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

heron

Herons symbolize tranquility, serenity, elegance, and grace. These beautiful birds are most often found wading through shallow waters and calmly stalking their aquatic prey.

The stunning silhouette of the heron is often used as a symbol of the natural beauty of wetland habitats. Herons and egrets are not distinct species; many birds belonging to the Egretta or Ardea genera, to which egrets belong, are referred to as “herons.” Thus, this article will include many mentions of herons along with egrets. The Great Egret (Ardea alba) is the symbol of the National Audubon Society. After nearly perishing entirely in the 1800s in the United States due to demand for its plumage, Great Egrets represent one of the most uplifting success stories in bird conservation. Popular with birders for their beauty, elegance, and relative abundance, herons and egrets of all kinds are ambassadors for the birding hobby and for the appreciation of wetland ecosystems. (1)(2)

Table of contents

Heron Symbolism and Meaning

The heron is often used as a symbol of grace and beauty. It is not hard to see why this is upon observing the fluid movements and stunning appearance of this bird. Beyond the physical body of the heron, these birds are often found in beautiful places as well. The harmonious regions where land and sea (or pond, lake, or river) meet is the heron’s home. Thus the heron represents three essential energies which exist in perfect balance: land, water, and sky.

The calm stillness of the heron of course represents peace and serenity. On top of this, the heron’s endless patience reminds us of the importance of waiting for opportunities to appear. Timing is a difficult thing to master, but everyone could learn a thing or two from watching the heron at work!

heron

The stillness of a patient heron sits in sharp contrast to the lightning-quick movements that these birds execute when the time is finally right to act. As hunters, herons represent focus, skill, acuity, and flexibility.

Heron Native American Symbolism

Several Native American tribes look at the heron symbol as signs of patience and good luck. This belief can be found amongst the tribal peoples of the Northwest Coast where people believe that if Native American fishermen spot a heron, it means that good luck is with them, and they will have a successful fishing trip. (3)

Herons and egrets are symbols of peace and tranquility amongst several Native American groups. According to Cherokee legend, the American Egret, called “tskwayi” is a peace emblem whose wings and feathers are worn by athletes. In some legends, the wise and peaceable egret serves as a mediator of conflicts between the animal spirits. (4)(5)

The Great Blue Heron features in one Native American myth as a creature whose pride must not be insulted. According to an Algonquin story, the Great Blue Heron is a wise and cunning animal who takes great pride in his long slender body. One day whilst Great Blue Heron was wading, a mother weasel and her son approached him. The young weasel pointed to the heron and excitedly told his mother that the bird was as tall and strong as a tree. Flattered, the Great Blue Heron thanked the pair and offered to lay across the river and act as a bridge for them to cross since they had been so polite to him. Seeing this, the cunning old wolf decided that he would also like a bridge so that his tired muscles might be spared the long walk to the safe crossing place. He called out to the Great Blue Heron and said “Now I see what you herons are good for! You’re just a bridge for other animals to cross.” This insult made the heron angry, so the wolf had to try a different strategy. Next he complimented the heron who finally agreed to help him cross. Once the wolf was halfway across the river, though, the heron enacted his revenge and wriggled out from under him. The wolf learned that day to never insult the pride of the wise old heron. (6)

Heron Christianity Symbolism

According to the Bible, the heron would be classed as an unclean bird which is not fit for human consumption. Many many birds and other animals are featured on this list and it hardly constitutes a symbolic sense of impurity or filth. Most Christian imagery which features herons treats these birds quite favorably. (7)

Often Christian imagery depicting herons emphasizes the idyllic beauty of nature. Furthermore, herons are often equated with a number of Christian virtues such as patience, silence, and purity.

Heron Celtic Symbolism

In the Celtic traditions, the heron and the egret represent the supernatural forces which dwell in the liminal spaces between land and water. Furthermore, herons often represent sovereignty, femininity, and magic.

Rhiannon, for example, is a goddess who is strongly associated with birds. Rhiannon’s powerful protection is sometimes invoked by travelers. Her dominion encompassed all the magical waters. Rhiannon is the goddess of waters and lakes and, as per some Rhiannon myths, herons are her votive animals.

Egrets are ancient symbols that have been important to Celtic cultures since at least 800 BC, when the long tail feathers of egrets were found in archaeological sites. Many Celtic cultures depict the heron alongside the bull, which is the most important animal symbols in the ancient Celtic world. (8)

The Irish god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lir, is said to have stored all of his treasures in a repository known as the “Corrbolg” or “crane bag.” According to legend, Manannan loved a young woman named Aoife. A jealous woman who despised Aoife transformed the girl into a crane. For hundreds of years, Aoife lived with Manannan in this form until her eventual death. When Aoife died, Manannan used her skin to craft the crane bag. It is said that at low tide, Manannan’s treasures can be seen in the sea. Although the bag is supposedly crafted from the skin of a crane, it is said to be guarded by a heron or an egret. (9)

Heron in Dreams

Dreaming of the heron is often a great opportunity to introspect and examine the course of one’s life with an objective eye. The serene presence of the heron provides the calm necessary for someone who needs to focus and choose a wise course of action.

Dreaming of the heron might mean that diverging paths are unfolding in front of you. Choices can be scary, but the heron reminds you to be patient and take everything as it comes. With a bit of patience and a bit of decisive action, you can trust that you will make the best choice available to you.

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The sharp focus of the heron may also come into play when one dreams of this magnificent bird. Dreaming of the heron might indicate a desire to sharpen one’s skills or hone one’s natural talents. The heron’s exceptional focus and lightning reflexes remind us to pay close attention to our tasks and to apply as much effort as we can.

Heron Encounters and Omens

Encountering a heron is likely to be a very moving and impactful experience. This beautiful bird conveys a sense of natural wisdom and effortless grace. Meeting face to face with a heron is a great opportunity to look inwards and meditate on the virtues of this brilliant animal.

The exceptional beauty of the heron might act as a reminder to try and connect with nature more often. In many cases, we live our lives cut off from the natural world. The heron, like many animals, reminds us of the magnificence and importance of nature.

heron

The quiet nature of the heron may also act as a reminder of the value of silence. In this technologically advanced age, we rarely spend much time separated from sources of stimulation. Our lives are filled with constant or nearly constant noise. The heron reminds us that silence is vital. In periods of quiet we can converse with our thoughts and often conquer our biggest problems. Silence helps us to grow.

Heron Mythology and Folklore

The Greek myths refer to the heron as the messenger of the gods. According to some customs, harming a heron was a serious taboo which they believed could bring bad luck upon them. 

In the following passage from the Iliad, the goddess Athena sends a heron to signal her support for the hero Odysseus:

“Athena winged a heron close to their path
and veering right. Neither man could see it,
scanning the dark night, they only heard its cry.
Glad for the lucky sign, Odysseus prayed to Pallas,
“Hear me, daughter of Zeus whose shield is thunder!
Standing by me always, in every combat mission—
no maneuver of mine slips by you—now, again,
give me your best support, Athena, comrade!
Grant our return in glory back to the warships
once we’ve done some feat that brings the Trojans pain!”” (10)

Through its connection with Athena, the heron can be understood to represent wisdom, strategy, femininity, duty, cleverness, and victory.

If you study Greek art, you would see how the heron pays a vital role in striking a balance in the continuous struggle between evil and good. The balance herein is substantial to the significance of the heron symbolism too.

heron

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the Bennu bird is an extremely important symbol. Resembling a heron or an egret, the Bennu is connected with the sun god, Ra, as well as Atum, the creator, and Osiris. The Bennu is sometimes thought to be one of the early origins of the myth of the phoenix. According to legend, the Bennu existed before all of creation. Bennu contributed to the creation of the universe by breaking the primordial silence with its cry. Contributing to its connection with the phoenix, Bennu is associated with cyclical death and resurrection. The sun god, Ra, whom the Bennu is most firmly associated with, travels across the sly each day in a never-ending cycle of death and rebirth. Furthermore, Osiris is said to have been resurrected by his wife, Isis, after he was murdered by his treacherous brother. All of the pieces of Osiris were gathered together and reconstituted by Isis, but one piece was still lost so Osiris must rule over the land of the dead rather than the living. The Bennu is sometimes depicted as a heron with the headdress of Osiris, further connecting this bird to death and resurrection. (11)

In Japan, the “Shirasagi” is a common subject in art, poetry, and storytelling. “Shira” means “white,” while “sagi” refers to egrets and herons. One particular tradition involving the Shirasagi is the “Shirasagi-no Mai,” meaning “Dance of the White Egret.” This ceremonial dance dates as far back as the eighth century and is performed at the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. During this traditional dance, a group of dancers in ornate egret costumes slowly and gracefully dance in a fashion that mimics the movement of egrets. Their procession is flanked by musicians and costumed school children. The confetti thrown by the procession is often collected for good luck. (12)(13)

Heron Spirit Animal

If the heron is your spirit animal then you are likely to be an independent person who enjoys the peace and solitude of your own company. People with the heron spirit animal tend to be highly empathetic and often adopt the role of the peace-keeper. This role can be exhausting, though, and it is easy to see why the highly empathetic heron would prefer to spend some time alone.

The heron spirit animal is a knowledge-seeker. Fascinated with the natural world and curious about its surroundings, the main passion of the heron spirit animal is usually self-knowledge. The heron spirit looks inward in order to understand everything around it.

Heron spirits are excellent storytellers and passionate artists though they may struggle to convey the depth and complexity of their emotional experiences.

Heron Totem Animal

The heron totem animal is observant and reserved. Preferring to let their actions speak for themselves, the heron totem calmly watches the flow of events before choosing the correct moment to act.

People with the heron as their totem animal may sometimes find that they possess a particular talent for predicting the future. No, the heron totem isn’t clairvoyant, but one does not need supernatural abilities to recognize patterns and make accurate predictions.

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People with this totem may find it frustrating when they notice a pattern and others do not listen or heed their advice.

Heron Power Animal

The heron power animal represents balance and freedom. Comfortable on land, in the water, and in the sky, the heron is free to come and go as he pleases. Note, however, that herons do not belong to just one of these realms. The heron does everything in perfect balance leading to a life of harmony and tranquility.

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If your power animal is the heron, try to adopt this bird’s incredible sense of balance and you’ll find that a strong equilibrium brings with it plenty of freedom and joy.

Heron Tattoo Meaning

A heron tattoo may be chosen as a sign of peace, longevity, prosperity, elegance, beauty, or tranquility.

The Africans considered the heron as a communicator with God, so a heron tattoo for them has a highly sacred meaning and depicts a profound relationship they might share with the gods.

People may also associate the heron tattoo as a signal to let the person wearing it remain in their state of tranquility and stillness and not to interfere too much into their quiet peace.

Conclusion

The heron is a bird whose demeanor conveys a sense of maturity and knowledge. It is not surprising that so many cultures have taken inspiration from the heron. As a symbol of peace and solitude, the heron gracefully wades through the minds and hearts of human cultures around the globe.

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12 thoughts on “Heron Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”

  1. I was visited by a Great Blue Heron while walking my daughter’s dog at night. It was about 11:30 pm and I was taking Rosie out to do her business. I used my cell phone light to shine the way along a two track car path behind our cottage on Lake Michigan. We walked 15 – 20 minutes to the end of the path then turned back. As we walked under the heavy canopy of trees, a Heron dropped down from a above and I heard a branch crack. She swooped down between me and Rosie, with her wings filling my limited view. She stood up next to us about 5′ away. Her eye was at my eye level and we saw each other in quiet silence. She stepped slightly closer to exam us. I thought she was drawn to Rosie but later decided she came to see what this light in my hand was. I gazed into her eye and I instantly felt I was looking back into prehistoric times and a sense of peace washed over me. We stood motionless while looking at each other. I believe Rosie was hardly aware of the Heron. I decide I should make a light swoosh sound and the Heron turned and gracefully leapt up over a 5′ high wood retaining wall and flew off toward Lake Michigan, into a bright moonlight night. Her image and peaceful message will remain with me forever. Tom

  2. I lived and raised my 3 kids on beautiful Vancouver Island for 30 years.
    Once my children left the nest I decided to move back to the mainland to be closer to my family.
    The day before the big moving day a great blue heron landed on the peak of my roof and seemed quite content to perch himself there for 2 hours!
    This gave me such a sense of Peace and I was in awe….and took this “farewell” as a very good sign. I’ve been back on the mainland for 15 years now ….so far so good … Thank for triggering this beautiful memory 💙

  3. December 8th, 2021 I was on the phone with my brother G. He had been feeling sick with the flu, in the middle of our conversation he stopped, and in an excited voice, he cried oh my God an egret is walking around in my back yard!! I asked him what did it look like. He described the big white bird and said THIS KIND OF BIRD is not from this area. He was in awe of this great bird. He began coughing and was breathless. We ended our conversation. As I hung up I noticed a AAA magazine by the phone with an Egret on the cover!!! I was mystified, I would call him back later. My brother later that week got sicker I called him to beg him to go to the hospital, I did tell him I loved him. He passed the next night in the hospital. Well, I pray he is in peace I will always remember the Egret and wonder what the visit was for my brother. For me a broken heart.

    1. I’m very sorry for your loss. I hope that the visit from the possible egret brought him some peace. I’d like to think that maybe this bird was sent to bring him peacefully into the next life and to remind you that he’ll be with you whenever you see an egret.

      I hope this helps,
      — Hailey Brophy
      Writer @ World Birds

  4. My love for the solitary fisher goes back to my childhood when I saw my first majestic Great Blue standing statue-like on the bank of the Des Plains River near where i lived. I may have been as young as six or seven. I am now seventy years old. That memory is a link in my DNA. At home, I have many images of the Buddha of Birds as I sometimes call them. They are so meditative yet so aware of their environment that I never intentionally want to disturb them.

    At times she relocates to, perhaps, a more productive fishing post. Perhaps she heard a fish splash or, even better, the kerplop of a frog. What a delicacy for lunch! To get to a better observation spot, she first jumps athletically straight toward the sky to get airborne. It works every time.
    In-flight, those long legs, beneath her strong fuselage of a body, are stretched out as far as her tail feathers. The long pointed beak tears through the air like a knife. The amazingly wide wingspan, six to seven feet of pure muscle, feathers & hollow bone, allow her to glide, as low or as high as is necessary as she had calculated the distance to her new destination. For the short trip, she need fly close above the unfettered by any force of a headwind.

    I have witnessed this scene countless times without ever tiring of its consistency & perfection. With time, I became less enchanted but I became increasingly more deeply meditative. Through the years I have metamorphosized into a less social person into an individual who is committed to a life of being content as a thinking, solitary, person whose love of life, caring, & giving to close family & few friends have proven to be philosophically sound. (Yes, I have studied, & still study the wisdom I discover by reading, practicing, & living a life concentrated in Philosophy which was my major concentration for earning my B.A. degree – magna cum laude.)

    My admiration for the Great Blue Heron had filled my existence for most of my time as a human, i.e. homo sapien. I say that, if the reader finds it odd it is because I have a soul & which transcends my corporal self & allows me to have the spiritual life that I live. I see the Great Blue Hero as an emblem of spirit. She embodies grace, persistence, solitary reliance on self, control, the essence of caution & calculation & content to be what she is, nothing less, nothing more. She, along with a plethora of wild fauna, represents the purity of spirit that holds the world within the bounds of human reason & com.ittment to care for, not to dominate, nature. For me, the Great Blue Heron shows me the path fromwhich i dare not stray. I can never replace the awesome wonder that the Great Blue Heron is, not only for me but, for all free spirits to honor with reverence & with joy.

    1. Thank you for this. I’m coming to accept a similar thread in my own life. Always loved Heron, so many times they have flown over my head when travelling, and I watch in awe. Recently seeing egrets locally.

  5. I really enjoyed reading about the beliefs around this bird. I keep seeing herons every new place I visit, and they always make me feel so peaceful, contemplative and inspired. They also make me feel protected. Like they are watching over me. The sound they make is actually quite the opposite of how they look haha. I got woken up by a heron on my 24th birthday and woke up to a majestic sunrise and a Heron already at work.

  6. My friends and I were cycling last Thursday and were visited by a Peaceful white Heron.

    I just had another visit from one at my home. It is perched on my fence. I feel at peace.

  7. I enjoyed reading the compilation of beliefs other cultures have about herons. Not too long ago, a heron landed on the rooftop of my neighbor’s home. I was getting ready for a trip to another state, walked into my backyard and saw the heron. I was stunned with the enormity and stood still. The heron was still. Then the heron calmly stood and flew away but not until we “had a moment” with one another. I felt such peace. Two days in a row after that day, I experienced sightings of a heron in two other states as if it was following me.

  8. I was standing by my house when 2 Great blue Herons flew in a circle over my house and right over me and my boyfriends head, it was amazing! This really resonated, thanks 🤩

    1. I have an idea of an illustration with white herons in it. Since for the first time in my life, I happened to see one by chance several weeks ago out of nowhere. In a place close to peoples homes and packed with people. But at the time, it’s as if I’m the only one who saw the bird. It was such a wonderful surprise. Then, I stumbled upon your writings about the bird’s meanings when researching. Each one of them really on point and strikes a chord with me, my intention, and situation right now. Thank you for existing.

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