The Symbolism of the Elephant Spirit Around the World
Many nations of the world derive their magical meaning from the world around them and the animals with whom they share it. Native to Africa and Asia, elephants are featured in many myths and cultural traditions.
What are spirit animals? Can Elephants Be Spirit Animals?
In short, the elephant cannot be a spirit beast. The term Spirit Animal is unique to Aboriginal, Aboriginal and Aboriginal peoples, especially those in North America. Since elephants are not native to North America, they cannot be considered spirit animals.
Also, Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples find it rather offensive when others use the term “spirit animal.” Spirit animals are sacred cultural zeitgeists of Aboriginal and First Nations peoples. We should especially respect them
For more information on spirit animals, consider reading this article from the National Museum of the American Indian. It explains why including spirit animals and clans into your “ideology” offends them. This Discover Magazine article also elevates the vital indigenous voices in the conversation.
What does an elephant symbolize?
Of course, the exact symbolism of an elephant will change depending on the culture you’re researching. However, most cultures actively view the elephant as a symbol of its heroic strength in war. As a result, many African and Asian religions hold elephants in great esteem. On the other hand, however, there are cultures that describe elephants as negative symbols.
Generally, elephants symbolize wisdom, intelligence, memory, strength and protection. This comes from elephants’ high IQ, extraordinary memory and ability to recognize and act on emotions. They’re even smart enough to go back to a corpse and desecrate it in cold blood! Furthermore, elephants are the largest and strongest land mammals on Earth. Respect for this mighty creature makes sense; after all, 300 people die in India every year in elephant-related conflicts.
Cultural Descriptions of Global Elephants
Most cultural descriptions of elephants come from African and Asian cultures where the animals inhabit and live alongside humans. However, depictions of elephants date back to the Stone Age, and we can see them in ancient petroglyphs and cave art. Today, we see depictions of elephants in art, film, music, and even architecture.
As we mentioned, depictions of elephants began in prehistoric times. As far back as the Stone Age, the people of North Africa have depicted elephants as symbols of strength, longevity and wisdom. Many African cultures and tribes continue to view the elephant as a symbol of strength and wisdom.
Some prehistoric elephant depictions include rock carvings from the Tadrart Acacus in Libya, Neolithic rock art from South Oran, and white portrait paintings from “Phillip’s Cave” in Namibia. In addition, there are images of large statues of the San Bushmen from the Cederberg wilderness area of South Africa, which experts believe show that the Bushmen had a “symbolic relationship” with the large statues. The study also showed that bushmen “have a deep understanding of the communication, behavior and social structure of elephant family units”. They may have “established a symbiotic relationship” with elephants that could last thousands of years.
Depictions of elephants didn’t stop after we left prehistoric times. As civilizations emerged, so did their beliefs about the animals that lived nearby.Rock reliefs of ancient India often depict elephants, the most famous example being Ganges comes in Mamalapuram.Also, at Unakoti in Tripura, there is a group of reliefs dating back to the 11th centuryday Century depicting Goddess Shiva and several elephants.
Asian depiction of elephants
Since Asian elephants are (apparently) native to Asia, these gentle giants are almost universally present in Asian cultures, both ancient and modern. In Asian cultures, several gods and goddesses are depicted living alongside these giant animals, or living like giant elephants.
Ganesha has many names including Ganapati, Vinayaka and Pillaiyar. However, his large like head is one of his most typical and distinctive features. He is one of the most famous and worshiped deities in the Hindu pantheon. Ganesha is considered the supreme god of the Ganapatya sect of Hinduism.
Hindus not only worship Ganesha; Jains and Buddhists also widely worship Ganesha. He is well known in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia (Java and Bali), Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Bangladesh. Ganesha is also widely worshiped in places with large Indian populations such as Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Ganesha is considered the god of wisdom, aligning his depiction with other depictions of elephants around the world. He is revered as the god of luck, new beginnings and the remover of obstacles.
Airavata is a five-headed elephant carrying the god Indra on his back. The name “Airavata” means “belonging to Iravati” and refers to Airavata’s mythical father, Iravati, who was his third son.
Airavata is depicted in many different forms throughout Southeast Asia, and his names include Erawan, abhra-Matanga, and Naga-malla. Also, Airavata is often depicted in Southeast Asia with three heads rather than five. Nevertheless, in some traditions he can be described as having more than 33 heads.
Airavata appears on many Southeast Asian flags, including the former flag of Laos, the former flag of Thailand (then known as Siam), and the flag of the Bangkok Metropolitan Government.
Girimekhala is a colossal statue in Theravada Buddhism that bears Mara. According to legend, Girimekhala was 250 yojanas tall. A yojan is an ancient unit of measurement used in India, Thailand, and Burma, equal to 12-15 kilometers. So Girimekhala is about 3750 km high.
Girimekhala is Mara’s mount who tries to prevent the future Buddha from achieving enlightenment using his evil army in Theravada texts. However, when he did so, the Buddha asked the earth to testify to his deed, and Jirimekala fell before the spiritual power of the Buddha.
Vinayaki is an avatar goddess in the Hindu tradition. However, she’s only seen rarely, and doesn’t even have a consistent name in her descriptions. Due to her elephantine features, she is often associated with Ganesha and many of her names, such as Stri Ganesha Vainayaki, Gajananā, Vighneshvari and Ganeshani, are feminine forms of the name Ganesha. She is often considered the shakti or feminine form of Ganesha due to her elephantine features and her name being associated with Ganesha.
Sometimes Vinayaki is considered to be one of the 64 yoginis or Matrika goddesses. However, scholar Krishan considers Vinayaki, Ganesha’s shakti and Tantric yogini to be three distinct goddesses.
African elephant depiction
We have many depictions of elephants in Africa. However, we have less textual knowledge to draw on when trying to understand them. Many of the depictions of elephants that we see in Africa are cave paintings and ancient petroglyphs that depict large figures with no clear religious or cultural motivation. However, the large image is depicted on the coat of arms of Ivory Coast.
There are many African myths about elephants. Some say the elephant was once a human woman whose husband tricked her into turning her into an animal. Another myth tells of a man who stole the skin of a female statue and forced her to be his human wife. The third story tells of a fight between a mighty elephant and a crocodile, which explains why the elephant’s trunk is so long.
Kamba tribe in Kenya
The Kamba tribe in Kenya tells the story of a poor man who heard of a successful and generous man named Ivonya-Ngia (Feeding the Poor). On reaching the mansion of Ivonya-Ngia, he was given 100 cows and 100 sheep. However, he declined the handout and instead asked Ivonya-Ngia for the secret to his success.
The man was given an ointment and told to rub it on his wife’s canines. After he convinces her to allow him to do so, her teeth grow into giant tusks. The husband pulled out the ivory and sold it, and couldn’t wait to put the ointment on his wife’s teeth again.
This time, however, she doesn’t allow him to pull his tooth; eventually, her body turns gray and becomes an elephant. She then fled into the wild, never to be seen again.
A similar myth from the country of Chad tells of a hunter who found a beautiful hide of a large elephant in the forest. He takes it, and later finds a young woman crying from her missing clothes. He took her in and married her, but eventually, she found her skin and fled back to the forest with it.
Shamanic depiction of an elephant
Kasogonagá is a shamanic weather spirit that takes many forms, but is usually depicted as a colorful elephant that breathes lightning from its mouth.
According to legend, a man found Kasogonaga lying on the ground, having fallen from her cloud. He cared for her, and she begged him to light a fire so she could ride the smoke back to heaven. He obliged, and she brought rain to the parched land and granted him shamanic powers, allowing him to ask her anything he needed.
Large are majestic creatures, and it makes sense that they appear in so many cultural myths. Thankfully, although elephants have violent tendencies, they are generally peaceful creatures unless disturbed. We should be thankful that the strongest and largest mammals on Earth are usually gentle with us!
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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