Herons are elegant and distinctive birds. They also carry their own special symbolism and meaning. If you’ve seen a heron and it felt significant, it could have a spiritual message. But what might that be?
That’s what we’re here to find out. We’re going to look at the meaning of herons in the folklore of ancient cultures. And we’ll learn what heron symbolism has to tell us about our own spiritual journey.
So if you’re ready to find out more, let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- The Heron Symbolism in the Ancient World
- The Heron Symbolism in Celtic Lore
- Herons Symbolism in Native American Traditions
- Biblical References to Herons Symbolism
- Herons and Buddhism
- Herons as Spiritual Messengers
- Interpreting Dreams of Herons
- Dream Scenarios
- The Rich Symbolism of Herons
The Heron Symbolism in the Ancient World
The Ancient Egyptians associated birds with a number of different deities. The heron was linked to the god Bennu. He was connected to creation, the sun and rebirth. And he appeared frequently in the art of the New Kingdom.
The heron also features in two hieroglyphs. In one, a single heron stands on the ground. It’s used in the name of Bennu. And it also acts as a determinative – a symbol used to clarify meaning – in the word for phoenix, again linking it to rebirth.
The second heron hieroglyph depicts the bird standing on a perch. It’s used in the Egyptian word for “to inundate”.
The Romans also believed that herons were important birds. They were thought to be able to foretell the future, and their call was believed to herald an important event.
The Heron Symbolism in Celtic Lore
The Celts associated herons with Rhiannon, a goddess who ruled over lakes and enchanted waters. Herons were believed to be reincarnations of Rhiannon, and were referred to as the “Lady of the lake”.
This connection also links herons to protection. Rhiannon was thought to act as a guardian to travelers. And the heron emblem has been found on Celtic shields, presumably helping to defend warriors.
Other Celtic legends link herons to peacefulness and tranquillity. The emblem of two entwined herons was used to represent calm and harmony.
Herons were also sometimes depicted with two heads. This representation was linked to wealth and prosperity. This was perhaps because the two-headed bird had twice as many beaks with which to catch its prey.
Herons Symbolism in Native American Traditions
The heron also appears in the folklore of many Native American tribes. It’s frequently linked to patience and good luck, reflecting the heron’s habit of peacefully waiting to catch its prey.
Tribes living on the coast of the North-western United States believed that the sight of heron augured a good fishing catch. The clever bird was sure to be found wherever there were plenty of fish.
Fishing was the main source of income for many of these communities. As a result, herons also came to symbolize prosperity.
The Native Americans also observed something else about herons: their preference for their own company. During the breeding season, they can be seen engaging in elegant courtship displays. But for most of the rest of the year, they are solitary birds.
Some tribes, therefore, saw them as emblems of solitude. And this in turn was linked to the qualities of self-reliance and the ability to steer one’s own destiny.
Their slender legs demonstrate that it is possible to stand firm without great physical strength. And they are also associated with wisdom and fortitude.
Biblical References to Herons Symbolism
Herons get only the most fleeting references in the Bible. They appear twice, in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. In both cases, they are included in a list of “unclean” birds that should not be eaten.
It appears that this Biblical edict wasn’t always observed in Christian societies through the ages, however. In fifteenth century England, heron meat was considered a great delicacy.
George Neville took up the mantle of Archbishop of York in 1465. What was the best food to celebrate the occasion? Why heron, of course! The great banquet included no fewer than 400 of the birds.
Herons and Buddhism
There’s a considerably more flattering representation of the heron in Buddhist texts. Here, the white heron is linked to the practice of meditation and spiritual growth. Its grace, patience and focus are frequently referred to with admiration in Buddhist poetry.
Eihei Dogen, a Japanese Zen master who lived in the thirteenth century, mentioned white herons repeatedly in his writings.
In one poem, he likened the heron to enlightened individuals. The birds come and go on the water, he said, but “never forget their path”.
Herons as Spiritual Messengers
All this symbolism can influence the message behind an encounter with a heron. But if you’ve experienced your own meeting with a heron, how do you determine its specific meaning?
The most important place to start is with your own reactions to the experience. Spend some time reflecting on what happened, and probe your thoughts and feelings.
What was it that made you feel that the encounter may have carried a spiritual message? Was it the nature of the meeting, perhaps in an unexpected location? Or perhaps it was the timing, the heron appearing just as you were pondering some problem?
Maybe you felt an affinity with the heron, some kind of connection that’s difficult to put into words. Or maybe you felt some other kind of emotion, perhaps one that took you by surprise.
Focus on those thoughts and feelings. They are the best guide to what the heron may be trying to tell you.
It can also be helpful to reflect on your own associations with herons.
In some cases, these will be similar to those we’ve talked about already. Maybe you see them as patient and focused. Or perhaps they’re significant within your own cultural framework as symbols of protection or good luck.
But in other cases, you may have personal associations that could be more important to what the heron is representing. Are herons connected in any way to important events in your life? Or perhaps there’s a link with a loved one, or a place where you felt safe or happy?
Reflecting on the personal meaning you ascribe to the heron will open the door to the most accurate interpretation.
Interpreting Dreams of Herons
It’s a similar story if you’ve dreamed of a heron.
Dreams are often messages from our subconscious minds. So it’s not surprising that they use symbols which have their own particular resonance to us as individuals.
If you’ve had a dream involving a heron, the key to an accurate interpretation is to identify that personal meaning.
One approach that can be helpful is to use word association. Get a pen and a piece of paper, and take yourself off somewhere you won’t be interrupted.
Now write down every word that comes to your mind when you think of a heron. Short phrases are okay too.
Don’t spend too long thinking about it – the idea is to capture the connections your brain makes easily. Those will be the ones that are most likely to feed into your dream symbolism.
When you’ve run out of connections, read back what you’ve written down. Could those same words or phrases describe something else? That might be a person or a thing. Or it could be a situation that’s on your mind at the moment.
Whatever it is, it’s what your brain has chosen to use the heron to represent. Now think back to the other details of your dream. Now that you know what the heron symbolizes, it may be easier to spot a message.
If it still isn’t clear, focus on other elements that stood out to you in your dream. Try repeating the word association process with each of them. Hopefully, you’ll soon start to piece together what your dream is all about.
If you’re really drawing a blank, though, it can be helpful to look at dreamers’ dictionaries. These draw on the shared symbolism of different objects or animals. They tap into what the psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious”.
Let’s take a look at some common interpretations of different dream scenarios involving herons.
We’ve already seen that herons are associated with patience and concentration. Their appearance in dreams can often be drawing attention to the value of those qualities to our everyday lives.
Perhaps you’re facing a problem you don’t know how to solve. Or maybe you need to make a decision, but don’t know what to do for the best.
The heron can be a message to slow down and focus on what’s happening around you. Wait and observe before you act. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to respond effectively to whatever is facing you.
As well as noticing external factors, the heron can also be a sign to look inwards. It may be encouraging you to reflect more deeply on your own thoughts and feelings. These could be the key to guiding you in your next step.
A Blue Heron
Colors have their own spiritual symbolism. If the heron in your dream was an unusual color, it may add another dimension to its meaning.
Like herons themselves, blue is often associated with tranquillity and serenity. But it can also signify sadness, as when we talk about someone “feeling blue”.
A dream of a blue heron could be reflecting your own feelings of calmness and spiritual harmony. Or it could suggest that your peacefulness is in danger of sliding into melancholy. If that’s the case, it may be time to share your feelings more openly with those around you.
A Black Heron
Black is often associated with death. Death in a spiritual sense, however, is more likely to relate to transformation than physical death. It signifies the end of one stage of life and the beginning of a new one.
This links to the heron as a symbol of rebirth. Dreams of a black heron, therefore, may mean that change is on the way. Change isn’t always comfortable, but the heron is a reminder that it’s often necessary for renewal.
An alternative interpretation is that the black heron relates to your “shadow self”. This is collection of thoughts and feelings you haven’t yet acknowledged. Your dream could be encouraging you to look honestly at what’s going on for you beneath the surface.
A Heron in the Sky
A heron in the sky could be encouraging you to take a fresh perspective on your situation. Some people also believe that it’s an omen of disputes within the family.
If the heron is flying towards the horizon, it’s thought to mean success in the future. And that success might be linked to travel.
A Heron Searching for Food
Dreams in which an animal is searching for food may signify that you yourself need spiritual nourishment. It may be a sign to focus on identifying something that’s missing from your life. Only when you’re clear about what you need can you take action to get it.
Some people, however, say that this dream has a different and very specific meaning. A lone heron searching for food, they believe, is a sign that other people are gossiping about you!
A Heron Hopping from Foot to Foot
If the heron in your dream was transferring its weight from one foot to the other, it may represent indecision. Just like the heron, you may be torn between two different alternatives.
If this chimes with you, another aspect of heron symbolism may help – focus and patience. Perhaps you feel you’re being hurried into a decision you’re not ready to take. Ask yourself what the result would be if you took longer to decide.
If it’s not possible to buy yourself more time, then focus on what you need to do right now. Gather all the information you have, and take the plunge. Whatever the outcome, you’ll be able to deal with it.
The Rich Symbolism of Herons
That brings us to the end of our look at heron symbolism. These stately and elegant birds are associated with patience, concentration, wisdom, rebirth and spiritual growth.
If you’ve encountered a heron, remember that it’s a very personal experience. Reflect on the circumstances and your own thoughts and feelings about the meeting. That will enable you to discover the guidance the heron is offering for your own spiritual journey.
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