Pigs are often used as insults. They may symbolize filth, tactlessness, excess, or gluttony. Amongst many cultures, though, pigs are associated with much more positive meanings. Intelligent, sociable, and cute, the pig deserves a bit more appreciation. So, without further ado, let’s examine the meaning of the pig worldwide, as well as some of the unique virtues of this animal whose relationship with mankind is ancient and complex.
Table of contents
- Pig Symbolism and meaning
- Pig Native American Symbolism
- Pig Eastern Symbolism
- Pig Christianity Symbolism
- Pig Celtic Symbolism
- Pig African Symbolism
- Pig in Dreams
- Pig Encounters and Omens
- Pig Mythology and Folklore
- Pig Spirit Animal
- Pig Totem Animal
- Pig Power Animal
- Pig Tattoo Meaning
Pig Symbolism and Meaning
Pig symbolism is fascinating and varied. While most Western cultures understand pigs to be symbols of gluttony or slovenliness, some Eastern traditions connect the pig with good luck and prosperity.
In China, for example, pigs are associated with status, wealth, prosperity, honesty, and virtue. The pig was one of the very first animals to be domesticated in China and, as such, has come to be associated with domesticity, the home, and the success of the family. In fact, the Chinese symbol for the word “home” is a pictograph of a roof with a pig beneath it! (1)
Pigs are the subjects of many idioms in the English language. “Pearls before swine,” for example, reminds us not to present valuable things to those who are too uncivilized or ignorant to understand them. (2) “When pigs fly” is often used to describe something that will never happen; pigs are too fat to fly. (3) Going “whole hog” means something similar to going “all out.” “Pigging out” means eating greedily or excessively. “Hogging” something means hoarding it for yourself. “Eating high on the hog” means living a life of luxury or wealth because the better and more costly cuts of pork are closer to the top of the animal. A home which is like a “pigsty” is untidy or gross.
Clearly, pigs are ubiquitous symbols across multiple cultures. As demonstrated above, the connotation of the pig can vary wildly.
Pig Native American Symbolism
Pigs are not native to North America. So, traditional Native American symbolism does not feature any pigs at all. (4) However, there is a particular pig-like creature which does find its way into a few stories. The javelina is a wild animal belonging to the “peccary” family. Although these creatures look strikingly similar to pigs, they are so far from pigs and boars that they are unable to crossbreed. (5)
One indigenous myth from the Yaqui people of Mexico describes how a mighty hunter named Topol tricked a javelina and proved himself as a hunter. Topol used the javelina’s own stubbornness against it. He waved a stick before the beast who bit down and refused to let go. Then, all Topol had to do was drag the javelina back to his camp where the Yaqui were having a celebration. There, Topol was rewarded for his cleverness and prowess with a beautiful maiden who became his bride. Topol later became chief of the Yaqui and a powerful war leader. (6)
So, the javelina can be associated with strength, leadership, and stubbornness. Topol’s story connects this pig-like mammal with victory, however the javelina is defeated by its own short-sightedness.
Pig Eastern Symbolism
In China, the pig is one of the twelve animals which make up the Chinese zodiac. According to legend, the zodiac animals were determined via a race. The rat won the race through trickery and became the first animal of the Chinese zodiac. The pig, on the other hand, overslept and took up the rear. Thus, the pig is considered the twelfth animal of the Chinese zodiac. (7)
As we discussed previously, pigs in China are strongly associated with prosperity, wealth, and good luck. Thus, those born under the year of the pig are thought to be blessed with financial fortune and general good luck. Men born under this sign are easy-going, honest, good-natured, and lazy. Women born under the pig are sociable, outgoing, and exciting. (8)
2019 was the most recent year associated with the Chinese zodiac pig. This year also fell under the elemental designation of “earth.” Years which fall under the earth pig are good years to take risks and experiment. The pig brings fortune above all else! (9)
Pig Christianity Symbolism
Biblical symbolism does not typically look upon pigs favorably. Throughout the bible, pigs are treated as unclean, unholy, and distasteful animals.
An entire herd of pigs meets an unfortunate fate in Matthew 8:32:
“And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.” (10)
In Isaiah 66:3, pigs are mentioned in a long list of sacrificial animals:
“He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.” (11)
Proverbs 11:22 also treats the pig as a distasteful creature:
“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a fair woman which is without discretion.” (12)
This passage demonstrates just how unappealing pigs are in biblical symbolism. The pig is in direct contrast with the beauty of precious things like gold.
I want to note that many Christians believe that all animals are a reflection of the joy and beauty of God’s creation. While the Bible is not kind to pigs, this doesn’t mandate that Christians must detest them.
Pig Celtic Symbolism
The pig is one of the most important creatures in Celtic mythology and symbolism. The primary deity of ancient Irish mythology, the god Lugh, is often associated with pigs and boars. (13)
The Welsh equivalent of Lugh, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, is nearly killed when his wife betrays him for her new lover. But, a wandering pig leads Lleu’s uncle, the magician Gwydion, to the tree where his wounded body rests in the form of an eagle. (14)
The Welsh hero Culhwch’s name means “pig pen.” Indeed, Culhwch is a fitting name. According to the tale Culhwch and Olwen, Culhwch was born inside of a pig pen. Later, in order to win his beloved Olwen from her fearsome giant father, Culhwch must hunt the monstrous boar Twrch Trwyth. (15)
In Celtic mythology, pigs represent anything from kingship, to might, to brotherhood. Pigs are often the subject of feasts and conflicts often occur over who gets the first cut of a feast pig. Alongside horses, hounds, and birds, pigs are amongst the most meaningful animals within Celtic storytelling traditions.
Pig African Symbolism
One African tale describes how the wild African warthog became so ugly.
According to legend, the warthog was once the most beautiful creature in all of Africa. Because he was so handsome, Warthog became very vain and self-centered. One hot day, Warthog emerged from his burrow to go looking for water. While Warthog was away, Porcupine decided to nap in the shade of Warthog’s burrow. (16)
At the watering hole, Warthog noticed Lion watching him. Unable to resist a chance to show off, Warthog pranced in front of Lion with his tail held high. Lion, who was annoyed by the heat already, decided to give chase. Terrified, Warthog ran head first into his burrow where Lion could not reach him. Unfortunately for Warthog, when he did this he startled the sleeping Porcupine whose spines became embedded in Warthog’s face. Because the pother creatures were so tired of his vanity, nobody helped Warthog remove the spines, and as a result his face became permanently ugly and swollen. (17)
Pig in Dreams
Dreaming of a pig often represents something unpleasant which one must face. A pig dream often warns you to examine your own behavior and search for flaws before judging others. In dreams, pigs may represent tactlessness, bad manners, impulsivity, or vice.
Pigs are often used as symbols of sexual depravity or baseness. Thus, a pig dream may relate to lust.
Pigs in dreams can also represent bounty. A pig dream is more likely to foretell a positive outcome when one is stewing upon a financial decision or contemplating a leap of faith.
Pig Encounters and Omens
Pig encounters mean very different things depending upon whether the animal is wild or domestics. Wild pigs are fearsome creatures which can seriously injure humans and are often regarded as pests.
Encountering a wild pig is a sign to prepare to protect the self, the family, and the home. While pigs can be dangerous, they’re also protective of their own young. A wild pig can mean danger but it can also refer to parenthood or guardianship.
Domestic pigs relate to one’s “harvest.” Encountering a domestic pig may indicate that you will soon reap the rewards for your labor. While this is often a sign of financial success, a pig encounter may also refer to fertility.
Pig Mythology and Folklore
The Yao people in certain regions of China use pigs as part of ritual sacrifices to curry favor with a god called Panwang, or “King Pan.” Many of these rituals involve butchering the pig and offering the best portions to King Pan. (18)
According to Hindu mythology, the pig is one of the incarnations of the mighty god Vishnu.
In Greek mythology, pigs are sacred to Demeter and also a symbol of Persephone, who descends to the underworld of Hades each winter but returns to the earth to ensure fertility in the spring.
In Scandinavian mythology Freyja, the Goddess and her brother Freyr both own pigs. Pig symbols were often seen on amulets, headdresses, capes, weapons, and shields of European heroes. Freyja’s pig is a sacred boar with bristles of glittering gold. (19)
Pig Spirit Animal
The pig spirit animal is humble, intelligent, and grounded. People with this spirit animal may feel misunderstood or mischaracterized as lazy. In reality they are hard-working, focused, and honest.
The pig spirit animal is extremely easy-going and is not prone to excessive worrying. Unlikely to focus on grandiose ideas, the pig spirit knows that true success comes from choosing a goal and working tirelessly to achieve it.
People with the pig spirit animal tend to be very very stubborn. This stubbornness means that the pig spirit never gives up or gives in. Often, this tenacity is one of the pig’s greatest virtues. It is important for people with the pig spirit to admit when they are wrong, even if doing so does not come naturally to them.
The pig spirit animal may struggle with “tunnel-vision.” The pig is such a focused worker that obvious solutions or diverging paths may become invisible to them in pursuit of their ambitions. This is why creative spirits often compliment the pig spirit animal very well.
Pig Totem Animal
The pig totem animal is associated with fertility, success, and prosperity. People with this totem animal tend to attract wealth and are naturally inclined towards multiplying their blessings. As a result, they may find themselves surrounded by people who are untrustworthy or manipulative.
Furthermore, the natural success of the pig totem can lead those with this totem down the paths of greed and laziness. It is important that people with this totem never forget where they come from. Success is tantalizing but it is never a good idea to let it dictate your personality.
People with the pig totem are so blessed because they are excellent at sniffing out opportunities which others may miss. This is why it is so important that people with the pig totem trust their instincts and take risks now and then so as not to miss out on opportunities which they have earned.
Pig Power Animal
The power of the pig lies in its intelligence, sociability, and intuition. People with the pig power animal are naturally inclined towards producing big families where they can share their blessings with loved ones and nurture a new generation.
Generosity is a major feature of the pig power animal, however it is important to remember that love and friendship should never be bought with material things. The pig power animal is compassionate and nurturing and should call upon these virtues when building relationships with friends or family.
People with the pig power animal often appear timid but they can be very protective when vulnerable loved ones are threatened. Knowing when to fight and when to flee is a very valuable skill.
Pig Tattoo Meaning
A pig tattoo may represent someone who feels misunderstood. It may also represent self-acceptance and love for one’s own flaws.
Pig tattoos can have a range of cultural meanings. For a Chinese person, a pig tattoo may represent domesticity, wealth, luck or the Chinese zodiac pig.
A tattoo of a flying pig may be chosen to represent the impossible. This tattoo could be a reminder to follow one’s dreams and aim for that which seems impossible.
Whether the pig is just another source of food for you, or whether you’ve come to appreciate the spiritual meaning of this animal, I hope you’ve come away from this article with a bit more appreciation for the humble pig. The relationship between humans and pigs is long, complex, and filled with opportunities to come to a deeper understanding of humanity’s role in nature. While it is nothing new that pigs are often scorned, I think these animals deserve much more respect than they are often afforded. After all, who knows where we would be without them!