Jewel-colored and acrobatic, dragonflies capture the attention with their whizzing flight and have long inspired art, poetry and myth. These flying insects are characterized by their long slender bodies, often brilliant colors, gossamer-like wings, and large compound eyes. (1)
From Japanese folklore to Native American mythology, the dragonfly’s ethereal beauty is a source of wonder and reverence. In modern times, these flashy insects are quite often used as motifs in art and fashion. Despite its seemingly ubiquitous impact, though, the dragonfly is actually experiencing a sharp population decline on account of the disappearance of wetland habitats around the globe. (2)
Whether the dragonfly’s vibrant body and frenzied flight had enchanted you, or whether you are simply wondering what can be learned from a recent encounter with one of these fascinating insects, read on to discover the unique symbolism, folklore traditions, and virtues connected with the dragonfly!
Table of contents
- Dragonfly Symbolism and meaning
- Dragonfly Native American Symbolism
- Dragonfly Christianity Symbolism
- Dragonfly Celtic Symbolism
- Dragonfly in Dreams
- Dragonfly Encounters and Omens
- Dragonflys’ Mythology and Folklore
- Dragonfly Spirit Animal
- Dragonfly Totem Animal
- Dragonfly Power Animal
- Dragonfly Tattoo Meaning
Dragonfly symbolism and meaning
Dragonflies are born in the water. Their mothers lay eggs in fresh water which hatch into aquatic bugs called “nymphs” or “naiads.” In this form, dragonflies stalk the water, voraciously hunting other bugs, small fish, and even other dragonfly nymphs. For large species, the nymph stage can last for as long as five years and may include several different stages. In their fully metamorphosed dragonfly forms, however, dragonflies live for only a few months at most. (3)
Dragonflies may represent, growth, transformation, impermanence, ephemerality, or adolescence. Because dragonflies, both as nymphs and as adults, are such prolific hunters, dragonflies may also be connected with acuity, agility, and ferocity.
“Today I saw the dragonfly / Come from the wells where he did lie. / An inner impulse rent the veil / Of his old husk: from head to tail / Came out clear plates of sapphire mail. / He dried his wings: like gauze they grew; / Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew / A living flash of light he flew.”— Alfred, Lord Tennyson “The Dragonfly” (4)
Dragonflies are typically born in the summer and are most often found near the waterways and marshes where they are born. so, dragonflies are often associated with the summer season as well as nostalgia for the “halcyon days” of youth that one associates with summer.
Dragonflies mate by assuming a posture which is known as the “heart” or “wheel” posture. The male clasps the female’s head, and she curls her abdomen beneath her to form a shape which looks a bit like a closed circle or a heart. In this posture, dragonflies may be seen either flying or perched. Because of this, dragonflies are sometimes connected with romance, eroticism, or lust. (5)
Dragonfly Native American symbolism
Several Native American tribes consider the dragonfly to be a sacred or auspicious animal. Dragonflies are often connected with medicine and healing. (6)
In some tribes, the dragonfly is connected with the element of water and is thought to symbolize the coming of much-needed rain. Amongst other tribes, dragonflies are used as symbols of protection and invincibility. (7)
According to Zuni mythology, the dragonfly was a messenger of the gods. In this myth, a young boy and his sister were left behind by their tribe when hard times came and the people chose to search for a new land. The boy’s sister was distraught at having been abandoned so callously, and neither child knew how they would manage to survive on their own. Wanting to console his heartbroken sister, the boy crafted a doll out of corn and grass. The doll was insect-shaped and sprung to life as soon as the boy had made it. The doll told the children that he was a messenger of the gods and that the two were destined to be great leaders. When the girl grew ill, the corn insect flew away to get help from the gods and was able to restore her to health. He helped the two children find food and grow strong while the land recovered until eventually all was green again and the tribe which had left them returned. The boy and his sister became wise leaders. The corn insect was lonely and asked the boy to make another of his kind. The boy agreed and from the two corn dolls came the first dragonflies. From that day forth, the Zuni people held the dragonfly to be a messenger of the gods and a sacred symbol of summer, protection, and life-giving rain. (8)(9)
Dragonfly Christianity symbolism
Dragonflies are not present in the Bible, but the Christian symbolism of these insects might be found in the beautiful ways in which they transform from something plain and hidden to something vibrant which catches the light. This is symbolic to Christians in the sense of becoming transformed and colorful when the light of Lord Jesus shines upon them.
Matthew 5:14-16 states:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and hide it under the bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand so its light can be shone upon everybody so that the light can shine and illuminate everyone. In the same way, let your light shine upon men. Let them see and praise your good deeds. You, in turn, praise the Father in heaven.” (10)
Further symbolic meanings for the dragonfly might include heaven and the afterlife. Dragonflies spend much of their lives in murky water, likely never knowing how bright the world above them can be. When the transform, they emerge into a new world full of light and color. (11)
Dragonfly Celtic symbolism
In Celtic traditions, dragonflies symbolize femininity, beauty, rebirth, and transitions. The myth of the Wooing of Etain is an Irish story which includes a beautiful jewel-colored fly which begins as water, becomes a worm, and then becomes a ‘fly’ before being reborn as a woman. The wooing of Etain follows the tail of an otherworldly gentleman named Midir who is enchanted by the beauty of a young maiden named Etain. When Midir is wounded at the home of his foster son, he is given Etain in marriage as repayment for his injury. Midir and Etain love each other deeply, but Midir’s first wife is deeply jealous and is gifted in witchcraft and sorcery. Out of spite, she transforms Etain into a pool of water, but Midir keeps this water by his side still. Then she transforms her into a worm, but Midir treasures the worm as well. Finally, Etain is made into a giant jewel-colored fly which Midir cherishes. The witch is so angry that she conjures a great wind to blow Etain away from Midir. In this form, Etain is blown into the goblet of her own mother who accidentally drinks the fly. From this, Etain’s mother becomes pregnant and gives birth to Etain anew. After much hardship, Midir finds and reclaims his bride. (12)
Thus, the dragonfly is deeply connected with the cycle of death and rebirth. To be with Midir again, Etain must live through the life cycles of the dragonfly before finally expiring in order to be reborn. Dragonflies represent life’s cycles and the transitions between each of them. (13)
Dragonfly in dreams
Dreaming of the dragonfly represents growth and change. To dream of one of these fascinating insects signifies that a major period of change is one the horizon. Embrace your growth and accept the challenges that will come with it. (14)
Dragonflies may also represent higher knowledge. From the watery depths of the marsh, a dragonfly nymph has no way of knowing what awaits it in the sky above. The light and color of the dragonfly signifies the enlightenment that is achieved when we allow ourselves to be transformed.
A dragonfly dream may also relate to the fear and dread associated with mortality. Most of a dragonfly’s life is spent preparing to transform into the beautiful whizzing creature which we all recognize. Once dragonflies assume this form, though, they are faced with the immediate need to reproduce before dying within a span of just a few months. A dragonfly dream may indicate fear surrounding the brevity and impact of one’s own lifespan. (15)
Dragonfly encounters and omens
Dragonfly encounters are often seen as good luck, however old European superstitions actually connect them with misfortune and danger. Called the “Devil’s Darning Needle” in some traditions, dragonflies have been thought of as assistants to snakes or to the devil himself. Old myths even state that dragonflies could sew shut the mouths of unfortunate passersby using their needle-like bodies. (16)
Of course, dragonflies are harmless, but they may still represent bad luck or superstition to some.
Because dragonflies are so vibrant and metallic-colored, a dragonfly encounter might signify future financial successes. (17)
Dragonfly mythology and folklore
Dragonflies are often found depicted on tombs, amulets, and charms form ancient Egypt. Adorning tombs, dragonflies were meant to aid in the transition between the worlds of the living and the dead. Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile was a barrier which separated life and death. As insects which were deeply tied with the river’s waters, the Dragonfly symbolized death, rebirth, and renewal. For ancient Egyptians, death was not necessarily a dark thing and the afterlife was thought to bean important and beautiful stage of one’s life.
In Japan, the dragonfly is a beloved and significant symbol. They are connected with autumn and with the mythological first emperor of Japan, Jimmu. According to legend, Jimmu once said that the kingdom of Japan was shaped like two dragonflies mating. So, Japan was sometimes referred to as Akitsu-shima or “dragonfly island.” (18)
Dragonfly spirit animal
If the dragonfly is your spirit animal then you may be a late bloomer. People with the dragonfly as their spirit animal need lots of time to grow and change before they are ready to live as their true selves.
With patience, time, and experience, though, the dragonfly spirit is able to emerge as its beautiful and authentic self. People with the dragonfly spirit animal are sociable, focused, and ambitious. (21)
The dragonfly spirit animal understands that life is short and that, in order to truly enjoy all of its gifts, one must seize the day and live fearlessly in the moment. People with this spirit animal may seem extra spontaneous to friends and loved ones who are more routine-oriented.
Dragonfly totem animal
The dragonfly totem animal refers to spirituality and healing. People with this totem animal tend to have strong relationships with their own spirituality and are driven by their spiritual beliefs.
Seeking answers about the universe is just one pastime of the dragonfly totem animal.
It is through spiritual exploration that the dragonfly totem animal heals, renews, and rejuvenates itself. People with this totem animal can keenly sense the trauma of others and can be deeply empathetic towards the individual spiritual journeys that everyone undertakes. (22)
Dragonfly power animal
The dragonfly power animal is associated with vision. One of the most sunning features of the dragonfly is its large compound eyes. People with the dragonfly as their power animal are gifted with unique clarity and use their talent for foresight to choose the wisest course of action.
With the incredible vision of the dragonfly, the dragonfly power animal is able to be a creative muse and inspire artists, poets, and musicians to create exceptional masterpieces. In visual arts and fashion, especially, the dragonfly is a powerful guiding force. (23)
Dragonfly tattoo meaning
In most scenarios, dragonfly tattoos symbolize change and transformation. Seeing a dragonfly is symbolic of having one’s dreams come true. It also means that positive change or transformation is on the horizon. .
To a warrior and fighter, a dragonfly tattoo represents agility, power, speed, victory, and courage. It also symbolizes rebirth, immortality, transformation, adaptation, and spiritual awakening.
In many Asian countries, dragonfly tattoos are a symbol of prosperity, good luck, and harmony. A Japanese dragonfly tattoo may represent Japan itself or the mythological Emperor Jimmu.
Dragonflies symbolize many things- and as with most symbols, the meaning and interpretation of a dragonfly tattoo can change. Therefore, it is important to discuss your vision with a tattoo artist. Ask your tattoo artist to depict the dragonfly with delicate fine lines, gossamer-thin and opalescent wings, and slender body. If possible, ask to see sample photos of dragonfly tattoos – this should not be too difficult since dragonflies are a frequent subject of tattoo art.
Dragonfly symbolism is a source of light, color, inspiration, and joy. Call upon the dragonfly to fill your life with color and to remind you to soak in all of life’s beauty before your time on earth is brought to an end. The dragonfly is a poignant reminder that life is a growing process and that this journey is defined by the many changes which we all undergo on a near-constant basis.