The meaning of animals, birds, fish, reptiles and mythical creatures in tarot card images
Seen only in the bat’s wings given to the Devil, a symbol of the subterranean dwelling of the Devil and the underworld, hidden and repressed desires, and our shadow selves.
Birds represent freedom, inspiration, sometimes messengers related to the God/dess.
The symbol of Taurus, often seen on the King of Pentacles’ throne, as well as one of the four astrological signs seen in the Wheel of Fortune and World cards. The bull stands for stability, strength, and power (and stubbornness).
Transformation, freedom, lightness of being.
In most decks, the cat only appears in the Queen of Wands card, and symbolizes sensuality, playfulness, passion, and grace (with perhaps a bit of hedonism and haughtiness mixed in). The cat shares many of the qualities of the lion, but is tamer and domesticated.
In the Moon card, the crayfish rises up out of the depths of our minds, symbolized by the pool of water. The crayfish represents an unknown part of ourselves, part of our animal nature, primordial and a bit scary-looking, with a horny carapace. This unknown creature rises from the depths and triggers the journey through the Moon card.
As seen in the Fool card, there are varying interpretations of the little white dog – some say he is a faithful companion, blindly following the Fool out of love, willing to go where ever the Fool goes – others that he is a messenger, trying to warn the Fool about the impending cliff. In the Moon card, the Dog symbolizes the forces of civilization and restraint, as opposed to the Wolf or Jackal (see below). These are the two extremes between which one must find the middle path.
The dove appears in the Ace of Cups, and is also possibly the bird in the Star. It is a messenger of peace and of eternal love.
The Dragon is an ancient symbol of royalty and wisdom, and is often found on the Kings and Emperor cards.
The Falcon can be seen in the Nine of Pentacles, and represents intellect and clear sight, swiftness and freedom. It is sometimes hooded and restrained in this card, to show that the woman in the card has chosen physical pleasures and abundance rather than independence and freedom.
The fish is a symbol of the element of water, and is also a symbol of Christianity and God’s love.
The Goat is the symbol of Capricorn, and the Devil wears goats horns partly to symbolize the association of this card with Capricorn. The Goat is also associated with Pan, playfulness and trickster-like attributes, as well as perversity and black magic.
Horses are conveyances for the self, forces of nature or civilization that are harnessed, reined in and brought under control. The Knights all ride horses to show that they have harnessed the elements of their suit and are putting these energies to work in order to get somewhere.
The passionate, primal side of ourselves, our animal natures, as in the Strength card. In the context of court cards, a sign of nobility, pride, and courage. Also the symbol of Leo, seen in the Wheel of Fortune and World cards.
A symbol of fertility, usually seen in the Queen of Pentacles card.
The symbol for Aries, hence found on the Emperor’s throne. A symbol of virility, tenacity, and warlike nature (association with Mars).
A creature mythically associated with fire, and often seen decorating the clothing of Wands court cards.
A symbol of female wisdom and psychic abilities. The bringer of knowledge, as in the Garden of Eden. The snake swallowing its tale is a symbol of infinity and eternity – sometimes seen as the Magician’s belt.
A mythical creature made up of the symbols of the four primary astrological signs – the lion, man, eagle, and bull. A gatekeeper and guardian of hidden mysteries.
In the moon card, paired with the dog on either side of the central path. Represents our wild untamed nature, excesses of passion and uncontrolled emotion and desires. Violence and rapaciousness.
Teresa Michelsen is a well known and highly respected tarot reader and instructor, and also the original creator of Tarot Moon.
Theresa has over 25 years experience in reading tarot.
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