Animal Symbolism Uses in Fiction

Google Image Search

Above you see a breakdown of what a tiger can mean in various situations.  There’s much more to it than that and you may find a difference in symbolism throughout cultures and groups.  That makes it a little difficult to use in fiction, but not as much as one would think.  Why?

Well, the most common reason someone would research the symbolism of an animal is for inspiration.  The author is working with fiction, so there are going to be some licenses being taken.  It might not even be apparent when the story is finished since this is something that can lie beneath the surface.  Saying flat out that a tiger is in the story to be a sign of the main character’s adventurous spirit is rather clumsy.  It’s not a massive info dump, but it’s kind of like pointing a neon sign at something that doesn’t need that much attention.  Not unless the character is on a spirit animal quest or discovering the meaning is plot essential.  If not then you can keep it to yourself and avoid angering various groups who take animal symbolism very seriously.  As they should in my opinion.

Now, what are some ways you can use animal symbolism?

Cultural Creation

In fantasy, you may want to create a shamanistic culture.  To make that work, you will need to consider the connections between people, nature, and spirits.  I’m simplifying things here, so know that’s reality is more complicated.  Anyway, these cultures can talk about the meanings of animals and why it’s important.  You can make stuff up on your own, especially if you don’t work with real animals.  Yet, reading up on animal symbolism can help you get an idea of the system and beliefs that are behind it.  You will see what kind of things animals can mean and how it relates to their habits.  Some resources will show how people connect the animal’s symbolism to how they are used either as a resource or a neighbor.  For example, the tiger being a courage and willpower makes it a common animal used for a test of manhood in coming-of-age stories.  The first live-action ‘Jungle Book’ had this way back in the 90’s.  This is the one with Jason Scott Lee and no talking animals.  Good movie.

Another aspect of a fictional culture that animal symbolism can be used for is connecting to spirits for power and help.  You may see people online talking about a ‘spirit animal’, which is kind of what this concept is about.  Only it’s more in-depth, serious, and not a cry for attention.  In some cultures, a person will meditate or go into the wilderness in search of the animal that connects to them.  It can be multiple animals too.  The idea is to not look for anything specific, but to see what finds you.  I don’t know of how this actually worked or if this was a real thing, but this is how it can go in fiction.  The character would wander around until they find an animal that they connect to.  If you research the symbols of various animals, you will be able to bring more focus and variation to the rite.  This can also help you gain some guidance on how the character will act in the future.

Monster Creation

This is fairly self-explanatory.  If you’re trying to create your own monsters, you may want to use parts of real animals.  A way to help decide on what to do or figure out some habits is to look up the animals’ meanings.  You may see that one of them fits what you want better than the others, so you can have the monster be more of that animal.  This can also create a symbology for your fictional creature.  Consider that if we do this with our wildlife, wouldn’t citizens of another world do the same with their own?  This is a fun part of world-building and can be used to enhance any characters who may use powers and magic from nature.


There are schools of magic that involve animals.  This can be summoning, nature-based, spirit-based, druidic, or whatever you wish to call it.  Maybe the caster adopts the power of the animal they are calling forth.  While you don’t need to know what they can symbolize, it can help with adding more facets to the magic.  This means that the animal can be summoned or connected with for more than physical abilities.  Going back to the tiger, a caster may call forth such a spirit for a boost of courage.  You also have magical rituals and spells that require ingredients.  Those tend to come from animals, so knowing the meanings can help you narrow down what you want to use in your story.


These are just the three ways I’ve used animal symbology.  It isn’t necessary, but can definitely help when you need something to help narrow your focus.  It can even help in other genres if you want to play around with dreams or animals.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Animal Symbolism Uses in Fiction

  1. L. Marie says:

    I’m reminded of Vixen’s power in the comics which (quoting Wikipedia) “allows her to harness the spirit. . . of any animal, past or present, and use their abilities.” And of course Black Panther and B’wana Beast (who has that chimera thing going for him).


    • Vixen is a perfect example as far as animal abilities go. Didn’t think Black Panther had that. Beast Boy and Animal Man would count too. One character who really works off animal symbolism is the Beast Master. Probably an obscure one though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A lot of food for thought. Thanks, Charles.


  3. This made me think of the DC character, Vixen. She can call on the powers of any animal, although there are a few she mostly sticks to.


  4. I like this, and you have me thinking. What if the spellcaster worked the same way, but the animal demanded payment for its help? Simple enough if the spirit wants an acorn or something, but something like a tiger might be more like a deal with the devil.


  5. V.M.Sang says:

    Thanks for that, Charles. It’s given me some ideas.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s