The only mammal that is truly capable of flying, the bat is an animal that is usually connected with spooky imagery, darkness, and nighttime. Known for being nocturnal, bats swoop across the night sky devouring insects and fruit as they navigate the moonlit landscape. Often connected with vampires and Halloween, the bat is an animal that is often misunderstood.
For more about bats, their symbolism, and their place in mythology, read on!
Table of contents
- Bat Symbolism and meaning
- Bat Native American Symbolism
- Bat Christianity Symbolism
- Bat Celtic Symbolism
- Bat in Dreams
- Bat Encounters and Omens
- Bat’ Mythology and Folklore
- Bat Spirit Animal
- Bat Totem Animal
- Bat Power Animal
- Bat Tattoo Meaning
Bat Symbolism and Meaning
The symbolism of the bat is varied and diverse, but bats are most commonly connected with darkness, fear, and vampires such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (1) One reason for this connection is the vampire bat. Vampire bats are bats that subsist off of drinking blood from other animals. Although they are limited to South and Central America and only rarely target humans, the vampire bat’s squeamish survival strategy sends shivers down lots of people’s spines. (2)
In Chinese culture, the bat is considered lucky. This may be due to the fact that the Chinese character for “bat” sounds quite similar to the word for “happiness.” Because Chinese characters are the source of Japanese Kanji, the bat is also a lucky animal in Japan. Although current Japanese culture tends to adopt the Western association of bats and Halloween spookiness, historically bats were a popular design motif that signified happiness and fortune. (3)
The witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth also add to the creepy reputation of the bat by including this animal in the recipe for their witchy brew:
“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.” (4)
In Greek mythology, bats are associated with the Minyades, a trio of sisters who were driven mad by the god Dionysus. In Samoan culture, bats are connected with a divine goddess who represents benevolence and fertility. There are even a few Aesop’s Fables which feature the bat. In these fables, the bat is a tricky creature which refuses to pick between being a bird or a mammal. (5)(6)(7)
Bat Native American Symbolism
Bats feature in the myths and traditions of several Native American cultures. Cherokee, Creek, and Apache fables describe how the bat came to be a flying mammal. In these stories, the bat was created by the birds and was a flightless mouse-like animal. When the birds and mammals had a ball game against each other, the mammals mocked this tiny animal and would not let him play. So, the birds used the skin of a drum to fashion wings for the bat, thus inventing the one and only flying mammal. (8)
Navajo traditions suggest that bats are ancient creatures which existed before light was brought to the world. The bat was one of the companions of nighttime and serves as an emblem of one of the most important Navajo deities, Talking God. (9)
Bat Christianity Symbolism
Biblical associations concerning the bat generally involve uncleanliness and sin. The bat is included on the list of birds and mammals which are considered too filthy to be eaten by humans. In Isaiah 2:19-21, bats are connected with wilderness and heathenism:
“People will flee to caves in the rocks
and to holes in the ground
from the fearful presence of the Lord
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.
In that day people will throw away
to the moles and bats
their idols of silver and idols of gold,
which they made to worship.
They will flee to caverns in the rocks
and to the overhanging crags
from the fearful presence of the Lord
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.” (10)
The bat in later traditions is associated with both witchcraft and the devil himself. As a creature of the night, as well as an animal that exists between two worlds: that of mammals and that of flying creatures, the bat is looked upon as unholy or unnatural. (11) Of course, most Christians believe that all of nature reflects God as part of his grand design. With this in mind, the bat can hardly be looked upon as a vile or unnatural creature.
Bat Celtic Symbolism
Bats are often connected with Halloween which originates form the Celtic festival of Samhain. During Samhain, harvests would be celebrated, feasts held, and fires lit. These fires may have attracted insects and bats. This is believed to be one possible explanation for the origin of the connection between bats and Halloween. (11)
Furthermore, much of Celtic myth and symbolism revolves around liminality and transitions. Samhain, technically, is not October 31st itself but the transition period between October and November. Bats are some of the most liminal creatures around. Dwelling between the realms of birds and beasts, bats are most active in the dusk and dawn hours during which night and day transition.
Bat in Dreams
Dreaming of bats signifies fear. Bats in dreams can represent the things that a person is afraid of as well as their response to these fears. A dream in which one is swarmed by bats indicates a sense of helplessness or a fear that overwhelms one’s sense of reason.
Dreaming of sleeping bats represents a desire to find one’s “tribe.” Though bats sleep upside down, a pretty unusual habit, they almost always sleep in groups together. This kind of dream means that one should not change themselves for others, but seek out people who share and accept one’s quirks.
Dreaming of a vampire bat represents an energy drain. Look for things in your life that are burning you out. If you can’t avoid the source of your burnout, try to engage in a bit of extra self-care as you navigate through your life.
Bat Encounters and Omens
Bats are remarkable and mystical creatures, the only mammals that can fly. They use a sophisticated echolocation system to orient themselves. They have excellent hearing skills and perceive their surroundings with their ears. Bats often hide in dark and desolate places during the day. They sleep hanging upside down and that is also how their young ones are born. Encounters with bats can leave people unsettled and disturbed, or even scared.
If you encounter a bat, it may be a sign of rebirth and transition. Just as bats herald the transition from day into night by swarming to feast on dusk’s insects, we must embrace the unknown and face transitions with courage and pluck.
It is important to note that, while bats mean you no harm, a close encounter with a bat can be dangerous. If a bat is found in one’s home, then it is important to contact your local hospital for advice about seeking a rabies vaccine. Some bats are small enough that their bites may not be felt and these bites can be fatal if rabies is transmitted. Even if you don’t feel unwell, rabies can lie dormant and become fatal much further down the road. In fact, by the time symptoms are detected, rabies is usually untreatable. Bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in the United States so it is important to keep a safe distance and be diligent about seeking care after a close encounter. (12)
Encountering a bat may be an unsettling experience, but as long as you are vigilant and safe, it can also be an uplifting one. Many cultures see bat encounters as good luck charms that bring happy tidings with them.
Bat Mythology and Folklore
In Western mythology and folklore, the bat is most firmly connected with vampires. Beginning with nineteenth century horror novels, vampires began to be depicted as bat-like or capable of transforming into bats. This association likely began much earlier, though, as Medieval art often depicts demons with bat-like wings. (13)
In Greek mythology, bats are connected with the Minyades. The Minyades were three sisters who refused to join the hedonistic cult of the god Dionysus. The sisters refused to drink and party with Dionysus’s followers, which angered the god. To punish the sisters, Dionysus transformed into several animals and monsters in front of them until the three were driven to madness. In their madness, the sisters began offering sacrifices to Dionysus, including one of their own sons. Hermes, who witnessed this display, took pity on the mad sisters and transformed them into bats, freeing them form Dionysus. (14)
In South American folklore, the indigenous tribes incorporated the vampire bats into their mythology and folklore. Some ethnologists, who studied the people and plants of Guinea, even formally designated one of the plants as Bat’s Bane – since the juice of the leaves, when applied to one’s toes, seemed to kill attacking bats.
Mesoamericans and South Americans viewed bats as the symbol of the underworld and rebirth or return to life. The small blood-imbibing bats that were native to South and Central America became associated with the mysteries of death and the eternal cycles of renewal as well as the terrors of vampires.
In Chinese Mythology, two bats together are the symbol of Sho-Hsing – the God of Longevity. Four bats represent health, wealth, longevity, and peace.
In India, bats are often seen as bad omens. In some areas, though, the bat is considered to be one of the forms taken by the goddess Lakshmi. (15)
In Samoan culture, bats are connected with the goddess Leutogi. According to myth, Leutogi was a Samoan princess who was married against her will to a Tongan king. One day Leutogi found an injured baby bat and decided to nurse it back to health. The warlike Tongan king mocked her and tried to snatch the bat from her, but Leutogi defended her bat and successfully healed it. The Tongan people began to see Leutogi as a witch and decided to burn her, but the bats remembered what she had done and urinated on the flames to rescue her. The bats carried Leutongi to her own deserted island where they brought her fruits and nuts to eat. To this day, Leutongi is connected with kindness, fertility, and bats. (16)
Bat Spirit Animal
If your spirit animal is a bat, then you might be someone who is often misunderstood. Kind and outgoing, people with the bat spirit animal do things in their own unique way and may struggle with making good first impressions.
People with the bat as their spirit animal don’t always fit in with the crowd, but they are most at home when surrounded by loved ones. Finding unique people who embrace their more unusual traits is the bat spirit animal’s dream.
People with the bat spirit animal are good listeners and great at reading situations, but they may have a hard time expressing themselves correctly.
Bat Totem Animal
The bat totem animal represents freedom and nonconformity. The bat totem does not follow any of the rules. A flying mammal which hangs upside down, sees with its ears, and is most active at night, the bat totem does as it pleases.
If the bat is your totem animal then you may have a hard time following instructions or acknowledging authority. People with the bat totem animal prefer free expression over conformity any day. If your totem animal is the bat, then consider finding ways to navigate the world that suit your free spirit.
The bat totem is most comfortable in career paths that include plenty of freedom. People with this totem may be inclined towards self-employment, business ownership, or other less conventional paths.
Bat Power Animal
The bat power animal represents mastery over fear. Fear is a powerful barrier which often holds us back from achieving our true potential. The ability to master one’s fears and embrace the unknown is a great virtue.
People with the bat as their power animal are strong-willed and courageous. They manage self-doubt well and enter new situations with confidence.
Bat Tattoo Meaning
A bat tattoo can mean different things in different regions and cultures. In Chinese and Japanese contexts, the bat is a symbol for good luck and a bat tattoo would reflect this meaning. In most Western contexts, bat tattoos indicate fear or darkness.
A tattoo with five bats represents the five great virtues: health, wealth, happiness, long-life, and natural death.
In the west, bats are generally considered spooky and typically bat tattoos represent ‘vampires that have a lust for blood and eternal life that is destructive in nature.’ A bat tattoo, however, is more likely to signify a person who is enthusiastic about Halloween or a person who rejects conformity and identifies with misunderstood creatures.
In Samoan culture, a bat tattoo may represent the goddess Leutogi.
While darkness, disease, and vampires are inextricably linked with bats, exploring other cultural traditions opens up a world of much more positive bat symbolism. As unusual as bats are, they seem to have a unique ability to capture the human imagination and inspire all sorts of fascinating stories.