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

rat on the ground

Rat symbolism appears throughout history in myths, movies, poems, books, and paintings. These animals mainly have a taboo status, mainly due to their connection to unhygienic conditions, the plague, and even the apocalypse. They can also have positive meanings like salvation and good fortune. Let us study rat meaning and rat symbols in detail.

Table of contents

Rat Symbolism and Meaning

Rats are connected to dirt. In the language of thugs and goons, rats are connected to spies, dishonest people, mole, or even money. Rats are considered to bring infections. 

They are normally found in the sewers and thus represent the lower strata of society. Cruelty, poverty, sadism, and eroticism are some of the negative associations with the rats. 

Freud believed rats to be phallic symbols. He also felt that they represented dirty children: screaming, crying, and biting vermin. As vermin, rats symbolize unwanted children or unwanted siblings. 

white rat on a black background

Rats can also represent unwanted or dirty thoughts. From a distance, the symbolism of the rat appears to be undifferentiated and chaotic, but there are, in fact, common symbolic representations given to a wide range of rodents. 

This includes rats, mice, hamsters, and jerboas, with the root meaning of ‘corn – eater.’ Rats are hoarders and they stock up on grains for the winters. They can cause large scale destruction to farmers. As a result, rats are not welcome anywhere.  

In the Bible, they are deemed as animals too lowly to be eaten. However, in tropical Asia, rat meat is eaten quite commonly. Superstitions and myths surround rats in many parts of the world. Many of these depict the rat as a trickster.

Rat Native American Symbolism

For centuries, rats and humans have had an association. Rats exist on all continents and they have been around since times immemorial. 

They are intelligent creatures and learn quickly where to find food, to escape from tight places, and also to hide in small and restricted areas. 

The Natives learned a great deal from the rats. But they also found them to be pests who stole their food. Rats were known for their propensity to create havoc in households. 

So, they were always chased out. The natives honored the rat totem for their dexterity, agility, speed, and intelligence. 

rat portrait

They believed this totem to guide while being anonymous. They knew that the rat medicine brought knowledge with it and that it was willing to help man. 

After all, rats depend on humans for food and shelter. The rat’s intelligence is active, but it is also not tame or predictable. Rats are always on a quest to find food. This makes them smart and savvy but not too clean or methodical. 

To the Cherokee Indians, the rat symbolized the southern direction. They used this animal’s medicine for finding objects and directions. They believed rat medicine to be powerful- giving prosperity in the face of stiff resistance.

Rat Eastern Symbolism

In China, the rat is associated with money; when you hear a rat scrabbling around for food at night, it is said to be ‘counting money’. ‘Money-rat’ is a disparaging way of referring to a miser. 

The rat’s wedding is a big event in China. There are paintings of rat bridal processions showing rat bride and rat people. 

Based on this, on certain days of the year, the rat is left alone so it can marry in peace. 

The Chinese believe the rats have a demonic element in them. As a result, they believe that rats can turn into male demons as opposed to the fox, which turns into a female demon. 

two rats on a white background

Of course, the rat is also the first sign of the Zodiac in China. In Japan, the rat is believed to have brought rice to humankind and is an auspicious creature associated with industry and intelligence. 

In India, the rat is the vehicle of the Lord Ganesha-hence, quite auspicious. The Japanese God of wealth also has a rat companion. 

Because it is always present where there is food, the rat is a symbol of wealth. 

Black rat and white rat symbolize night and day. White rat symbolism is linked to lucky omens, God of happiness and wealth, as well as foresight and steed.

Rat Christianity symbolism

In the Bible, the Hebrew word ‘ akbar is given to a wide range of rodents, including rats, mice, hamsters, and jerboas. The rat, or the mouse, because of its destructiveness, is symbolic of evil. 

It is rarely seen in Renaissance art, except as an attribute of St. Fina. The rat symbol is also linked with destruction and is strongly associated with death. 

Although, like most animals, it was deified in Egypt, this was probably because of its extraordinary gift of good judgment and its sense of self – preservation. Renaissance paintings depict black and white rats eating one another, symbolizing night and day. 

rat on the table

In one interpretation of Imagining Creation, the devil dropped a rat in the ark so that it would gnaw a hole in it and water would enter it, drowning all the creatures in the ark. 

However, Jesus Christ saw this and dropped his glove into the ark and called it a cat. The cat ate the rate before it could gnaw the hole, thus saving all the creatures. In most Western representations, the rat is a term of abuse, synonymous with low – life. 

Cats and rats have not been mentioned in the Bible. In Lev 11:29, rats are mentioned in the list of unclean animals. In the narrative of the plague, Isaiah proclaimed those who followed heathen practices lived on pigs and rats.

Rat Celtic Symbolism

Whether the rat and mouse were originally believed to have magical powers among the Celts is unclear, but some Celtic literature and texts depict rats with prophetic powers. 

The fact that rats abandon ships when it is about to sink also indicates that they have the power to forewarn. 

Similarly, in many Celtic countries, if rats left the house suddenly, then it was taken as a sign of death to occur. In Scotland, seeing a rat in a  sieve meant that some family member who was off at sea was dead. 

The same was true about seeing a rat swim by when one was swimming or in a boat. Celts believed that no house would catch fire as long as there were rats in it. 

rat on the table

In Scotland, the people pasted the following rhymes on the walls of the house:

Ratton and mouse,
Leave the poor woman’s house,
Gang awa’ o’er’ by the mill,
As there, you’ll get all yer’ fill!

This apparently kept the rats and mice away. In the German legend of Pied piper where the townspeople pay the piper to get rid of rats and he does. 

But when he asks to get paid, the townsmen refuse, so the piper lures the children, nearly 130 of them, and they are never again seen. Some say this legend is true.

Rat African Symbolism

In African tribes, spirits of the dead often visit households in the form of rats, snakes, and lizards. As a result, these animals should not be killed. 

Rat symbols were deified by the Egyptians, who believed they symbolized both wise judgment and total destruction. 

When a death is imminent, mice will, it is said, leave a house. Mouse color is significant: a black mouse is thought to be stained by sin, while a red one has a pure soul. 

Mice may embody the soul, which may sometimes leave the body during sleep in the form of a mouse. Some African tribes believed that if mice would appear, then death was imminent.

rat on the ground

On the water, superstitious fishermen refrain from talking about mice and rats for the fear that it would bring ill-luck or even sink the boats. 

If a mouse gnawed away your clothes, then the village elders would ask the person to dread more the omen of future evil than the actual damage. 

Other African rat symbolism meanings include infirmity, death, passing time, enmity, evil, plague, meanness, slander, and destruction. 

Children in some parts of Africa eat rats and field mice, which they trap using baskets kept inverted over the holes made by these animals. The children shout and beat drums and scare the animals into coming out of the holes, straight into the traps.

Rat in Dreams

Freud believed that rats in dreams often stands for the dreamer’s siblings – the unwanted ones. Perhaps you need to be nicer to your sibling or mend your relationship with them. 

Dreaming of rats also indicates unwanted thoughts that you keep hidden during the daytime, but they are, in reality, gnawing at your insides. 

Rat dreams also mean jealousy, guilt, pride, envy, and anger. 

Some rat dreams may indicate sexual thoughts. The rat is a phallic symbol and can indicate erotic or lustful thoughts during the waking state. 

rat on the table

Since dead rats meaning -filthy and associated with the plague and other diseases, they can mean that you are a cleanliness freak or, conversely, you feel you are not clean enough. 

A dirty rat can mean a mole or someone who is untrustworthy. Maybe you need to take a closer look at your friend circle. 

Perhaps you feel you have betrayed someone’s trust and that guilt is gnawing away at you. 

Some dream interpreters believe that dreaming of rats may mean that an enemy may try to harm you. 

Some superstitions state that rats bring death and destruction or omens of ill-luck. So you need to take a clear look at your surroundings.

Rat Encounters and Omens

Rat encounters and omens will have a positive or negative meaning, depending on the place you are in. In India, since the rat or mouse is the vehicle of Lord Ganesha, seeing a rat is a good omen. 

In the town of Bikaner in Rajasthan, thousands of white rats are worshiped in the Karni Mata temple since rats are believed to be the Goddess’s representation.  

Finding rats at home in China and India are considered omens of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. 

Likewise, seeing a rat on the left side of the road will bring good luck. In Germany, they believe that placing the broken tooth in the mouse hole will lessen the pain.

rat sitting on a hand

In many Celtic countries as well as in Greece, the people would write a ‘note to the mouse.’ This would help prevent rats and mice from entering the homes and destroying the food grains. 

To dream of seeing rats is a sign of having many enemies. If you are attacked by rats and get better, then it means you will get rid of your problems. 

If, however, they tear you up or make you run away, then encounter some heavy misfortune you will. If your personal effects have been gnawed by rats, postpone any business which you may have been contemplating. 

Rat Mythology and Folklore

In British and Celtic folklore and mythology, rats are magical creatures. They have prophetic abilities. In Hindu beliefs, rats are either vehicles of Gods or the representation of a Goddess. 

The rat, known as Shu in Chinese, is a symbol of good luck and fortune. As Rat years mark the start of the 12 year cycle, they are considered auspicious. 

The characteristics of people born under the year of the rat are charm and imagination. 

Surprisingly, there are few stories about rats in Chinese mythology. In some parts of China, the names or words for the tiger and rat sound similar. 

rat on the ground

So, the rat actually has the status of a tiger! In Egypt, the rat was sacred to Ra, the Sun-god, and (like all totems) was not to be eaten. 

Japanese God of Wealth, Daikoku, is also associated with the rat. In Aesop’s fable “The Lion and the Rat,” the lion doesn’t eat the rat. 

Later, when the lion is captured, the rat saves the king of beasts by gnawing through a rope and freeing him. 

The German tale of Pied Piper of Hamelin is the most famous folktale related to rats. When Piper is not paid what he is due for eliminating the havoc-wreaking rats from the town, he lures the kids away and they are never seen again. Some say this story is true.

Rat Spirit Animal

If a rat spirit animal shows up, you have many strengths. These include the ability to survive, no matter what comes your way. 

You can easily get out of tight corners and can find food, shelter, and satisfy all your basic needs. You also have prophetic abilities and great foresight. You know when to abandon ship and when to hang on. 

You are fast, intelligent, and agile. Your body is flexible. 

You will amass great wealth and good fortune. Like your rat spirit, you have some weaknesses too. These include restlessness, destructiveness, slyness, and nervousness.

However, you can call on your rat’s power and gain intelligence, charm, and creativity and these qualities will come in handy when you get down to business. 

Let your spirit animal show you how to survive on what you have on hand and show your enemies how you can work against all the odds! 

If a rat keeps showing up, either in your dreams or in real life, then beware! There may be a rat lurking in your life. 

The rat’s presence also tells you to be shrewd in business and not be naive. Don’t trust anyone blindly. It can also mean using some people and their talents to get ahead in life.

Rat Totem Animal

With the rat totem, you will be powered all year round. This is the animal that usually distresses people and is known to carry diseases all around. While they do not have a favorable reputation, they are actually intelligent creatures. 

The rat is adaptable; it is a survivor. This is a success-oriented, shrewd, and restless animal. City rats are pests, but their cousins – the town or village rats are very intelligent. 

Studies have shown that village rats are actually more intelligent than laboratory rats. Like your rat totem animal, you must learn to store food and resources for the future. You must also hone your survival skills. 

rat on the table

Learn some basic defenses that will help strengthen you physically and mentally. Like the rat, you must learn to adapt. You can survive anything that is thrown your way. 

With this totem’s power, you can rest assured that you won’t have any problems, no matter what is thrown your way. Learn to socialize like the rat. It may be time to be more shrewd in your dealings with people. 

Rat totem may also point you to someone who is untrustworthy. So beware of people who may be taking undue advantage of you. You will be successful in business, for the rat is associated with a fine head for business as well.

Rat Power Animal

The rat is the first of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In Japan, the white rat is the symbol of Daikoku, the god of prosperity. 

If the rat is your power animal, you are ingenious, charming, resourceful, and generous to those you love. You are also a survivor. You can survive against all odds no matter what circumstances are thrown at you. 

With this in mind, let the rat’s abundant flow of energy unlock your hidden feelings and bring forward your heartfelt desires. Be mindful of everything that you do and say and avoid gossiping.

rat on the table

Pay special attention to your health this year. Good food and exercise will ensure keeping you strong, mentally and physically. 

Rats love to enjoy the pleasures of life. This makes you a gourmand or connoisseur. 

Your curiosity will draw you away from the mundane and boring things in life and draw you towards the delights life has to offer. Like your rat power animal, you are good at planning for the future. 

You work hard and stock up stuff you might need for the bleak days – should they arise. However, you must also learn to enjoy the process and not stress too much. The rat powers you on, so you have nothing to fear.

Rat Tattoo Meaning

Rat tattoo, known as ninja rat, is a popular tattoo in Japanese tattoo art. The rat is the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac. 

When Buddha formed the 12 signs of the Zodiac, he invited all animals, but only 12 turned up. Of these, He made the rat as the first sign of the Zodiac. 

A rat tattoo can have many positive meanings and connotations like ambition, honesty, and a propensity for spending. 

In Japan, the white rat symbolism is linked to the God of Fortune and wealth. Thus, a rat tattoo can signify good luck, wealth, and good fortune. 

illustration of two rat heads

A rat is a survivor. It is said that the rat is a sign of the apocalypse because, when the world ends, the rats might still survive. 

So, get a rat tattoo if you believe you have been through a lot and have survived some trauma and emerged stronger. 

In Japanese tattoo art, apart from the meanings like fortune, wealth, God Daikoku, etc., the rat is also believed to be a ninja or a ninjitsu – spies who could become invisible at night with their stealthy maneuvers. 

According to the Russian criminal tattoo encyclopedia, a rat tattoo is given to a prisoner who steals from other prisoners.


Rat symbolism has different meanings based on different countries and cultures. In the East, the rat meanings are positive – wealth, good fortune, a vehicle of Gods, business-mind, etc. In western countries and Christianity, rat symbols mean death, bad luck, plague, Devil, and dying. We hope this brief guide gives you an idea about what the rat might mean to your personal situation.


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