Have you ever watched dolphins frolicking? Something is reassuring and peaceful about their playful antics. They seem to happily grin while leading carefree lives. We know that dolphins, like humans, are intelligent, and possess a strong sense of community. They are brave as well, as dolphins don’t turn tail (literally!) when threatened by predators like sharks. They fight back! For centuries many ancient cultures gave dolphins a special place in their legends, myth, and folklore. Let us explore the meaning of dolphin symbolism.
Dolphins as a Symbol of Protection
To this day, seafaring cultures continue to value dolphins as a symbol of protection. Sailors of many nations consider a dolphin to be lucky, or a good omen. Often, this was for practical reasons, as pods of dolphins frequent shipping lanes and coastal areas where humans dwell. For the earliest seafarers, a dolphin would have been a welcome sight and sign that dry land wasn’t far away. Old sea dogs knew that dolphins following a ship was a good omen, as their boat was sure to reach harbor safely.
This kind-hearted nature can be traced back to at least one of many Greek myths. To Ancient Greeks, dolphins were hugely revered, showing up in countless ways as messengers, rescuers and more. But, how did dolphins come to be protectors?
An Ancient Greek tale speaks of Dionysus, best known as the God of Wine and Winemaking. The story tells us that as Dionysus approached adulthood, he wandered far and wide across the world. But, eventually, his heart called him back to Greece.
While returning to his homeland, Dionysus was set upon by pirates. To them, the Greek God appeared to be wealthy, and certainly worth a ransom to some rich noble. Smiling at their fortune, the pirates seized Dionysus and brought him onboard their ship. Unfortunately for the pirates, their thoughts of silver and gold were short-lived.
Whenever the buccaneers would try and tie the god up, their efforts would fail. Knots would slip and not hold their place. The rope would fray and break. With creeping horror, it dawned upon the pirates that only a powerful being, such as a god, could exert such power!
Dropping his bemused expression, the God of Wine confronted his would-be captors. Some say he turned their oars to snakes and viciously poisoned the sailors. Others suggest that Dionysus transformed into a lion, and savaged the evil men. As the pirates abandoned their ship, this son of Zeus curtailed his anger and became amused. He is said to have transformed the survivors into dolphins, and that their penance would be to help humanity ever after.
Dolphins as a Symbol of Resurrection
Like the butterfly, dolphins are also seen as a symbol of resurrection. Sometimes, this can be a true rebirth. In other tales, they are ferriers of the dead, ensuring that souls safely reach a peaceful afterlife.
Going back to our Ancient Greek friends, we can learn that dolphins were responsible for bringing the recently deceased to the Islands of the Blessed. Also known as the Fortunate Isles, the purest of souls would be able to reside here in the afterlife with the heroes and heroines of Ancient Greek myth.
However, it may surprise you to learn it wasn’t just the Greeks who saw dolphins in this way! Early cultures believed dolphins to be a type of fish, so it was common for dolphins to be portrayed in early Christian symbolism. The simple image of a crudely drawn fish was an initial representation for Jesus Christ. By extension, dolphins were also viewed as a symbol of Christ, and would frequently show up in works of art like paintings, sculptures, and dolphin jewelry. A dolphin ring was one such favored early symbol of devotion.
An especially popular symbol of Early Christianity was a dolphin twisted around an anchor. This easily understood dolphin symbol speaks a powerful message by signifying the hope of eternal life. The anchor represents endurance, and the ability to persevere. The dolphin represents Jesus. It acts as an analogue for his crucifixion upon the cross. In this way, for Christians, Jesus Christ is the anchor of their faith.
Dolphins as a Symbol of Grace
If you’ve ever had the joy of watching a pod of dolphins at play, then it’s easy to understand why they have long been valued for their gracefulness. There is a strong spirit of freedom present as we watch them jump and dive, splash and swim. The sleek form of a dolphin effortlessly glides through the water, going where he might please.
April 14 is Dolphin Day, but don’t we really love them all year ‘round? To this day, people seek to capture a bit of this gentle and playful nature in personal symbols, such as dolphin tattoos. It remains a popular choice, especially for women, but anyone who wants to embrace the joy and freedom of our intelligent friend the dolphin can’t go wrong with choosing dolphin jewelry.
What does the dolphin mean to you? Tell us in the comments below!