Dolphins are amazing creatures that enchant and delight all those who catch sight of them. But what do they mean to various peoples around the world? And what is the spiritual signification of seeing one?
In this post, we answer these questions and more as we discuss dolphin symbolism in different cultures and traditions as well as the meaning of seeing them in real life or in dreams.
Table of Contents
- What do dolphins symbolize?
- Dolphin symbolism and mythology in different cultures
- What does it mean if you see a dolphin?
- Intelligent animals and important spiritual signs
What do dolphins symbolize?
Before we look at the symbolism of dolphins according to various cultures, let’s take a moment to talk about what we think of when we imagine dolphins and what associations we have with them.
For most people, probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of dolphins is their intelligence.
They are known to be among the most intelligent animals in the world, and they live in close-knit groups with complex social interactions between the members of the pod.
This reminds us of the value of family and friendship bonds as well as the need to live in harmony with those around us. Furthermore, it teaches us the importance of helping one another because we can achieve more as part of a team than we can by ourselves.
When we think of dolphins, we also think of freedom and independence. Dolphins can travel many miles each day in search of food, and living in the sea, they can go anywhere they please. For this reason, they represent the joy of liberty and the lack of restraints.
Dolphins also often seem to enjoy playing, following boats out of curiosity and launching themselves into the air seemingly for no other reason than pure enjoyment.
For this reason, dolphins can also remind us of the need to have fun instead of just concentrating on work, serious matters and our responsibilities in life.
Finally, many tales are known from a range of cultures about dolphins helping people, often those in distress at sea, so often, we think of dolphins as being a benevolent and protecting presence that can give us support when we get into trouble.
Dolphin symbolism and mythology in different cultures
Dolphins can be found in all the oceans on the planet, and for such a distinctive and remarkable animal, it’s no wonder they feature prominently in the traditions of many coastal and seafaring peoples around the world. So let’s have a look at that now.
Greece is a country that consists of many islands, and the Ancient Greeks were famous mariners, so it’s no surprise that dolphins occupied an important place in their culture.
Dolphins were associated with Apollo and Aphrodite, the god and goddess of music and love respectively.
Dolphins were seen as a symbol of love in Ancient Greece, and Aphrodite is often seen depicted with dolphins. It was also believed that Apollo could charm dolphins with his music and song.
Dolphins appear in several Greek myths too. Here are some of the most famous:
Two similar stories exist recounting events related to Dionysus, the god of wine. In the first, while he was sitting on an island, he was spotted by some sailors. The sailors believed he was a prince, so they captured him and planned to ransom him.
In another similar episode, Dionysus was sailing on a pirate ship to Naxos. However, instead of taking him to Naxos, the pirates decided to sail to Asia to sell him into slavery.
As a result of this treachery, Dionysus changed the mast and oars into snakes. He also filled the ship with ivy and caused the deafening sound of flutes to be heard, driving the sailors insane. To escape, the sailors jumped overboard, and again, they were transformed into dolphins.
Arion was a semi-mythical professional musician of great renown who is credited with creating the dithyramb, a special kind of hymn in honor of Dionysus.
After winning a musical contest in Sicily, he was kidnapped by pirates who planned to steal his prize money.
When they were out at sea, the pirates gave him the choice of committing suicide and receiving a proper burial on land or jumping overboard into the sea.
Since he didn’t want to do either, in an attempt to delay the inevitable, he asked permission to play one more song.
His request was granted, so he played a song of praise to Apollo, which attracted a pod of dolphins to the boat to listen.
After he finished playing, rather than being killed by the pirates, he chose to jump overboard, but one of the dolphins saved him and carried him to land – but having helped him onto dry land, the dolphin then died.
Arion told the story to the local ruler, Periander, who decreed that the dolphin be buried and that a statue be built to commemorate its brave and selfless act.
Later, the same pirate ship was blown up on the coast in a storm, and the pirates were captured. They were interrogated, but they swore that Arion had died and that they had buried him.
They were taken to the dolphin statue to swear again that they had buried Arion, at which point Arion revealed himself. Periander then sentenced the pirates to crucifixion.
As a reward, Poseidon, the god of the sea, placed the dolphin in the sky as the constellation Delphinus.
In New Zealand, the Māori believe that dolphins are water spirits that help people when they are in trouble. The Ngāti Wai people, on the other hand, believe they are messengers.
Dolphins also appear in several local tales, often as water spirits called taniwha.
- Kupe and Tuhirangi
According to one story, a famous explorer named Kupe asked a water spirit called Tuhirangi for help.
Tuhirangi then guided Kupe and his people in canoes through the waters of the Marlborough Sounds at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island.
- Hinepoupou and Kahurangi
Hinepoupou was a woman who was abandoned on an island by her husband and brother.
However, rather than stay there, she decided to try to swim across the dangerous Cook Strait that divides New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
A friendly dolphin spirit named Kahurangi then appeared to help her across to ensure she made the swim safely.
Some Native American tribes on the west coast believed that dolphins were guardians who had once been people but who had taken the form of dolphins. They watched over the tribe and would save people who fell overboard into the sea.
Other similar beliefs saw the dolphin as a sacred guardian of the sea, and for this reason, the consumption of dolphin meat was forbidden.
However, the dolphin was also seen as a martyr that would sacrifice itself to save humans, so the taboo on eating dolphin meat could be broken when the only choice was between eating dolphin and dying of starvation.
One tribe that held such beliefs was the Chumash. They also had a story that told of a goddess named Humash who created a rainbow bridge across the ocean.
However, when crossing it, some people couldn’t help staring down at the sea, so they fell off the bridge.
Rather than allowing them to drown, the goddess changed them into dolphins, so dolphins are seen as people who now live in the ocean.
In many South American traditions, dolphins were seen as tricksters and shapeshifters. This is especially true along the Amazon River where pink river dolphins are found.
One story tells of a dolphin who can transform into a charming man. He then comes ashore and gets local women pregnant. In another story, dolphins enchant children and take them away into the river, never to return.
Some also believe dolphins are the guardians of the manatee and that dolphins can lead you to manatees if you befriend them.
According to Celtic beliefs, dolphins were seen as guardians of the seas and also represented healing, new beginnings, rebirth and reincarnation.
It was considered good luck to see dolphins. They were seen as friends of sailors and would help those who got into trouble on the seas.
The Zulu have a creation myth involving dolphins. At the beginning of time, a mystical race helped humans populate the Earth, after which they went into the sea and became dolphins.
This means dolphins are seen as teachers and mentors – and as protectors of humans.
Another story that echoes Greek myths about dolphins tells of pirates who jumped into the sea and were transformed into dolphins. After this, they became the guardians of the sea and protectors of those who sailed upon it.
In China, as elsewhere in the world, dolphins are known for rescuing sailors in distress, and seeing them was also believed to predict fine weather and a safe harbor.
White dolphins were seen as mystical creatures that appeared to tell you that you were on the right path and that you should follow your intuition.
An old legend also tells the story of a wicked man who tried to take his daughter-in-law to sell at the market. However, while they were on a boat on the Yangtze River, she fell overboard.
Following this, a storm capsized the man’s boat and he drowned, which was punishment for his behavior. The girl was then transformed into a dolphin and remained in the river, guarding it and protecting people who sailed on it.
What does it mean if you see a dolphin?
If you are lucky enough to catch sight of real dolphins in the sea or a river, it can be an omen and a message from the spirit world. Seeing dolphins in a dream can also carry an important message, so now let’s look at what seeing a dolphin can mean.
1. Use your intelligence
Dolphins are, above all, highly intelligent animals, and seeing one in real life or in a dream can be a message reminding you to use your intelligence to solve problems.
Sometimes, we can allow our judgement to be clouded by emotions, but if we use our intellect and think about things rationally, it can be easier to find the best solution.
2. Work on your communication
Dolphins also symbolize communication, so seeing one can be a sign that you need to work on your communication.
Has communication broken down between you and someone you know? Then now may be the time to try to fix things.
Or perhaps you are not making yourself understood clearly enough, and seeing a dolphin could be a message telling you to think about how you can express yourself more clearly.
3. Assert your freedom
Dolphins enjoy the freedom of the oceans, and dreaming of dolphins may be an expression of your yearning for similar freedom. What is holding you back in life? Take time to think deeply about how this may relate to you and take the necessary steps to assert your freedom.
Alternatively, are you holding someone else back by not giving them enough space to live? Then consider whether you should step back and allow them the freedom they deserve.
4. Make time to enjoy life
There are few things more joyous than dolphins leaping through the air, and seeing dolphins like this can be a clear reminder to make time to appreciate the fun things in life rather than just being dragged down by the daily grind.
5. Value your friends
A pod of dolphins is a tight-knit group, and seeing lots of dolphins may be a message reminding you to value your friends and your social groups.
6. Get in touch with your spiritual side
Dolphins also represent spirituality, so when one appears, it could be a message that you are neglecting the spiritual side of life. If you think this applies to you, now could be the time to make more time to explore the spiritual aspects of your inner self.
Intelligent animals and important spiritual signs
Dolphins can leave a deep impression on those who see them, and it’s not unusual to experience deep feelings of spirituality when it happens. This is unsurprising since dolphins can bring important spiritual messages, telling us about aspects of our lives we need to consider.
Seeing a dolphin, whether in real life or in a dream, can be interpreted in many ways. However, if you take the time to reflect deeply on what you have seen, by trusting your intuition, the true meaning of what you saw will be revealed to you.
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