The mythical griffin is a creature of ferocity and nobility. Usually depicted as half lion and half eagle, this ancient beast is more than the sum of its parts. Majestic, strong, and imbued with magic, the griffin is a common heraldic symbol which joins the lion’s valor with the eagle’s elegance. It is no wonder that many aristocratic families chose this beast to represent them. (1) Although the griffin itself may be no more than a myth, we can draw inspiration from this magnificent creature by understanding its history, symbolism, and the virtues embodied by the creatures on which the griffin is based.
Table of contents
- Griffin Symbolism and meaning
- Griffin Native American Symbolism
- Griffin Eastern Symbolism
- Griffin Christianity Symbolism
- Griffin Celtic Symbolism
- Griffin African Symbolism
- Griffin in Dreams
- Griffin Encounters and Omens
- Griffin Mythology and Folklore
- Griffin Spirit Animal
- Griffin Totem Animal
- Griffin Power Animal
- Griffin Tattoo Meaning
Griffin Symbolism and Meaning
The fantastical griffin, gryphon, or gryfin has been a part of human culture for a very long time. As early as 2000 BC, this symbol seems to have originated in the ancient Middle East and has since grown into the globally recognized griffin of legend. (2)
Like many other fantasy beasts, the Griffin is made up of traits from multiple animals. Typically, griffins have a lion’s body with the wings, head, and sometimes the talons of a bird. Usually this bird is an eagle. As a combination of two creatures, the griffin embodies the best traits of both of the animals which are present in its form.
Griffins are common heraldic symbols representing the might and nobility of aristocratic houses. Like dragons, many traditional myths see griffins as guardians of hoards of dazzling treasures. Unlike dragons, though, griffins are often considered to guard their treasure out of a sense of duty and righteousness rather than selfish greed. The griffin has been used as a symbol of protection and guardianship since ancient times. (3)
Griffin Native American Symbolism
Griffins are not generally present in Native American traditions, however the eagle is one of the emblems of the creator. Eagles are divine creatures which typify the virtues of a warrior. In addition, eagles were considered to have intense healing powers. (4)
The killing of eagles is a serious taboo amongst many Native cultures. One Cherokee legend demonstrates the dangers of slaying eagles. In this story a young man kills an eagle and that same night his village is visited by a strange warrior who frightens several men to death with his voice. This strange warrior is eventually revealed to be the slain eagle’s brother. (5)
Cougars, or “mountain lions,” are also found in many Native American traditions. Associated with magic and witchcraft, hunting, healing, wealth, and protection, these mighty beasts are the closest equivalent to the lion half of the griffin that one can find in Native culture. (6)
Combining the qualities of these two creatures together would undoubtedly result in a regal, fierce, and powerful guardian spirit.
Native American cultures also have several mythical creatures of their own. Among these is the mighty “Thunderbird.” Although certainly lacking the leonine qualities of griffins, these massive legendary raptors may be the closest Native equivalent. The Thunderbird is associated with storms and the sound of thunder is sometimes likened to the beating of its powerful wings. (7)
Griffin Eastern Symbolism
Asian myths, stories, and artistic motifs feature many beasts which could be referred to as “chimeras.” A “chimera” is a term used to describe monsters with body parts from many different animals. The term originates from a monster in an ancient Greek legend. (8) Griffins are undoubtedly chimeras due to their composition.
In China, the most important mythical beast of all is the dragon. Chinese dragons come in many different forms, but many have bird-like talons and leonine faces. Dragons are associated with the Chinese New Year, with good fortune, and with nobility. (9)
In Japan, the “Nue” is a chimera with traits of a monkey, a tiger, a tanuki, and a serpent. This creature is one of the oldest “Yokai.” Yokai, or “apparitions,” are essential pieces of Japanese folklore and mythology. The Nue is said to have been an evil monster which attacked the emperor of Japan. When the Nue was killed, it is said to have been buried at a site called “Nuezuka” which is still visited to this day. (10)
In Hindu mythology, Garuda is a powerful bird which resembles a kite or an eagle. Garuda is the holy vehicle of the god Vishnu and is often depicted with four arms or with some other humanoid features. (11)
Griffin Christianity symbolism
In Christian symbolism, the griffin represents Christ himself. According to the Bible, Jesus was born unto a human mother and was sometimes referred to as the “Son of Man.”
In Matthew 8:20:
“Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”” (11)
This is just one of many instances in which Jesus or a disciple refer to him as such. Being born unto humans, Jesus is human. Despite this, he is also understood to be the son of God. Unlike ordinary men, Jesus is given the ability to perform miracles in his father’s name.
This dualism has inspired some Christians to adopt the griffin as a symbol of Christ. As the lion is grounded to the earth, so is Jesus a human man. But, the eagle belongs to the sky which is the realm of the heavens. Thus, Jesus is both the son of God and of mankind in the same way that a griffin belongs in both the earth and the sky. (12)(13)
Griffin Celtic Symbolism
Gryphon or griffin has been mentioned in many European tales. In fact, the “gryphus” from Greek is likely the origin of European griffin symbolism, although the griffin itself might have come from the Middle East.
In Medieval Europe, the griffin became the symbol of knights. Thus, much of the Celtic symbolism of the griffin is linked with strength, bravery, valor, war, victory, and power.
The griffin symbol became one of the most popular motifs for the decoration and ornamentation of helmets, coat of arms, and of crusader shields. Irish and Welsh folk tales are full of griffins and griffin legends.
In many of these legends, the griffin is depicted as an intelligent beast which guards over treasures.
Griffin African Symbolism
In Africa, the mythical Roc bird is closely linked to the griffin. These large birds pick up the cadavers of humans and carry them off to devour them. So strong were the Rocs that they could even swoop down upon elephants and carry them off.
The famous Moroccan traveler, Ibn Battuta, described in his writings that during his travels between Africa and Asia, his ship encountered a mountain that was not on any map.
The strong winds and waves of the sea started propelling their ship straight into the mountain.
Suddenly, the mountain moved upwards and started to fly, revealing itself as the Roc bird. At this, all the ship’s hands started bidding farewell to one another. But soon, the wind changed direction and the Roc bird failed to see the ship. (14)
In Egypt, the griffin symbol is most similar to the iconic Sphinx. This mighty creature combines the features of a lion and a human. Many Egyptian gods and monsters are chimeras of some kind. Horus, the king of the gods, is composed of human and falcon features. (15)
Griffin in Dreams
Dreaming of the mighty griffin is sure to be a memorable experience. If this mythical beast has found its way into your dreams then you may expect some challenges in store. The griffin is mighty and protective. Its appearance reminds you to guard closely that which you hold dear.
Dreaming of the griffin may indicate a sense of indecision. you may feel torn between two paths in the same way that the griffin is drawn both towards the earth and the sky. Note, however, that the griffin is not required to choose just one way of living. Like the griffin, you can happily explore all sides of yourself.
Griffins may sometimes represent righteousness, justice, or truth. Dreaming of a griffin is a good reminder to make sure that you are taking the high road and living your life in accordance with a moral code that makes you feel proud.
Dreaming of griffins may also indicate a desire to connect with one’s inner child. Griffins are common in fantasy stories and inspire awe and wonder in human hearts. Dreaming of griffins may be a chance to reconnect with your favorite childhood stories or with the childlike curiosity within you.
Griffin Encounters and Omens
Griffins are mythical beasts, so encountering one would be a special thing indeed. Even though they are not real, we can encounter griffins in the form of art, stories, or even persistent thoughts.
If griffins keep popping up in your life, consider the things that matter to you. Griffins guard their treasures valiantly, but not every treasure is a material thing. A griffin encounter may be a reminder to do what you can to protect and strengthen your relationships, your talents, or your skills. All of these things can be valuable treasures.
Griffins often represent leadership. If you keep on encountering griffin symbols, consider whether you are really in charge of your life in the areas where you want control. Maybe you’re happy in your role at home but would prefer some extra responsibility at your work place. Maybe you are ready to run your own business. In any case, the griffin reminds you to fearlessly take the reigns and become the master of your own destiny.
Griffin Mythology and Folklore
Greek mythology includes many mentions of a hybrid creature called the Gryps. In most Greek legends, this animal-bird hybrid was depicted as a monster with an eagle’s head, a lion’s body, and completely covered with feathers. (16)
In many old tales, the Gryps were a race of creatures who spent their time retrieving gold from the mountains where they built their nests. These nests were constantly under assault by the Arimaspians. These were a race of greedy men with just one eye. The Gryps and this race of Cyclops would clash constantly over the precious gold which the Gryps were bound to protect. (17)
Some of the early Greek writings which feature the griffin indicate that this creature originated from India. Much of these sources seem to indicate a belief that the griffin was a real beast. (18)
Griffin Spirit Animal
The lion is the undisputed king of beasts, while the eagle is often seen as the king of birds. Put together, the hybrid griffin is the master of the sky and the land. Someone with this spirit animal is likely to be an adaptable leader who is comfortable in a variety of different situations and environments.
The griffin spirit animal is a natural leader with an inherent desire to protect others. Empathy for people from all walks of life is one of the virtues of this unique spirit animal. People with the griffin spirit animal are noble, kind, forgiving, and driven by a strong sense of justice.
Being made up of two of the most regal animals around can sometimes go to the griffin’s head. Arrogance and stubbornness are some of the main shortcomings which can present themselves when dealing with the griffin spirit animal. Griffin spirits tend to want to lead in nearly every situation. While they are talented at bringing people together, the griffin spirit animal may need to be reminded that once in a while even the greatest leaders must enter the role of follower.
Griffin Totem Animal
The griffin totem animal is associated with magic, wonder, and storytelling. Griffins are mythical creatures which have never truly roamed the earth. Despite this, the majestic griffin has inspired the human imagination since at least 2000 BC. (19) Thus, the griffin totem is the embodiment of the inspiration and wonder that lives within the human spirit.
The griffin totem animal reminds us not to lose our sense of curiosity and fascination with the world. While literal magic may not exist, the world is full of magical experiences.
Griffins often appear in fantasy stories. As such, these creatures represent the art of storytelling. Storytelling is the backbone of human connection. The griffin totem allows us to connect with others through this ancient and noble art.
Finally, the griffin totem animal represents guardianship and vision. In some stories, griffins are guardians of massive hoards of treasure, or even of entire kingdoms. If the griffin is your totem animal then this creature imbues you with a sense of vigilance, responsibility, and duty.
Griffin Power Animal
The power of the griffin is ascension. As a terrestrial mammal, the lion is normally bound to the earth by gravity. The griffin frees the mighty lion and allows the king of beasts to take to the skies. If the griffin is your power animal, look to this creature as a symbol of freedom, spiritual enlightenment, and divinity.
As a hybrid of two animals, the griffin embodies the strongest traits of both the eagle and the lion. The griffin power animal demonstrates the power of embracing one’s strengths and rising above weaknesses. Choose the best version of yourself to live with each day and you’ll find that self improvement is a natural result.
Griffin Tattoo Meaning
A griffin tattoo can be a meaningful way of conveying one’s personal values. Strength, majesty, elegance, and protection all emanate from the griffin.
For someone who has undergone a lot of spiritual growth of changes, a griffin tattoo might be chosen in order to represent the coming together of different aspects. Finding ways to reconcile different parts of yourself always makes you stronger in the end.
Like the lion, a griffin tattoo may represent ferocity, pride, wisdom, courage, and power. Like the eagle, a griffin tattoo might represent leadership, foresight, intelligence, and sharpness. Put together, a griffin tattoo is an unbeatable beast.
In some versions of the griffin myth, these creatures are said to be monogamous and deeply loyal to their mates. So, a griffin tattoo may represent romance and fidelity.
Although the griffin may not be a real creature, it is evident that this beast has had a very real effect on human cultures around the world. As an inspiration for art and stories, and as an example of noble virtues, the griffin is a potent legend. Even though there are no “real” griffins, the sprit of protection, guardianship, and honor that griffins represent can be felt in the hearts of people everywhere!