This article shares what the hawk symbolizes to various cultural, religious, and spiritual groups as well as in various contexts such as the meaning of a hawk in your dreams.
You’re walking along a path, enjoying the outdoors when suddenly you see it—a pair of enormous folded wings and a hooked beak diving toward the ground. A red-tailed hawk in pursuit of its prey!
Fascinated, you try to glimpse what it does next, even though its uncanny ability to hunt silently makes this difficult.
For centuries, these wild and elegant creatures have inspired humans with mystery. Their characteristic shrill scream can make your blood run cold.
Sitting towards the top of the food chain, their predator nature is both intimidating and intriguing. It’s hard to imagine that tiny songbirds rest within the same animal class as their serious-looking raptor cousins.
What are the ways in which hawks have made their impressions on humans over time? Hawks have found their way into artistry, sacred rituals, and even for our use as hunting tools.
Keep reading to learn about the connection between hawks and humans and the symbolism of this magnificent species.
Types of Hawks
Though all hawks share similar characteristics – elongated wings and talons, for example – there are different kinds with varying appearances. In the wild, hawks fall into one of a few primary colorations:
- Rust on the underbelly, with black and white on the wings
- Gray on top, with a lighter color on the underside
- Speckled all over
Symbolism can be different across each type, according to the color pattern. But probably the most important factor is geography. For cultures with a particular kind of hawk indigenous to the area, that will reflect their interpretation of the bird and its mystical powers.
This appearance shares a similar meaning to that of a dove. Peace, harmony, spirituality, and higher purpose are all possibilities for why you might see a white hawk in a dream.
Its dark color indicates that a black hawk symbolizes negativity or conflict. You might be dealing with difficult emotions or involved in a web of deceit with another person in your life.
A red hawk in a dream is regal and without complication. Usually, this signifies wisdom, intuition, or some other sign of favorable intelligence.
Hawks and Mythology
With their ethereal soaring patterns, there are many ancient associations with hawks as divinity. Much mythology about hawks overlaps with that of eagles, falcons, and other large predatory birds.
Victory, power, strength, and wisdom are common symbols.
The Greek goddess Circe takes her name from the word “kirkos,”
meaning a circular object or pattern. Sometimes called the She-Falcon, Circe is the daughter of Helios (the sun god) and embodies a hawk, the messenger of Apollo.
The powerhouse tomes of the Iliad and the Odyssey both mention hawks as the messengers of the gods. Achilles creates a parallel to a wild hawk, the fastest animal on its wings, as he races down the mountain. The bird swoops onto a dove, suggesting the warriors overtake their foe.
Birds in dream interpretation usually represent one of two things: freedom, or aspirations.
Both of these stem from the idea of a creature in flight. Wings and the physical body in the air contribute to the feeling of motion in sleep.
Usually, whatever issue the brain is trying to process will manifest as a bird, especially if it’s moving from one position or emotional state to another.
The hawk’s range in its natural habitat spreads across multiple continents, time zones, and geographic regions. As a result, different cultures hold different meanings to hawk dream symbolism.
However, there are some constants across cultures. Hawks as keen and wily predators is something that almost every ancient civilization recognized. Their ability to fly high above the earth – and therefore survey much of the world under them – is another.
Finally, this magnificent bird’s majestic and brave qualities are something nearly every culture honors.
Some specific dream interpretations:
- Hawks of different colors – A white hawk means divinity and omniscience. Red hawks (or red-tailed hawks of the North American variety) symbolize wisdom and leadership. And if you see a black hawk in your dream, it means you need to introspect and come to terms with your goals and higher purpose in life.
- Being a hawk – You are at a crossroads where you must make an important decision. As a hawk, you can survey the landscape below you and determine which route is best.
- A flock of hawks – This is an omen of anxiety. Perhaps you are going through stress at work and feel overwhelmed.
- Being attacked by a hawk – You are experiencing pressure from a higher power – whether spiritual or earthly – and need to change your course of action for better results.
- A wounded hawk – This symbolizes a crack in your emotional state, or breakdown of confidence.
- A hawk is carrying prey – You experience victory – the feeling of grasping “prey” in your “talons.”
- Hawk hunting – This is a battle for status. Most likely, you are vying for power over a subordinate or equal in your career, seeking a leadership role.
- Visit from a hawk – This symbolizes a threat in your life. Keep your eyes open and recognize where you might feel intimidation.
This term is outdated and somewhat offensive to the indigenous cultures where it originated.
The history of the connection between humans and a specific animal goes back hundreds of thousands of years and should not be trivialized with trite Western games and jokes.
Instead, the words “power animal” carry a deep meaning as to the animal’s perceived influence in a person’s life and its presence as a spirit guide to them.
There is also a strong connection to the environment, where the tribe and animals coexist.
Choosing a tattoo of a hawk is a powerful image. Whether the artist depicts it as an elegant wild creature, a fearsome hunter, or a sleek composition taken from nature, skin with a hawk tattoo is eye-catching.
The hawk’s sharp vision and predatory prowess stand for strength and cunning. Other associations with a hawk tattoo are themes of integrity, intellect, war, and spiritual connection.
With some of these aspects having such a strong association with the otherworldly, it’s no surprise that there is a crossover in hawk symbolism from mythology to spirituality.
Below, let’s look at some places hawks have found their way into religion and how that manifests.
Hawks and Spirituality
There are examples of hawks spanning many different religious traditions. A broad-winged species in flight above the earth, birds of prey have long been connected to the ideas of higher powers and divinity.
There are dozens of references to hawks in the Christian Bible. Typically, the usage is that of an allusion or parable:
Isaiah 34:11: “But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell.” Here, the hawk symbolizes an unclean animal, as the prophet Isaiah expounds on the future of a sinful city.
Job 39:26: “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south?” This verse is a lesson for the listener in humility, admonishing them to understand that they do not rule the natural world nor direct others’ paths.
More birds of prey are mentioned in the Bible, as long as the reader knows they are sometimes interchangeable with eagles, pelicans, or cormorants, depending on the translation.
The hawk is a pivotal figure in Muslim culture. Specifically, the Hawk of Quraysh (or Quraish, a Muslim tribe) serves as an emblem common to many flags, seals, and military paraphernalia for various Arab states. It is a status symbol for power and war.
There are even Islam-specific dream interpretations about hawks (occasionally referred to as kites in Arabic languages). These can range from characteristics of the dreamer to predictions about their community or offspring.
Buddhist teachings about the four frames of reference often emphasize the hawk. One well-known parable tells of the hawk preying on a quail that had wandered far outside of its traditional hunting range, stressing the need for focus, discernment, and mindfulness.
There are several mentions of hawks and raptor representations in Southeast Asia in Vedic literature.
For example, the god Shyena takes on the form of a hawk and ascends to the heavens to transport the nectar of immortality.
Astrology and the Zodiac
According to Native American lore, March 21st through April 19th is the sign of the red-tailed hawk. Signifying a goal-driven personality and a keen vision for the future, the Guardian of the Earth presides over people who make a difference in their community and their own lives.
Hawks in Culture
The ability of a hawk to soar high into the atmosphere means it can survey the rest of the world from a distance. For this reason, many cultures saw the hawk as a symbol of political power and greatness.
Found on every continent save Antarctica, hawks have made their mark on art, religion, and storytelling of nearly every culture since humans have been aware of them. Read on to learn about specific depictions for each culture listed below.
Egyptians considered the hawk a royal bird that represented majesty and leadership.
One of the most well-known Egyptian gods, Horus, was the god of sky and water who eventually became king. Often artists depicted him as a falcon with a double crown.
As the Egyptian pharaoh was viewed as the embodiment of a god on earth, and Horus was a high-soaring bird, there is a crossover in the symbolism. Birds of prey appeared as majesty, power, and divinity.
In yet another representation of the sun, Ra also took the shape of a bird of prey when not in human form. This god was the all-encompassing deity who lorded over the sun and the heavens, symbolizing light and innate power. Through hieroglyphics, we can see the common image of a human body with a hawk’s head as Ra.
At the funeral of an ancient Roman caesar, an eagle was set loose to fly among the flames. This symbolized the deceased ruler’s spirit flying to heaven on the wings of the great bird.
This is perhaps the best example of early cultures believing that the hawk was a messenger of the gods. Hawks and eagles carry the theme of ascension due to their proximity to the skies. Since a hawk can view everything below their domain, they also symbolized the rulers themselves surveying their kingdom from a lofty position.
Apollo was the Greek god of prophecy, truth, and the arts. His characteristics include order and discipline, which the hawk represents, as well as sun and light. The hawk (sometimes eagle) is also associated with the king of the gods, Jupiter.
Native American folklore
In North America, there are an array of hawk types, making their habitats in the sweeping prairies and pine forests.
Native American tribes’ connection to nature means there is an organic connection to animal and plant life, enriching their culture through symbolism.
The hawk totem represents spirituality and wisdom, leading its people to make incisive decisions about their lives. Hawks are seen as proud, resourceful animals and representative of strength.
Examples of the hawk in Native American folklore include:
- Hopi – lore of the hawk as a nurturing protector and guide,
- Cherokee – the legend of the hawk as a clan, which teaches about generational origins with themes of family and unity,
- Pueblo – art filled with depictions of hawks and eagles, as well as dance traditions featuring feathered costumes, and
- Osage – depictions of a black hawk as symbolic of the night.
Like many other cultures, early Celts believed in the hawk as a messenger to the spirit world. They might be a token of good fortune – such as future prosperity – or an omen of bad things to come.
The ancient myth of Fintan mac Bochra explores the hawk’s symbolism as the cruelty of nature and how natural disasters impact humans.
For thousands of years, central American peoples used the hawk as a messenger or spirit guide. There is an endless artistic expression of predatory birds to be found in these cultures’ cave paintings and pottery.
The spiritual connection was strong, especially with the military, as they believed that after a warrior was killed, he would be reincarnated as a bird. When the Aztecs underwent their long migration from Aztlan to the Valley of Mexico, this god was the guiding force for their safe journey.
South American Culture
Peru’s Moche tribe also incorporated a strong influence of the hawk into their artwork. They glorified warriors on pottery, using birds of prey as symbols of strength, courage, and wisdom.
The great god Bunjil (sometimes called variations such as Wingeel or Pundjel) is a protector deity and hero in Aboriginal folklore.
As the legend goes, Bunjil completed his work on earth and then flew into the sky as an eaglehawk. He has associated birds such as quail hawks and kestrels that act as his shamans.
The Black Range Scenic Preserve in Australia features a cave with wall paintings believed to be over a thousand years old. Called Bunjil’s Shelter, this landmark is a popular tourist attraction and provides anthropologists and historians a wealth of information about its ancient culture.
During the Sengoku period of the 1400s-1600s, Japanese warlords saw the hawk as a parallel of warriors or kings, symbolizing strength and power. The birds were often depicted in the art of this era, which also featured natural elements such as pine forests and the sea.
In premodern China, the hawk in art was praised less for its physical attributes than for its mentality. Paintings of this culture featured the hawk’s cleverness, sharp hunting faculties, and ability to disguise itself from prey.
Like Japan, hawks also stood for emperors and their political power. Sometimes a hawk perched in the branches assumed the symbolic status of a heroic and powerful ruler, surrounded by lesser species like sparrows, rodents, or other small game over which it would domineer.
The court painters of the Yuan dynasty used hawks as the artwork’s central figure and birds to symbolize the country’s invading Mongol hordes.
Like the Celts, some tribes in Southern Africa believe that a hawk visiting a person in a dream means that the person will be called upon to make an important decision. Representing honor and courage, the hawk is a strong symbol of integrity.
As most raptors migrate across North America, humans have felt their presence and woven legends about these glorious birds for thousands of years. From the ancient worlds of Native American tribes to today, one symbol that has remained is that of war.
Modern helicopters, operations, and other military associations use the hawk as their emblem. Hollywood supports this with films like Black Hawk Down, bringing this ancient legend to the forefront of popular culture.
The Hawk’s Lasting Influence
With its regal appearance and sharp hunting abilities, the presence of a hawk is formidable no matter the context. From ancient legends, dreams, and omens to modern-day reverence for its symbolism in tattoos and artwork, the hawk is a powerful emblem of characteristics that humans borrow from the animal world to improve our outlook and our lives.