The fox is one such creature that has earned more dishonor than respect. Yes, it is sly, very much cunning, but the poor animal is only trying to survive in a world full of predators! This piece is all about interpreting the different symbolic meanings of a fox, that’ll perhaps help you see this creature in a different light.
Did You Know?
The popular Medieval Norman adventurer, Robert Guiscard, was nicknamed “Robert the Fox.” He was also called “the Resourceful”, “the Cunning”, “the Wily”― all these sobriquets emphasizing on the qualities he had, similar to that of a fox.
It’s human tendency to focus on the negative, and in the process, negate the presence of the positive. We think this is the reason behind the fox gaining an infamous reputation worldwide. While its cunning and treacherous side has been popularized through fables and lore, fortunately, there are some who also honor this creature for its highly adaptable and wise approach towards any situation, using its energies to find opportunities where all seems to be doomed.
The presence of a fox can be seen in the most ancient of civilizations, where some considered it to be evil, while others took inspiration from it. In some parts of the world, it is also considered to be a familiar spirit, while some others see it as a sacred animal or a messenger of a deity that presents itself to convey an important message to its master. Yes, a fox has a lot of mysteries surrounding it. The following section throws light on the varied symbolic interpretations of a fox in different facets of the world.
A Brief Overview on the Symbolism of a Fox
Fox Symbolism in Different Cultures
Native American Culture
Scrolling through the lores of the Native American history, one understands how important animals are in this culture. Every living being, whether it flies in the sky or walks on the ground, held a distinct importance among the Native Americans. They not only observed the wild rulers for their traits, but also sought help and guidance from them.
Speaking of the fox, different Native American tribes regard this animal differently. For instance, the Northern woodland tribes consider it to be a wise and noble creature and admire it for its observation and stealth. On the other hand, the tribes of the Great Plains consider the fox to be nothing but a trickster that plays pranks and even lures a person to their doom.
The Chinese mythology is full of stories of Huli jing, translated as “fox spirit.” Other names include Huxian, “fox immortal”; and Jiuweihu, the “nine-tailed fox.” These mythical fox spirits can either be good or bad, but are definitely very powerful! They are believed to have the power to transform into humans, mostly as beautiful young women, and mate with human males.
Interestingly, the term ‘huli jing’ is derogatorily used to describe females who are considered characterless, mistresses, or, homewreckers, and are involved with men who are married or otherwise committed to someone else. However, considering the fact that there are numerous love and vengeance stories regarding the fox spirits in China, one can say that these spirits reciprocate love with love, and betrayal with vengeance.
The Japanese word for a fox is Kitsune, and the symbolic beliefs are very much influenced by the Chinese mythology. Japanese legend states that there are different types of kitsune. Broadly speaking, the good kitsune are called the zenko and the bad ones are known as the yako or nogitsune. The former are messengers of the god Inari, and are charitable and kind in nature. However, the latter are malicious and treacherous.
Although foxes were originally the messengers of Shinto deity Inari, now they are pretty much symbolic of the god himself because of the powers they contain. These celestial spirits are known to have the power to protect from evil. They are known for their wisdom, immortality, and the ability to see and understand what is happening at any part of the world. They are magical in every sense of the word. The Japanese culture, like the Chinese culture, associates the power of the kitsune with the number of its tails―nine believed to be the maximum. The more the tails, the more powerful the fox spirit. Alternately, the yako (malicious fox spirits) have the power to seduce, manipulate, create illusions, drive humans mad, possess them, and even feed on their spirits!
In Korea, the fox spirit is called Kumiho, and although the appearance (and the presence of the nine-tails) is pretty much identical to the fox spirit in Chinese and Japanese mythology, here, it is evil in the true sense of the word. Korean folklore has many tales that speak of kumiho as a malicious, seductive, and man-eating monster! Apparently, a fox that manages to live for a thousand years becomes a kumiho that has powers of human transfiguration, seducing people, and killing them to consume their heart and/or liver. Kumiho is known for its overpowering beauty and sexuality that no man can resist, ultimately allowing her to feast on his flesh. A truly demonic association indeed!
▶ A mixed perception of the spiritual connotation of the fox is seen in other cultures of the world. To begin with a positive note, the Celtic culture looks upon a fox as a creature that exhibits wisdom and intelligence. A fox is thought of someone who can not only help us live in the mortal world, but also in the afterlife. Because this creature is well-versed with its surroundings, it can act as a guide not only when one wanders through the unknown realms of the forest, but also in the spirit world.
▶ The Dogon mythology associates the pale fox as the one that instills chaos in the surrounding. This African fox species is regarding as the trickster god of the desert and is considered to be, as widely perceived, a cunning prankster!
▶ The Finnish lore has a neutral approach towards this creature. While the fox is most likely a trickster in its true nature, this culture doesn’t consider it to be evil or harmful in any manner. In fact, it is admired for its ability to use its intelligence and wit to outsmart the most strongest and fearful predators, and emerge as a true hunter, irrespective of being physically weak from its competitors.
▶ Among the people of Tswana, there is a popular saying in reference of a fox. It goes like, “Phokoje go tsela o dithetsenya.” The literal translation of this phrase is: “Only the muddy fox lives.” This implies that without the ability of being highly adaptable, or, getting down to the mud, it is impossible to survive, or attain success in life
Fox Symbolism in Literature
The literary world is filled with tales with the fox having a crucial association with the moral of the story. Right from Carlo Collodi’s book ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’, to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s, ‘The Little Prince’, to the classical Aesop’s fables including ‘The Fox and the Grapes’―this creature has influenced the readers in varied roles, transfiguring from a cunning betrayer to a loyal friend.
Having said that, who could forget the anthropomorphic character of Reynard the red fox, known for its trickery! The following points highlight the varied symbolism of this creature in some popular books.
▶ The cunning and sly side of the fox can be seen in the famous book, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’. Here, a fox and a cat try to lead Pinocchio astray with an intention to murder him. Here, the fox is depicted as more intelligent and sly than the cat, and is pretty much the mastermind behind the deceitful plan.
Another popular fable of ‘The Fox and the Crow’, which is a part of Aesop’s Fables, also portrays the fox as a clever and crafty opportunist who uses flattery to eat the piece of cheese that the crow finds for itself.
▶ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s, ‘The Little Prince’ shows a different personality of an animal that was synonymously used for something cunning and vile. In this popular story, it is the character of the fox that utters the most crucial and life-changing quotations, emphasizing on human nature and relationships. Some of them include, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”; “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
In this book, the wise, intelligent, and knowledgeable side of the fox is portrayed, who comes as a true friend and imparts wisdom on matters that seemed puzzling and unclear.
▶ The iconic, legendary tale that perhaps each and every child of the world is aware of, is that of ‘The Fox and the Grapes’. Here, the fox is symbolized as neither cunning, nor vile, but, the way it comes to terms with the situation, gives us humans a remarkable lesson! After trying all the tricks and tantrums to get hold of the bunch of grapes, the fox assumes that the grapes are sour because it cannot get them.
How many times do we pointlessly follow an ambition that is impossible to get. Instead of wasting our time and energy, we should rather capitalize on the sources that are attainable. Alternately, this fox story also teaches that ‘it is very easy to despise the unattainable’.
▶ As mentioned earlier, legends are filled with stories that link foxes with seductive and beautiful women, who fall in love, marry, and even bear children of humans. Even in literature, the tragic stories of this mystical creature falling in love with mortal humans, gradually uniting and tragically separating, are quite popular. An example for the same would be David Garnett’s prize-winning novel, ‘Lady into Fox’. Here, the author portrays this vixen as someone whose desire to lead a human life is overpowered with her natural wildness. Her husband does all to protect her, but in vain.
Fox Spirit Animal
Many animals also act as a spirit guide to us humans, presenting themselves in both dreams and reality, to intimate the need or indicate an onset of a transitional change in our lives. Have you ever felt to have a close association with the fox? Probably seeing it around lately, or in your dreams?
A fox can help you understand and reflect upon some of the most disregarded-yet-important spiritual needs of yourself. The immense amount of power, knowledge, wisdom, and agility that it has can teach you a lot many things, only if you are open to receive the message and learn. A fox is a very private creature, and if it has shown itself to you, it could spiritually signify many things. What things? Well, this would depend upon the situation you are in. If you are stuck in a difficult situation where an escape or win seems next to impossible, a fox sighting may indicate the need to ‘think out of the box’. On the other hand, if things seem okay but still you seem to be drawn towards this animal, perhaps it may indicate the need to ‘be more aware of your surrounding, especially to protect the possibility of being betrayed or deceived by someone you trust ‘. It can also intimate you to ‘rekindle the curiosity to walk on your soul’s path, and utilize the inner gifts and resources that you have’.
Many also link the sighting of a dead fox with a message from the universe. It may possibly signify to us the need to relax, sort of retire from our cunning, curious, sly, and strategic way of living, and just let nature guide our ways and take us to this transition that lies ahead of us. Interestingly, some sources also state fox to be symbolic of good luck and magical transformation. It can also indicate the need to appreciate your current resources and gifts, and make the best use of them, not underestimating your potential in any manner.
The interpretation of the dreams and sighting of this wonderful creature varies. To correctly establish the link between us and these visions, one must introspect the situations that surround us, the issues that bother our peace, and the desires that have taken a backseat within us. Spiritual interpreter, Avia Venefica, states in her blog, “You are your own best interpreter. In time, you will mine the most meaningful answers from your own personal perspective.”
Other Meanings Associated with a Fox
▶ A fox is usually a loner, calling out to a partner only for mating and then raising her cubs as the best caring parent. It is also known to be a highly fertile animal. This aspect of the fox makes it symbolic of fertility and motherly love.
▶ This creature also symbolizes feminine sexuality. The word ‘foxy’ is often used for a woman who is highly attractive, red-haired, and sensual. Also, the word ‘vixen’, which means a female fox, is used for an attractive woman known for her maliciousness and temper. The fur of the fox is one of the most beautiful ones in the animal kingdom. Therefore, a fox is also symbolic of the beauty and style of a woman, making her irresistibly appealing to the rest.
▶ The Silver Fox is representative of a person with a svelte demeanor. It signifies refinement, sophistication, wealth, and nobility.
▶ The Arctic Fox is symbolic of hidden mystery and magical illusion. This meaning is derived from its ability to hide brilliantly in the snow, without letting anyone know about its presence, and then find the opportune moment to attack. Truly, it is the master of disguise and illusion as it can be easily mistaken for a ball of snow.
▶ Have you ever seen a fox when it hunts? Its body language is remarkable, and exhibits nothing but focus, determination, and impeccability to the finest degree. Therefore, another meaning associated with a fox is to be determined and focused, and be the arrow that never misses a mark. The arrow is straight and rigid, but the fox adds the dash of agility, giving the prey no loopholes to escape.
Call it good or evil, but the truth is that a fox is everything that it takes to survive in a world full of predators! We can learn so much from this magnificent animal, one of them being the ability to bend our ways to fit into the surrounding, for it is only the adaptable that makes it through. Not only is the fox watchful of its surroundings, it is also curious towards it. Perhaps it is this curiosity that makes it learn and add to the knowledge and wisdom it acquires in its lifetime.
Having said that, we think it’s time that our human minds move on from the ‘cunning and treacherous’ aspect of this animal, and focus on the greater, far more priceless things that a fox can teach us all―to be as curious as a child, and as quick and agile as sand, and as wise and knowledgeable as an old soul. This creature can teach us everything we need to learn, only if we are open to the idea. Are we?