Pelicans have a popular limerick attached to them, which states that the large pouch of their beak can hold more than their belly. These huge water birds are skilled fliers as well as swimmers. In addition to the avian world, they’ve also built a name for themselves in the spiritual world. Let’s learn more about what they symbolize to us.
Pelicans are instinctive nurturers and are, first and foremost, symbolic of sacrifice and generosity. These birds can prick their own chest to feed their babies their blood for nourishment, which is an act so pious it makes them almost divine. In some cultures, pelicans are also symbolic of the afterlife and are known to protect the deceased souls on the path to the underworld.
In this article, we’re going to explore the depth of pelican symbolism, learn about the meaning of their dreams, and how different cultures of the world perceive them.
Large birds like pelicans, which have access to the world of wind as well as of water, have a diverse significance in the world of symbolism. In this section, we’ll take a look at what their symbolism could mean for us.
The symbolism of humility and generosity
In some ancient cultures, it was believed that a parent (or more specifically, mother) pelican would feed their younger ones their blood when they couldn’t find enough food to feed them.
Although it has now been proved incorrect, there has to be a shred of truth in such a fierce belief. And this belief has lent these giant birds a special place in the world of symbolism and made them stand for both generosity and humility.
The spirit of pelicans is generous because it gives graciously without expecting anything in return. But other than that, pelicans are humble birds in general as well.
They’re peaceful creatures that avoid hurting others at all costs and will only hunt to have enough to eat and feed their young.
You will also notice how these birds live in a large community where they look after each other just like one large family, but we’ll talk more about it later.
The symbolism of sacrifice
Remember the practice of pelican vulning we just talked about (the act where a female pelican injures its own breast to feed its blood to its babies)? Well, if that’s not an example of sacrifice, I don’t know what else could be.
It is a clear indication of how pelicans always put the needs of others before themselves. And not just their own babies’ needs, no. They also protect all members of their community equally fiercely, not caring even if they get hurt in the process.
The symbolism of teamwork and community
Although you can spot the pelicans hunting alone, at other times, particularly on their migratory journey, they’re gregarious birds that travel and do other activities in large groups. Born with a strong social sense, these birds tend to feel much safer as a part of a group, even though they’re fully capable of looking after their own.
Moreover, pelicans are also the kind of birds who would take the societal hierarchy seriously and will sacrifice even their lives for the welfare of their community. As a reward for these qualities, their communities can survive for much longer in the wild than most other birds.
These traits of the pelicans teach us an important lesson on much we can achieve if we direct our focus towards a collective effort rather than only satisfying our personal goals.
The symbolism of safety and direction
All of you must’ve noticed how pelicans have a large pouch in their lower beak. What purpose do you think it serves? For starters, it can be used as a storage bag of sorts.
These pouches can hold enough food and water to keep the pelicans going for a day, keeping them safe and well-fed even if they lose their way or are parted from their community.
The fact that these birds stick together in large groups of hundreds during migration is another example of how they can find both safety and direction by remaining loyal to one another.
Now that we’ve broadened our knowledge of pelican symbolism, let’s move on to talk about what their dreams could symbolize for you in the waking world.
What does it mean to dream of pelicans?
When the pelicans come to your dreams, the message that they’re trying to send across might be confusing or conflicting. In other words, they bring indications of success and disappointment, both of which are somehow intertwined.
The different actions of a pelican in your dream can change the meaning of your dream as well. So, do you remember exactly what had you dreamt of? Let’s start by exploring pelican dreams that people most commonly have.
To begin with, what does it mean to see a flying pelican? Such a dream could be a sign that in the near future, someone might try to win something that belongs to you rightfully. The very idea of it is bound to make you feel anxious and threatened, but you needn’t be.
Don’t let these feelings get to you. If the stakes are high, it’s even more important for you to maintain your composure and give it your everything. If you’re good enough for this award or prize, you’ll end up winning it in the end.
If you dream of yourself catching a pelican, it signifies that the next news you’re going to receive will not be a good one. You will be disappointed about something you were eagerly waiting for, but that’s okay. Whatever it is, feeling angry or frustrated about it is not going to help you.
Instead, you can focus on the good in your life and trust that the right things will come to you at the right time.
As you already know, pelicans are water birds that can both fly in the sky and float on the water surface. Did you see a pelican floating on water in your dream and are wondering what it could mean for your waking life? We might have good news for you.
The floating pelican is symbolic of the peaceful flow you’re going to experience in the coming weeks. During this period, everything will go according to your plans, and you will have no reason to worry or panic. Enjoy it while you can.
If you saw yourself killing a pelican in your dream and are scared about what it might mean for you, rest assured. Your dream is just a sign that you’d proudly stand by the choices you’ve recently made, no matter what others think of them.
As long as you’re true to yourself, you shouldn’t have to be apologetic to others for anything. If they don’t agree with your beliefs, that’s their choice; all you need to do is respectfully disagree.
If you find a pelican attacking you in your dream, it indicates that you might’ve crossed your boundaries with someone close without meaning to in the recent past. Think back to a couple of weeks; can you remember something like that?
It was more likely because you were feeling unsettled and didn’t realize doing it, but now that you have, you must apologize to them.
Did you see a whole flock of pelicans in your dream? Your dream has a positive indication. It suggests that the people around you, be it your friends, family, or colleagues, all firmly believe in you and your ideas and will support you wholeheartedly.
And if you’ve dreamt of a pelican surrounded by other birds, it’s a sign that being right isn’t always the most important thing in life. Sometimes, you might be surrounded by people who believe in different things and learn to compromise a little, as long as it doesn’t hurt your basic principles.
If in your dream, you saw a pelican swallowing a fish, it could be a warning for you. Your dream is trying to tell you that you mustn’t lend a significant amount of money to anyone or share the private details of your property in the near future.
Perhaps someone close to you might try to trick you out of your home or property in the near future. And this person can be very persuasive, so you must stay strong and not give in to their temptations or sweet talks.
Significance of pelican symbolism in different cultures
Known to have survived for over 30 million years, the pelicans are ancient birds that have been around since time immemorial and have, thus, found their way into various cultures and mythologies of the world. Let’s explore what these birds symbolize in these cultures:
Many of you would be surprised to find out that in Christianity, the pelicans were once compared to Jesus Christ himself! And it’s not merely an old tale; to this time, most devout Christians treat pelicans with the same respect.
Are you wondering why or how? Well, the old belief of their vulning behavior is also at the root of their significance to the Christians.
Because they’re ready to hurt themselves to sustain their younger ones, the Christians associate them with the virtues of sacrifice, humility, and piety, all of which are the central traits of Christ himself. So, you get the idea of where the reference has come from.
In Ancient Alchemy
In the ancient world of Alchemy, the symbol of the pelican was linked to the Philosopher’s stone itself in many instances. And whether you’re aware of Alchemy or not, all of us must’ve heard of the Philosopher’s stone at least once, even if only in the Harry Potter series.
The Philosopher’s stone was the finest specimen of Ancient Alchemy, although its existence is still in question. It was believed that the stone could turn any metal it touched into gold, making its possessor the wealthiest and most powerful person in the whole world.
The association between this mighty stone and the pelicans is a sign that these birds could also have a much larger personality than what they depict.
In the Ancient Egyptian culture
In ancient Egyptian culture, the symbolism of pelicans has two significantly different interpretations.
The first one is a positive one and portrays these birds as a symbol of protection. The Egyptians believed that pelicans had the power to protect the soul of deceased people and provide them with a safe passage into the underworld.
The second depiction of pelicans in Egyptian culture is a negative one but draws from the first one itself. Because the images of pelicans were engraved on the tombs of the deceased, some Egyptians associated them with death and the afterlife and felt rather unnerved around them.
It is difficult to say which of these interpretations was more popular among the people of Ancient Egypt, which is why both are considered to be equally important.
In the Spanish culture
Do you know someone named “Alcatraz”? This English name is derived from the Spanish term “Alcatraces,” which was what the pelicans were known as in ancient times. The term was particularly used to refer to the brown pelicans that nested around the islands.
In some parts of Spain, people also believed that since the term “albatross” was derived from “alcatraces,” the two might be related. However, there’s no scientific proof of it to date.
In the Aboriginal culture
The Aboriginal people from Australia have a special mythical story that talks about the evolution of the pelicans. According to these aboriginals, the pelicans were initially born with a pure black plumage which later turned black and white. Let’s hear this exciting tale now:
Once upon a time, when humans were escaping the great flood, the pelicans helped them by building them a canoe. One of these pelicans fell in love with a woman for whom he was building a canoe. Taking advantage of this fact, the woman tricked him into bringing her friends on the canoe when she had no intention of returning his love.
Blinded with rage at the trickery, the pelican decided to go to war against humans alone. As a symbol of war, he paints himself white in a way that makes him appear partly white and black. As he was flying to the land of men, another pelican spotted him and, due to his differently colored plumage, thought of him as an enemy species and ended up killing him.
Ever since then, all pelicans were born partially white and black, perhaps as a tribute to one of their own, the one they had lost due to misrecognition.
In the modern culture
Pelicans are still significant to various countries and cultures of the world:
- They are considered to be the national bird of Romania.
- They’re also declared as the national bird of several countries of the Caribbean, including Barbados, Sint Maarten, Nevis, and Saint Kitts.
- They’re the mascot of several sports teams around the world, as well as various American universities.
- They’re also the official symbol of Louisiana, a state that is also referred to as the Pelican state.
The pelican totem will come into your life when you’ve come far away from your family and friends and are feeling hesitant about reconnecting with them.
Their totem will show you that the true essence of a family doesn’t fade with distance. Even if you’re physically apart, you will always be connected with them in your hearts, and that’s something you should never give up on.
Alternatively, these totems can also approach you when you’ve been feeling out of luck lately. When nothing good happens to you, and all your hopeful expectations are turning into disappointments.
Pelican totems believe that there’s no such thing as luck. In this world, we’re all responsible for making our own fortunes. If you’re ready to work hard and have the patience to wait for the right timing, you will always find a way to succeed in life, be it sooner or later.
Pelican spirit animal
Are you someone who’s driven by success but is also patient enough to wait for good things to come to them? If you are, the pelicans are your true spirit guides.
People who are guided by the pelican’s spirit are never the ones you’ll see lacking motivation to move or grow. On the contrary, at times, being around them might even feel like they have an endless source of motivation to draw from.
It is because the pelican spirit has the gift of vigilance when it comes to finding new opportunities to grow in life. These birds are always on the move and believe that one should never give up seeking new opportunities in life.
However, their ambition doesn’t make them relentlessly competitive. These people are more of a team player than a lone wolf. While they do believe in growth above everything else, the true essence of growth is when people of a community grow together. Therefore, these people are not easy to befriend.
They always seek like-minded people to make friends because when they win, they want their friends to celebrate with them wholeheartedly, and not just for them in a half-hearted manner.
If you’ve found a pelican-spirited person as a life partner, you can count on them to lift up your spirits even on your worst days. Being in their company will automatically make you a better version of yourself.
And when it comes to loyalty, you will never have to doubt if they’ve got your back because they have. Once you’ve made your way into their tribe, they’ll put you above their own needs. For these reasons, the pelican-spirited people are keepers for life.
Pelican tattoos: meaning and interpretation
Just as pelicans are large, mighty birds, so are their tattoos. Pelican tattoos can symbolize a number of different things to different people.
If you’re someone who feels like both water and air are their elements, then the pelicans are the perfect tattoo for you. Their spirits have mastered both water and air, which is why you can draw from their strength.
Pelicans are also a significant symbol of sacrifice, as we’ve discussed throughout the article. Their spirit believes in pursuing the greater good, even if it comes with a hefty price. If you can relate to their ideology, getting the tattoo of a serene pelican flying would be an ideal choice for you.
Lastly, pelicans stand for the strength of unity. These gregarious birds have a strong social sense and always look after their own. Do you feel the same way about your people? If you do, why not say it to them through a tattoo? Perhaps you could all get a little pelican inked on your ankle or arm.
Conclusion: Pelican Symbolism and Spiritual Meaning
Recognized by a long bill and a large throat pouch, pelicans are an ancient water bird family with only eight extant species today. Be it their appearance, keen eyesight, or gregarious nature; these birds are quite striking. When it comes to spiritualism, they’re equally remarkable.
The spirit of the pelican is commonly associated with the virtues of humility, sacrifice, generosity, and unity. They’re loyal, trustworthy, and dependable.
Although they do hunt for food, you will never find them embracing their brutal side or hogging on more food than they could need. Their contented nature can teach us many valuable life lessons.