Who could resist a face like this? Ever since the Animal Planet series Meet the Sloths, sloths have become darlings of social media. Their adorable expressions and upside-down cuteness make these gentle animals irresistibly appealing. But there’s far more to Sloth than just a cute little face. If Sloth has been showing up for you a lot, whether in dreams, visions, your social media feed, or even real life, Sloth could be a spiritual messenger with real wisdom and/or healing for you.
Sloth spirit animal meaning is more complex than you might think at first, just staring at this slow-moving lump of green fur. So if you’re wondering, “Why do I keep seeing Sloths?”, “What does it mean to dream of a Sloth,” or even “Is Sloth my spirit animal?” keep reading, because we’re about to take a deep dive into the spiritual meaning of Sloth.
First, let’s take a quick overview of this fascinating animal.
Sloths come from a class of animals (Xenarthra) that is found exclusively in the New World. Although there are many species of extinct sloths in the fossil record (including ground-dwelling and giant varieties) there are only 2 living species of sloths today. These are the two-toed sloth and the three-toed sloth. This refers to the number of toes on front limbs; all sloths have 3 toes on their hind legs.
Of course, the first thing most people think of when they think “sloth” is SLOW… so let’s take a look first at this characteristic of Sloth and what it means spiritually. But to fully understand the spiritual symbolism of Sloth’s slow habits, it’s a good idea to explore some of the physical characteristics that contribute to its slow mode of being.
Slow as a Sloth
Both 2-toed and 3-toed sloths belong to the suborder Folivora, meaning leaf eater., and they spend nearly all their lives in the treetops of the Central and/or South American rainforests. Because leaves are so plentiful in the rainforest canopy and are available year-round, they have no need to run, jump, or move very far to get plenty to eat.
But try getting all the calories you need from leaves! While their diet is undoubtedly high in folate, it doesn’t supply much energy. So the Sloth has developed a super low metabolism and has learned to be super-efficient in its habits. For a sloth, this means several things:
- It moves SLOWLY so as not to burn excess energy,
- It sleeps up to 18 hours a day, and
- It has a very low body temperature.
A sloth can drop its body temperature as low as 68 degrees F (20 degrees C)! But that’s not all. Imagine being able to shift between self-regulating your temperature (burning energy to keep warm as humans and most mammals do) and letting the environment influence your temperature (similar to reptiles). Sloths can do this. They will also sun themselves like reptiles. They can save a LOT of energy this way, just like a passive solar home.
So let’s talk about some of the spiritual meanings of Sloth slowness.
As you’ve probably guessed, one is efficiency or conserving resources: only expending energy when you have to. This might be a good time to look at your resources and see how can you become more efficient. Maybe you’re hitting a slow point in your business or something. How can you conserve your resources? You might need to pare spending down to the bare minimum in some way, just like sloth does when he cuts down the body heat. Or, look at where you’re spending your energy. Everything has energy and sometimes having too many or the wrong kind of possessions or relationships around us could just demand too much for our energy. So where can you pare down?
- Another possibility is that maybe it’s just showing up to ask you to slow down. We live in this culture that is so, so fast-paced and constantly go, go, go. Sometimes when a sloth shows up, it’s a “ slow down and smell the roses” kind of message.
- Returning to stillness can happen (and be beneficial and healing) physically, mentally, spiritually, or all three. If you’re feeling this is the message for you, don’t miss the section on Vision and other senses below – because the Sloth spirit animal has more to teach us about stillness through its senses!
- Another spiritual message of Sloth may be to be No need to rush pell-mell into a situation!
You can easily recognize these as the positive sides of the slowness that Sloth spirit animal embodies. But it has a shadow, side too. We’ll look at that next.
The word “sloth” literally means “laziness”, and it was considered one of the seven deadly sins in traditional Catholicism.
- Whether or not you’re Catholic, this animal could be showing up just to tell you to get off your butt! It can be a “rolling stone gathers no moss” kind of message. If you or something in your life has been super stagnant, Sloth might just be showing up as an illustration of where you’re going – so actionless that moss and cockroaches start taking up residence.
- But there may be more to it than that. If you’re dealing with the shadow element of sloth, keep in mind that the word itself actually means “without care”: really, not so much laziness as indifference. It’s talking about a loss of passion or depression, which can cause indifference about one’s work. Specifically, it was applied often to monks and nuns when neglecting their spiritual duties. So if sloth is coming up for you and if this resonates with you, it could be telling you to get back on track with your spirituality—whether it’s getting back to your spiritual practice or starting to be mindful about applying your spiritual practice or spirituality to your everyday life.
- And then interestingly, some will translate the root word as “self-pity”. So watch for victim mentality here, too. Sometimes when we, consciously or unconsciously, consider ourselves a victim or slide into that sort of thinking, it can lead to depression and/or procrastination that doesn’t serve our (or anyone’s) best interest.
Spiritual Meaning of Sloth Vision and Other Senses:
Sloths belong to the same class of animals like anteaters and armadillos – and one characteristic they share with these cousins is colorblindness. Scientists think this is because they originated from an ancestor that lived mainly underground —thus losing cone (color) vision in favor of rods that enable sight in dim light. Not only are sloths colorblind, but they have very poor focus and they don’t cope well with bright light. So unlike most arboreal (tree-dwelling) animals, a vision not at all important to them.
That’s not all, though – sloths are also hard of hearing! So, they rely largely on touch and smell to get around and find what they need. And I suspect that they probably also have a really good sense of what’s going on in the etheric realm. I’m not aware of any research around this, but it would not surprise me if they were very sensitive to energetic and/or magnetic fields.
At least that is what I’m picking up about Sloth people in general. If Sloth is your primary totem, you are less likely to be clairaudient or clairvoyant, and more likely to be clairsentient and/or claircognizant. You might even experience clairalience, or clear smelling—“spiritual knowing” through your sense of smell!
As Above, So Below
Another spiritual meaning of Sloth is interconnection.
First of all, it lives in the trees and its metabolism is so slow that it’s much closer to the wavelength of a tree than most other animals—kind of like the Ents in Lord of the Rings. If you are a Sloth person, you may have a very deep connection with trees and the forest itself. They may speak to you.
Remember too that sloths live in the tropical and neotropical rainforest, which is a huge generator of oxygen—literally the breath of life. And, it’s really important in the water cycle as well. Sloth spirit animal has a special connection with these things. If Sloth is your totem animal you may, too—so much so that rainforest conservation – or any type of environmental activism, especially around trees and forests —may be near and dear to your heart.
A related concept that is also part of Sloth medicine is symbiosis: when two or more living beings live in a mutually beneficial relationship. We’re talking interdependence, and sloth is a master at this.
The reason sloths are so often mistaken for clumps of vegetation not just because of their slowed-down habits. It’s because they literally are! Sloths in the wild are hosts to living algae, which grows in their fur and gives them a greenish cast. In return for the ride, the algae help to camouflage its host, offering the sloth protection from predators.
In addition to the algae, you will find many, many other creatures living on a sloth, including many kinds of insects. For instance, there are actually moths that will feed on the algae, and some are only found on sloths. They’re called sloth moths. And there’s another very special symbiosis that sloths take part in, and that’s with digestive bacteria because sloths eat almost exclusively tree leaves, which are really hard to digest.
So essentially, each individual sloth is a mini-ecosystem all to itself. The sloth thus embodies the spiritual principle “As above, so below; as within, so without.” Here we’re looking at the multidimensionality, interconnectedness, and interdependence of each individual person, and of the universe itself.
Elemental Energies of Sloth
Even though its ancestors were ground dwellers and the animal itself still has something of an Earthy vibe, living in the treetops gives Sloth a very special connection with the element of Air. In contrast to winged animals, which bring to mind the currents, motion, and flightiness of Air, Sloth reminds us of a different quality of Air: that of the still space that everything sits in, and the Breath of Life that connects us all.
Sloth reminds us that even when we’re interacting with that very elusive element, we can still ground ourselves in stillness. And, that we’re always being provided with what we need even if it’s not always visible or top of mind.
Keep in mind also that Sloth has very strong claws adapted for gripping tree limbs even when the animal is relaxed or asleep. So “hang in there!” is another meaning commonly attributed to sloth – especially relevant when the winds of change are blowing!
That said, while sloths can swim and actually do have an affinity for water, they are extremely slow and awkward on ground. While their front limbs are very strong, their back ones are weak. Sloths cannot walk, so if they are on the ground they have to drag themselves with their arms. This makes them extremely vulnerable on the ground and they never go there except for one thing – to poop, which they do only once a week and risk their lives to do. (We’ll explore this topic in more detail—don’t worry, not TOO much detail!—in just a bit.)
Electrocution from electric wires is also a threat to sloths; these animals account for about half the accidental wildlife electrocution cases in Costa Rica. Spiritually, this can symbolize too big an influx of energy – may be an overdose of intensely stimulating spiritual experience, or just too much “people energy”, such as you might experience in a shopping mall or at a party. Alternatively, it could be referring also to an overdose of or sensitivity to electronic energy.
So what does all this mean if Sloth is your spirit animal? You may easily find yourself feeling ungrounded at times.
If this is you, sloth also offers a wonderful solution – rest and hang out for a while doing nothing! Zero-point meditation, yin yoga, or coming to stillness practices may be a great next step spiritually for you. Or, make like a sloth and head for the trees. Time spent in or among trees is sure to help you come back to the center. Another great antidote is to get away from your screens and go do grounding activities such as earthing, gardening, or a grounding qi gong practice.
So what about that sloth poop?
Why do sloths insist on climbing down to the ground to poop when it puts them at such great risk from predators? Why don’t they just let loose from the trees like any smart monkey would do?
It’s thought that it has something to do with the reproductive cycle, as there seems to be some correlation with the female’s estrus cycle. It may also help to fertilize the tree the sloth lives on as each sloth tends to stick mainly to one home tree.
One way to interpret this behavior as a spiritual meaning of Sloth is to watch for Achille’s heels, or vulnerabilities.
However, a deeper interpretation of the significance of this behavior for somebody with sloth medicine is thi: Essentially, the weekly descent becomes a ritual of cleansing and purification. When the sloth person goes into the ritual space he must be extremely aware of any potential negative forces and wait for them, so part of it is patience which is a big part of soft medicine. A part of it is awareness. But the interesting part talks about vulnerability. Releasing your old baggage, your “stuff,” often puts you in a vulnerable spot. It’s just not easy to go there to be that vulnerable, but you need to do it in order to let go.
So it’s saying “Be really aware and selective where, when, and how you unload your ‘stuff’. Don’t be scattering your crap all over the place. Do it with some ritual, do it in an appropriate way, and be discreet.”
Predator/Prey Relationships: Bringing Sloth Medicine to Balance
So any time that you’re dealing with the shadow side of a spirit animal, you can look to its predator/prey relationships for balancing.
We already mentioned going to the trees (which provide the sloth’s food) to help in grounding. Now let’s look at what eats sloths to balance other potentially challenging aspects of the Sloth spirit animal.
3rd Eye Balancing: Antidote to Poor Sloth Vision
The major predators of sloths are the jungle cats (such as jaguar, ocelot, and Margay), and birds of prey, such as the crested Eagle, the Harpy Eagle, and the spectacled owl. These are all predators that hunt largely by sight.
So remember the sloth has super poor eyesight. If you see this aspect of Sloth coming up as a challenger, then clearing the third eye or working with these strong-sighted animals can really help. Some other ways to address this include:
- Take a good look at your priorities. Where might you have been losing sight of your goals or what’s important to you?
- Consider taking some time out for visioning work, maybe a vision quest of some kind
- Perhaps it’s time for a life review or a business review, to shine a bright light of examination on your life, analyze where things went well and where they didn’t, and to and really fess up to the truth of things within yourself
As you’re doing this, set aside self-judgment and look honestly for your fears and for your dissatisfactions. What are you really unhappy within your life?
Sometimes we don’t admit to ourselves what we’re unhappy with or what things are triggering us. It’s easy to say, “there’s no problem.” But if you’ve come to a standstill and nothing ever seems to change for the better, then Sloth coming up may be an indication that it’s time to take one of these reviews.
Working with Jaguar and Ocelot or any of the cats, as well as the owl, can help you with the seeing-in-the-dark aspect of sleuthing out these things that may still be hiding out in your psyche. (And don’t beat yourself if that’s the case, because sometimes we hide things from ourselves, just out of a sense of survival. So do this with forgiveness and compassion with yourself, and give yourself credit for the courage it takes.)
An the eagle is great at really bringing things into focus and having the clarity and strength to swoop in and take out whatever is holding you down.
The cats are also awesome allies at developing boundaries and a sense of independence – which can be super supportive in helping you express all that sloth-y interconnectedness in a healthy way. We’re talking solar plexus chakra work. Any kind of confidence or leadership training, and/or physically working your core would be great as well.
More Healing Practices for Sloth People
One thing that sloth could be bringing up is that you might need to just take a vacation. What would it feel like to take the time for yourself to really slow down or even shut everything down for a while?
An ideal vacation for a sloth person might be to literally sleep on the beach or rent a cabin and sleep for a while. Or even just take a few days at home and stay in bed or sit on the couch. Sometimes the most healing thing to body, mind, and soul is just to really come to zero points, come to the center and just take a break from everything. Just allowing yourself to sit and stare into space can be an amazing kind of reset or healing. If you have been feeling very run-down, and Sloth is coming to you, consider if you need some kind of a break like that. Or at least consider taking up a practice like a yin yoga or some kind of stillness meditation that can help you to access that still, quiet, zero point within yourself.
On the other hand, a couple of the biggest threats to sloths include habitat destruction and resulting isolation. Sloths reproduce very slowly – just one baby a year typically if they can find a mate. But because they are so slow-moving they don’t always find one. Their tendency to stay put can also result in inbreeding, and some populations of sloths have high rates of birth defects.
So isolation is another thing to look for if a sloth shows up. Remember that the sacral chakra governs both reproduction and creativity. If you are having a creative slump, sloth’s message may be to get out and mingle with other creative people, fertilize your mind with new ideas and viewpoints.
Is Sloth Your Spirit Animal?
As long as this article is, this is just the beginning of what Sloth can teach us. If you are feeling very connected to Sloth, why not learn all you can about this strange and wonderful creature? It’s sure to tell you some amazing secrets. Or maybe things to share!
Has Sloth given you insights that may help others? Comment below!
Or, view my Sloth video on YouTube and leave a comment there. Be sure to watch to the end to hear my personal Sloth story!
Spirit Meaning of Sloth: Summary
Contemplation, rest, mindfulness, deliberateness, thrift, efficiency, interdependence, interconnection, retreat, the healing power of stillness
Shadow side: laziness, procrastination, depression, attachment, sluggishness, isolation, Achilles heels