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Symbolism of the Ocean: 14 Powerful Meanings

The ocean is a vast and mysterious body that has existed since the beginning of time. While much has been discovered and documented about the ocean, this enormous all-encompassing body of water has remained a great mystery to humankind. And so, it has attracted many stories and myths. Here’s what to know about the ocean and what it symbolizes.

What is the Ocean … Exactly?

The ocean is a vast body of saltwater that interconnects the earth and covers around 71% of its surface. The word ‘ocean’ is derived from the Greek name Oceanus, who was one of the mythological Titans and the personification of the gigantic mythical river that circles the earth.

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The ocean is divided into five regions – the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and as of 2021, the Antarctic Ocean also known as the Southern Ocean. It holds 97% of the world’s water that moves in strong currents and tidal waves. This largely influences the weather and temperature of the earth. Additionally, the depth of the ocean is estimated to be around 12,200 feet and is home to around 226,000 known species and an even bigger number of species yet to be discovered.

We know so little of the ocean. In fact, over 80 percent of the ocean remains unmapped. We have been able to map more of the moon and of Mars than we have of the ocean right here on planet Earth.

What Does the Ocean Symbolize?

ocean art on glass
The swirls of the ocean on glass. See this here.

Because of its enormous size, power, and mystery, the ocean has over time accrued many symbolic meanings. These include power, strength, life, peace, mystery, chaos, boundlessness, and stability.

1. Power

The ocean is the strongest force of nature. Its very strong currents and waves can easily cause monumental damage. From shipwrecks to natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, landslides, and tsunamis, the ocean has without doubt demonstrated its power time and time again. These same currents and tides have also been identified as the largest source of renewable energy in the world. These reasons are why the ocean is associated with power.

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2. Mystery

As we’ve already mentioned, 80 percent of the ocean still remains a great mystery. What’s more, the 20 percent that we have already explored is also filled with mysteries. The ocean represents the unknown and remains something within site that is still mysterious and holds its secrets.

3. Strength

The ocean’s relentless and untamed nature, its enduring against the elements, and its ability to shape landscapes over time, all contribute to its representation of strength and resilience.

4. Life

Believed to be the cradle of all life on Earth, the ocean represents life, fertility, and sustenance. It is home to an unimaginably diverse array of creatures and organisms, symbolizing biodiversity and the interconnectedness of all living things.

5. Chaos

Related to its power symbolism, the ocean is a cause of chaos with its storms and currents. When the ocean “gets angry” expect it to leave destruction in its wake.

6. Peace

Contrastingly, the ocean can also be a source of peace, especially when it’s calm. Many people find it very peaceful and calming to swim in the ocean or to just sit by the beach watching as the water dances to the small waves and enjoying the sea breeze.

7. Boundlessness

Once in the deep sea, it’s easy to find yourself lost. In fact, entire ships have been known to get lost in the depth of the ocean to be discovered years later or in some cases never to be discovered.

8. Stability

Despite the changes it undergoes – tides rising and falling, storms brewing and passing – the ocean has remained largely unchanged over millennia. This symbolizes stability, endurance, and the constant cycle of life.

9. Depth

Oceans are incredibly deep and often unexplored, making them a symbol for the subconscious mind. Just as the ocean floor holds treasures and creatures that we’ve yet to discover, our subconscious minds also carry thoughts, feelings, and memories that we may not be immediately aware of.

10. Ebb and Flow

The constant ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides can symbolize life’s natural rhythm of highs and lows. It can serve as a reminder that situations in life are temporary, and just as the tides change, so will our circumstances. Rather than resist, we too can ebb and flow with the changes in life.

11. Healing and Purification

Many cultures view water, including the ocean, as a symbol of purification. The ocean can cleanse both physically and emotionally, helping to wash away impurities or negativity.

12. Adaptation

The creatures inhabiting the ocean exhibit a remarkable capacity for adaptation. This can serve as a metaphor for our own ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to find ways of surviving and thriving even in potentially hostile environments. The ocean too is always adapting, regardless of the changes that happen in the world. Whether it’s rising due to the climate, or freezing into ice during the Ice Age, the ocean adapts.

13. Connection

The five oceans of the world are interconnected, touching every continent. This could symbolize our global interconnectedness, how actions taken in one part of the world can affect people and ecosystems elsewhere.

14. Spirituality and Consciousness

Many spiritual traditions regard water as a symbol of collective consciousness and divine love. The ocean, as the most expansive body of water, can represent the ultimate source of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

Crashing Waves

Stories and Myths of the Ocean

The ocean and its mysterious nature have attracted some very interesting legends. Some of these legends include the following.

1. Myth of the Kraken

Originating in Norse mythology, the Kraken is a gigantic sea-dwelling monster that wrapgs its tentacles around ships and capsize them before devouring the sailors. Historians have linked this myth to an actual giant squid that lives in the Norwegian seas.

2. Myth of Mermaids

Originating in Greek, Assyrian, Asian, and Japanese mythologies, mermaids are beautiful sea creatures. Their upper body is that of a female human while the lower body is that of a fish.

A popular Greek legend tells the story of  Thessalonike, sister to Alexander the Great, who became a mermaid after her death and gained control over the ocean currents. She calmed the waters for sailors who proclaimed Alexander as a great king. For sailors who did not make this proclamation, Thessalonike stirred great storms.

Mermaids have come up in a lot of works of literature, sometimes just as the beautiful half-human half-fish creature and other times as sirens.

3. Sirens

Originating in ancient Greek mythology, sirens are sea maidens that are extremely beautiful in an unearthly way. Sirens would lure men with their beautiful singing and capture them with their beauty before killing them.

4. Atlantis

First told by Plato, a Greek philosopher, Atlantis was a fictional Greek city that was once vibrant with life and culture but later fell out of favor with the gods. The gods then destroyed Atlantis with storms and earthquakes, causing it to sink into the Atlantic Ocean. Some myths hold that the city still thrives under the ocean while others claim that it was destroyed completely.

5. Bermuda triangle

Popularized by Charles Berlitz in his best-selling book, ‘The Bermuda Triangle’, this unmapped triangular area in the Atlantic Ocean is said to cause wreckage and disappearance to any ship that goes through it and any plane that flies over it.

The corners of the Bermuda Triangle touch Miami in Florida, San Juan in Puerto Rico, and the Bermuda Island in the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The Bermuda Triangle is the deepest part of the ocean and is said to have sucked in around 50 ships and 20 airplanes which have never been found. Some myths hold that it lies above the lost city of Atlantis and that it’s the power of the city that causes ships and planes to disappear.

6. Home to Spirits

The Swahili people of East Africa believe that the ocean is home to spirits, both good and malevolent. These ocean spirits can possess you and are most easily invited by engaging in sexual activities in or by the ocean. More interestingly, the Waswahili believe that the spirit of the ocean can be adopted and domesticated in exchange for their wealth amassing power. They can also be used to exert revenge on an enemy.

Wrapping Up

While much still remains unknown about the ocean, it has a huge impact on the world’s weather and in our lives. But beyond its practical and physical impacts, the ocean is also full of symbolism. It features heavily in our myths, legends, and cultures as a vast symbol.

What does the ocean symbolize?

Related Articles:

Water Symbolism and Symbols – A Guide

Dreams about Water – Meaning and Symbolism

Dreaming about Waterfalls – Meaning and Symbolism

Water Gods in Different Cultures and Mythologies

The Power of Poseidon: Greek God of the Sea

Olokun – Orisha of the Depths of the Ocean

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As she grew up reading books on mystery, mythology, fantasy, and adventure, Olive developed an urge to explore the world as an adult. After completing a degree in Mass Communications, she built a career in marketing for the past two decades but has spent most of her vacations backpacking through different countries. During her trips, Olive likes to immerse herself in the local culture to further expand her understanding of other people and their lifestyles, which she now uses to aid her writing.