You’ve probably heard of spirit animals, but you may not know their true significance. In some indigenous cultures, your spirit animal is based on your clan and family line. But in modern terms, we often use the words casually to joke about creatures (or habits) we enjoy.
For this reason, the phrase seems to have lost value, but it’s a meaningful concept. And it’s not just your spirit animal that matters. Your totem animal and your power animal play a role too. The tiger is an especially popular one, whether it pops up as a dream or vivid tattoo.
Spirit, power, and totem animals are different concepts, but some spiritual communities use the terms interchangeably. You could have a single animal or several situational ones. You may turn to one for strength and another for advice or comfort. And tigers are big here!
So whether or not you believe in signs, if you start spotting tigers everywhere, pay attention to your surroundings. It might mean you’re trapped in the jungle and need to run! Or it may have a deeper, esoteric message. Let’s look at tiger symbolism and what it’s trying to tell you.
Table of Contents
- Spirit Tiger Symbolism & Meaning: What does a tiger represent?
- Bonus: Dream Tigers
- Get the Right Backdrop
Spirit Tiger Symbolism & Meaning: What does a tiger represent?
The lion might be the king of the jungle, but it’s the tiger that’s the world’s biggest cat. They have massive limbs that can launch them off trees and onto prey. Other predators may hunt by scent, but tigers rely on their sharp eyesight and keen hearing when they’re on the prowl.
This could be why tiger symbolism revolves around exceptional power, strength, and control. Their back limbs are especially long and buff. With those legs, tigers can effectively jump 20 or 30 feet. Converging stripes on a tiger’s face also make the tiger look fierce and aggressive.
Again, while we admire the lion for his voluminous mane and his resonant roar, tigers are the true beauty queens of the cat world. Their muscular bodies, orange pelt, and artful stripes are stunning. White tigers are even prettier, with their stark black-and-white coat.
They’re sometimes called bleached tigers and while they’re rare in the wild, they can be selectively bred. Other rarities include stripeless tigers that seem snow-white and melanistic ones whose black stripes cover most of their bodies with small patches of white in-between.
For some reason, tiger videos always seem to be in slow motion. Think of the last tiger clip you saw. Those deliberate, graceful movements, the shifting shadows, that intense stare … it’s all very intimate. And there’s a reason cat-eye make-up is so popular. Think about it!
The way a lover looks at you when they’re in the mood? The half-open eyes and come-hither glance? Those ‘bedroom eyes’ seem to mimic the natural look of a cat’s eyes. The effect is heightened by a tiger’s round pupils, exaggerating the eye angles. And all that muscle mass!
It’s always heart-warming to see clips of wild cats doing ‘normal cat things’. Like purring when the zookeeper pets them. Or playing with boxes.
And just like house cats, tigers are solitary creatures that can choose to be social. Their litters come every two years or so.
Each litter has two to four cubs, though half of them die young. They live with mommy until their terrible twos then they go solo. Except for mating and cub-rearing, tigers live and hunt alone. Because you only ever see them single, tiger symbolism incorporates self-sufficiency.
Did you know tiger stripes are like fingerprints? Each tiger has their own distinct stripe pattern, even if they’re from the same litter and parentage. Their stripes aren’t symmetrical either – the stripes on the left side of their bodies never mirror the ones on the right.
So tiger symbolism can be extended to represent your sense of self. It’s about uniqueness and exceptional ability. It could be a symbol of what makes you ‘you’. Even on bleached tigers that have the faintest of stripes, you can tell those snowy cats apart by their ghostly lines.
Tigers are native to Asia, but their exotic beauty has seen them trafficked globally. But while they can’t always protect themselves from humans, tigers are apex predators. That means they’re the highest force in their food chain – nothing hunts or eats them in the wild.
Bears are the only land-based predators that are bigger than tigers – and they’re not fans of tiger meat. So tigers make great metaphorical bodyguards. You can also hear their roars when you’re as far as two miles. Many cultures have guardian deities that ride tigers to work.
We’ve mentioned the uniqueness of tiger stripes. And their skin is striped too. But they have another curious feature. The back of their ears is a solid black, but they have a white spot close to the upper tip. From far, they look like eyes. So they’re sometimes called a false eye.
Nobody knows what they’re for, but it might help cubs spot their mom in tall grass. Or it may trick other animals because they make the tiger seem like they have extra eyes and deter anyone from sneaking up on the tiger. This is probably one of the reasons tigers are elusive.
To human eyes, a tiger’s stripes are distinct and decorative. In zoos (and music videos), that bright orange fur and those exceptional stripes just beg for tiger selfies. But tiger stripes help them stay camouflaged in the trees and night-time shadows of the jungles where they hunt.
Could be why secrecy is a big part of tiger symbolism. Their ‘false eyes’ could also represent caution. It makes them seem constantly watchful and alert. Especially when they perk up those ears to listen, so it looks like the ‘eyes’ are scanning the space behind and around them.
These great hunters often use risky perches as launch pads. It requires balance and sure-footed confidence. The mix of black, white, and orange work together beautifully. And don’t forget the 5 sacred tigers that balance the cosmos. They represent the seasons and elements:
- Yellow tiger – symbolizes the sun and rules the other four
- Blue tiger – symbolizes spring and rules the earth
- Red tiger – symbolizes summer and rules over fire
- White tiger – symbolizes fall and rules over metals
- Black tiger – symbolizes water and rules over water
Tigers love water. They’re probably the only cats that do. Their ability to function on land or in water symbolizes balance between the elements. Also, a tiger’s tail is as long as its body, and that tail helps the tiger maintain traction and balance when it’s turning in mid-sprint. Dragons are routinely paired with tigers to represent yang and yin – spiritual equilibrium.
Because tigers have such big bodies, their energy needs are intense. And a tiger can consume 80 pounds or more in a single sitting. Unlike smaller cats that hunt and nibble small bits, tigers seek a larger catch and stretch their food stash for three or four days between hunts.
This means tigers have to strategize carefully, stalking their dinner through the shadows at night. It may also be why they hunt alone – no sharing! Also, ironically, tigers lack sprinting stamina, so they stalk carefully before they pounce. Hence, tigers symbolize street smarts.
Because tiger stripes get slimmer and closer towards their eyes, they sometimes inspire pareidolia. That’s when you look at something neutral (like a fluffy cloud or foam on coffee or inkblots) but you see it as a recognizable shape. Think sheep in the sky or deities on toast.
In a similar example, the lines on a tiger’s forehead sometimes match the Chinese character for ‘king’, which is three horizontal lines perpendicularly slashed by a vertical one. So while lions may rule the African forests, tigers are the kings of Asia and often represent royalty.
Think about any dream sequences and prophecy scenes you’ve seen in a movie. How often did the scene have fractals of psychedelic tiger eyes to create a hypnotic effect? In essence, tiger eyes have become shorthand for clairvoyance and messages from ethereal realms.
The reason for this tiger symbol is a practical one. In the dark, tigers can see six times better than we can. It’s why they rely more on vision than scent. It could be why tigers symbolize esoteric perception. The tiger eyes become a portal for communication from other worlds.
Animals don’t age in the same way we do. But a tigress will look after her babies for their first two years. Once they hit ‘toddlerhood’, these two-year-olds leave their mama and go off into the world. They will live, survive, and hunt alone until they turn age four or five for mating.
Ordinarily, animals leave the herd, pack, (or their mom) once they’re ready to start families of their own. Baby tigers do it at 2 or 3 years, so they get to live the single life for a while. It’s why tiger symbolism includes courage and confidence. They leave home to get jobs at age 2!
A flock of birds may represent sticking together and teamwork, but we’ve seen that tiger symbolism is all about going solo. Each tiger has a large territory that they routinely patrol and protect. They need these large swathes of hunting ground to keep up their food supply.
In this sense, tigers are a symbol of creating and preserving your boundaries. These could be adult children needing space from parents, confronting that colleague who keeps stealing your ideas, or finally telling your mom you’d like to choose the holiday menu for yourself …
We’ve all crooned along to Eye of the Tiger. But have you listened to the lyrics or wondered what they mean? The phrase refers to a tiger’s sharp focus. They’ve been stalking their prey for ages, getting as close as humanly (tigerly?) possible. Then they lock eyes on the target.
That look in their eyes at the moment just before they attack. That sense of readiness and pent-up energy poised to spring, that’s the eye of the tiger. It represents staying alert, being observant, staying resourceful, and always being prepared for anything that comes your way.
16. Death and Beyond
There’s another interpretation of the eye of the tiger. It may refer to the false eyes we’ve already discussed. Just like a housecat, a tiger crouches, swishes its tail, and slicks back its ears when it’s ready to attack. Ear-flattening exposes the false eyes and brings them in front.
As the tiger launches itself, the prey will see those false eyes at the moment before they die. The ‘eyes’ of the tiger will be the last thing they see. In this way, tigers symbolize death. You’ll also see them on tombstones. They are said to protect the dead and ensure they rest in peace.
It’s true that mommy tigers end up losing half their babies, but they’re still amazing mothers.
And since many cultures sanctify motherhood, tigers are sometimes taken as a symbol of that virtue. After all, they live alone unless they’re mating or mothering. White tigers especially.
But because many white tigers in captivity are deliberately bred by humans, white tigers in the wild are rare and prized. So seeing a white tiger outdoors could symbolize peace, wealth, and fortune. Their unexpected hue can make them seem like ghostly spiritual messengers.
Perception is relative, and that can sometimes cause a challenge for tiger symbolism in art. Just as an example, tigers are among the top ten tattoo designs. But your tattooist needs to be clear about what you want to represent. Do you want the enlightenment of a resting tiger?
It shows the tiger has attained mastery. Or you may want a pouncing tiger to symbolize aggression or idealism. A dragon-tiger tattoo could be about harmony. So choosing a tiger tattoo will symbolize your values, but observers may misunderstand your point of view.
This tiger symbolism may seem out of place, but consider this – tigers aren’t cheetahs or lions. They won’t chase their prey for ages, kicking up dust and generating viral videos. Instead, they track their prey, find a strategic position, and wait for the best shot or angle.
This form of ambush hunting relies on planning and precise timing rather than strength, speed, or stamina. So even though a tiger can run at top speeds of 40 mph and bite down with a PSI of about 1000 (meaning the force of its jaws is half a ton), they prefer patience.
Bonus: Dream Tigers
Understanding tiger symbolism can be a real trip. It could be a message from beyond … or maybe you fell asleep watching Tiger King or Winnie the Pooh. Or you work at the circus. Use your feelings as a compass. Riding a tiger may hint at a fatal but undiagnosed illness.
If the dream tiger was attacking you or pacing in a cage, you might be repressing emotions. If the tiger is helping you, they’re more of a guide and might be your spirit animal. If the tiger is basking, you’re at peace with a recent accomplishment. Hunting a tiger might be an omen.
Get the Right Backdrop
According to the Chinese calendar, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger. These majestic felines inspire admiration, awe, and fear. And they’re gorgeous too. So it makes sense we’re drawn to them. But in the spiritual realm, they’re much more than sharp claws and pretty stripes.
If the tiger comes to you in a dream, think about the context. Are you the tiger or are you watching it? Are you hunting it or is it hunting you? Is the dream set in a forest or at the zoo? These have different shades of meaning. Or maybe you saw the tiger while you were awake.
Was it an actual tiger? Or have you been spotting them in unexpected places? A t-shirt on a stranger, a logo on a saucepan, a billboard, or a random song in your playlist? You might even bump into multiple tiger symbols in the same day or week to reinforce their message.
When was the last time you experienced tiger symbolism? Tell us about it in the comments!