Rat Symbolism: Spiritual Meaning and Folklore

Regardless of how annoying and disgusting they can be, rats are considered by many as one of the smartest animals that frequent your home. Adventurous, resourceful, and undoubtedly quick-witted, these hard-working and highly intelligent mammals are often misunderstood as they are almost always associated with uncleanliness, sickness, and even death. Apart from their ability to make a considerable mess in such a short period as well as leave a nest in the various rooms of your abode, the rat presents a host of interesting symbolisms that you might be interested to learn about.

Rats are often seen as dirty, disgusting creatures that live in dark places where they feast on food scraps and garbage. The spiritual meaning of the rat varies by region but can be broken down into two categories: positive or negative. Rats are viewed as symbols of death, pestilence, misfortune, or bad luck in some cultures while other groups see them as symbols of fertility, good fortune, and wisdom.

“A rat is neither good nor evil. It does what a rat has to do.”

Jo Nesbo

What does a rat symbolize?

Constantly in pursuit of their ambitious goals, these notorious yet loyal and loving creatures inspire devotion and reliability to those who are close to them. Amazingly quick and agile, the rat symbolizes strong vitality not only for their awesome reproductive capacity but also for being superior climbers, excellent jumpers, and good swimmers that allow them to effortlessly scale walls, skip across roofs, and navigate shallow ditches and ponds.

Alert, suspicious, and always on the lookout, rats are a known symbol of intelligence for their ability to quickly adapt to different environmental conditions. By observing rats in their enclosures, you would notice that these commonly disfavored creatures are remarkably sharp and that they simply know how to figure things out. While we often see them as this selfish pest that won’t stop at anything to get their tiny hands on whatever it is they want, they have been spotted to share their food with other rats which makes them an excellent reminder about the significance of generosity and kindness.

What does a rat symbolize

Regarded as bold risk-takers, rats scurry into your life as a motivation for you to start asserting yourself in areas that you have yet to explore. Recognized across several cultures as a symbol of change and new beginnings, they encourage you to take the first steps, albeit uncertain, towards the realization of your dreams. While these critters are usually seen in the dirtiest and most cluttered spaces, rat symbolism is an indication that it may be time to re-evaluate the mess and confusion that surround you. By getting rid of the physical things that don’t “spark joy” anymore, you can also begin clearing away your past emotional issues to make space for a fresh start.

Rats are also seen as symbols of fertility, good fortune and wisdom in many cultures. People who believe that rats represent these positive qualities see them as a sign to expand your knowledge base or increase the size of your family. They can be used for protection during pregnancy and labor by some cultures. Rat symbolism often suggests that the creature is a survivor and has great determination.

On the other hand, rats are also seen as symbols of death, pestilence, misfortune or bad luck in some cultures. People who believe that rats represent these negative qualities see them as a sign to be cautious and avoid misfortune. Rat symbolism often suggests that the creature is a thief and can be associated with disease and uncleanliness. In some cases, rat folklore warns of the danger of being bitten by one of these creatures. Rat symbolism varies by region and time period.

Rat spiritual meaning

Rat spiritual meaning

Viewed with negativity across the ages, welcoming the rat with open arms allows it to enhance your spirituality which you can ultimately use to your advantage. While some of its traits may be unfavorable to some, they often come into our presence in times of great difficulties to help provide us comfort, assistance, and relief. Known to take great risks just to obtain a meal, it inspires us to not be scared of taking risks as it allows us to develop and grow in our own spiritual journey.

Gifted with sharp and steadily growing incisors, rats are not as choosy as most animals when it comes to food. Teaching us about the importance of conserving our resources, rats that dash into your presence is a reminder to not be wasteful and to preserve or share with others what you consider as excess. Inspiring us to fully utilize our inner strength and our ability to adapt, the rat spirit animal teaches us to remain calm and to use our gifts to overcome the different challenges that life may throw your way.

Rat symbolism in different cultures

In other cultures, such as in Japan or Southeast Asia, the rat is seen as a messenger from heaven that brings good luck and fortune to those who deserve it. Folklore also suggests that rats can bring wealth if they come into your home uninvited. Rat symbolism in these cultures is usually seen as a sign of good news or blessings.


In China, rats are often associated with the god of wealth, who is sometimes depicted holding a rat in his hand. This could be another reason why some people see them as symbols of good fortune. Rat folklore in China also suggests that rats are very smart and can be helpful in finding buried treasure.


In medieval times, rat symbolism was viewed much differently than it is today. Rats were often seen as the embodiment of evil and associated with the devil. They were thought to spread disease and steal food from people. Rat symbolism in Europe suggests that the creature is a thief and brings bad luck.

However, nowadays researchers say the black pest was rather spread by humans than by rats.

Rat symbolism in different cultures

Native American culture

In Native American culture, rats are seen as symbols of the underworld. They can be used to represent change and transformation, which are often associated with death and rebirth. Rat symbolism in this culture suggests that the creature is a powerful spirit guide.

Rat symbolism in the bible

In the bible, rats are mentioned as a plague that was sent to Egypt as punishment for not following God’s commandments. The rat meaning in this context suggests that the creature is a symbol of death and destruction.

In religion

In many religions, rat symbols are associated with the devil and temptation. People who have seen rats may interpret them as signs that they need to stay away from evil or sinful things. Rat symbolism in religion may also be seen as a sign that you are being tempted to do something bad, but it is up to you whether or not you give in to the temptation.

Rat symbolism in literature and art

In many stories, rat symbols are used to represent the human traits of greed (read more about the symbolism for greed), selfishness and dishonesty.

Rat folklore is often associated with themes involving transformation or rebirth. The symbolism may be seen as a sign that change is coming soon for someone who has been stuck in their old ways or routine.

Rat symbols can also be used to represent the dark side of human nature. Rat imagery is often used in horror stories and movies to create a feeling of suspense or disgust.

The creature has even been featured in famous works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper”. In this work, rat symbolism may be interpreted as a sign that one of the characters will soon betray Christ. Rat symbolism may also be seen as a symbol representing the chaos and decay in an individual’s life or surroundings.

The rat has been used to create many different kinds of symbols, including logos for businesses and organizations. Rat images are often drawn in children’s books to represent mischief or destruction. Rat symbolism can be used as a warning that what you are about to experience is not good.

Rat in literature and art

Seeing a rat in the daytime meaning

While you have probably been told that rats are only active from dusk ‘til dawn, then you have to understand that depending on their lair’s environment, their presence can still be seen even when it’s all bright and sunny. Apart from having their nests disturbed and you being a full-blown litterbug, a rat’s gift of foresight, which allows them to recognize danger even before it happens, prompts them to come out of hiding even in broad daylight and hurry to safety. This indicates that you are courageous enough to defend yourself from any negative situation. Perceptive and clever, this is highly helpful in business as it gives you the advantage of being several steps ahead of any financial disaster.

Although rats are innately hesitant and fearful, an image of them strutting their stuff during the day is an indication that you love a good challenge and that you are ready to take risks to overcome any obstacle. No need to run if you chance upon more than one, as it is only an indication of your need to have yourself involved in more personal social activities as you may have already been too withdrawn and reclusive. Generally suspicious and nervous, they will leave the comforts of darkness just to let you know that progress is happening and the realization of your dreams and goals are near.

seeing a rat

Symbolic meaning of rat

Highly revered for being shrewd and cunning, rats can survive even in the most unwelcoming environment. Symbolizing wisdom, these awesome creatures direct us to appreciate and take good care of the resources we have. As they have mastered the art of slipping through the cracks to keep themselves safe from troubling situations, they tell us that there are times when powering through is not the best way to promote progress towards your goals. Because of their adaptable nature, rats will always find a way to help you survive even when you are going through some difficulties and faced with adversity.

A recognized hoarder, the appearance of rats tells us to let go of old thoughts, feelings, or beliefs that are not of any good use. These rodents may dart into our lives as a sign that it is time to get rid of the unhelpful things that we continue to hoard. However, such an accumulation may also mean that the rat wants us to stock up and prepare for any hardships or complications that may come. Whether it’s for a big job interview or unexpected sickness, these wonderful creatures squeak their way into our consciousness to make sure that we are ready no matter the challenge.

What does it mean to dream of rats?

When you dream of rats, it may be a sign that there is something in your life that you need to get rid of. Rat dreams can also suggest that someone or something is trying to take advantage of you. Rats can also be interpreted as messengers from the underworld, so rat dreams may be a sign that some kind of change is coming soon. Rat dreams can also be a reminder to watch out for thievery or deceit in your life, especially when it comes from someone you are close with. Rat dreams may also represent the dark side of your own nature and how you see yourself. Rat symbolism in this case can be a warning to take action against negative behavior before it is too late.

dreaming of rats

Freud believed that rats in dreams often stand for the dreamer’s siblings. The unwanted ones who, it seems like at times, we need to be better with or mend our relationships with them because they remind us of all those things from childhood which were not so wonderful and now carry emotional weight as adults living on their own. Rats in this case can be a warning about our relationship with these people, and rat dreams often indicate the need to deal with issues from childhood that may still be hurting us today.

Dreams of rats can be a sign that you’re dreaming about sex. Rats are phallus-shaped and it is believed this reflects erotic dreams during waking life.

Dead Rat Meaning

When a rat dies it can represent the end of an era or something that was important to you is coming to an end. When you come across a dead rat in your dreams without finding its body, it may be a sign that you need to let go of something. Rat symbolism in this case can indicate the end of an era or some kind of significant change is coming soon. Read more about the dead rat meaning.

Rat dead meaning


Rats arrive and make their presence felt at times when we are looking for better ways to make our lives more prosperous and healthy. Providing us with insights and ideas, serve as our guide as we try to learn new skills that may lead to personal and spiritual growth. While rats seem all crummy and contaminated, the symbols that this remarkable spirit animal represents guide you to eliminate all the unwanted clutter from your life.

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Richard Alois
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Richard's goal is to empower readers on their spiritual journey through education and guidance, toward personal growth and understanding of self and the world. Richard has over a decade of experience in helping readers navigate complexities, find deeper meaning and purpose in their lives, and make positive changes.

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