Saturday, June 9, 2012

Praying mantis symbolism

Lately I've been obsessed with praying mantises. One showed up in my dreams and it felt incredibly significant and, of course, during the course of researching the symbolism thoughts keep rising and making me even more obsessed.

In the dream I open a door and see a giant praying mantis with golden claws, which scares me and I try to run away from, but it follows me. Then I notice that it's been hurt because my cats were playing with it, and then I feel bad and want to protect it and I put it on my right shoulder.

Cats, like all warm blooded animals, represent the instinctual, emotional self, specifically the instinctive feminine. Cats are like small lionesses, the animal I associate with the hot, primitive childish emotions that I keep deep down inside me, which have been boiling over uncontrollably since this whole thing with G has started. So my instinctive, emotional self, particularly the feminine part of myself, has been wounding what is represented by the praying mantis, which at first I run away from but eventually I not only stop running away, I actually put it on my shoulder.

When you put an animal on your shoulder it's not like keeping pet dog or a cat, or a parakeet in a cage. An animal that rides on your shoulder is a companion, a familiar. It's your animal soul, almost like the "daimons" of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. It may even have something important to say, as if it's a part of you and can see or know things you can't.

Plants often symbolize the Self, a Self which has developed to some degree and gained a certain inner unity, when the riotous animal passions have calmed enough that all the parts of the personality can pull in one direction, that of growth. To Jung insects weren't "real" animals, who we can communicate with and are like us in their emotions, but more like plants that could move. Insects have so little sense of themselves that they'll eat parts of their own bodies if wounded.

On the one hand, it's my animal emotionalism that let's me feel sorry for the mantis, but on the other there's obviously something that I need to learn from it's impersonal, detached patience. I need to protect it, and not only protect it but carry it with me. In Jung's autobiography, he wrote about Personality No. 2, a personality that was different from the Jung who was a child at that time, had been born a certain year in a certain place, had to go to school and obey grown ups that was Personality No. 1. Instead, Personality No. 2 was an impatient, somewhat cantankerous old man, who was interested in alchemy and the occult and had very definite views about certain grown ups' stupidity. He also wrote about Personality No. 2's that he saw in others, and this had me wondering where my Personality No. 2 was, or if I even had one. I certainly never remembered having an experience like the ones he wrote about (although Jung was singular in the power and significance of his visions and experiences.) But maybe I don't have a Personality No. 2 in the sense that Jung did, but rather an animal Spirit Guide. I always wondered if the Lioness was my animal, but that doesn't feel right - I identify with her and love her, but she's not my guide. The Lioness is less a symbol of my Self and more "myself", my real self, the primitive but pure emotional self I hide deep inside myself, but the Praying Mantis just might be my guide. To the San Bushmen, the praying mantis is a manifestation of God, the "voice of the infinite in the small."

"The !Kung call themselves zhu twa si, 'the harmless people,' in contrast to non-San, whom they call zosi, 'animals without hooves,' meaning they are as dangerous as predator animals... They believe the praying mantis is a divine messenger and when one is seen, diviners try to determine the current message.

Following are three main areas of focus in the surprisingly wide range of things that the praying mantis can represent. Each section is just made up of those quotes that felt meaningful to me at this point in my life; following these three sections I'll go into a discussion/musing about the mantis.

Zen Warrior

  • Patience and balance, mindful movements.
  • Fighter/warrior. Top of the food chain.
  • Zen/Taoist qualities of patience, unassuming stealth, imitates nature, calm yet deadly, total focus.

Praying mantis symbolizes patience and balance, among other things. "[I]n China, the mantis has long been honored for her mindful movements...

The mantis is a predator and is at the top of the food chain within the insect world...

"Seisan" a karate technique teaches how to get inside the opponents attack while developing a strong foundation (a characteristic of a fighting mantis). In fact, the Mantis has been known to take on much larger creatures and defeat them using these described abilities. It is very understandable when observing the mantis that it is revered by the Orient, as well as, all over the world. These hunting and fighting methods have Zen/Buddhist/Taoist like qualities: of patience; unassuming stealth; imitating nature; calm yet deadly posturing; and total focus.

The Power of the Dark Moon
  • Part of the cycle of life, yin/yang, the Tao. Specifically, the predatory, violent side.
  • Women's power.
  • Autumn. Also the cycle of life, the season of the harvest.
  • The necessity of violence: it serves to protect the sustenance which is important for life. Part of maintaining harmony.

Concept of Yin/Yang

Asian Cultures strongly emphasize the connectivity of all living things and their societies are built upon this concept. The circle of life is the relationship of life and death, implying without one you can't have the other. This interrelationship is Yin and Yang... Without the predator/prey relationship there could be no environmental or world harmony...


We can even take this a step further through deductive reasoning to state that the circle of life in essence equals immortality. After all, the continuation of the life cycle means that we are achieving immortality. However this can only be achieved with a balanced relationship. If there becomes an imbalance, then the cycle is interrupted. Thus, it is in the nature of Japanese culture to remain in harmony.

Women Power

Most western cultures associate the mantis with women power. In nature, the female mantis has been noted to eat the male mantis if he hangs around after copulation. While in practical terms that also ensures the circle of life by providing nutrients for the next generation, this threatens the western man as a symbolic reference to women having power and using it to undo man.


...In Japanese symbolism, the Mantis represents the season of autumn. Kobayashi Issa, one of the four prominent forefathers of haiku, used the mantis as a symbol of autumn in his poems... [W]hen we see a Mantis with these other autumn symbols, we see the circle of life being represented, in particular, Autumn, the season of harvest.

[Mantises] dine on insects that may be harmful to what you are growing... In nature, the mantis's role is protecting the crops, thereby, protecting the farmer and protecting an important ingredient in the circle of life sustenance... [W]ithin the circle of life, the Mantis requires violence of action in order to maintain that harmony.

"The Voice of the Infinite in the Small"

  • Mantis as God; the unblinking eye (similar to the fish eye).
  • Mantis shows the way.
  • The one who teaches.
The praying mantis is the oldest symbol of God: the African Bushman’s manifestation of God come to Earth, "the voice of the infinite in the small,"* a divine messenger. When one is seen, diviners try to determine the current message. In this culture they are also associated with restoring life into the dead. "Mantis" is the Greek word for "prophet" or "seer," a being with spiritual or mystical powers.

Meet the eye of a mantis and feel the presence of God. Interspecies communicator Sharon Callahan says, "the I of me, and the I of the creature became one and we rested on the breath of God." She notes that a praying mantis appears sometimes in person, other times in a dream or even in an object of art, but always with the "shiny conscious eye ~ God looking at me through the eye of the Mantis.

The praying mantis shows the way. In the Arabic and Turkish cultures a mantis points pilgrims to Mecca, the holiest site in the Islamic world. In Africa it helps find lost sheep and goats. In France, it's believed that if you are lost the mantis points the way home.

Also, there are many references to the Creator taking the shape of the Praying Mantis and teaching humans language and fire.

Is the praying mantis in my dream related to the girl with long white hair? Blind girls often show up in myths paired with the Wise Old Man; they represent Eros, blindly falling in love. The two are a pair: youth and age, male and female, wisdom and folly, detachment and complete and utter attachment. Since I'm a woman I suppose the symbol of the Self which has detached wisdom is the detached but powerful female Mantis. Like the snake/child pairing they too must be two sides of the same coin. When I drew a picture of the mantis, the blind girl was there. She may be blind but the mantis, who was perched on her head, has a gaze that never blinks. She is in fact the Eye of the Goddess, which sees everything clearly and without emotion, without compassion but also without judgment.

The Praying Mantis is woman power. Contrast her to the Cat, who's feminine instinct and passion, and the blind girl, who's young and powerless. Like a plant, the Mantis is at one with Herself, capable of doing great violence with calm and dispassion. As women age, and they change from Girl to Crone, they stop caring what people think of them and start acting like the Mantis. This may be why such powerful women tend to terrify men, as black widows and praying mantises do. A man's story is different; he has to confront the black widow, or the mantis; he has to confront the devouring snake side, without fear, without destroying life - and without letting himself be destroyed - and come into himself as a man. But a woman has her own story; she has to become the independent Mantis/Crone, without running away from life, but to preserve it. Life needs the dark side as well as the light.

Without Atropos to cut the thread of life which had finished it's course the entire web of creation would be threatened. But in order to mature into the Mantis, a woman has to develop the qualities of the Wise Crone: insight, detachment, a vision of the bigger picture, and the ability to destroy that which threatens the greater harmony of life. And in order to do so a part of her has to remain outside the sticky mess of personal feeling, not by running away from it but by living it, learning from it, and eventually being able to step back from it. As the I-Ching put it, "Retreat is not the forced flight of a weak person but the voluntary withdrawal of a strong one."

We can only become strong by living life, not by running away from it. I think the reason I'm going through all of this crazy emotional shit is because I avoided it for so long in order to protect myself. So I'm getting a really intense education in emotional upheaval and heartbreak... but this is having an effect on my Mantis. As with men and their Wise Man and Blind Girl, I have to balance the Mantis and the Lioness (also the Blind Girl): I need to stay with the relationship but not be consumed by it.

And yes, I do think the Mantis just may be my Spirit Guide; no matter how crazy I've gotten, something in me has always been dispassionate and clear eyed. But until now, it's been paired with the sour bitterness of an unlived life. I guess now by God I'm living it...


"Animal Symbolism of the Praying Mantis" by Avia Venefica []

"Praying Mantis" by Souled Out (Swan Raven & Co.) []

"Pray for the Preying Mantis" By Ken Wilson[]

Praying Mantis in Totem Library []

Edit 6/12/12

On re-reading "The Union of Irreconcilables" I came across the puer/puella's problem with withstanding the tension of the pull of opposites. Maybe the reason why is because the passions (the cats) damage the still center (the Mantis), and the point of putting the mantis on one's shoulder is to keep it out of harm's way. Putting it on your shoulder also means keeping it close to you, and paying attention to it. Listening to it. It means putting it up higher than the cats at your feet, and not letting them run roughshod all over it.


  1. I am so enjoying your posts about your dreamwork. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Thank you! I really like writing about them. Plus I've noticed in my reading on this stuff that the most personal stuff often ends up being the most universal. I hope something in my writing might set off interesting ideas in others, too!

  3. This post couldnt have come to me at a better time than now. I shared your post with a message that this was the most powerful symbolism explaination that I could find. Also it also tells me that you also feel the energies of the earth and her messages. Thank you for sharing. Blessed Be.

  4. Merry Meet! And awesome! I'm so glad the post was helpful to you - that's exactly why I'm writing this blog.

  5. thank you. the Mantis has recently revealed herself to me as a guide. your insights were helpful to me... blessings!

    1. This is a (very!) belated response but, if you get it, thank you! And I'm so glad it helped! The Mantis is amazing, powerful and beautiful. May she guide and teach you well!


New blog!

In case you haven't noticed, QotN has been really, really (really!) quiet. This is because I've been doing some other stuff, like go...