Water is a universal symbol of the unconscious mind and is linked to the moon, femininity, and irrationality. Oceans are equated with chaos as they are boundless and ungovernable. The conscious mind is more closely linked to the lake or pond. The ancient belief that the earth was created from primordial waters is a psychological metaphor for the birth of ideas in the unconscious mind.
Water: primordial substance of Goddess Mother; one of the four elements; all four elemental symbols are found in the hands of Kali, the pre-Vedic Great Mother; in Sanskrit "Va" is one of the primary mantras the brought the universe into being; the glyph for water is a circle with a horizontal line, like the sea horizon, called a diameter, which literally means "Goddess Mother"; the primordial Ocean of Blood, the Generative Womb of All, the Deep
Cup: medieval universal symbol of water, the mother element; represents the water of the sea womb which gave birth to the earth and all that lived on it
Fountain: the fons vitae, or fount of life, was the source of the life force, the primordial "nether upsurge" of blood/water from the womb of Mother Earth
Lapis Lazuli: traditionally symbolized water as the primordial element of creation
Lotus: Hindu womb of nature; symbol of the four elements, water being the surrounding support for the stalk of the lotus blossum
Ocean: equated with the Tao as the primordial and the inexhaustible
Pearl: created from the union of male (fire) and female (water); the merging of water and moonlight
River: symbol of purification, death and rebirth; dwelling place of gods, goddesses, water-spirits, nymphs, and naiads (in Greek mythology a type of female spirit)
Sea: the eternal deep; Egyptian name for the sea is Temu; symbol of birth and rebirth; holy baptismal waters; in Scandinavia called "the Mother’s Womb"; associated with ancient goddesses the world over; global universality of the sea goddess
The sea has long been a part of myth and symbol worldwide. From creation myths to the underworld of the deep, humankind has both revered and feared the sea. Myths tell of the primordial waters of the sea as the source of the generation of all life and call the ocean, the Great Mother. Although the sea is often referred to as feminine, there are many male deities.
Symbolically, the sea can represent abundance, fertility, dynamic forces, and unfathomable truth and wisdom. It can also stand for destruction, wildness, and is the home and begettor of monsters. Sea deities have played a large part in myth, sometimes as the very essence of the seas or as figures who control the waters. To be sea born is a common motif in mythology, with humankind rising from the sea or being born of its foam.
Neptune: Roman god of water; he rode a chariot and held a trident to control the waters
Njord: Northern European god of the sea; brought light and power into the world; protector of sailors and fisherman; controller of wind and storms; married to Skadi, goddess of the far north
Pontus: Greek deity of salt water; personification or spirit of the sea; son of Gaea; father of Nereus
Poseidon: Greek god of the sea; brother of Zeus and Hades; his chariot was pulled by seahorses; married to Amphitrite, his son was Triton
Shui-Kuan: Chinese ruler of waters; averter of misfortune; he rides a horse over the water and is followed by a fish
Sila: Inuit ruler of the world; controller of the seas and the elements; must be appeased with amulets and incantations
Susanowo: Japanese creator of the world and it's rulers; god of storms and responsible for the sea; brother of Amaterasu, goddess of the sun and Tsuki-yomi, god of the moon
Oceania is made up of three distinct regions. Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia have a great diversity of cultures and language, yet several themes recur in the mythology of the entire region. One example is the belief that ancestral heroes remain alive and influence living descendants. Myths are often expressed through ritual and ceremony in some areas, while in others, myths are told for entertainment. One of the best known oceanic mythological beings is Maui, the trickster hero. He is an example of an ancestral hero whose actions affect present day situations.
Born prematurely, Maui was wrapped in a lock of his mother’s hair. She threw him into the surf, where he was rescued by the sun, Tama of the Sky. Maui was eventually reunited with his mother. To give her more daylight to make bark cloth, Maui beat the sun with an enchanted jawbone to slow Tama’s journey through the sky.
Another myth tells of Maui's sexual shaming in his effort to become immortal. As a result of Maui's fatal attempt to sleep with Hine-Nui-Te-Po, goddess of the underworld and death, humankind can never achieve mortality.
Maui is said to have created land. He joined his brothers for a deep-sea fishing trip. After fishing for a long time with no results, the brothers decide to sleep. Maui lets out his fishing line. His brothers wake up and find Maui's line has caught a fish so large, it breaks the line again and again. Maui finally grabs the fish's body which becomes the island Te-ika-a-Maui.
He also stole fire from its keeper in the underworld by tricking the ancestral heroine Mahui-ike to give him her burning fingernails, the source of fire, one by one. She throws her last flaming nail to the ground and starts a blaze. Maui calls down the rain but Mahui-ike saves a few sparks by throwing them onto the trees. As a result, people learned they could use wood to make fire.
Fish are a potent symbol of Christianity. Their elongated shape also represents male fertility and lunar deities. Fish were sacred to the Assyrian god of the deep, Ea-Oannes. In Buddhism, fish represent freedom of the mind and faith as Buddha was a fisher of men. In Judaism, fish symbolize the faithful swimming in the waters of the Torah. Varuna and Vishnu, Hindu gods, assume the shape of fish, thus the fish is the symbol of wealth, fertility, and love.
Whales are a symbol of power and the regenerative energy of the cosmic waters. In its negative aspect, the whale is the devourer of Jonah, symbolizing death in the belly of hell. The Inuits view the whale as trickster.
Ancient Greeks and Romans considered the dolphin the king of sea creatures. The dolphin is both savior and psychopomp; a guide to souls in the underworld. Celtic tradition views the dolphin as a symbol of well worship and power over waters. The dolphin is the attribute of many gods and goddesses associated with the sea: Aphrodite (Venus); Eros; Poseidon (Neptune); Isis of Egypt; Dionysus; Thetis, the Greek ocean nymph; the Babylonian, Ishtar; and the Hittite sea-born goddess, Atargatis. In Native American cultures, the dolphin is both a divine messenger and a form of the Great Spirit.
Seals have been the steeds of sea deities. A sacred animal to the Eskimo, its bones are thrown back into the ocean so the seal might come to life for another hunt. Psychologically, the seal is the symbol of the conscious and the unconscious as it inhabits both the sea and the land.
Two thirds of our planet is covered by water. The abundance of animals that inhabit the sea and live along the coastline are like unlike the animals that live on land. Mammals, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms live in the ocean and along the coast. Shorebirds and seabirds find protected nesting areas along rocky cliffs and isolated islands. These creatures are found in myth and legend worldwide.
The seahorse, a fish, was believed to be the steed of Neptune, Poseidon, and other gods associated with the sea. Seahorses also carried the dead safely to the underworld. In Norse myth, the seahorse represented the power of the ocean. The Chinese regard them as the lesser sons of dragons.
sea urchin shell is called a "test"
See urchins, which are echinoderms, are a sun symbol because of their many spikes. The Celts called sea urchins “serpent’s egg”; a symbol of life-force and the primordial seed.
The starfish is also an echinoderm. With its five-rayed symmetry, it shares some of the same symbolism as the star. In Christianity, the starfish is representative of the Virgin Mary, and assures safe passage over dangerous seas and salvation from the treacherous waters of the world.
The crab, a crustacean, is the Buddhist symbol of the sleep of death; the time between incarnations. In Sumerian myth, the crab is associated with Nina, the Lady of the Waters.
The octopus, a mollusk, is a common Mediterranean symbol and is found as a decorative motif in Minoan and Mycenaean art. With its many tentacles, the shape of the octopus is related to the spiral and represents the unfolding of creation from the cosmic or mystic center. In its negative aspect, the octopus represents the spirit of the devil and hell.
Pelicans were thought to feed their young with their own blood and therefore symbolize sacrifice, charity, and piety in Christian belief. In alchemy, the pelican represents resurrection.
Seagulls are emblems of the sea and are a symbol of adventure. The albatross, a bird of tireless flight, symbolizes long sea voyages and distance distant seas.
Along the coastlines of the world, a great variety of shells can be found. Seashells are made by the animals that live inside them and all shells grow steadily outward. Shells are among the most remarkable designs found in nature. Examples are the chambered nautilus, the sundial shell, and the triton shell. Shells are usually perceived as feminine; a symbol of birth, good fortune, and resurrection. Bivalved mullusks represent the womb and fertility.
shell: life protector; in Tibetan Buddhism, symbolizes hearing; one of the eight emblems of good luck in Chinese Buddhism
conch shell: in Buddhism, symbolizes the voice of Buddha; deity summoner; emblem of Aphrodite, Saint Michael, Saint Sebald, and Triton; Vishnu’s trumpet used to awaken followers from ignorance; Navajo Indian jewel of the sea
cowrie shell: may be one of the first yonic symbols, its name derived from Kauri, a pre-Vedic Indian goddess; represents rebirth and the female Gate of Life; used throughout the Middle East, Egypt, the South Pacific, and the Mediterranean as a charm for healing, fertility, magical power, or good luck; Romans call the cowrie the matriculus, meaning little matrix or little womb; among the Greeks, the word kteis meant vulva, a cowrie shell, a scallop, or a comb (an attribute of mermaids and sirens); Gypsy women valued the cowrie, worn as an amulet, as a focus of their feminine powers
scallop shell: symbol of light; couch of sea deities; in Christianity, represents salvation; used to sprinkle baptismal waters, also worn by Christians to indicate completion of a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in Spain, originally the shrine of the Goddess Bridgette, the Celtic version of Aphrodite; the scallop shell is associated with the goddess Venus “born of the sea” as she was carried to shore on a scallop shell; scallop shells are a symbol of the Hindu version of Aphrodite, the goddess Lakshmi “born from the churning of the ocean”, consort of Vishnu and mother Kama, represented beauty and good fortune
coral: the ocean’s Tree of Life; throughout the Mediterranean, red coral necklaces for children were valued as magical; red coral also symbolizes life giving feminine blood; powdered red coral was used to increase fertility; coral was used as an apotropic (to avert evil) in rituals; in China, called shang-hu, emblem of longevity
pearl: pearl symbolism is closely associated with the shell and represents moonlight, purity, tears, wealth, the power of the waters, and wisdom; believed to be the result of lightning penetrating the oyster, and as such, regarded as the union of fire and water; Moslems use the pearl to symbolize paradise, believing the blessed lived in pearls; called tama, the third eye of Buddha and Siva, the symbol of spiritual enlightenment and transcendent wisdom; in the east, divine essence which controls the tides; the flaming pearl is the union of fire and water believed to be the pearl of perfection.