure.
Cannot say for certain if elephants like that, but there is also a practice of coloring elephants in bright paint on special occasions in India.
Elephants are loved, respected and honored all around the world, especially in India and China. God elephant is an important figure in Hindu beliefs, while elephant statues play an important role in Feng Shui.
However, everyone else has mostly positive opinion on these ones. An elephant is universal symbol for harmony, peace, calmness, patience, care, nurture, family, luck, wisdom, inner peace, memories, strength and strong will.
This calm giant is sometimes associated with quietness and shyness. Elephants are believed to be kind and caring animals, unlikely to behave aggressively. While African elephant is known to be more unfriendly to humans, it is also identified with ideas of peace, intelligence, deeper knowledge, wisdom and even prophetic powers.
This ‘bigger brother’ of human friendly Asian elephant is highly respected and honored in Africa.
Elephant cultural significance
Now let us talk more about elephants’ cultural significance and their place in mythology and religion. For peoples living in countries where elephants are native species, these animals are both inspiring and helpful animals.
Well, at least it stands for Asian elephants. African one is glorified and respected, but intimidating creature; however, its symbolism is also strong.
For peoples not familiar with elephants in their everyday lives, these incredible giants have a title of exotic and this fascinating.
European world was familiar with elephants in old days. Alexander the Great knew about war elephants from Asia, for example. Later on, elephants were present all around Mediterranean. However, elephants have always been seen exotic and precious in Europe.
Portuguese rulers would take elephants from their colonies and offer these exotic creatures as diplomatic gifts. There are records about particular ones, such as an elephant named Hanno, a gift to the Pope Leo X and Soliman, the first elephant to be seen in Wien.
However, in lands of their origins, elephants have been treated with, perhaps, greater respect, not only as a souvenir to show off. Let us start with Hindu tradition.
Elephants have been believed to posses special powers since old times. These gigantic mammals are generally friendly to humans and easy to domesticate. Hindu people use them for their work and as transportation.
However, they pay great respect to these animals, because of their help.
Elephants in Hindu tradition
Hindu people are greatly thankful to elephants, so they worship these animals and believe they are sacred. In Hindu tradition, one of the most honored and adored deity is Ganesha, the god elephant.
God elephant Ganesha is depicted as a man with an elephant’s head. He appears as, to say, well fed, which, of course, symbolizes prosperity, wealth, richness and abundance. Ganesha is a positive deity, which protects people and brings fortune to their homes.
You could buy all kinds and sizes of Ganesha figurines to put it in your house and thus attract some fortune. Ganesha is not only associated with material well-being, but also with helping people overcome challenges in life. The other name by which this deity is known is Ganapati. He has two other names, Bonayak and Vinayaka.
Ganesha is known as the One That Removes Obstacles. This good-hearted deity is highly praised not only by Hindu people, but also by many others who know about Ganesha’s powers.
God elephant Ganesha is also in favor with all creative people, he protects those who create art and supports knowledge seeking and learning. Ganesha also embodies concepts of wisdom, ideas and beginnings.
In Hindu rituals, people usually pay respect to Ganesha at the very beginning of the ceremony. This deity is protective and guarding. He fights negativity, such as vanity, ill intentions and selfishness.
Hindu god Ganesha could be found depicted and represented in various shapes, but the most common one is a picture or a figurine of a sitting fat man with a head of an elephant.
You can also see Ganesha portrayed doing dancing moves, playing with people and chasing away demoniac spirits. This powerful deity embodies ideas about humans soul and human physical body.
His head stands for Ataman, which is human soul in Hindu, while his body is Maya, the physical existence of human beings.
Chinese lucky elephants
In China, Asian elephant has a special symbolical place. Although we are likely to first think of Hindu elephant worship, speaking about cultural significance of these big mammals, they play a huge role in Chinese symbolism, culture and spirituality. In china, an elephant represents royal power, nobility, bravery and honor.
Chinese identify this amazing colossus with concepts of true, moral and justified leadership; they identify elephants with just rule.
It is interesting to note that Chinese use a similar term to say ‘an elephant’ and ‘prime minister’. This fact directly illustrates the idea of elephants as symbols of righteousness, justice, leadership, power, rule, strength and courage. Not only elephants are considered magnificent and mighty animals, but they are also believed to bring good luck and fortune.
Chinese elephant is a lucky elephant. This is clearly obvious in Feng Shui. Elephant figurines are an important item for decorating your home according to this art of harmonious energy.
Elephant statues are one of the most favorite Feng Shui artifacts. Chinese believe elephants bring good luck and harmony to peoples’ homes. Elephant statues are talismans for happy marriage and joyful family life.
Not only that, but they are also considered lucky charms for those who plan having children. If you want your marriage to be happy and to easily get children, you should place elephant figurines besides your bed or in front of the door to the room where you sleep.
Feng Shui elephant figurines also provide wealth and fortune, if you position them in a right manner.
You should place a couple of figurines, those with raised tusks, and place them at both sides of the entrance to your house. They should placed each on one side of the door, outside the house.
If you want to protect your home from evil spirits and misery, you should place them inside, again each on one side, facing outwards. To attract good fortune turn them inwards.
Buddhist white elephant meaning
White animals have always had a special symbolic and cultural importance in various traditions around the globe. White elephant is possibly the one with the greatest and the strongest symbolic potential.
In Buddhism, the White elephant is believed to be one of sacred animals. Particularly, this symbol is present in Burma, Thailand and India. There are numerous legends and stories featuring a motif of a white elephant.
In Hindu tradition, the god Indra rides on a white elephant with six pairs of tusks and trunks.
This white elephant is called Airavata and he is responsible for making thunder and rain.
Airavate is believed to be Indra’s faithful battle companion. White elephants are associated not only with divine powers, but also with royalty, glory and rule. One of the strangest Buddhist legends tells that Maya, Gautama Buddha’s mother, conceived after dreaming of an intercourse with this divine creature.
Another version claims Buddha was actually born in a shape of a white elephant. Elephants are sometimes depicted with a lotus flower on their backs and the wise Buddha sitting in the flower.
Since old times until the day, Buddhist people still believe white elephants are extremely auspicious motifs. Seeing a white elephant is considered an extremely fortunate event.
We have learned only a part of amazing variety of elephant related cultural, traditional and mythological conceptions.
We will try to summarize all those beliefs and encircle a group of universal elephant symbolic meanings. What do elephants symbolize in general? What do elephants represent?
Generally speaking, it all depends on particular culture, of course, but we have to agree that symbolic meanings of elephants in all cultural and belief systems are mostly very positive, in the first place.
First of all, all peoples identify elephants with an incredible strength. In the world of symbols, their actual physical strength is translated to something more; elephants stand for emotional and mental strength, as well.
Elephant’s strength is, in addition, associated with power and leadership, but noble and justified one. These calm giants represent true, honest and rightful power and leadership.
Back in the Old age, military rulers would go to war riding on an elephant’s back, in order to display their power.
Elephants are given long tusks, very thick and resistant skin, large bodies and intimidating roar. These mighty living beings do not have many rivals and enemies in their natural habitat; no predator would attack a strong, adult elephant on purpose, for it knows the fight is lost in advance.
Elephants have no need to be aggressive and they do not kill other animals for food or any other reason. Actually, the only enemy an elephant has is the one that admires it, a human.
These large mammals are an embodiment of our ideas of loyalty, guardianship, care and protection. Elephants are devoted to their loved ones; there are many proofs they grieve over their dead and visit places where some of their relatives died.
This incredible natural phenomenon makes us associate elephants with love, care, family bonds, friendship, good memory and devotion. Not only elephants remember their deceased, but also they always take good care of their companions.
Elephants are affectionate and caring; they show great devotion to one another and they especially take good care about young ones. For humans, elephants this symbolize harmony, peace, gentleness, kindness, honesty, reliance, the importance of social relations and family values and parental care.
Elephants might be very big, but they are calm in nature, gentle and loving. In a way, they represent the true softness hidden behind a veil of strength.
Finally, we all associate elephants with memories, wisdom and deep knowledge. According to Hindu tradition, the world floats throughout the universe on elephants’ backs, so elephants embody the idea of the very existence.
Biology says they are very intelligent members of the animal kingdom and their behavior proves the claim. It is believed elephant motif could also help you better learn or memorize things.
Therefore, you could also use your Feng Shui elephant statue to improve your studies.
Elephant totem and spiritual powers
What about elephants as totem and spirit animals? If you are guided by this magnificent creature, you are truly a lucky one. Elephant totem is powerful, calm, full of positive energy, a wise and protective guardian.
People born under this totem are relaxed, calm and they love their lives to be harmonious and peaceful. They are not much of adventurers, but they are likely to constantly seek for new sources of knowledge. They are very intelligent and many would call them wise.
Elephant people have a lot of patience and they build up their lives carefully, slowly and with great devotion. They put all of their love in what they are doing, but never neglect their social and private relations on behalf of that. They are well organized, observant and caring about everything.
Elephant people are rarely anxious or of a pessimistic mind; they look at life as a wonderful experience and a chance to learn and develop.
They have a good memory and capability to study various things. Their power of memorizing does not make them vengeful; they do not forget, but they do forgive. In fact, their only true weakness is that they are sensitive and very emotional. They are compassionate, so some people can take advance of Elephant individuals’ helpfulness.
Elephant people are usually both mentally and physically strong and they would always be there by your side.
These individuals are greatly self-reliant and they rarely ask others for help. People usually respect and admire them for their knowledge and self-confidence. Although Elephant persons rarely initiate things, they could be good, honest and trustworthy leaders.
However, they are best known to be guides and educators.
Elephant people are optimistic and it is good to have them around. They are not party maniacs, but they are always full of interesting stories and amazing information.
Elephant people are known to be amazing parents. They value family bonds and usually spend their lifetime with one partner.
In addition, they are supportive friends who have a lot of understanding for others. They are good listeners and advice givers.
Most of Elephant individuals are aware of their influence, but they would never misuse it. In addition, they have good intuition and, although they are sensitive to others’ troubles, they are unlikely to be deceived or manipulated.