During a theology class last week, I taught my students about the spiritual meanings of rats in different cultures and religions. Although they are one of the smallest animals on earth, rats boast rich symbolism and spiritual meanings that carry significant weight in various cultures across the world. Out of all the subtopics I covered, I especially enjoyed teaching the spiritual meanings of a rat crossing your path.
The spiritual meanings of a rat crossing your path vary across different cultures and religions. Eastern cultures like the Chinese, Japanese, and Hindus associate rats with intelligence, innovation, resilience, good fortune, and divine presence. On the other hand, Celtic and European cultures associate rats with misery, poverty, and impending bad luck.
In this article, I aim to guide you through a spiritual and enlightening journey that will help you ascribe spiritual meanings to rats depending on your cultural and religious beliefs. Keep reading to learn more.
The spiritual meanings of rats vary across different cultures and religions. Some cultures ascribe positive spiritual meanings to rats, while others associate them with negative aspects of life.
The Chinese, for example, believe that rats inspire intelligence, innovation, and craft in their culture because the Rat applied similar qualities to become first in a race against bigger and faster animals. The Japanese believe that rats nibbling on one’s grains is a sign of wealth and good fortune because rats are the animals most associated with Daikoku, the Japanese god of wealth and good fortune. Indians revere rats as symbols of divine presence in their lives because they are the spiritual incarnations and reincarnations of Karni Mata and her blessed tribespeople, respectively.
On the other hand, Celtic folklore suggests that rats fleeing one’s house, barn, or farmyard foreshadows bad luck for the occupants of that house. Egyptians believe that rats are harbingers of destruction because of their tendency to destroy properties and spread diseases. Polish and German folktales also suggest that rats are both a warning and an assurance that God’s judgment against the wicked is inevitable.
Rat Symbolism In Different Regions And Cultures
The Chinese, Hindu, and Japanese cultures and religions derive their symbolism for rats from ancient folklore and beliefs that have been passed down through generations.
The popular legend of the Chinese Zodiac suggests that, despite being the smallest animal, the Rat won the race to become the first zodiac sign by using trickery, charm, and intelligence. Therefore, the Chinese often associate rats with these qualities, and they perceive individuals born in the year of the Rat as crafty, charming, opportunistic, intelligent, and innovative.
In ancient Japanese mythology, rats are associated with Daikoku, the god of wealth and good fortune. The Japanese believe that when rats nibble on one’s grains, it is a sign of personal wealth and prosperity. Japanese folklore also tells of a story where a rat couple traveled great distances until they found the perfect husband for their daughter. Here, rats are symbols of resilience, ambition, and achievement.
Some Indians revere rats as symbols of divine presence and spiritual rebirth. In Hindu religion, Karni Mata was the incarnation of the mother goddess Durga, and she could perform miracles for her people during the 14th century. Legend has it that when one of Karni Mata’s stepson died, the Hindu god of death (Yama) agreed to reincarnate him and all of her sons as rats. Indians, therefore, perceive rats as the spiritual reincarnations of Karni Mata’s tribespeople.
Over the years, Indians have built several temples in honor of Karni Mata, and the most famous one in Deshnoke hosts over 25,000 rats. Hurting or killing any of these rats is a serious sin, and devotees often engage in the holy practice of offering food to the sacred rats. White rats are significantly scarcer and held in higher esteem as they are believed to be the incarnations of Karni Mata and her sons.
Ancient Egyptian illustrations depict the Rat as a symbol of destruction. This is because the Egyptians believed that rats could damage properties and spread diseases. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology came across a “rat trap,” which they believe was used in ancient times to trap rats who tried to tunnel their way into buildings.
You should note, however, that Egyptians also perceived the Rat as a symbol of good judgment because it always selected the best bread when presented with several options.
Some African literature associates rats with poverty, greed, and oppression, while other cultures believe that rats are the spirits of their dead loved ones who have come to visit. In these cultures, it is taboo to kill a rat.
African symbolism for rats is as wide and varied as the African cultures; hence, spiritual meanings of rats in Africa are open to personal interpretation based on your own experiences and cultural beliefs.
Scottish folklore that is still relevant in modern Scottish culture suggests that rats fleeing one’s house, barn, or farmyard foreshadows bad luck for the occupants of that house.
In this story, rats are drawn to a farmhouse that has fallen into poverty, misery, and despair. At first, these rats only came out to steal and cause destruction at night, but when the house occupants took no action against them, they began venturing out during the day as well. Amid the misery and despair of the house occupants, the rats flourished and grew in numbers until the villagers began calling the once-respected farmhouse “Rat Hall.” Shortly after, an old shepherd witnessed thousands of rats fleeing from the farmhouse in the middle of the night, auctioneers took over the house and all its furniture, and the house occupants were left homeless and at the mercy of the world.
Based on this folklore, the Scottish perceive rats as symbols of poverty, misery, and impending bad luck. Other Celtic cultures have applied the message of this folklore to suggest that rats fleeing a ship can be a warning that the ship will soon sink.
Although references to rats are scarce in Native American mythology and folklore, the Rat as a totem animal represents intelligence, ambition, fertility, and good fortune.
Ancient Mexican cultures enlisted the help of rats in identifying immoral members of a household as they believed that rats were excellent judges of character. They also believed that eating food which had been nibbled on by rats was a sign that one would be falsely accused of committing a crime.
Native American communities also ascribe spiritual meanings to other rodents related to rats, like the muskrat. Some Native American tribes believe that the muskrat helped in the creation of the world by diving into the ocean and retrieving soil, which the Creator used to make land. In these tribes, the muskrat is a symbol of bravery and selflessness.
Just like Scottish folklore, ancient Roman mythology suggests that rats are symbols of impending bad luck. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and philosopher, wrote that rats heralded the Social War against the Roman government by destroying property in a city near Rome. He also implied that Carbo, a Roman general, met his death shortly after rats had eaten his shoestrings and hose-garters.
Polish folklore depicts rats as avengers of punishment against evil and tyrannical leaders; hence, rats are a symbol of divine justice. One legend has it that Heaven sent a multitude of rats to punish a Polish king who was immoral and tyrannical towards his subjects. Although the king and his family fled to a castle on a far-away island, the rats eventually caught up with them and devoured them all.
A German poem also tells the story of thousands of rats who were sent by God to exact judgment against a greedy and cruel bishop. Instead of helping God’s people in their time of need, Bishop Hatto trapped them in a barn and set them on fire. The poem then implies that the Lord sent thousands of rats to punish him, and although he fled to a safe, high tower, the rats swam through steep shores and deep rivers to reach him. They penetrated the high tower from all directions and gnawed the flesh from the bishop’s limbs. Here, rats are also symbols of the inevitability of God’s judgment against the wicked.
A rat crossing your path can be a common or strange occurrence, depending on where you come from. Nevertheless, you can perceive any of the following spiritual meanings when a rat crosses your path:
A rat crossing your path can be an encouragement for you to make the most of an opportunity by applying intelligence, innovation, and charm. The legend behind the Chinese Zodiac suggests that the Rat won the race to become the first zodiac sign despite being the smallest animal by using brains rather than brawn. The race involved crossing a river to reach the finish line, and since the cat and Rat were terrible swimmers, they solicited the good-natured ox for help. In order to finish first, the Rat pushed the cat into the river and jumped onto the shore before the ox could swim out of the water. So if you’re contemplating how to go about a particular challenge and a rat crosses your path, you can draw inspiration from this story and take it to mean that you need to be intelligent and innovative to come out on top.
Resilience and Ambition
A rat crossing your path can be a spiritual message to be resilient and ambitious to achieve what you want. One Japanese folklore story tells the inspiring story of a rat couple who travelled great distances just to find the perfect husband for their beautiful daughter. They travelled to the sun, cloud, wind, and back to the wall until they learned that the perfect husband was one of their very own. You can take this story to mean that sometimes you need to travel great distances before you can find what is right in front of you. The Polish and German folktales also show the single-minded, almost obsessive ambition of the rats to achieve what they had set out to do. So a rat crossing your path can be on its way to getting what it wants, and it could be encouraging you to apply the same level of resilience and ambition to all your endeavors.
Indians suggest that a rat crossing your path can be a symbol of divine presence in your life, and you need to treat it with kindness and respect. They believe that rats are spiritual reincarnations of Karni Mata’s blessed tribespeople, and they treat them with love and reverence. White rats, which are significantly fewer in number than regular rats, are credited with higher reverence because Indians believe them to be the incarnations of Karni Mata and her sons. Some African cultures also associate rats with the spirits of their deceased loved ones who have come to visit, and killing one is considered taboo. Based on how these cultures view rats, a rat crossing your path can be a comforting message of divine presence in your life. You should refrain from being mean or cruel towards it, as you may be getting in your own way of receiving divine blessings or comfort.
Warning of Tragedy
You can perceive a rat crossing your path as a spiritual warning of impending bad luck or tragedy. A Scottish folklore story tells of house occupants who ended up homeless and destitute after thousands of rats fled from their farmhouse. Although the rats were feeding off the misery and despair of the house occupants, this tale implies that they had a spiritual intuition that warned them about the bad luck that would soon befall the house. Rats also display this sixth sense in Roman mythology, where Pliny the Elder suggests that the behavior of rats foreshadowed the bad omen that befell Rome and some of its leaders. Therefore, a rat crossing your path can be fleeing from an area destined for bad luck, and ancient beliefs suggest that you’ll be wise to heed the Rat’s warning.
Practice good judgment
A rat crossing your path can be a spiritual message for you to practice good judgment in your endeavors. Although rats were symbols of destruction in ancient Egypt, the Egyptians also associated rats with qualities of good judgment because they always selected the best bread when presented with several options. Ancient Mexicans also believed rats to be good judges of characters and even relied on them to identify the immoral members of a household. If you’re stuck at the crossroads about something and you see a rat crossing your path, you can take it as advice to consider all the options and employ good judgment before you can choose to pursue a certain path. This message can also apply when you’re choosing friends or business partners. Let your intuition guide you, and don’t let anything cloud your judgment.
Polish and German folktales suggest that a rat crossing your path can be both a warning and an assurance that God’s judgment against the wicked is inevitable. In these tales, rats are depicted as God’s vengeful messengers against evil and tyrannical leaders. The Polish king tried to flee from his destined fate, but the rats hunted him down to his safe castle and completed the mission they were sent to do. Bishop Hatto also tried to escape God’s wrath after committing evil against His people, but the poem implies that the rats swam deep rivers and steep shores and penetrated the high tower to ensure that they accomplished what they’d been sent to do. So, depending on your moral compass, a rat crossing your path can be a comforting assurance that the wicked will eventually receive their due, or it can be a warning about the end of the path you’re on.
Depending on your cultural and religious symbolism for rats, you can perceive different spiritual meanings when you see a rat inside your house.
Native Americans associate rats with fertility because of their ability to breed quickly even in unfavorable environments. Therefore, a rat in your house can be a sign or a promise of a growing family, a bounty harvest, good fortune, or an increase in your wealth.
The Hindus believe that rats are reincarnations of Karni Mata’s blessed tribespeople and that white rats are the true incarnations of Karni Mata and her sons. Some African cultures also believe that rats are the spirits of their deceased loved ones who have come to pay them a visit. Based on this symbolism, a rat in your house can be an assurance that there’s a divine presence in your life.
What does it mean when I see a rat during the day?
Since rats are typically nocturnal, seeing one during the day can lead you to wonder if there’s a meaning behind it. Well, there could be!
In Scottish folklore, rats that used to hide in the shadows and only come out at night became brazen enough to venture out during the day when the house occupants did nothing to subdue them. Therefore, seeing a rat in your house during the day can be a wake-up call for you to set up or strengthen control measures against the rats. This can include setting traps, maintaining a clean environment, and securing all areas the rats might use to get into the house.
Seeing a rat during the day can also be an attestation of its ambition, resilience, and hard work. Japanese folklore depicts rats as symbols of resilience, ambition, and achievement, and seeing them during the day can show the risks they are willing to take to achieve what they’ve set their minds on. This can also be an inspiration for you to apply the same level of dedication and ambition to all your endeavors, even if it goes against your usual routine.
Seeing a rat at night might be a normal occurrence, but you can still ascribe spiritual meaning to the encounter depending on your cultural and religious beliefs.
The Chinese associate rats with intelligence, innovation, and craft, and seeing one at night can be a message for you to apply these qualities in overcoming a particular challenge and emerging the winner. The Hindus believe that rats are spiritual reincarnations of Karni Mata’s tribespeople and that the white rats are true incarnations of Karni Mata and her sons. Therefore, seeing a rat at night can be a comforting assurance of divine presence in your life.
Contrary to these positive spiritual meanings, other cultures ascribe negative spiritual meanings to seeing a rat at night. For example, Celtic beliefs suggest that seeing a rat fleeing from a residence at night can herald bad luck for the occupants of that residence.
Since rats are known to survive and breed even in the most unfavorable environments, finding a dead rat is usually associated with spiritual meanings of some sort. Still, the spiritual meaning of finding a dead rat varies across cultures and religions.
Rats are symbols of intelligence, resilience, and adaptability in Chinese and Japanese cultures; hence, finding a dead rat can be a revelation that your life lacks these qualities. On the other hand, Hindu cultures, which believe that rats are spiritual reincarnations of Karni Mata’s tribespeople, suggest that finding a dead rat is a sign of spiritual rebirth as the spirit has moved on to a new body.
You can perceive your own spiritual meanings of finding a dead rat by considering your personal experiences and religious beliefs during interpretation.
Dream experts offer several spiritual interpretations of encountering a rat in your dream, but how you perceive each one depends on your personal experiences and cultural and religious beliefs.
Since rats signify impending bad luck in Celtic and Roman beliefs, dreaming about rats may be a warning of impending illness, loss, or any other form of bad luck for you or your loved ones.
Some African cultures perceive rats as symbols of destruction, so encountering one in your dream can also be a warning for you to beware of people’s intentions in your life, as not all of them are meant to uplift you.
Japanese religions that associate rats with good fortune and wealth suggest that encountering a rat in your dream can be a sign or a promise of good fortune in your life. Hindu and African cultures that associate rats with deities or the spirits of deceased loved ones believe that encountering a rat in your dream can be a divine message of warning or comfort from the spiritual realm.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.