Crane Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

crane

If you have been wondering what does it mean when you see a crane, you’ve come to the right place. We will discuss everything you need to know about crane symbolism. The symbolism of cranes takes on different meanings across countries and cultures. This bird mainly represents feminine force, immortality, wisdom, and longevity. So let us dive straight into the symbolism of a crane.

Table of contents

Crane Symbolism and Meaning

Throughout the world, there are two genera and nearly 15 species of cranes around the world. Large, elegant, and wading birds, the crane flying wingspan can measure between six and seven feet. 

Cranes are known to mate for life. Their elaborate ‘crane dances’ have inspired art, dancers, and choreographers. In Egypt, the double-headed crane symbol denotes prosperity. 

Aristotle wrote about this bird that it always held a stone in its mouth so that if it fell asleep and the stone would fall down, the bird would wake. Thus crane symbolism came to be linked with vigilance.

cranes flying

In Hindu mythology, cranes have negative connotations attached to them. The birds are called ‘saras’ in Sanskrit and they symbolize inauspicious timing and negative omens. 

In China, the crane stood for prosperity and was even considered the messenger bird of the Gods. Vases decorated with crane motifs were even gifted as a sign of richness, longevity, good health, and prosperity. 

In European cultures, the crane stood for miserliness and bad will. In some parts of the world, cranes are depicted with sprigs of the fig in their beaks as a sign of wisdom, longevity, and immortality. Cranes also symbolized Taoist immortals or souls that achieved enlightenment. (1)

Crane Native American Symbolism

In Native American tradition, cranes were renowned for the oratory of their trumpeting calls and were the ‘Speakers for the Clans’. In Navajo Arizona, the Ziltahjini Peak is named after standing cranes. 

The Hopi word for a crane is atoko and the Atoko Point in the Grand Canyon National Park may have been named after the species. Likewise, Watula Creek was named after a sandhill crane. 

Native Americans also worshiped the cranes and called upon them for longevity, wisdom, and immortality. The birds were Native American symbols of independence. A pair of cranes symbolize good fortune and true love. The Natives drew alphabetic secrets from these birds.

two cranes

The Miami Clan originally referred to themselves as the Tightwees, which meant ‘Cry of the Crane.’ The tribe of Chippewa or Ojibwe Indians of Michigan used a flag that showed a black crane on the back of the turtle. 

Here, the crane also represented the people’s eloquence and leadership. The call of the crane was unique and infrequent. Hence, when the crane speaks, all other birds and animals listen. Thus, the crane is the spokesperson for the clans. (2

The first time that Native Americans saw white men, they called them the ‘Red Crane’ people. This is because; sandhill cranes were common, while red cranes were rare and uncommon.

Crane Eastern Symbolism

In China, the crane was considered the spirit of Huang-Kung Wang – one of the four masters of the Yuan Dynasty. 

Chinese crane symbolism was also linked to music and dance. Crane dances were often held in the marketplaces in China. The crane was believed to have ‘perfect pitch.’ The birds also represented immortality according to Taoist philosophy. 

Crane was also linked to monkeys and the two creatures are said to represent complementary duality. This is because; cranes are considered immortal, but the monkey still had earthly ties. 

crane flying

In Japan, the Manchurian Crane and turtle depicted together became symbols of longevity: the crane standing for 1000 years and the turtle standing for 10,000 years. The Japanese often gifted wedding gifts with crane motifs to symbolize eternal conjugal happiness to the couple. 

Releasing cranes during ceremonies symbolized acquiring merit in the next life. In Buddhist festivals, a small fee was paid for the freedom of captured cranes. In Eastern symbolism, the crane and the pine tree, signifying long life, are often depicted together. 

Hindus believe the saras bird (Sanskrit for crane) to be the most deceitful of all birds. They even have a crane-headed Goddess who bears the designation of Destroyer or Deceiver.

Crane Christianity symbolism

In Christianity – especially in Christian Art, the crane is a symbol of vigilance, loyalty, good life and works, and good order in the monastic life. 

All these positive qualities are derived from the crane’s legendary habits and traits. It is said that each night, the cranes gather around their King in a circle. 

Some birds kept watch and therefore had to keep themselves from falling asleep. To prevent that, they would place a stone in their beaks. If the stone fell, it would wake the bird up. Thus, the crane became the symbol of vigilance. 

cranes flying

The crane also kept watch all night while standing on one leg so that if he fell asleep, the other leg would drop. (3) In-flight, the crane embodies the departed soul that has passed recently. Cranes always fly in V-shaped formation. 

The stronger birds let, the weaker and younger ones fly in the center. Due to this specific formation, the crane spiritual meaning is linked to birth and death. The stork and cranes always give a message of ‘starting over.’ 

Often, when one thinks of death, they speak of ‘ending.’ But when the crane symbol of death is taken in a divinatory way, it simply means a transition and not an ending.

Crane Celtic Symbolism

The Celts were ambivalent about bird symbolism – mostly, they regarded birds as messengers of the deities, particularly swans, cranes, and ravens. 

Crane symbols have been found on urns, weapons, helmets, shields, and coins from 1200-1000 BC, indicating that they could have been Celtic Military symbols. Celtic shields depicted on the early first-century AD arch at Orange are decorated with crane motifs. 

Like the trees, the Celts believed that birds like cranes were present in the Other World as well as this one. That is why; they were viewed as Divine Messengers. Birds like the crane could even be present in the air, water, and land and that made them even more magical.

two cranes

Groups of three Cranes were considered as the ‘feminine force.’ And because cranes stood upright like humans, they were imagined to have originally been human. 

In Celtic folklore, cranes were often represented as miserly beings. Irish mythology has important crane symbolism too. 

The story of Fionnuala talks about Aifė- the evil sorceress stepmother- was cursed to be a crane and made to stand on one leg while reaching out with one hand. 

The Irish also had taboo about eating crane meat. This was because of the suggestion that cranes symbolize ancestral divinity and totemic symbolism. (4)

Crane African Symbolism

Among some African peoples, a crowned crane symbol appears as a representation of language and thought, in part because of its apparently contemplative stance. The whiteness of the cranes’ feathers also symbolizes purity and virginity. 

The red feathers found on the crane’s head were thought to be connected to vitality and fire. In some parts of Africa, the crane came to symbolize malice and betrayal. 

Since the migratory bird always returned back in spring, it symbolized the arrival of spring. Crowned cranes are National Birds of Nigeria and Uganda. In South Africa, Blue Cranes are the National Birds.

crane portrait

Coins and stamps in many countries in the African continent also bear crane insignia. Many airlines use the crane’s image in-flight, probably because the birds look so beautiful while flying. 

Human relationships with cranes extend beyond symbolic. Crane (bird) was used as food in many African tribes. Now, due to conservation movements – especially to save the Whooping crane – crane hunting is now illegal. 

In areas where hunger is still predominant, the crane and other migratory birds are still hunted for food. In the Saharan region of West Africa, the crane population has significantly declined. The Grey Crowned Crane also faces a similar fate in eastern Africa. (5)

Crane in Dreams

The crane is a graceful flier with a long beak and long legs and the species includes herons and egrets as well. Thus, crane meaning in dreams can be applied to egrets and heron dreams too. 

Cranes are shy birds. They are true explorers of their environment. Their grace in flight symbolizes the grace of the divine and the quest for knowledge. All cranes are sure-footed and graceful in movement. 

Thus, the message of the crane is to dance in life! Lose yourself in the beauty around you! Cranes dance spectacularly and also are rather vocal. They love being with their herds and are grateful for their companions as they fly in formations. 

crane flying

Thus, dreaming of cranes means protecting your family and staying with them. Crane in vision and dreams signifies, most often, the condition of the home or environment. 

The medicine of the crane is the balance and beauty of your surroundings. Often, seeing a crane in dreams represents a new direction or exploration of the self. Highly communicative and vocal, the crane has good vision and hearing. 

Its message is softness, grace, contemplation, and reflection on Inner Wisdom. Seeing cranes flying in formation in your dreams means you need to have a reunion or relocate to a new place. (6)

Crane Encounters and Omens

Birds are associated with weather in many parts of the world and seeing a crane before a voyage was considered an omen of good weather throughout. 

If you see a crane flying, it may be drawing your eyes to the heavens, lifting your spirits, and inspiring you to look for your divine guides. 

In China, bird omens have been studied since the Han Period and rulers mainly looked out for bird messengers before setting out to perform an important task. White crane symbolism meant longevity, immortality, and good fortune.

two cranes walking

In Japan, seeing a crane is still believed to be very auspicious and paper cranes and gifts having crane motifs are often handed out for eternal blessings and good wishes. 

In fact, the crane is a much-prized bird among the Japanese, as it suggests longevity.  In parts of Europe, crane omens are negative. Three cranes of Irish legend represent the three hypostases of the war-goddess, Morrigan, Badb, and Macha. 

As a result, cranes were often considered birds of evil, and so much so that no warrior who chanced upon them would enter into the battlefield. In India, in the past, cranes were symbols of deceit and seeing one meant that someone around was cheating them.

Crane Mythology and Folklore

Cranes belong to the Gruidae family. The largest of all flying birds have been symbols of good fortune, fidelity, grace, longevity, and immortality. 

Throughout history, in most cultures, there are mythological tales about cranes depicting them as majestic birds with charisma and known for spectacular courtship. In Christian stories and art, cranes are considered vigilant, symbols of foresight, and natural enemy of the Devil. 

In Hindu mythology, the crane represents the Goddess of deceit and folklore abounds about the saras bird (Indian crane) being the ultimate symbol of deception. (7) Perhaps the most heart-warming true story of the crane comes from Japan. 

crane

A girl named Sadako developed leukemia as a result of the Hiroshima bombing. Her friend asks her to make a thousand paper cranes for good luck since doing so can grant her a wish. 

The girl races against time to complete the paper cranes in order to regain health. The story went on to inspire origami crane-making across the globe. Even today, paper crane symbolism is linked to longevity, good fortune, and granting of wishes. 

Japanese people gift origami cranes to bless couples and youngsters with a long life. The crane mythology of China belongs to the divine bird worship in the system of animal totemism. Chinese crane mythology is also linked with dance and graceful movement. 

Crane Spirit Animal

The Crane spirit animal symbolizes longevity, focus, discipline, and vigilance. So, when you get crane as a spirit animal, you need to go on a journey and visualize this spirit guide in its natural habitat. 

Perhaps, the crane’s appearance means that you need to be more vigilant. Research the spirit guide in books. You will find that studying cranes’ characteristics can help. 

You need to understand the crane’s message: that life is an eternal dance, so don’t worry and just flow along. 

The crane wants you to imagine becoming him: meditate and ask for its spirit to help you—research your heritage. Dive deep into hypnosis and find out about your past lives.

The crane spirit animal varies from culture to culture. So, its message also varies. In the Orient, it is the symbol of longevity, good fortune, and happiness. To the Celts, it is a messenger of the Gods. 

Some believe that cranes are sacred to the ruler of the Underworld. In many parts of Europe, cranes are harbingers of death. Often, the meaning of your crane spirit guide might come from a reincarnation memory. 

Herons, cranes, and egrets are symbolic of self-reliance, dignity, individuality, grace, and patience. The crane medicine can take pages and pages to fill. Read up all you can about the crane bird traits to find its exact message for you. (8)

Crane Totem Animal

You do not choose your totem animal- it chooses you. If a crane totem animal has shown up in your life, you must realize that you are truly blessed. The crane has powerful messages for you and it has chosen you because you identify with its characteristics. 

Like the crane totem, you are graceful, beautiful, and pure. Movement and dance are important to you and these graceful qualities come naturally to you. 

The crane medicine brings you the ability to perform various tasks. It will also give you the power to follow a calling. Do not be surprised if you suddenly wish to make drastic changes in your career or life. Worry not! 

crane walking

The crane totem is with you and you should feel secure in its presence. Solitary by nature, you will find the crane standing on one leg in quiet contemplation. 

The crane totem is telling you to follow your chosen path but also to always be vigilant. Like the crane, you will get the wisdom you need to co-create your circumstances. 

There will be moments and instances where you will have to depend on your own sensibilities, but you need not be afraid. Spend some moments in contemplation and meditation each day and let the crane spirit guide you. (9)

Crane Power Animal

As a water, land, and air bird, the crane represents messages from all realms, of the subconscious mind, of its concealed depths, and from the divine. 

Thus, the crane reveals itself as a bird of your spirit guides and angels. Perhaps your life seems flat and constricted and the crane is bringing you a message to say that the fish will soon appear. 

Be graceful, like the crane and dance your way through life. That is the message of the crane power animal. Life should not be taken to seriously. Instead, become an explorer and look around you. 

crane

Like the crane, you must contemplate, although this power bird stands on one leg, you need not do so! Divine grace is flowing through you and it will be with you in your path as you seek knowledge. 

While the crane prefers solitary explorations, he also likes to fly in formation. Cranes are nurturing as parents and take care of their young. A crane power animal is asking you to take care of your family and be there for them. 

This is a bird that is highly communicative. Look at your home and environment and make changes that empower you, make you better, and help you grow. And worry not, the crane is with you throughout!

Crane Tattoo Meaning

Crane tattoos are quite common in Japan. They are often depicted with the sun– a crane flying into the sun is symbolic of good fortune, luck, and longevity. Japanese crane tattoo means immortality because the Japanese people believe that cranes live for thousands of years. 

The Chinese believe the crane to be immortal. With their pure white feathers and bodies, cranes also symbolize purity, virginity, and peace. 

People often get symmetric crane tattoos on each of the shoulders. A crane in flight means a divine vision of good things to come. Crane flying towards the sun can also symbolize social ambition.

crane illustration

Cranes, herons, and egrets are large birds. Man does not domesticate or keep them as pets. Thus, tattoos of herons, cranes, or egrets mean a ‘free spirit’ or ‘one who cannot be tamed.’ Cranes and herons are home-loving birds. 

They take care of their young and make great parents. They are devoted, loyal, and chaste. Cranes stand on one leg and symbolize patience, meditation, contemplation, and vigilance. All these characteristics can be depicted through a crane tattoo. 

As crane tattoo meanings vary from culture to culture, it is best to discuss your vision with your tattoo artist. Browse through several crane tattoos and then select a design that best suits your vision.

Conclusion

Crane symbolism represents immortality, purity, vigilance, longevity, and good fortune. In some cultures, the meanings of crane birds can be negative; they represent deception, a harbinger of death, and even the symbol of the devil. Whether a crane has been showing up in your visions or dreams or you wish to get a crane tattoo, we hope this guide helps you understand the bird’s symbolic meaning.

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4 thoughts on “Crane Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”

  1. There were four beautiful cranes outside my window. I have NEVER seen such beautiful creatures. I went out with my Nikon camera.

    No images, just pure white. I thought my camera was broken. Nope

    Pure white images.

  2. Timeliness of arrival,
    More affirmation. Make new tattoo,
    Dancing Crane
    On my right shoulder.
    My Tulka resides there,
    Welcome arrival!

    1. Early my morn,
      Dancing Crane came.

      This work. Your dedication and insight…overwhelming spirit.

      Long life
      Tsultrim Zangmo

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