One of the oldest animals to be domesticated, donkeys have been a part of human lives and civilization for thousands of years.
They have been with us so long that even the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt knew of them, and respected them for their ability to carry items and tools for long distances. With how much has changed in such a long time, it’s very reassuring to see the donkey’s work ethic start so early!
Their domestication early on, along with many ancient civilizations, meant that many cultures have made use of the donkey’s many services, and have built up many cultural symbols.
In this guide we’re going to explore the spiritual, symbolic, and dream meanings of donkeys, and how, as a spirit animal, they can influence our own lives and thinking.
Symbolism & Meaning
The most famous symbol that donkeys are associated with is their skill as laborers and assisting others in their work. This often means that they come to symbolize the working classes, who would use donkeys over horses due to their cheaper costs to purchase, ability to keep healthy, and wider availability.
In this respect, a symbol of a donkey, depending on the context and culture, will typically be used to characterize the lower classes in society. In Ancient Greece, for example, donkeys would be characterized as stubborn, stupid creatures that didn’t know when to quit.
However, there are plenty of examples where donkeys have come to mean positive qualities too.
Since the Renaissance, donkeys in Europe have come to be seen as symbols of modesty and loyalty, due to their ability to stick to the task at hand, and their relative lack of grace when compared to more charismatic animals, whilst still being vital parts of people’s everyday lives.
The donkey is an animal you should seek guidance from if you feel that you are buckling under too much pressure. Donkeys are practically inseparable from the concept of ‘beasts of burden’. This makes them stalwart and immovable when they need to be relied upon.
If you have found yourself in that very situation, whether that’s taking on too much work in your job, or the need to take care of your loved ones who cannot take care of themselves, then you should consult the spirit of the donkey for how you carry yourself going forward.
Just because you’ve taken on these tasks for yourself, doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out for help.
Alternatively, you might want to seek out the spirit of the donkey if you feel that you haven’t taken on enough responsibility.
Perhaps you feel that you have not been pushed or challenged recently, and you feel yourself becoming stale, rusty, or even complicit. A little lazy, even. You might have noticed this if you have seen someone else struggling under their responsibilities.
If this is the case, the donkey will help give you a gentle push in a direction that will give you more to do. Just a gentle push, mind you. You don’t want to be on the hoof-end of a donkey kick!
Being a creature that is a beast of burden, being born with a donkey as your totem means that you are, spiritually and emotionally at least, one of the strongest souls out there. You tend to take it upon yourself to help others who are in need, even if you may not be fully equipped, or you are suffering yourself.
Not only that, but you have a habit of taking on more responsibility and tasks than you can realistically manage. You may be able to carry that load for a short amount of time, but make sure to look after yourself, and be careful. Even if your walls stand strong right now, time and weight will bring them down eventually.
However, that doesn’t mean that your efforts are wasted. Those who are close to you know what you do for others, and are often inspired by your resilience. You might not be invulnerable, but you’re tougher than most, and certainly tougher than many give you credit for.
Just remember that others are there with you to bear those burdens you take on. You are never alone, and you need to know when to recognize that and give yourself some time to heal.
The donkey is an animal that you should draw inspiration from when all the cards have been thrown down, so to speak. It is a source of power that you should look to if you are at the end of your ropes.
If you feel that something has led you to make a bad choice, the donkey is there to remind you to lift your head, look straight on, and say, ‘No. This won’t stop me. I can keep going’.
If the weight of the decisions you have made is costing you, the donkey is there to take some of that load from you, to give just that bit of breathing space you need to pick yourself back up.
The donkey is also a source of power for you in those times when you feel like you are not being heard. Outside their work ethic, the thing that most donkeys are known for is their loud, squeaky neigh, or bray as it is more commonly called.
If you feel small and intimidated by others in a room, and you feel that you have something that needs to be said, think of the donkey. Think of what you want to say, take a deep breath, and let yourself be heard!
If a donkey has appeared at some point to you whilst you dream, then you have a lot that you need to consider whilst reviewing what you remember from it.
If you remember that you were the one riding the donkey, then it could be a gentle reminder that those who you work with or over should be treated with respect. Remember that it is them who is carrying you, and not the other way around.
Their ability to carry you to your destination is a skill you rely on, so you should keep them in mind as you move forward in life, whatever that may look like to others.
It is also possible that your subconscious is telling you that a great journey is about to begin for you. What that journey entails will be different for each individual person.
This might be a physical one, perhaps moving to a new home or even country. It might also mean a metaphorical or spiritual journey, such as going through a period of self-improvement or enlightenment for yourself.
The journey may be difficult, and it may be longer than you think, so make sure to prepare yourself for a long period of change coming soon to you. With the spirit and guidance of the donkey by your side. It won’t be a matter of if you will finish the journey. Only when.
Animals are always an easy choice when it comes to representing a part of yourself in ink form, and the donkey is no exception.
Given that the animal is used as the symbol for a wide variety of political parties across the world, many choose to signify their affiliation by having a picture of a donkey tattooed on their body somewhere.
If you live in the United States, for example, you would probably recognize the donkey as the symbol of the Democrat party, probably as a way to signify a form of dependability and strong-willed commitment.
A tattoo of a donkey can also mean humor or comedy. William Shakespeare would often use the term ‘ass’ to describe a fool or an idiot in his plays, especially in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which has since gone on to enter the wider English language for the same reason.
Someone who has a tattoo of one of these animals likely either sees themselves as something of a jokester or funny man, or has the tattoo for self-deprecating reasons, and sees themselves as a fool.
A donkey can also be used as an expression of a person’s faith. Since donkeys regularly appear throughout both bible testaments, and in Islam, donkeys are often seen as God’s humility on Earth, as well as his strength that he can be depended on to give to those that follow him.
Many people who want to honor God will have this humble little workhorse – well little work donkey, really – tattooed onto them, as a way to show their love.
The donkey is the spiritual equivalent of an old pair of good boots: They might not be as shiny as they once were, and they might be looking a little worse for wear, but you know they are reliable, and that they’ll do their job well.
This is the role that donkeys have played, and will likely continue to play for thousands more years. Dependable, practical, and dedicated to a fault.
However, that dedication also carries with it a few negative aspects that have been described. Many would see the single-mindedness of donkeys as a sign of foolishness, and a symptom of stupidity.
They are also often seen as creatures of pity, and of continuous suffering. To compare someone to a donkey in this sense is to be made aware of the pain that is inflicted on them by others, through no fault other than they have to for their job.
They are a creature that deserves mercy and kindness, as such all those who strive to do an honest day’s work.
They are also a symbol of companionship for many others. Many myths, legends, stories, tales, and fables will have an important character start their journey out on a donkey, signifying humble beginnings, and the start of a spiritual journey as well.
For many of these folk heroes who would go on to do incredible things, it’s always essential to remember where they started from: On the back of a single, dependable little mount, and with nothing but a goal.
The donkey appears throughout many chapters of biblical literature, both in the Old and New Testaments.
Being the creature that both carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem on its back, as well as the mount that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, donkeys are often associated with powerful divinity and compassion. Not just in the story of Jesus Christ, but also in other figures from earlier in the book.
In biblical texts, it is interesting to note how donkeys were contrasted against horses in a few ways. See, the donkeys are typically depicted as being a staple part of many peasants’ and farmers’ lives throughout the Bible, usually in the company of important characters and prophets.
Compare that to the horses in the bible, who are described as being the creatures that pulled chariots and carriages, or being ridden by soldiers on horseback. Often, these people are the ones causing strife and pain in many of the Jewish and Christian people we are shown.
In this way, the donkey comes to represent the followers of God and Jesus, whilst the horse comes to embody those that would hurt them. The donkey is persistent, perhaps overworked, but always unbreakable, and loyal. Horses meanwhile come to symbolize power, oppression, and authority.
It’s an interesting comparison when compared to how other cultures viewed the Donkey. For many Ancient Greeks, for example, the horse was a beast of majesty and beauty, whilst the donkey was typically seen as a frustrating and stupid beast, and more often than not associated with the poorer folk of the Ancient world.
As part of the ancient Silk Road that delivered goods from the Middle East to all across Asia, donkeys found themselves in a whole range of different countries.
In China, due to their association with manual labor, they became associated with ideas of asceticism, the practice of depriving oneself of earthly needs and wants to obtain a higher divine understanding, and humility. This became a popular image with many monks and practitioners of Daoism.
In India and Southern China, donkeys became a preferred symbol for Buddhist monks for similar reasons. Their strong will, gentleness when cared for, and their working life as a laborer, made them a symbol of a gentle heart and clarity of vision, especially for the spirit, and an animal that embodied the patience to reach enlightenment.
And in Hinduism meanwhile, the Goddess Kalaratri, one of the forms of the Durga, rides a donkey as her steed. This is quite the departure from many other interpretations, as Kalaratri is considered a fierce goddess of demonic power and negative energy.
Her use of a subservient donkey can be seen as an aspect of the hardship that donkeys often face in their life as a working animal, especially at the hands of those that have power over them.
Although Celtic folklore shows that this ancient religion had a great deal of respect for horses and their equine cousins, the appearances of donkeys are somewhat rarer.
However, they are one of the creatures that came under the protection of Epona, one of the many gods in Celtic and Gaulic mythology. She acts as a protector for all steeds, including horses, donkeys, mules, and ponies, and was often shown in reliefs and imagery that featured foals, showing her caring nature.
The Celts were a people that prioritized the good of the community, a sentiment that was regularly extended to their steeds. If a good owner took good care of their mount or workhorse, then they would be rewarded with loyalty back.
Once again, we see this theme of loyalty appearing in donkeys and their relatives, which seems to have been encouraged in Celts, given how much they appear in stone reliefs and carvings.
Donkeys have been around for a long time, and as we’ve seen here, they have gathered quite a lot of symbolism to go with them. Amongst some of the most popular ideas they stand for are:
So, the donkey, much like its place in history has shown us, has been overlooked, misunderstood, but also shown plenty of love and understanding by those who understand them. And their spirit, in turn, helps us become better through their example.
Their energy is something to be cherished and nurtured, and practiced by ourselves if we have the chance.
We hope this guide has given you a better appreciation for this beast, and all that it stands for.
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