The Rich Symbolism and Meaning of Pigs

Pig Symbolism

Throughout history and across cultures, the pig has accumulated a wealth of symbolic meaning. This humble farm animal has variously represented fertility, virility, abundance, nourishment, laziness, gluttony, dirtiness, and more.

A Brief History of Pig Symbolism

pink pig on green grass field during daytime

The roots of pig symbolism can be traced back over 40,000 years to the Stone Age. Prehistoric peoples domesticated wild boars, prizing them as a valuable food source rich in meat and fat. Pigs were among the first animals to be domesticated, along with dogs, sheep, and goats.

In ancient Egypt, pigs were associated with the gods Horus and Seth. The pig was both revered and reviled in Egypt – while its meat was considered unclean for human consumption, pigs were sacrificed to the gods and used in medical treatments. The Egyptians also used the pig in art as a symbol of evil and ignorance.

In Greek and Roman mythology, the pig was linked to fertility deities such as Demeter, Ceres, Adonis, and Bacchus. This connection likely arose from the pig’s reputation for being exceptionally fertile and producing large litters. Pigs were frequently sacrificed to the fertility gods.

The Celts had a more positive view of the pig. They considered these animals bringers of luck and prosperity. Celtic boar motifs have been found on many artifacts. To the Celts, the boar represented courage, strong will, and success in battle.

Pigs also play a prominent role in Norse mythology, where the boar was considered a sacred animal of Freyr and Freyja. The boar symbolizes warrior virtues of bravery, strength, and valor. There are numerous references to magical boars in Norse myths and legends.

Cultural Variations in Pig Symbolism

photo of pink pig

Pig symbolism varies extensively across different cultures and religions. Here are some prominent examples:

  • In Judaism, pigs are seen as unclean animals and pork is forbidden as food. This arises from injunctions in Deuteronomy 14:8 stating pigs are ritually impure as they do not chew the cud1.
  • In Islam, the pig is also considered an unclean animal, and pork consumption is forbidden. Pigs are mentioned negatively in the Quran as an embodiment of greedy, profligate spenders.
  • In China, the pig is one of the 12 zodiac animals. People born in the Year of the Pig are considered earnest, kind, and fortunate. The pig is also linked to wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture.
  • In Buddhism, the pig represents ignorance, greed, sloth, and gluttony. The Three Poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion are sometimes represented as three pigs.
  • In Christianity, the pig has ambivalent symbolism. On one hand, it represents overindulgence, dirtiness, and sin. But Jesus also uses a pig metaphor to explain divine mercy and acceptance.

Positive Meanings of Pig Symbolism

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Despite some negative connotations, pigs have accrued many positive meanings across cultures:

  • Abundance – The pig’s reputation for prolific reproduction and its stout, well-fed physique have made it a symbol of abundance and prosperity.
  • Nourishment – Pigs provide nourishment through their meat, milk, and lard. They sustain families and communities, making them a vital food source.
  • Fertility & Virility – The pig’s reproductive capacity led to its association with fertility gods. Male pigs represent virility and strength.
  • Luck – To the Celts and some other cultures, pigs symbolize good luck. Their presence was thought to attract fortune.
  • Intelligence – Despite the insult of calling someone a “pig,” these animals are intelligent with good problem-solving skills.
  • Determination – The relentless rooting behaviors of pigs symbolize determination and perseverance.
  • Nurturing – Mother pigs are very nurturing with large litters, making them symbols of attentive parenting.

Negative Meanings of Pig Symbolism

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Pigs have some less flattering symbolic meanings as well:

  • Gluttony – Pigs are known for their immense appetites, leading to associations with overindulgence and gluttony.
  • Dirtiness – Pigs roll in mud and will eat almost anything, linking them to dirt, filth, and pollution.
  • Laziness – Since they sleep and eat so much, pigs can represent laziness, sloth, and obesity.
  • Greed – Their insatiable hunger leads to connections with excessive greedy behavior in people.
  • Self-indulgence – Their tendency to overeat results in pigs symbolizing a lack of self-control and indulgence in excess.
  • Stubbornness – When pigs refuse to move, their behavior seems stubborn and intractable.
  • Ignorance – Pejorative phrases like “pig-headed” associate pigs with ignorance and stupidity.

Pig Symbolism in Mythology and Folklore

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Pigs play significant symbolic roles in the myths and folklore of diverse cultures:


  • Circe – The sorceress turned Odysseus’s men into swine.
  • The Calydonian Boar – A monstrous boar sent by Artemis, hunted by many Greek heroes.
  • Adonis – Gored to death by a boar as punishment for pride.


  • Hildisvíni – The eternal battle boar of the god Freyr.
  • Sæhrímnir – The magical boar of Valhalla that is slaughtered each night and resurrected.
  • Gullinbursti – The golden-bristled boar crafted by dwarves for Freyr.


  • Twrch Trwyth – A gigantic boar hunted by King Arthur and his men.
  • The boar of Ben Gulbain – Diarmuid Ua Duibhne was killed by a boar sent by a jealous suitor.
  • Mucalinda – The protector boar of Irish Saint Senan.


  • Zhu Bajie – One of the heroes of Journey to the West, a pig demon who becomes a Buddhist disciple.
  • The Pigsy – Greed demon defeated by the Buddha to teach morality.
  • Lucky pigs – Pigs with curled tails symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.


  • The Prodigal Son – After wasting his inheritance, he slops pigs but longs to return home.
  • The Gadarene swine – Jesus sends demons into pigs, driving them over a cliff.
  • Forbidden pork – Pigs are seen as dirty, unholy scavengers in Leviticus.

Positive Pig Symbolism and Meaning

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Let’s explore some of the positive meanings behind pig symbolism in greater depth:


The pig perfectly embodies abundance. These stout, well-padded animals seem to overflow with prosperity. Their big litter represents fruitfulness and reproduction. Pigs transform even rotten food into valuable meat and fat.

In art and sculpture, the pig appears as a symbol of plenty – their rotund bellies and jowly faces exude a sense of bounty and being well-provided for. Still, life paintings will often feature pigs to signify affluence and generosity.


Beyond just abundance, pigs provide actual nourishment as a source of staple foods like pork, ham, and bacon. Nearly every part of a slaughtered pig can be used productively – meat, fat, skin, bones, blood, and organs.

This nourishing quality takes on ritual significance in some cultures where pigs are slaughtered for sacrificial feasts and offerings. To share the flesh of the pig is to partake in its strength and spirit of generosity.

Fertility & Virility

Pigs are extremely fertile animals. A single sow can farrow over a dozen piglets in one litter and produce two litters a year. This amazing reproductive capacity associates the pig with fertility and fecundity.

Boars represent the epitome of untamed masculine virility. The Indo-European root perk- meaning lively, reckless, and pig, also gives rise to words like virile and virility.


Pork has been considered good luck food in many cultures. It is often eaten on holidays, weddings, festivals, and other celebrations to attract luck and ward off evil.

In Eastern European folk traditions, pigs were sacred animals. Killing and eating a pig was believed to bring good fortune for the coming year. Celtic peoples relied on divinatory pig bones for oracular knowledge of lucky days.


Pigs display a dogged determination as they use their snouts to root relentlessly in the earth. They seem to embody hard work, perseverance, and indefatigability.

This has made the pig a symbol of dedicated effort. The pig demonstrates that rewards can come to those who devote themselves fully to their endeavors. It encourages us to keep pushing ahead despite obstacles.

Negative Pig Symbolism and Meaning

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On the other hand, several unflattering characteristics of pigs have spawned negative symbolism:


Pigs are ravenous eaters, capable of consuming vast quantities of food in a single session. Their immense appetites link them to the deadly sin of gluttony – overindulgence in food and drink.

In Christian art, pigs often embody gluttony. Images of greedy, obese priests sloppily feeding from overflowing trots served to illustrate the dangers of excess.


Despite their reputation for intelligence, pigs do exhibit some dirty habits. They frequently wallow in mud, refuse, and their excrement. This dirtiness created an image of pigs as foul, unhygienic beasts.

Judaism and Islam in particular latched onto this perception of the pig as an unclean, abominable animal. The pig came to represent spiritual impurity and pollution.


Pigs spend much of their day sleeping and lying about. When not actively eating, they can seem lazy.

Thus the image of the lazy pig emerged – sleeping in, refusing to get out of bed, and generally being inert and slothful. As a lazy person is colloquially called a “pig,” this animal became a symbol of slackness and lassitude.


The gluttony of pigs is closely linked to greed. Their insatiable appetite for more and more led them to be seen as emblems of extreme greedy behavior.

A secondary meaning of the word “pig” is a selfish or greedy person. To “pig out” means to consume food in a wildly greedy and voracious manner. Pigs represent the dangers of always wanting more.

The Pig in Cultural Expressions

 Piggy banks

The rich symbolic associations of the pig show up frequently in cultural languages and artistic expressions. Here are some examples:

  • “When pigs fly” – A sarcastic phrase implying something will never happen. Based on the fanciful image of pigs sprouting wings and taking flight2.
  • “Don’t cast your pearls before swine” – Biblical injunction not to offer something precious to those incapable of appreciating it3.
  • Piggy banks – Ceramic or plastic pigs used by children to store coins, arising from the pig’s connection to prosperity.
  • Pig Roast – A traditional Hawaiian feast where a whole pig is cooked over an open fire.
  • Year of the Pig – Chinese zodiac sign for those born in Pig years, considered to be generous, sincere, and prosperous.
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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of pig symbolism?

The pig was one of the first animals domesticated by humans dating back over 40,000 years to the Stone Age. Their abundant fertility and nourishing meat caused pig symbolism to arise across many cultures.

Why do pigs represent greed and gluttony?

Pigs are known for their huge appetites and tendency to overindulge in food. Their insatiable hunger connected them to human traits of greed and gluttony.

Do pigs only have negative symbolism?

No, pigs have many positive meanings as well, representing prosperity, determination, and abundance. The pig is a complex symbol that embodies the dualities of light and dark.

What religions restrict pork consumption?

Judaism and Islam prohibit pork consumption based on injunctions in religious texts declaring pigs to be unclean animals.

Why is the pig lucky in some cultures?

To Celtic and Norse peoples, pigs represented bounty and fertility. Killing a pig was a ritual act believed to guarantee luck and fortune for the coming year.

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