Cardinals are beautiful birds that are common across much of North America, and for most people, with their bright colors and uplifting song, when they arrive in your yard, they are welcome visitors.
Cardinals feature in the mythology of many Native American tribes, and even for non-Native Americans, they can have strong positive connotations. So to help you understand more about this bird, here we discuss cardinal symbolism and what it means if you see one.
Table of Contents
- The characteristics of cardinals
- Cardinals in Native American traditions
- Native American stories about cardinals
- Non-Native American symbolism
- What does it mean if you see a cardinal?
- A welcome sign and an omen of good fortune
The characteristics of cardinals
Before we look at the symbolism of cardinals, let’s think about the characteristics of these birds and the kind of things we associate them with.
Among the most striking features of cardinals is their color. There are several different species, and they can come in different colors, but probably the color we think of first with these birds is red.
In fact, this red color is why they are called cardinals in the first place since they share the color with the robes worn by the cardinals of the Catholic church.
Cardinals are also songbirds, and the red color coupled with their bright and cheerful song makes them welcome visitors, especially during the cold and dreary months of winter, so they are often associated with uplifting feelings of hope and joy.
Another important feature of cardinals is that they mate for life, which makes people think of true love, monogamous relationships and staying faithful to one’s partner.
They don’t migrate either – instead, they live in the same place year-round, which means they have also come to symbolize the home.
These birds are known to defend their territory fiercely when challenged, so they are connected to the idea of establishing boundaries, and since they are so intelligent, they are also thought of as representing the ability to take advantage of opportunities.
Finally, there is a well-known saying that “when cardinals appear, angels are near” – they are associated with messages from the spirit world, and often bring comfort to those who have recently lost loved ones.
Cardinals in Native American traditions
Since cardinals are native to the Americas, they don’t feature in the mythology of any cultures from the Old World. However, they are so bright and distinctive animals, so it is unsurprising that there are many beliefs and traditions related to them in Native American traditions.
The meanings Native American tribes attribute to cardinals varies, but they are almost universally seen in a positive light.
Some tribes believe that cardinals are messengers from the spirit world, which is closely related to the idea that they bring messages of comfort to those who have suffered a bereavement.
Their courtship and loving devotion have also not gone unnoticed, and to many Native American tribes, they also symbolize romantic love, courtship and monogamy.
They are thought to be an omen to single people that they will find love soon, while to those already in a relationship, they promise the passion in the relationship is about to be rekindled.
To the unfaithful, however, they serve as a reminder to be true to one’s partner.
Cardinal birds are known to always lay 12 eggs, and this number is seen as being lucky to some tribes. The number of eggs also matches the number of months in a year, and for this reason, cardinals are thought to foretell good luck in the near future.
Some tribes also believe that cardinals predict the weather, with certain groups such as the Pima believing that seeing a cardinal means rain is likely to follow.
Native American stories about cardinals
The mythology of some Native American tribes also includes stories about cardinals. Here are two examples:
The maiden in the forest
According to a Choctaw tale, there was once a beautiful maiden who lived alone in a cabin in the woods. She was lonely there, but after hearing her cry, a red songbird befriended her, singing to her every day to keep her company.
However, the girl was still sad because she had nobody to love, so one day when the red bird saw a brave warrior sitting alone, the bird sang to him, and he followed the bird into the woods.
In the end, the bird led the warrior to the maiden’s cabin, and although the two were shy at first, the maiden and the warrior eventually spoke to each other and fell in love.
For this reason, to the Choctaw, the cardinal represents matchmaking and romantic love.
How the cardinal became red
The wolf nearly drowned in the fast current, and when he finally made it out of the river, he fell fast asleep from fatigue – at which point, the raccoon came and filled his eyes with mud.
When he woke up, he thought he was blind, but a small brown bird came and pecked the mud from the wolf’s eyes.
As a way to thank the bird, the wolf led him to a special red stone and told him to rub his feathers on it, after which he became bright red. This is the story of how the cardinal got its color.
Non-Native American symbolism
So we’ve looked at what cardinals have traditionally symbolized according to Native American beliefs, but what do they symbolize to non-Native Americans?
In general, they are seen to symbolize many of the same things, with the addition of some of the following:
Comfort in bereavement
Many people report feeling a strong feeling of comfort when they see a cardinal after suffering a bereavement, and this inexplicable sensation shared by so many people has seen cardinals come to symbolize comfort after the death of someone close.
Memories of cherished times
With their cheerful songs, their bright colors and their welcome presence, for some people, cardinals can symbolize happy memories of cherished times in the past.
Because they mate for life and build sturdy nests where they remain all year, it is understandable why cardinals have come to represent strong family values and domestic harmony.
Cardinals are very sociable birds and are happy to be in the company of other cardinals or even birds of other species. For this reason, they also represent friendship.
What does it mean if you see a cardinal?
Very little in life happens by coincidence, and everything we experience is imbued with meaning – if we only know how to hear and interpret the messages we are being sent.
Seeing a cardinal often carries a message, and here are some of the most common meanings that seeing one of these birds can have.
1. Telling you a loved one has arrived safely in heaven
As we mentioned, many people experience an inexplicable feeling of comfort if they see a cardinal soon after the death of a loved one.
If you have recently lost someone dear to you, seeing a cardinal is a clear message that you should take heart – because the person you loved has already found their way safely to heaven and is now watching down from a better place.
This is a very powerful message that so many people have felt, so if the same happens to you, you can take comfort from the fact that you are receiving this sign.
2. Telling you not to fear death or be too attached to the physical world
Sometimes you may even see a cardinal at the funeral of a loved one, and at other times, they may show up at cemeteries.
When this happens, the message may be slightly different. Here, it is also a message of comfort, but it is telling you not to be too attached to the physical, material world.
While what you do in this life is important, there is more to it than just that, so take comfort from the fact that your soul will live on, as will the souls of those who are dear to you, even after you leave this world forever.
3. Good luck
Seeing a cardinal is always a welcome sign, and often, the meaning is that good luck is on its way to you. These birds can represent fortune and abundance, so if you see one, you can feel reassured that something good is about to happen.
Similar to some of the symbolism of Native American beliefs, seeing a cardinal is often related to relationships and remaining true to your partner.
If you are in a relationship, seeing one of these birds may be a reminder to treasure your relationship and to value one another to the fullest.
Perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to your partner as much as you should recently, and seeing a cardinal may be a message that you should devote more time to them.
Another possible interpretation is that you should trust your partner more because your bond is strong. Being able to trust someone is the key to a strong and happy relationship, and a cardinal may be a sign that you should try to do this more.
Finally, for those who are wavering in their devotion to their partner, a cardinal could be a warning to stay faithful and not to be tempted to cheat.
5. Set your boundaries
As we mentioned, cardinals defend their territory fiercely, so seeing one may be a message that you need to pay attention to your boundaries too. This may be especially true if you see a cardinal pecking at your window and trying to get into your home.
Is someone intruding on your personal space or invading your aura with negative energy?
Take time to reflect on this and see if there are any people who are having a negative impact on your life – and if you find that there are, it might be time to push them away or cut them out of your life altogether.
6. A message from an angel
Many people believe that seeing a cardinal means that an angel is close by, and if you see one, it could indicate that your guardian angel is trying to pass a message to you.
The message may be as simple as reminding you that you are not alone, but your angel could also be trying to pass on another message.
If you see a cardinal, make sure you remain alert in the coming days to other possible messages in the form of things like angel numbers – because if an angel has a message for you, it is important to listen carefully and heed the advice.
7. Seize an opportunity
We’ve already mentioned that cardinals are intelligent birds, and they are known for being able to make the most of a situation through the use of their intelligence – for example, using a bird feeder before or after other birds arrive or leave.
This is why seeing a cardinal may be an indication that you should be ready to use your intelligence to make the most of an opportunity that will arise rather than letting it pass you by.
8. Take time to be more creative
As beautiful songbirds, seeing a cardinal may be a message that you need to allow yourself more time to be creative.
In some cases, it may be related to music, so if you play an instrument, maybe this is a message telling you to take more time to practice – or if you don’t play but want to try, now could be the right time to have a go.
However, the message may not be about music specifically but creativity in general, so if you want to paint, write or do anything else creative, make sure you find time for it in your busy schedule.
A welcome sign and an omen of good fortune
So as we have seen, cardinals are universally seen as a positive sign, and if one crosses your path, it usually means good news.
They may represent romantic love, faithful relationships, a message of comfort from a recently departed loved one or several other possibilities – and if you look within yourself through deep reflection and meditation, your intuition will tell you how to interpret the sign.
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