Sharks have been an essential part of native cultures along the coasts across the world for 1000s of years. You can find them in tales as being human hybrids, Gods, monsters with superpower like abilities and more. Since I was a young kid I have had a special love and connection to the oceans and Sharks have always been special to me. In fact the Hammerhead shark is one of my spirit animals. I even have two tattooed as a part of my left sleeve who swim around my matron goddess Rán. I even had my own personal spiritual experience with a school of Hammerheads in the U.S. Virgin Islands. So today I want to dive deep into the world of Sharks in folklore, spirituality and more.
Once Upon a Time in St. Croix
It is a long story so I will try to be brief with this personal experience of mine. During my U.S. Coast Guard career I spent a tour in the U.S. Virgin Islands, specifically on the beautiful island of St. Croix. With two friends of mine we decided to go dive a shallow water shipwreck right off the coast in about 50 feet of clear blue Caribbean water. My two friends were geared up with SCUBA and I was free diving with my snorkel and fins.
My two friends dove down to go inside the shipwreck as I was swimming along a reef nearby when suddenly a school of Yellowfin Tuna swam by me at such a fast speed I was surrounded by bubbles. I was maintaining neutral buoyancy when suddenly out of the distance appeared a school of Great Hammerhead sharks! It was incredible to say the least. This species of Hammerhead can reach up to 20 feet in length and one swam by me that I would guess was between 12 to 15 feet. I was surrounded by at least two dozen. It probably lasted for 30 seconds but felt like a lifetime. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Sharks in Global Mythology
The Myth of Lamia: Lamia was the daughter of the sea god Poseidon. She had an affair with the king of the gods, Zeus. When Hera, Zeus’ wife found out about the affair she stole and murdered Lamia’s children, which drove Lamia mad. To help her get revenge, Zeus turned Lamia into a giant shark monster so she could devour the innocent children of others as revenge.
The Myth of Cetus: After Andromeda, the princess of Aethiopia’s mother Cassiopeia, was bragging that her daughter was more beautiful than the sea god Poseidon’s daughters. Poseidon decided to take revenge by sending a giant shark/whale monster name Cetus after her. Luckily for Aethiopia, the legendary hero Perseus was able to save the day and kill Cetus.
Akheilos: Akheilos is the son of Zeus and Lamia and was a lesser known sea god with a shark head and a fiery fish body. Akheilos was turned into a shark as punishment after boasting that he was more attractive than the god of beauty Aphrodite.
Kamohoali’i: Kamohoali’i was the king of the sharks gods and guardian of the Hawaiian Islands. He could transform into both a human and a variety of different sea creatures to help people.
Ka’ahupahau: A shark goddess that was born a human. After being transformed into a shark god, she dedicated her life to protecting people from shark attacks.
Kane’apua: Was the trickster shark god, who could perform magical feats to entertain and delight all.
Keali’ikau ‘o Ka’u: Keali’ikau ‘o Ka’u fell in love with a human and gave birth to a green shark that would help people trapped at sea.
Kuhaimoana: Was a massive shark god that protected the Ka’ula islet and ensured fisherman had a bountiful catch.
Kane’i’kokala: Was a shark god that would save shipwreck victims.
Dakuwaqa: was a major god of the Fuji islands. Dakuwaqa was half shark, half man. He would help fishermen avoid danger at sea, protect people from ferocious sea monsters, and would help ensure a bountiful catch. In the Cook Islands, Dakuwaqa was known as Avatea, and was also the god of the sun and the moon. In Tonga, he was known as Takuaka and was a warrior god that would protect people from other vicious gods.
Lascu: is a half-shark, half-octopus sea monster with a bad temper from Bahamian mythology. Lascu is responsible for sinking ships, drowning swimmers, and causing whirlpools. Lascu is said to be responsible for the blue holes, or sinkholes found along the island. It is said she will make a sinkhole whenever the residents of an island have angered her.
- South American
The native tribal people of Brazil and Guyana, believed that the constellation Orion’s belt was actually the leg of a hunter named Nohi Abassi. After tiring of his mother-in-law, Nohi abassi trained a shark to eat her. What he did not know is his mother-in-law found out and disguised her other daughter as the shark. Instead of attacking the mother-in-law, his sister-in-law attacked him and sawed off his leg. That leg became the constellation.
Kawariki: was a princess who fell in love with a simple peasant boy Tutira. Her father, a sorcerer king was not happy and so he cursed Tutira, turning him into a shark. Rather than be defeated, the two still met in secret and would swim together at night. One day, there was a huge tsunami that destroyed the village and swept all the villagers out to sea. Tutira, as a shark, saved the villagers and brought them back to shore. Once Kawariki’s father realized the shark that had saved them was Tutira, he was so impressed with this heroic act, he turned Tutira back to a human and apologized by letting him marry Kawariki.
The myth of the monkey and the shark is a simple fable about how a monkey living in a fruit tree and a shark became friends. The monkey would help the shark eat fruit from the tree and the two would talk. To repay the monkey, the shark offered to take him on his back to his home for a big feast. Turns out the shark only befriended the monkey because his king was sick and needed a monkey heart to cure him. When the monkey found out the shark’s goals, he tricked the shark into thinking he had left his heart back at the tree. The shark took him back to the tree where the monkey climbed up and mocked the shark for being stupid. The moral of the story, never trust a shark or a monkey. SOURCE
The Cook Islands
From the Cook Islands comes the popular legend of Tekea the Great, the king of all sharks.
One of the most popular tales is that of Ina and the Shark. Though there are many versions of this story, it basically says that Ina was a beautiful, young maiden in love with the god of the Ocean, Tinirau. Tinirau lived on a floating island and asked Ina to come and see him. But she needed transportation across the waters and an unnamed shark offered to help her. She hopped on his back and they were off.
Afterwards, she became hungry and she wanted to break open one of the coconuts she had carried along. She hit it against the shark’s head to open it, denting his head in the process. The angry shark threw her off and she would have drowned (or he would have eaten her). Luckily, Tekea the Great came to her rescue and carried her to meet Tinirau.
Anyway, the islanders believe the knock on the head was how sharks got the indentations on their heads. SOURCE
The Shark as a Spirit Animal SOURCE
Shark teeth have long been a symbol of strength and manhood.
Sailors and surfers often wear them for good luck and protection from drowning. In the Middle Ages people donned a shark tooth to protect them from poison in foods and beverages, which could easily translate into safeguarding us from toxic situations.
In Hawaii a story tells us that a young, brave warrior fought the God of the Sea. He won, and for his reward he received a necklace of shark teeth. So again we see them symbolic value of safety.
In this part of the world people consider the Shark spirit as a type of Ancestor or Deity known by the name Aumakua.
In Polynesia people wear a row of dots around their ankle to protect from Shark bites (or in this case whatever’s nipping at your heels). Shark as a Spirit Animal could be letting you know to watch for those who would try to bring you down by “cutting your legs out from under you”.
People born with a Shark Totem have amazing energy and deep emotions. Now, this may sound odd considering Sharks pretty much have only one facial expression that we are aware of. But, with Water as their element, of course they are creatures of the dreamscape and the real of psychic awareness.
In this, Sharks are not void of emotion but, rather, complete masters of it. They do not wear their emotions on their fins but you may rest assured they “feel” a great deal.
Wherever Shark people swim it seems like opportunity is only a cresting wave away. Shark people have intense drive and enthusiasm. You come by it naturally. Remember, Sharks never stop moving.
You may find yourself wanting to travel and find challenging adventures. In the pursuit of your goals, those with Shark as a Totem Animal will torpedo fearlessly forward until they’ve caught the bait.
Symbolic Meanings of the Shark
- Family Safety
- Sure Movement & Action
- Personal Power
- Work Ethic
- Past Life Awareness
- Shape Shifting
So as you can see there is a LOT regarding the world of Sharks in worldwide coastal culture and I could have kept going on but instead I feel it can conclude here but with some further resources I looked into that I highly recommend checking out. Sharks are given such negative representation by Hollywood and even in media yet Sharks are one of the most important species regarding the ecosystem of the oceans of the world and must be respected and protected. I can only hope that doing my part with this blog post will help others realize how essential they are not just in the balance of nature but in our spiritual lives as well.