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

Profile picture of Emu Bird

The emu is a decidedly formidable animal. The second largest of all birds, smaller only than its cousin the ostrich, the emu is a large flightless bird endemic to Australia. Emus have a storied history with Australia, at times they were considered a terrible nuisance. Despite this, though, the mighty emu is one of the most ubiquitous symbols of Australia and even appears alongside the kangaroo on the coat of arms of the Commonwealth of Australia. (1)

In 1932, as a reaction to the reclassification of emus from “protected species” to “vermin,” on account of their propensity to devour and destroy Australia’s already suffering wheat farms, 20,000 emus were ordered to be culled. The effort to slay these pesky emus is often referred to as the “Great Emu War.” (2) Between 1932 and 1935 nearly 60,000 emus were killed, but not before the emu had secured its reputation as an almost unstoppable force, capable of dumbfounding veteran soldiers.

Emu grazing
Photo by Daniel Olaleye on Unsplash

The Sun Herald wrote on the fifth of July, 1953: 

“If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world… They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.” (3)

In the end, despite their worthiness as combatants, the emus were much worse off for the Great Emu War. Fortunately, though, emus have since been reclassified as a protected species and are currently considered to be of “least concern” with regards to conservation.

So, what can we learn from an animal so tough that Australia once waged a pest control “war” against it? The unflinching emu is a beautiful, powerful, and important bird which holds a spiritually significant position in the mythology and culture of Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal populations. If you feel connected to the emu, read on to discover what spiritual impact this bird may have on your life!

On this page
Emu Symbolism and Meaning
Emu Aboriginal Symbolism
Emu in Dreams
Emu Encounters and Omens
Emu Mythology and Folklore
    Aboriginal Mythology:
Emu Spirit Animal
Emu Totem Animal
Emu Power Animal
Emu Tattoo Meaning

Emu Symbolism and Meaning

The emu is a bird that is rich with meaning and significance. Symbolically, the emu is prominently associated with Australia. Emus are the largest birds in Australia and are exclusively found there. Because of this, the emu has become inextricably associated with Australian culture, the government of Australia, and with the indigenous peoples of Australia.

According to the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the emu was chosen as a symbol for the coat of arms of the Commonwealth of Australia because it symbolizes forward movement: “The shield is held up by the native Australian animals the kangaroo and the emu, which were chosen to symbolize a nation moving forward, based on the fact that neither animal can move backwards easily.” (4) With a bit of research, I was not able to verify whether or not emus can walk backwards, but regardless of the veracity of this claim, the sentiment of the emu as a creature who looks to the future is firmly attached to the emu’s reputation.

Female emus typically lay their eggs and then wander off, leaving the males of the species to incubate and rear the clutches of emu chicks. (5) For this reason, emus can sometimes represent fatherly devotion and the exhausting trials of single parenthood. 

Emu chicks
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

Because of the lasting impression of the “Great Emu War,” many perceive emus to be fierce, combative, and a bit mischievous. Though emus are unlikely to attack unless threatened, their reputation as formidable fighters is well-earned. Emus hiss when threatened, often before delivering powerful kicks that can potentially eviscerate their target. Considering the fact that these birds can tower at heights over six feet tall, their kicks can be devastating. (6)

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Emu Aboriginal Symbolism

In Aboriginal traditions, emus were regarded as creator spirits. It was believed that emus once flew across the sky, though now they are flightless. This creator spirit tradition is reflected in the fact that, when the Milky Way is visible over the Australian bushland, the Aboriginal people have often referred to its shape as the “Emu in the Sky.” (7)

Myths and traditions involving the emu often associate this bird with cunning, wisdom, and sovereignty over the smaller denizens of the kingdom of birds.

Emu in Dreams

Have emus been appearing to you in dreams? In dreams, animals can be potent messengers with grave significance with regards to the spirit or the subconscious. If the emu has visited your dreams, it may mean that you have something important to learn from this unique and fascinating bird.

An emu dream can represent restlessness. Emus are curious animals that enjoy wandering their territory and grazing on a variety of foods. If you are dreaming of emus, you may want to evaluate whether your life has taken a turn towards stagnation. Make sure that, although routines are normal and good for you, you haven’t stopped finding little ways to feel interested and engaged in your daily life. This is especially true for athletic or outdoorsy individuals who have taken on a sedentary lifestyle.

Emus are social creatures and do not tend to thrive in isolation. Though they do not always get along with other emus, it is generally not good for them to be alone. (8) If you are dreaming of a single emu, it may represent loneliness or neglect in your social relationships.

Dreaming of emu chicks often represents fatherhood or paternal relationships, because the male emu is solely responsible for rearing the brood. Such a dream may act as a reminder to cherish the paternal relationships in your life. If you are a parent, set aside some special paternal bonding time for yourself or your partner and your child. If you haven’t called up your father in a little while, an emu dream may be a reminder to check in on and nourish that relationship.

Emu Encounters and Omens

Encountering an emu, either in the flesh or via media or imagery, can be a very moving experience. Depending upon context, these encounters can have very different meanings. 

Encountering a lone emu can be a warning against isolating oneself, socially or emotionally. Depending on the location, such an encounter may also be a warning about the imminent physical danger of getting lost in the Australian bush. In either case, the emu may act as a reminder not to navigate this world alone, and that it’s important to rely on others from time to time.

Encountering an aggressive emu is potentially dangerous, so before examining the significance of such an encounter, be sure to retreat to a safe and respectful distance. Unsurprisingly, an encounter like this is likely to represent an unsafe situation in your life. Feeling trapped and unable to flee is what causes emus to become aggressive in this way. If there’s an area of your life in which you feel similarly stuck, this emu encounter may be a reminder to stand up for yourself and fight to maintain safe and healthy boundaries.

Emu in Mythology & Folklore

Due to their range being limited to Australia, the mythological reach of the emu goes no further than this region. Fortunately, within Australia, the indigenous Aboriginal peoples hold the emu to be deeply sacred. As such, the emu is a regular character within a rich tapestry of mythological and folkloric traditions.

Emu profile
Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

Aboriginal Mythology:

As stated above, the emu has often been connected with creation myths, the sky, the stars, and the Milky Way.

Additionally, one Aboriginal “Dreamtime” story explains the flightlessness of the emu as follows:

“The Emu, being the largest bird, was acknowledged as king by the other birds. The Turkeys were jealous of the Emus, particularly the Goomble-Gubbon, the mother of the Turkeys. She would watch with envy, the high flight of the Emus and their swift running. Goomble-Gubbon used to wonder how she could put an end to the Emu’s supremacy. She knew she would gain nothing by having a quarrel with the Emu and fighting her, for no Goomble-Gubbon would stand any chance against a Dinewan. One day when Goomble-Gubbon saw in the distance Dinewan coming towards her she squatted down and doubled in her wings in such a way as to look as if she had none. She tricked the Emus into cutting off their wings. HA HA HA laughed the Turkey, jumping up and down with joy and said, “I have taken you in, old stumpy wings. I have my wings, yet you are so easily taken in, old stumpy wings” Brooding over her wrongs, the Emu walked away, vowing she would be revenged. At length, the Emu thought of a plan, then she paraded past the Plain Turkey with her two young ones. Goomble-Gubbon asked her why she only had two children and the Emu replied, “It is too hard to find food for twelve children, it is easy to feed only two.” And straight away the plain turkey killed all but two of her children. “You cruel mother to kill your children, you greedy mother, why I have twelve children and I find food for all of them. I tricked you into doing that because you tricked me into cutting off my wings.” And ever since that time, Emu has had no wings and the Plain Turkey has only laid two eggs in one season.” (9)

This story brilliantly demonstrates both the cunningness of the emu in Aboriginal traditions, and its role as the most sovereign “king” of birds.

Emu Spirit Animal

If the emu is your spirit animal, you are likely to be sociable, friendly, curious, and adventurous. People with the emu spirit animal tend to wander. They don’t typically like being confined and are often driven by a sense of adventure.

One weakness that is often found in those with the emu spirit animal is an unfortunate tendency to experience “FOMO,” or “the fear of missing out.” In short, the emu spirit’s love of adventure may lead to a constant sense that there is something exciting just on the horizon that you’re missing out on. Although this feeling can be motivating, it can often make it difficult to enjoy the mundane things that make up daily life.

Emu pair
Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

People with the emu spirit animal typically prefer not to be alone, but they may feel lost in large groups. For such people, intimate friendships with smaller groups are usually the ideal arrangement.

Emu Totem Animal

The emu totem animal is associated with guidance, wisdom and trickery. If you have the emu as your totem animal, you may notice a tendency to look at problems from an unconventional perspective.

While this unique ability to approach problems from different angles can be a great asset, it is important that people with the emu totem animal don’t become too accustomed to looking for shortcuts or easy ways out. The emu totem animal is not fond of tedium, and sometimes their work ethic may suffer from this.

For these reasons, people with the emu totem animal are often very creative and may develop a tendency towards mischief. In moderation, such mischief can be a bright spot in their lives and the lives of their friends and loved ones.

Emu Power Animal

The emu power animal grants the power of vigilance. Emus are often alert and keenly aware of potential dangers. For someone bearing the emu power animal, this vigilance can be a useful tool for avoiding danger and recognizing patterns that can lead to dangerous situations.

It is important, though, that people with the emu power animal practice separating vigilance from anxiety and paranoia. Not all vulnerable situations are threats, and not all threats are completely avoidable.

Emu Tattoo Meaning

An emu tattoo is often chosen to represent Australia as a sign of patriotism, heritage, or perhaps to commemorate another meaningful connection to Australia. This is especially true for people of Aboriginal descent, for whom an emu tattoo may hold additional spiritual significance.

Emu tattoos may also represent silliness, ferocity, or fatherly relationships.

Conclusion

In the imaginations of mankind, emus have had a stunning array of roles and connotations. From national symbol, to officially declared vermin, to creator god, to the Milky Way, the emu has been both cherished and scorned by humanity to varying degrees.

It is fortunate that in the twenty-first century these birds are protected and acknowledged with the respect that they deserve. Though the Great Emu War is a thing of the past, and we can only hope the emus have buried the hatchet, the coat of arms of the Commonwealth of Australia is a poignant reminder that emus must remain as a part of humanity’s future. 

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