Signs and messages are all around us. Many of them come in forms that are subtle and are often difficult to spot or interpret, but receiving a visit from a red cardinal is almost always a noticeable event. With their soothing song and bright, vibrant red plumage, red cardinals are impossible to miss — and there may be a good reason for that indeed.
In fact, these beautiful songbirds may be delivering a very important message, one that’s just for you. If you want to learn more about the secrets behind what it means when you see a red cardinal, read on below. Prepare to have your mind blown.
The Messengers of the Spirit World
Cardinals have been considered messengers sent by the spirit world for quite literally thousands of years. This notion spreads across a number of different cultures — wherever these beautiful red songbirds are found, the legend arises. It’s therefore not too surprising to see the word “cardinal” used to signify an important or meaningful object or relationship. Whether it’s cardinal angels, cardinal directions, or cardinal colors, the use of the word denotes something big and noteworthy.
This makes it especially appropriate that the word itself contains the Latin root word cardo, which means either an axis or a hinge — a point which everything revolves around or holds all moving parts together. Cardinals are, resultantly, viewed as the revolving point between our world and the spirit world, acting as messengers between the two.
Old Traditions, Sacred Meanings
Many indigenous people have old and sacred traditions and meanings associated with the cardinal. In many Native American languages, cardinals are simply known as “red birds”, and there are a number of indigenous creation myths where they feature prominently. Cherokee myth says that the Sun gives birth to the first red bird, making the cardinal her daughter. Meanwhile, the Choctaw feel that cardinals are associated with relationships and are often associated with changing relationship status — and sometimes as a warning for rough times ahead.
Many indigenous traditions hold that cardinals are associated with other sorts of change, such as the weather. Others still feel that cardinals are guardians or sentinels, that their red coloration provides protection from illness and from harm, and that cardinals can point you in the right direction while traveling. Whatever the specific tradition is, it’s universal that red cardinals play an integral role in many Native American belief systems.
This extends to shamanic approaches as well. Indigenous shamans use tools that include the medicine wheel; this specific tool incorporates the four cardinal compass points and cardinal color choices. Red, the color of the cardinal, is associated with the East compass point, the beginning of spring, and birds like the cardinal that can take messages to and from the spirit world. Speak your message to the East, the legend goes, and cardinals will take flight to deliver your words.
The Western Traditions: Cardinal Angels
There are seven Archangels, four of which are known as the Cardinal Angels. These four are Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, and Michael, and they have dominion over much in the Western Abrahamic traditions. Whole nations and cultures often fall under the sway of these Cardinal Angels, who are thought to provide support in the form of divine inspiration and protection.
This thought, of course, echoes much of Native American shamanic thought, which uses Cardinal compass points and colors. Visits from cardinals can often be interpreted as visits from representatives of these Archangels, offering guidance and comfort in times of need.
Other Meanings Behind the Cardinal
Depending on which tradition or myth you ascribe to, the cardinal has a number of different meanings as well. Almost all of these meanings are positive ones, and are related to their axial nature; cardinals often represent renewal in this manner. This is reinforced by their presence in the winter, with their brilliant red feathers standing out against the stark white snow and promising the return of spring.
Many other characteristics associated with the cardinal have to do with love and family. These non-migratory birds mate for life and put down roots, remaining in a region throughout their lives to raise generations of new cardinals. Both the male and the female cardinal are known to be excellent parents, working hard to feed and protect their young, and this has led the birds to be associated with happy, healthy relationships, strong family bonds, and good health.
Sincerity and Truthfulness
Because the cardinal has such a strong reputation for being a loving, faithful partner and an attentive, caring parent, much can be gleaned from sighting one of these beautiful, sweet songbirds. Whether you receive a visitor that serenades you outside your window, flies across your path, or even visits you in a dream, you can rest assured that the Universe is telling you something you need to know about the nature of your life.
Cardinals are sincere and truthful in their relationships, and having cardinals come into your life can indicate many possibilities related to their nature. They can be a sign that you are on the right track, that your efforts of being honest, kind, and loving are being recognized by the Universe and will be rewarded. It’s strong encouragement to keep up the good work!
Other times, their presence may be a warning, letting you know that someone you’re involved with isn’t being as truthful and sincere as they should be and that you may need to reevaluate any relationships you have. Sometimes, though, the person that a cardinal is warning you about may just be yourself. This is an indication that you might need to examine your own thoughts and actions to see where you might have fallen off the path that has been laid out for you.
Visitations from the Spirit World
Many feel that cardinals represent visitors from the Spirit World, or at least messengers sent by those that have come before us. Particularly insistent cardinals that sing to you or even approach you are especially thought to be bringing personal messages to us, perhaps in response to a request for guidance or because you’re hunting for the answer to a particular question.
In such a situation, it’s important to stop and think about what you’ve been struggling with and what this visitation may be trying to tell you. A visit can show you that you are not alone and that you are receiving the spiritual support you feel you need so desperately at the moment, and this brings many people comfort. Feelings of gratitude for the visit, both from the cardinal and from whatever force sent them, are quite appropriate in such situations, as are feelings of peace and reassurance that you’re on the right track.
Those Brightly Colored Spirit Guides
In many cases, a visit from a cardinal can be the delivery of a message from our loved ones that have departed. Cardinals can be signs that the ones we miss are still here with us, watching over us and protecting us. Cardinals may not be the only messenger our loved ones send us, though — anything that can catch our eye is a common and welcome choice. This includes any small, rare, or colorful animal or insect.
Winged creatures are especially good at getting our attention and are quite special when they make themselves known to us. From butterflies to dragonflies to hummingbirds and, yes, especially cardinals, whenever we’re visited by one it can be an indication that our dearly departed family, friends, and ancestors are showing us they still love us and care for us. In your own time of need, when you’re searching your soul for answers, our loved ones can often send us a cardinal in an effort to help us make up our mind or find the right course of action going forward.
Paying Attention to the World Around Us, Both Seen and Unseen
Finally, cardinals are a reminder to pay attention to the world around us and all of its many forms. The gorgeous red plumage of a cardinal against the white snow of winter is a reminder that even in a season where all seems cold and dead there is still life and beauty. There are things to care about, value, and be in awe of at all times in life, things that are special. This includes the people in our lives right now and those that may no longer be with us.
It’s this capability that lets the cardinal bridge the gap between our world and the Spirit World, acting as the axis that turns the two. Messengers on crimson wings, the special missives cardinals bring to us from the beyond should never be ignored but always considered with great importance — and great joy. Whether it’s a message about the relationships we have with others outside our family, those we have within it, or those we have with our blessed ancestors, heed the call of the cardinal and you will receive the wisdom of the ages as a result.
(this article also appears on Medium)