The image of the Ant denotes hard work and a practical focus toward a difficult goal. However, if the poor, little ant confronts insurmountable obstacles, for example, a mighty river or deep canyon in its path, we may be witnessing a symbolic fear. This fear may involve ones tangible ability to provide for oneself, or moreover, ones family. The extent of this phobia may be vividly implied within the harsh landscape of the dream vision itself. We may need to note any conditions in the environment which assist the ant (ex: wind, raft etc.) or hinder the ant (ex: giant stomping feet!) These variables each have their own vital significance, crucial to the dreamer’s personal acknowledgement and overall awareness. Naturally, a solid raft may represent (for example) a raise in ones salary, while a giant foot may represent a mindless corporate take over which leaves him out on the street. Can the ant see if the feet are wearing designer shoes?
The ant symbolizes industriousness, the organized community and a prudent foresight which La Fontaine exaggerates to selfish avarice. Quoting Proverbs 6: 6, St Clement of Alexandria writes: ‘It is also said: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” For at harvest-time the ant sets aside a plentiful variety of food with which to face the threats of winter’ (Stromata 1).
Tibetan Buddhists, too, make the ant in the anthill a symbol of an industrious life and an excessive attachment to the good things of this world.
In the Talmud the ant teaches honesty; in India it represents the worthlessness of individuals, doomed to obscurity and death unless they try to identify with Brahman, the infinity of littleness suggesting the infinity of the godhead.
The ant plays a very lowly role in Celtic folklore. The only place in which it appears is in the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen. Among the many tasks with which the giant Ysbaddaden Penkawr tested him, Culhwch had to gather a peck of flax seeds. These were all brought to him one by one by the neighbouring ants, all but one, that is. This was carried in just before night fell by a lame ant. The latter symbolizes the diligent and indefatigable servant.
The ant plays an important part in the world structure in the cosmology of the Dogon and Bambara peoples of Mali. In the beginning, in the ritual marriage of Heaven and Earth, the Earth’s sexual organ was an anthill. In the final phase of the creation of the world, this anthill became a mouth from which issued language and its material adjunct, the art of weaving, taught to men by the ants. They also showed them the traditional pattern of their huts. Fertility rites are still associated with ants and barren women will sit on an anthill and pray to the great god Amma to make them conceive. Men such as blacksmiths, who are endowed with ‘powers’, use the same spot temporarily to change themselves into such creatures as panthers or hawks.
The association of the anthill with the female sexual organs (it is at one and the same time the mons Veneris and the vulva) has many practical applications. Thus the Bambara believe that the ant known as the ndiginew has ties with streams of water hidden underground. ‘So, when planning to sink a well, one cannot choose a better place than the site of an anthill’. Earth taken from anthills is used ritually by some initiation societies which believe it is connected with the stomach and the digestion, since it symbolizes ‘the powers working in the bowels of the Earth and making themselves manifest in springs of water’.
In Morocco live ants used to be given to sufferers from sleeping sickness to swallow.