You may wonder why patches or tattoos very commonly feature animals or animal-based designs. This is partly because, throughout history, humans have always lived in close proximity to a large variety of animals, whether living wild in their surrounding environment or domesticated and have therefore developed strong familiarity and respect for them.
Humans have also come to create bonds or spiritual links with many animals, whether by tribal or totem based associations or by personal feelings of connection. In many cultures around the world, such as in Native American or Australian Aboriginal societies, these feelings of connection to certain animals extend far beyond simple feelings of admiration or respect, with these bonds becoming intricately linked to spiritual wellbeing. These power or spirit animals are seen as guides that can provide guardianship and communicate wisdom.
Symbolic connection to certain animals is particularly strong with beautiful or majestic animals or those that we feel display admirable traits such as strength, grace, independence, or courage. The following seven animals are particularly popular choices for back patches because of what they are admired for and symbolize.
Bears are revered for their strength and courage. They are incredibly strong and fiercely protective of their young but also display a natural playfulness that humans can relate to.
There are many Native American tribes including the Hopi, Chippewa, Creek, Algonquian, and Huron that have bear clans and many of these performed dances or rituals linked to the bear to empower their warriors about to embark on a hunt. Due to their strength and intelligence, bears were also often closely associated with the medicine man or shaman of the tribe.
Owls are nocturnal, independent animals that can glide silently through the forest or sit immobile for hours in treetops. They have excellent eyesight and are widely associated with wisdom, independence, and mystery.
The owl is sacred to the Greek goddess of learning, Athena, and is depicted in Greco-Roman currency as a symbol of status and wealth. In ancient Egyptian, Celtic, and Hindu cultures, owls are seen as guardians of the underworld. They accompany a newly released spirit’s journey to the underworld, flying the freed soul from the physical world into the realms of the spirit world. Owls rule the night and are the seers of souls.
There are few creatures more noble or majestic than the tiger. Throughout history, tigers have been both beloved and feared as cunning hunters with incredible speed and strength. As the largest of all the cat species, tigers can weigh up to 500 pounds. But despite their size, they are so strong and agile that they can run up to 40 miles per hour, easily outpacing and overpowering almost any other prey.
Many cultures respect and admire the tiger, none more so than in China. Chinese culture places the tiger as the king of all beasts and a carrier of enormous life force. The tiger is additionally associated with Tsai Shen Yeh, the Chinese God of Wealth. In other parts of Asia, the tiger is also considered a protector of the dead, often being seen on graves as a mark of protection and assurance of long-lasting peace for those that have passed.
Wolves and all modern dog species share a common ancestor that can be traced back many thousands of years. Humans and dogs have been constant companions for at least 10,000 years and modern Siberian Husky dogs share genetic links to wolves as far back as 27,000 years. Although the prehistoric wolf has become extinct, its legacy lives on in many modern species of man’s best friend.
Due to their stealth and shy nature, wolves can be a rare sight despite often traveling large distances. Either alone or in packs, they can easily roam 12 or more miles in a day. Known for their distinctive howl, they are also known for their teamwork in hunting and loyalty to the wolf pack. And as wolves are true ancestors of dogs, that humans have shared a close bond with for such a long time, people will continue to share a strong respect and admiration for the wolf.
Lions are social and affectionate creatures by nature. They use teamwork to hunt and gather the food needed for their pride and are incredibly territorial. They are powerful and magnificent creatures, with a golden coat and their distinctive mane. The strongest symbolism associated with lions is as guardians, courageous protectors of those they care about.
Despite being mainly nocturnal, in Egypt the lion was seen to represent the ferocious heat of the sun and was seen in the likeness of Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess known as the Eye of Ra. Her power was used to protect the good and annihilate the wicked. In ancient Greece, lions were also identified with a number of mythological gods and goddesses because it was a lion that drew their chariots.
Horses have long embodied a spirit of freedom. They are also admired for the grace and effectiveness of their movement as well as their powers of endurance. First domesticated by humans around 5,000 years ago, they subsequently allowed the movement of people over vastly greater distances. Many feel that no other animal has contributed more to the spread of civilization than the horse.
In addition to freedom and endurance, the horse is also linked to the balance of wisdom and power. Christianity uses the white horse to symbolize death. Native American tribes that possessed horses were far superior in battle to those who didn’t and horses allowed them to cover and maintain more territory. Therefore, the number of horses a tribe had come to be symbolic of power and wealth.
Watching an eagle take flight or seize prey is an awe-inspiring sight, as is their ability to soar gracefully across the sky with a seeming minimum of effort. They have keen eyesight and their giant wingspan that can reach 7 feet allows them to both fly to great heights and cover huge distances.
Eagles are strongly symbolic of strength and courage. Due to their hunting skills and ability to fly higher than most other birds, eagles have long been considered the king of the skies. They are so adept at hunting that they actually spend little time doing it. Egyptians regarded the eagle as symbolizing both the Great Spirit and the noon sun at its highest point in the sky. They saw the eagle as having the ability to rise above the mundane restraints of the earth.
Foxes are well known for their ability to silently move around and sneak into homes or yards, then get away again without ever being caught. They use their high intelligence and cunning nature to get into and out of situations that require clever solutions. For this reason, foxes are considered in many cultures to be tricksters.
Many traditional European stories and tales feature the fox as a witty, quick, and intelligent animal that often outsmarts humans or other animals. Foxes have developed the skills to get around obstacles rather than always just trying to approach them head on, providing humans with the valuable lesson that there’s usually more than one way to approach a problem.
Snakes spend their life close to the ground so are considered to be intimately linked to the energy of the earth itself. As a reptile, snakes are also associated with primal instincts or the unconscious animal part of the mind. Because snakes shed their skin, they are also linked to transition phases in life and represent personal growth and development.
Many cultures refer to a giant snake or serpent in creation mythology and associate snakes with being creators of the life force itself. They are also closely linked to healing and medicine and you may be familiar with the Caduceus symbol, which is made up of two snakes circling a winged staff, which is commonly used to symbolize medicine.
There is little doubt that animals continue to have strong symbolic meaning to modern humans. Patches themselves are symbols and provide the wearer with a way to express an association with an interest or an idea, as well as to link themselves with the meanings contained within the patches’ imagery. When those images also have strong historical or spiritual meanings, then the significance of the patch increases sharply, for both the person wearing the patch and anyone who sees it.