She slips slowly off the shore entering the water without a sound or splash. The ripples of her wake split away from her tough scales. She is cool, calm, calculated, but not without care. Underwater she is graceful, tucking her legs back and moving forward via the propulsion of her big, thick tail. She climbs back to the surface of the marsh to let her eyes and nose rest on the barrier of the water. This has been her life since she can remember and the life of her kind for millennia.
The meaning of alligator relates directly to how primitive these creatures are. Alligators as a species originated approximately 150 million years ago and they are believed to have changed little since surviving the catastrophe that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This combined with the fact that alligators are some of, if not the, most attentive and nurturing mothers in the reptile world, makes alligator the “original mother”.
Alligator the Original Mother
Alligator is a symbol of death given her status as a frightening ambush predator. Not only is she the harbinger of death, but also as life. She helps dig her young out of their buried nest after diligently guarding the nest for the 2 month incubation period. She then ferries them to the water in her mouth. The baby alligators stay with their mother for two years, which is a rare kinship in the reptile world.
If you are considering the alligator spirit animal, you will want to look at how you conceive, incubate, birth and nurture creative ideas in your life. She is telling you to be protective of your ideas or new projects but not over bearing. The mother does not sit on her eggs to keep them warm as she’d crush them. The mother alligator instead buries the eggs in a mix of leaves, twigs, and mud and allows the warmth generated by the decaying materials to incubate the eggs. This shows a great trust that the process of death and decay turns into birth.
There may be some old idea or project that it is time to bury and let go back into the earth. With releasing the old, you not only make room for the new, but you actually provide the energy needed for your new endeavor. The mother alligator guards the general area of the nest without trampling it, letting nature take its course.
The young cry from the nest as they begin to hatch and the mother helps dig them out. Be on alert for the right timing for this new project, the signs or omens will speak to you and then you may have to go through some degree of effort to unearth them. Once unearthed, she carries the young to the water in her mouth. The mouth is directly related to communication, so once your project is out in the open, you’ll be responsible for communicating its importance to others. Just like the mother crocodile, you will likely stay with this project longer than others might do.
Another interesting tid-bit about alligator reproduction is that the sex of the young is determined by the temperature of the nest. Below 86F the young are all females and above 93F, all males. In between, and there is a mix of the two. This relates to the masculine principle as “active” and “hot” whereas the feminine is considered “receptive” and “cool”. Consider your associations with both ways of being and how the environment you are raising your project up in will influence the style you use to bring it out into the world.
Alligator is also a mother for other animals in the swamp. During droughts, she (and the males of her kind) dig “gator holes” with their bodies. These holes fill with water and provide a life-giving oasis to animals in need.
Cold-Blooded and Detached
The alligator has a tough skin of scales and is cold-blooded. When we say someone is cold-blooded we say she is detached. We automatically give this a negative connotation, but in Buddhism detachment from illusion is a key element of enlightenment. To be cold-blooded means that her body temperature will match the surrounding environment as will her pacing. If it is warm she will be active and cold she’ll be inactive. There is nothing bad about this way of being. In fact, great wisdom comes from the ability to mirror our surroundings and pace ourselves accordingly.
Alligators vs. Crocodiles
There are only two species of alligator in the world, one in North America and one in China. Crocodiles are much more prolific world-wide, although we don’t have any crocodiles in North America. What sets the alligator apart is her broad snout. This broad snout is adapted for crushing shells like those that cover turtles in the marsh. This would speak of an ability to crack into a resource that others might not have access to.
Crocodiles have a functional salt gland that allows them to inhabit estuaries and venture out into salt water. Alligators do not have this ability and are limited to fresh water. The meaning of alligator, is thus about the tie to a more specialized habitat and a need to stick to specific paths or streams of thought. Now is likely not a good time to venture out.
Take a Bite Out of Life
Alligators have an upper jaw bigger than the lower jaw whereas crocodiles have the exact opposite configuration. With the alligator, this would speak of an ability to bite off more than you can chew – “over – bite”. Both alligators and crocodiles lack the ability to chew. They tear off parts of animals by holding on with their powerful jaws and twisting their bodies to pry loose a chunk of flesh. If you are contemplating a big decision right now, it is advisable to not spend too much time mulling things over, but to instead take the process in big chunks.
The Alligator has up to 80 teeth at any given time, and since new teeth regrow to replace those that are broken or lost she can have between 2,000 and 3,000 teeth over the course of her lifetime. Teeth are directly related to the quality of our words and dreams about losing your teeth can relate to loosing track of your words. Alligator does not fear losing control of what she needs to say because there is always another tooth, another word, coming it to take its place. This teaches us that with the ancient knowing of alligator comes the confidence to always know what to say.
Alligator symbolism is closely related to the ability to integrate different teachings or experience. This is evidenced by how alligator thrives in murky waters. Life is said to have come from the mud which is her medium. The meaning of alligator reiterates the idea that life’s messy situations sometimes yield the greatest results.
Alligator move slowly on land, so in your outward life the progress of integrating change may be slow. But she is quick and graceful in the water, the realm of emotions and subconscious. This indicates that your processing internally or below the surface will likely be more fluid but invisible to others.
Alligator navigates the border between land and water which also corresponds to transitions, or a transitionary phase. She is never too far from shore, although, which points to a readiness to dive back into the depths. Are you willing right now to delve into the depths or do you find yourself clinging to shore? Now is the time to slip back easily into the water without fear. Mother alligator owns this marsh and has nothing to fear her because she rules the swamp. Do not fear change or decisions. Take charge of your life and be willing to do so without the need for others to take notice. Alligator is with you each step along the path helping you integrate the experience so that you too can take on a great, ancient wisdom tested by the trials of time.
PHOTO CREDIT thanks to David Anton! https://kitestream.wordpress.com. David is a fantastic nature and animal photographer based out of Durango, CO.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With over ten years of experience in the field of shamanism and thirteen years experience working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.