Symbolic Meaning of Koala Bears
Symbolic Meaning of Koala Bears
Back in the 1980s I worked as a fill-in medical tech at a veterinarian's office where I made friends with zookeeper, Adam Schultz. When he invited me to experience a behind-the-scenes encounter with a koala, I jumped at the chance.
Like most folks who come in contact with this creature, I was utterly enchanted. How could I not be? Aside from being undeniably captivating (cute, cuddly, docile - the jackpot of adorableness!), the quality that struck me most enduring was the koala's laid-back nature. The koala I held in my arms was so chill and relaxed! She seemed totally content to just hang out awhile with human pals.
I wondered if this calm contentment stemmed from domesticity. Was this koala super-chill because of her captivity? My friend Adam said no. Most koala's are pretty easy-going, even in the wild. They have underactive adrenals, and rarely get riled up. I then remembered their steady diet of eucalyptus and gum leaves and asked my friend about the validity of the claim that koala's are in a diet-induced stupor most of the time. Adam explained a koala's metabolism is quite slow compared to other marsupials. This slower metabolism combined with slow-acting adrenal glands causes mellow behavior in most koala's - even in the wild. It's their nature to be passive, and the behavior is not necessarily caused by what they eat.
To be sure, I was properly educated about the koala that day, and recent dreams of the koala prompted me to write a page on the symbolic meaning of koala bears.
As land animal totems, koala's were first primarily connected with the Mother (Earth). They were originally burrowers for the most part. We can see this in their marsupial pouch designs. Most marsupial pouches (like kangaroos and opossum) open upwards, but the opening of koala pouch is directed toward the hind quarters. This design protects the young joey from dirt burrowed by early koala mothers. Over time (and necessity with continental land masses breaking up in the last ice age) koala's adapted to an arboreal life. What's this got to do with connection? Plenty.
The symbolic meaning of koala bears speaks of connection, protection and memory because of their original affinity to ground dwelling life. As burrowers, koala's shared a special connection with the earth. Aboriginal wisdom recognizes this relationship. Certain Australian myths claim koalas were first earthy clumps of grey clay and slowly crawled from their clay-bound lives in order to bring sacred wisdom to humans. They were also said to teach humans how to climb trees in order to gain a broader view of the grand world in which they live. This is also symbolic of memory. Some Aboriginal legends tell of koalas being the memory-keepers of an ancient tribe of beings - a kind of pre-human. It's said the original people of the earth were turned into koala's as a self-protective measure when the waters of the lands dried up. Ancient koala-people climbed the tops of trees to drink the first rains, and also to eat the moisture-filled leaves of the eucalyptus. Another aspect of the myth says the koala-beings keep watch for their ancestor's return in their true form. They can keep a look-out from treetops for their people to return to the lands and repopulate the earth. I like to think this repopulation will also present a re-education of the sacred ways of earth, the holy wisdom of living with our Mother (Earth) in harmony. At any rate, this Aboriginal account is also symbolic of protection - protecting the memories and practices of our ancestor, protecting and honoring our environment, and even self-protection.
Marsupials are particularly symbolic of connection, especially in terms of maternal nurturing, because of their ability to keep their offspring close, in their pouches. Land mammals, burrowing animals, and marsupials all remind us of the importance of being connected to the Mother (Earth), and getting grounded with her energy. It has to do with womb-like qualities. In so many ways this earth is both womb and tomb to all life. From the Mother (Earth) we come, and to her we shall return. Koalas teach us about this intimate connection with the earth, and also remind us of our cooperative connection with the environment. The koala will help us get more in synch with the rhythms of nature, and will remind of our interconnectivity with our environment.
Over years of adaptation and necessity, koalas evolved into (almost) exclusive arboreal life. Today, koala's mostly live in trees (of the Eucalyptus forests of Australia, mostly). This is also symbolic of connection. Trees are the ultimate illustration of interconnectivity. Trees demonstrate grounded symbolism (roots), the nature of progress (growth), and connecting energy between terra mater and the ethereal realms. Why? Because trees are the bridge between 'heaven and earth' (rooted in the Mother, while their branches and leaves play in the heavens). I've written about the symbolic meaning of trees here if you're interested.
Koala's as tree-dwellers offer the same wisdom of connection. Their strong affiliation with trees is a reminder of the magic of arboreal wisdom - a testimony to connectivity, and also symbolic of memory (trees are memory-keepers too. The Celtic Druids recognized this and subscribed to the belief that trees were layered with esoteric history. Aboriginal myths point to the same kind of ancient memories held within woody vessels too.
Those who share the koala as their totem have calm, contended demeanors. In fact, I've had the pleasure of hanging out with some friends who share close connection with their koala totems, and just being in their presence has had a calming effect on me. If your totem is the koala, you likely put people at ease just by your mere presence. Observe this in your surroundings. Have you ever entered a room charged with high-energy (stress, anxiety, etc) only to experience the room settling after your arrival? That's the effect you have on others. The down-side to this, is that others may have a tendency to suck you dry. They see you as a stabilizer, somebody who is "all together" and often people will rely too heavily on your amiable nature.
As the symbolic meaning of koala bears deals with magic, koala affiliated people come off as dreamers. This is often misconstrued as laziness. Those who have the koala as their totem often live in the 'dreamtime' a space of contemplation, fantasy and higher mental activity. -Nothing wrong with that, I say. However, it's important to utilize these dream-states. Koala folks can sometimes fall in the dreamtime trap - wanting to stay in their creative ruminations, and this makes it tough to get along in 'real world.' Koala's can actually assist humans with this. Koala people can climb new heights by taking their epiphanies gained through dreamtime meandering and use these insights constructively in this modern world. If you find yourself more submerged in ephemeral realms that material, call upon the strong and sturdy aspects of the koala to help you climb out of the dreamtime and use your insights in creative endeavors. The dreamy artists, poets and musicians of our time have pulled out of their reverie and shared exquisite manifestations of their dreams for the world to see. Koala's can help bring wispy concepts into concrete reality.
Symbolic meaning of koala bears offer us vast insights. Whether they be totems, or a random koala encounter, it's important to glean their messages. When the koala visits our awareness, it carries with it invitations to relax, enjoy the moment, and go with the flow of nature. Koalas are also oracles for physical well-being, and will often come to us as a signal to get much needed rest. Koala's are known to sleep up to 20 hours a day, and when they come to us, it may be a sign to catch up on our sleep - take a break - find an oasis of calm from the calamity of our daily lives. Koala's also invite us to savor our down-time, enjoy our dreams, and revel in relaxation.
In conclusion, I hope these thoughts on the symbolic meaning of koala bears (which, by the way, aren't bears at all - they're marsupials, and close cousins to wombats) have inspired you to enter into a new kinship with the koala. Koalas are sublime teachers, and can show us how to appreciate the pleasures of our environment. They can also teach us to enjoy the present moment. Engage in devotion and meditation with the koala. Doing so will reveal these appreciative qualities. It will also enhance a sense of calm and tranquility.