Anyone who has seen dolphins frolicking in the sea, understands the allure of these mysterious creatures who live in the water and yet are not fish. Highly intelligent and communicative, Dolphin inspires a sense of joy in our hearts. Often seen leaping and swimming beside boats, stories of rescue and friendship abound.
Intelligence, Community, Teamwork
Dolphins, highly intelligent members of the family of toothed whales, live in social structures based on family, community and teamwork. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common of the 44 different species.
A pod of dolphins contains dozens, sometimes hundreds of individuals. Swimming together, a pod is more successful in hunting, evading predators and caring for their members. Where food is abundant dolphin pods sometimes merge together temporarily, creating super-pods made up of more than 1000 dolphins.
Dolphin communicates using a variety of clicks, whistles and squeaks. Each dolphin has a distinctive “signature whistle” it uses to communicate. Dolphin responds to its signature whistle in the same way we respond to our names.
Studies show that pregnant dolphins repeat their own whistles over and over, starting about two weeks before giving birth and continuing for two weeks after. At the same time other female dolphins minimize the volume of their own signature whistles, allowing the newborn to recognize the call of their mother – helping the two to bond.
From the Greek island Euboea comes the tales of fisherman working together with dolphins. They set out to sea with fires burning on their ship’s prow. This light stunned the fish and attracted dolphins who then herded the dazzled fish into the fishermen’s nets. In gratitude the fishermen shared a portion of the catch with the dolphins.
Dolphin teaches us the importance of community. With intelligent teamwork we become stronger and better than all alone.
Mother Goddess, Family, Friendship, Messenger
Atargatis, Mother Goddess to the Assyrians was venerated throughout the ancient Mediterranean region. With many different stories, epithets, and associations there are some connecting her to Dolphin.
One tale tells of the sacred fish of the Euphrates who pushed an unusual egg to shore from which Atargatis emerged as a mermaid. Later she gave birth to a fully human daughter which she could not tolerate. Leaving her daughter in the care of doves she threw herself into a lake, becoming the Great Fish Mother, some believe as a dolphin. Other tales depict her as a goddess wearing a dolphin crown.
Etymology connects Dolphin with the Mother Goddess through the ancient Greek word for womb,“delphys.” The Oracle of Delphi was originally the oracular home of Gaia and her son, the Serpent Python, known as “Delphys.” Once Apollo, the patriarchal Sun God, killed Python and took control of the Oracle the name was changed to the Oracle of Delphi – shifting the meaning from it’s association with the womb of Mother Earth to Dolphin, the animal form Apollo inhabited to reach the Oracle. Apollo decreed – “And whereas I first, in the misty sea, sprung aboard the swift ship in the guise of a dolphin, therefore pray to me as Apollo Delphinus”
Dolphin is a sentient being who can recognize itself in a mirror. Dolphins are equally aware of their families, who often stay together for life. Research shows that dolphins have friends. Within a pod dolphins gravitate to certain individuals, seeming to prefer their company over others. Dolphin can remember its friends’ signature whistles even after decades apart.
The Paiwan, a Taiwanese indigenous group, tells how Dolphin helped a pair of lovers who lived on separate islands. Hearing their cries of despair, Dolphin carried the woman to her beloved where they lived happily ever after. From then on Dolphin became the guardian of love to the tribe.
Pliny the Elder tells a tale of a dolphin in Lake Lucrine in Italy who befriended a boy. This boy walked the banks of the lake on his way to school every day. Seeing a dolphin he fed it scraps of bread. Dolphin reciprocated by carrying the boy across the lake to school. This friendship lasted for many moons until the boy suddenly died. His dolphin friend – heartbroken – died from sorrow soon after.
And yet another tale of Dolphin’s helping nature explains the existence of the constellation Delphinus. Poseidon, Greek Sea God, elicited help from Dolphin in his attempt to woe the Goddess, Amphitrite. Dolphin was successful and Amphitrite agreed to marry Poseidon. To honor and thank Dolphin, Poseidon placed its image among the stars as the constellation Delphinus.
Open your ears and hear the messages brought by Dolphin – messages of love, friendship, community and generosity. Open your heart and feel the joy these things bring.
Playfulness, Joy, Compassion, Protection
The Chinese tale of the baiji, a 20 million year old dolphin species in the Yangtze river, is one of pureness of heart, compassion and transformation. The story goes – An intelligent, caring, and beautiful princess lived with her father, the Emperor, on the banks of the river Yangtze. Upon refusing to marry the man her father had chosen, he punished her with the sentence of death. Taking her out in his boat, he threw her into the sea. As she neared death a River Goddess took pity on her and changed her into a baiji dolphin. She told the River Goddess what had happened. Angrily the River Goddess brewed up a big storm which sunk the Emperor’s ship. With a compassionate heart the Princess/Dolphin saved her father. He repented and started the tradition among emperors of offering special protection to the baiji dolphins. Since that day she has been known as the Goddess of the Yangtze – a symbol of peace, prosperity and protection.
Unfortunately with the end of emperors and the onset of the industrial revolution the baiji lost their protection, becoming extinct in 2006.
The Chumash, the native people of Santa Cruz Island off the California coast, tell a tale of a rainbow bridge and dolphins. The population of the island was growing and getting a little too noisy for their Earth Mother, Hutash. To facilitate a migration to the mainland she built a very long, high rainbow bridge for the people to walk across. Hutash invited them to cross and populate the mainland. Some of the people were excited by the adventure so they crossed. Unfortunately some lost balance and fell into the water. To save them Hutash turned them into dolphins. From that day on the Chumash consider dolphins as brothers and sisters who offer special protection.
Dolphin offers friendship, help and an example of a life lived with compassion, playfulness and joy. Dolphin reminds you that play is good and laughter heals. Dolphin calls you to maintain that balance of work and play for a balance of body, mind and soul. Dolphin offers protection in times of need.
Duality, Harmony, Death/Rebirth
Breath is the life force. Unlike humans, dolphins breathe consciously – choosing when and where to breathe. Dolphin, the fish with a womb, cannot breathe under water. With the ability to shut down half its brain while sleeping, Dolphin takes several 15 to 20 minutes naps every day, allowing one hemisphere of its brain to sleep, while swimming, breathing and hunting continuously.
Dolphin lives in two worlds – of water and of air. Dolphin gifts us with the ability to balance and harmonize the duality of the mysterious, watery realm of the unconscious, intuition and emotions with the bright, airy world of intelligence, perception and knowledge.
Dolphin’s ability to go between these two worlds of water and air perhaps led to their association with death and rebirth.
To the Celts Dolphin is the protector of sacred wells and waters and the guardian of all things associated with water – connecting it to the healing powers of water. They also associated Dolphin with death and rebirth.
Dolphins association to rebirth is illustrated in a story of Dionysus, Greek God of Ecstasy, Madness, Fertility and Death/Rebirth. Dionysus, while traveling in disguise on a pirate ship, overheard the pirates planning to sell him into slavery. As God of Madness he was adept at creating illusions. Fearful of these hallucinations, the men jumped in the sea. Dionysus, hearing their cries of repentance, turned them into dolphins – truly a new life.
Greek and Roman stories tell of dolphins who carry the souls of the dead to the “Islands of the Blessed.” Christian artists depict Dolphin transporting the spirits of the deceased faithful to Christ’s side.
The largest member of the dolphin family, the Orca (mistakenly renamed “killer whale”), was believed to be the reincarnation of their beloved members by some tribes of the Pacific Northwest.
Dolphin heals through breathe and offers bridges to both new life and peaceful resolution of conflict. At this time when the world sorely needs intelligence, compassion, community, friendship and a joyful outlook on life, let Dolphin be your guide.
Post Script: I left out pages and pages of dolphin stories but did want to share a few more images:
Sources: Folklore Thursday, National Park Service, Underwater 360, Divers’ Digest, PBS Frontline, Culture Trip, Occult World, Whalefish, Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, Mental Floss, Mental Floss, The Shift Network, What is My Spirit Animal,
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.