The praying mantis is a curious insect, and with its confident, serene appearance, it’s also unlike any other that you might come across.
These insects are also possessed of a rich symbolism – so in this post, we talk in-depth about praying mantis symbolism to help you understand some of this fascinating animal’s various meanings.
Praying Mantis Symbolism – The characteristics of the mantis
Praying mantises are striking insects that demand you take notice of them when they appear, and since they are found around the world in temperate and tropical climates, it’s no wonder they have taken on great symbolism for the people who live in regions where they are present.
However, before we talk about the symbolism of mantises, let’s think a bit about the various characteristics they have that give them this symbolism.
The most conspicuous feature of mantises is their posture. They stand erect with their arms folded in front of them, seemingly in prayer – which is why they are commonly known as “praying” mantises.
Furthermore, most of them are ambush predators. Rather than chase their prey, they wait patiently for prey to come to them before striking – and they won’t strike unless they are sure of making a kill.
They have a calm, serene air to them, but they also have an insect coldness that makes them seem almost calculating.
There’s a dark side to them too since the females often eat the males after mating.
The symbolism of praying mantises
Having talked briefly about the characteristics of mantises, now let’s look at the different symbolism these enigmatic insects have.
Spirituality and religiosity
Due to their distinctive appearance and posture, mantises almost universally symbolize spirituality or religiosity.
This is not only reflected in their common name, “praying mantis”, but also in the word “mantis” itself, which comes from the Greek μάντις (mantis), meaning “prophet”.
In addition, one common European species also has the scientific name Mantis religiosa – which again reminds us of the religious connotations of this insect.
For this reason, if you see a mantis, it could be a message telling you that you need to spend more time on spiritual or religious matters because you have been too focused on material things of late.
Calm and serenity
Whenever you see a mantis, they always seem to carry themselves with an air of calm. They are never flustered or in a hurry, and they seem to have an aura of almost regal serenity about them – and this has not gone unnoticed.
For this reason, mantises are seen as symbols of calm and serenity, and seeing one can remind us that we should slow down and take our time.
We need to be more present in the moment instead of always hurrying to be somewhere else or join the latest trend, something that’s especially pertinent in today’s increasingly rushed and hectic world.
Patience and focus
For similar reasons, mantises are seen as symbols of patience and focus, and this is also because of their patient hunting style.
They don’t waste energy chasing prey. Instead, they position themselves carefully somewhere they think prey will pass, and then they wait.
They don’t strike unless they are sure of success, preferring to wait for the right time. Then, when a prey animal approaches, they focus all their attention on the approaching creature until the critical moment arrives.
This can teach us that we too should learn to focus all our attention on one thing if it’s important to us.
In the modern world, people are constantly forced to multitask, but this just results in us doing lots of things to a lower standard.
However, if you want to achieve success in one thing, you should focus on that and nothing else.
At the same time, achieving one’s goals requires patience and perseverance, and these are qualities the ever-patient mantis can teach us.
These beliefs are also reflected in the way Buddhism sees the mantis as a symbol of patience and perseverance.
Thoughtfulness and mindfulness
While the mantis stands with its arms held high, immobile and perfectly focused, it also seems to be deep in thought, and this is why the mantis has come to symbolize thoughtfulness and mindfulness for many people.
We’ve already mentioned how the mantis doesn’t strike until it is sure that it will succeed, and this teaches us to think carefully about everything we do before we act.
If we rush into things, we can easily make mistakes, so take the time to understand the consequences before you make a decision.
Similarly, it’s important to spend enough time in deep thought, meditation, reflection and self-exploration if we want to find the peace and stillness required for spiritual development – and the mantis’ behavior is the perfect symbol of this.
Martial strength and courage
Although much of the mantis’ symbolism is related to peace, tranquility and thoughtfulness, the Chinese and Japanese also noticed its prowess and fearlessness in battle, which meant it came to represent martial strength and courage too.
Indeed, two separate Chinese fighting styles, the “Northern Praying Mantis” and the “Southern Praying Mantis” were based on the mantis’ movements and temperament.
In a fight, the mantis does not back down but rather continues to advance, and this can be seen as symbolizing valor in battle.
While we shouldn’t seek confrontation, when it is forced upon us, we should fight with ferocity and bravery, just like the mantis.
Something related to the mantis’ ability to fight is its fragile appearance.
Looking at a serene, delicate mantis, you might not imagine that it was a formidable warrior, and its fighting skills are only unleashed when it is forced into combat.
This means the mantis also represents hidden inner strength, and if you see a mantis, it may be a message that you should look inside yourself for your own hidden strength when faced with challenges in your life.
Alternatively, the message could be that if you are confident in your strength and abilities, you shouldn’t seek to show them off. You know what you are capable of, so there’s no need to prove it to others to make yourself feel better or massage your ego.
Stealth and guile
We’ve already talked about the mantis’ stealthy and patient tactics when hunting, but they also turn to stealth and camouflage to avoid becoming food for other, larger animals.
For this reason, mantises also represent stealth and guile. They are able to hide and bide their time, seeing their prey without being seen while at the same time also avoiding being spotted by their own predators.
This reminds us that sometimes, it’s better to achieve our aims through guile and intelligence rather than seeking open confrontation or demanding what we want directly.
An interesting – and rather macabre – characteristic of the mantis is the females’ propensity to eat the males after mating, and for this reason, they can be seen as symbolizing female power.
The females know what they want from the males, and once they have it, they have no more use for them, so they quite literally chew them up.
This doesn’t mean that seeing a mantis is a sign that women should seek to treat men in this way.
However, it can be taken as a reminder that women have their own power, that they don’t belong to men and that they are free to do whatever they want, regardless of men’s opinions.
For this reason, the praying mantis also makes a popular spirit animal for particularly strong-willed and independent women who don’t take any nonsense from men.
Interestingly, these ideas were mirrored in the beliefs of a pre-Columbian culture from modern-day Nicaragua. There, the people worshipped the mantis as Madre Culebra, a powerful predator and female deity representing female authority.
In Ancient Greece, praying mantises were believed to be able to show lost travelers the way home.
In Ancient Egypt, conversely, the praying mantis was known as the “bird-fly” and was thought to be a minor god that led the souls of the departed to the underworld
If you are out for a walk and come across a mantis perched on a branch or a wall, it’s easy to imagine it as a wise being who you can ask the way.
As such, mantises can also be seen as a symbol of guidance, not only in the physical sense of finding the way to your destination but also in the sense of showing you the right path to tread if you want to grow and develop spiritually.
Wealth, success and good luck
Finally, many cultures around the world have seen mantises as representing wealth, success or good luck, as is the case with some Native American tribes as well as among certain peoples in Africa.
An insect to notice and pay attention to
Praying mantises are remarkable insects, and when you see one, you can’t help being drawn to its serene and self-possessed presence – and since we might not see them often, there’s a good chance the mantis brings with it a deeper spiritual message.
When you see a mantis, you should stop to think about what the message could be – because as we have seen, this is an insect that has many lessons to teach us.