Tigers are revered around their world for their strength and ferocity. From sports teams to brand mascots, to folk tales and idioms, the mighty tiger makes it presence known in cultures around the globe. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most fascinating stories and ideas connected with the mighty tiger, as well as this striped felines role as a spiritual guide and inspiration. Whether you’re researching tiger mythology or you’re simply drawn to this apex predator, read on to learn all about the tiger and its roles in cultures around the world!
Table of contents
- Tiger Symbolism and meaning
- Tiger Native American Symbolism
- Tiger Eastern Symbolism
- Tiger Christianity Symbolism
- Tiger Celtic Symbolism
- Tiger African Symbolism
- Tiger in Dreams
- Tiger Encounters and Omens
- Tiger’ Mythology and Folklore
- Tiger Spirit Animal
- Tiger Totem Animal
- Tiger Power Animal
- Tiger Tattoo Meaning
Tiger symbolism and meaning
Tigers are the largest members of the family “felidae,” or the cat family. Renowned for their strength and hunting prowess, tigers are associated throughout the world with strength, ferocity, and deadly focus. Although in most regions, tigers rarely if ever hunt humans for food, in the Sundarbans region of India and Bangladesh, tigers hunt humans so regularly that there are tracts of land which are too dangerous for human feet to tread. So, tigers may represent danger, fear, or predation. (1)(2)
While tigers may be man-eaters in some regions. The simple truth is that humans pose a much greater threat to these majestic cats than the other way around. As a matter of fact, the tiger is reportedly much more common in captivity than it is in its own wild habitats. Current reports suggest that as few as 4,500 tigers exist in the wild today. So, tigers may represent conservation, endangered species, or environmental struggles. They may also represent the delicate beauty of the vanishing wilderness. (3)
Because tigers are so fierce and wild, they are often connected with fiery “firecracker” type personalities. Tigers may also represent dangerous or volatile situations. To “catch a tiger by the tail” is an idiom which refers to a situation that is unpredictable and dangerous. It is often used in the context of getting in over one’s head unexpectedly. (4)
In some parts of the world, tigers are connected with various deities and religious practices. For this reason, a tiger can be seen as a symbol of sacredness or ritual. (5)
The tiger’s stripes are used to camouflage this animal as it stalks through tall grasses. Though its orange color stands out to human eyes, most of its prey perceive that orange shade as indistinguishable from green. Even for animals, like us, which see orange as distinct, the tiger’s stripes break up its silhouette and allow it to disappear into the foliage of the jungle. For this reason, tigers may represent hidden danger, unnoticed or forgotten things, patience, or mystery. (6)
Tiger Native American symbolism
There are no true tigers in the Americas. There are, however, big cats thanks to the mountain lion or cougar which is widespread throughout the Americas. These beasts are the largest cats in the Americas barring the jaguar which is found in limited sections of North America but can be found throughout a large range within Central and South America. While neither the cougar nor the jaguar are exactly tigers, these large cats are our best source for understanding the tiger’s meaning from a Native American context.
In many Native American cultures, cougars are thought of as bad luck or symbols of witchcraft or danger. The yowl of a cougar is sometimes thought to be a harbinger of death for those who hear it. Despite this, many other Native American cultures connect cougars with healing medicine, leadership, strength, and wealth. Some tribes have even taken the cougar as a representative clan animal. For the Pueblo people, the cougar is the directional guardian which is associated with the north. (7)
Tiger Eastern Symbolism
Tigers hold a special place in Chinese culture thanks, in part, to their position as one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. In fact, 2022 was a tiger year!
According to Chinese legend, the tiger is the third animal of the zodiac due to its position in the great zodiac race. This race was held between the animals to determine their zodiac roles. The ox was the fastest, however the rat craftily rode upon its back and stole first lace by leaping from it. So, the rat and then the ox precede the tiger. People with the tiger as their zodiac sign are thought to be brash, assertive, and confident. (8)
In Japanese and Chinese mythology, the tiger is the king of beasts and is able to ascend to this position once it has lived for 500 years. When a tiger has lived for 500 years, the myth states that it becomes the “Byakko,” a mythical tiger whose forehead stripes appear as the kanji symbol for the word “king.” The Byakko is able to command the winds and reign over the beasts of the earth. Some myths hold that this creature can only exist during eras where the ruling emperor is just and wise. (9)(10)
In much of Eastern symbolism, tigers are connected with forces of nature, especially the wind and weather.
Tiger Christianity symbolism
Tigers do not appear in the Bible, however lions appear quite often. In many instances of Christian symbolism, lions are paired with lambs to represent divine peace and harmony, for only under supernaturally peaceful conditions could a lion and lamb live with one another without fear, violence, or animosity. (11)
In much of the Bible, lions are used as either symbols of danger or the enemies of God, or alternatively, they are presented as symbols of God’s strength and ability to imbue strength into his followers.
Being thrown to the lions is a common motif associated with Christian martyrdom. This is exemplified by the story of Daniel and the lions.
“Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.”— Daniel 6:16-22 (12)
The following passage similarly evokes the connection between big cats and martyrs.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”— 1 Peter 5:6-10 (13)
Tiger Celtic symbolism
Tigers do not play a major role in Celtic myth or symbolism thanks to the fact that they are not found in the Celtic world. Despite this, the term “Celtic Tiger” had found its way into vernacular speech in the 90s and early 2000s. This is because of the economic state of Ireland during this time. The Irish economy boomed during this period to such a degree that the power and energy of the tiger was ascribed to this Celtic nation. (14)(15)
Tiger African symbolism
Once again, tigers are not native to Africa and are thus not majorly significant in the myths and cultures of this region. Other big cats, though, are extremely significant in many African cultures.
One of the many Egyptian deities associated with the sun is portrayed as a humanoid woman with the head of a lion. Sekhmet, the goddess of the desert sun, is connected with healing, protection, strength, and power. She is thought of as a divine lioness. (16)
Tiger in dreams
Dreaming of tigers may represent leadership. A tiger dream may signify one’s ambitions or desire to take on a more active role in achieving one’s goals. Dreaming of a tiger is a good sign of a person who wants to feel in control of their life.
Tiger dreams may also symbolize hidden danger. Be sure to observe your situation carefully before making a decision. Hasty actions are often followed immediately by bitter regret. (19)
Tiger encounters and omens
Encountering a tiger is obviously a very dangerous thing. In the wild, tigers should be avoided and left alone for your sake and theirs. With that said, a tiger encounter may represent forward movement. Tigers are sometimes thought of as symbols of progress or success.
Encountering a tiger may be a reminder to respect your place in the world and remember that there is always someone stronger out there. The best thing to do is approacheach new situation with patience, humility, and pragmatism. (20)
Tiger mythology and folklore
The Hindu goddess Durga is said to have been created by the three primary gods of Hindu mythology. She is said to have been created in order to defeat a demon which the other gods could not manage to slay. Because she was strong enough to do so, she is sometimes thought of as being stronger, even, than the primary gods of the Hindu canon. Durga is often depicted as a many-armed woman holding a variety of weapons and riding on the back of a massive tiger. This tiger is her customary vehicle or “vahana.” (21)
Tigers appear in many other roles throughout Hindu mythology and are connected with many of the most powerful and sacred deities within this religion. (22)
Tiger spirit animal
If your spirit animal is the tiger then you are likely fiercely independent, strong-willed, and capable. People with the tiger spirit animal are natural born leaders, however many will find that they prefer working alone to leading groups. The tiger spirit animal craves control over its territory.
People with the tiger as their spirit animal are brave, but may appear cautious to others because they prefer to take their time and act when the moment is right. The tiger spirit animal is patient because it knows that it can achieve whatever it wants if given the time.(23)
Tiger totem animal
The tiger totem animal is connected with secrecy. People with this totem animal are great at keeping secrets and understand that the wisest thing to say is often nothing at all. The tiger totem animal keeps things close to the vest, only revealing what is absolutely necessary.
Because of this, people with the tiger as their spirit animal may struggle with letting people in or forming close connections. Relinquishing control is hard, but it can be very necessary for building meaningful relationships. (24)
Tiger power animal
The tiger power animal is associated with achievement and potency. The tiger power animal is confident in its abilities and does not fear failure. People with the tiger as their power animal move through life’s challenges with a self-assured mindset which allows them to tackle any problem with a level head.
The tiger power animal is rarely defeated thanks to its strength and character. When life gets you down, utilize this power animal to embody the triumph that you wish to experience. (25)
Tiger tattoo meaning
A tiger tattoo may be of religious or cultural significance, especially to someone from India or the Far East. A Chinese tiger tattoo may represent this animal’s role in the Chinese zodiac.
Tiger tattoos often represent strength, courage, perseverance, or leadership.
A tiger tattoo may be chosen to represent overcoming a particular hardship.
Associated around the world with ferocity, strength, and deadly accuracy, the tiger is truly one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring animals on this earth. It is no wonder that so many cultures have found significant roles for this animal within their storytelling traditions and belief systems. There is much much more which can be said about the mighty tiger, but suffice it to say that mankind has drawn inspiration from the king of cats since time immemorial.