In the deep waters of Earth’s soul, Whale – Lord of the Sea – lives long, dives deep and emerges within a cascade of sea foam to greet the day . Considered divine beings by some cultures and demons by others, this enigmatic being inspires both awe and fear in the human heart.
“The whales do not sing because they have an answer, they sing because they have a song.” ― Gregory Colbert
Protection, Communication, Love, Family, Travel
Whale has provided great bounty to indigenous coastal people – meat and fuel, plus bones that could be formed into tools and jewelry.
Whales and hippopotamuses evolved from a common four-legged ancestor – Indohyus, an extinct semi-aquatic deer-like ungulate. Whales, who became ocean dwellers 50 million years ago, are part of the cetacean family of marine mammals, which includes dolphins and porpoises.
The 30 – 40 species of whales are divided into two main types – baleen and toothed whales. Baleen whales are the largest mammals on Earth and include the humpback, blue and grey whales. Toothed whales are much smaller and include sperm whales, beluga and narwhol – the unicorn of the sea – with a single horn emerging from its head.
Though baleen whales are generally solitary- coming together only to mate – some species do form small pods and humpback whales join together during migration. Toothed whales live in pods of 2 – 50 individuals.
Whales, the largest animals on Earth, live in every ocean and take 5 – 20 years to reach maturity. The blue whale reaches 90 or more feet and weighs more than 330,000 pounds. Some species, like the bowhead whale, are among the longest living mammals – living more than 200 years. Gray whales migrate about 10,000 miles round trip every year.
With its size, strength and endurance, it’s no wonder Whale symbolizes protection in many cultures – both to the community at home and to travelers who venture far.
In ancient Islamic mythology, a giant whale called Nun, carries Earth on its back – protecting the whole world.
The Bangudae Petroglyphs of Korea, created 6 – 7,000 years ago on a branch of the Taewha River, include engravings of many, many whales, deer and wolves, with human figures along the sides – some hunting, some with raised arms and one playing a flute-type musical instrument. The whale images are true masterpieces, reflecting their importance to the people’s survival. The musician perhaps indicates these people’s understanding of the importance of sound to the whales.
Though orcas or killer whales are classified by scientists as dolphins, their mythology as whales is found worldwide.
The Tinglit of Canada tell the tale of Natsilane, a man destined to become chief of his tribe. One day he was left behind on a deserted island by his jealous brothers. With help from a sea lion he returned home to find his brothers out hunting in the ocean. Understandingly angry, he set to work carving a killer whale from a piece of cedar. By singing his most powerful spirit song, he brought the figurine to life. Natsilane asked it to find and kill his brothers. The whale agreed. Upon its return, Natsilane instructed it to never kill a human again. Plus he asked the killer whale to save anyone found stranded in the water and bring them back home.
The Maori of New Zealand have a similar legend about a humpback whale in which Paikea, a favorite of the chief, had a jealous brother who tried to kill him and his other brothers by drowning them during an ocean fishing trip. He drown the others but failed with Paikea, who singing his spirit song, summoned a humpback. The whale arrived and gave him a ride to safety.
In both the Tinglit and the Maori legends the hero figure uses song to summon the whale, indicating the strong connection these people had with whales and their understanding of the power of whales’ songs.
Whales are great communicators, with each species having a different approach to communicating. Toothed whales use high-frequency clicks and whistles. Baleen whales use long, low-frequency sounds producing melodic tones. Researchers have determined that each individual in a pod produces a unique frequency or sound.
The best and most documented whale song is that of the male humpback whales who are known for their evocative, complex songs. With a 7-octave range, a song can last up to half an hour and be repeated for hours. Males sing during mating season – perhaps to attract females, perhaps to locate them. They also sing while feeding and migrating.
The gigantic blue whale sings loudly and deeply, reaching 186 decibels – like a rocket launching – loud enough to burst human eardrums.
These loud, low-pitched sounds of baleen whales allow their songs to travel hundreds of miles – up to 1000 miles for the blue whale – facilitating important communication over great distances.
In addition to songs, clicks and whistles whales also use body language and specific behaviors to communicate with each other. Their desire for communication is so strong that captive whales sometimes mimic human speech – no easy task.
The Celts tell of St. Brendan the Navigator, who received a vision of an island from an angel. A dangerous storm came up while searching for this island. Whale appeared, offering its back as safe harbor for him and his crew
Coastal Native North Americans, call Whale the “Lord of the Sea,” associating it with family, travel and love. Orcas swimming in pairs in the Pacific Northwest symbolize love and marriage.
Birthing one calf at a time, the gigantic whale mother sacrifices her own physical needs as she fasts throughout the nursing period, with blue whales losing up to 25% of their weight. After weaning, whale mothers single-handedly care for their young for many years -sometimes decades.
Whale reminds us that we are loved by our community, even when on distant shores.
Self-Reliance, Inner Voice, Heart, Intuition, Creativity
Whales live solely in saltwater environments which provide health benefits by preventing illness and allowing for quick recovery from injuries.
Whale’s body helps it live comfortably in the ocean. Blubber, a thick fatty insulation keeps it warm, helps its massive body float and provides energy when fasting.
Thanks to high levels of hemoglobin and myoglobin – proteins that store oxygen in blood and muscles – and to the ability to reduce their heart rates and shut down some organs temporarily whales can remain underwater for 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the species.
Sperm whales have an organ in their heads which produces a white substance called spermaceti. Scientists now understand this substance has nothing to do with reproduction. It makes an excellent sound conductor and is an integral part of their echolocation system, allowing them to pinpoint prey found at extreme depths in ink, black water.
Whale guides you deep within yourself to discover the best use of your own untapped internal resources.
Whale spends extended periods under the pressure of the ocean, only to burst out and receive the light and breath of air. Whale gifts you this same ability to cope under pressure and duress until you are able to surface and reclaim clarity.
Whale, associated with Canola, Celtic Goddess of Creativity and Inspiration, inspires you to meaningful creativity. Canola was walking along the seashore when she heard beautiful, ethereal music. Searching, she found its source emanating from the carcass of a giant whale laying on the beach. The wind was strumming notes across dried sinews still attached to the rib-bones of the whale. Inspiration struck and the idea of the harp was born.
Whale asks you to trust your heart’s desire – to listen to your inner voice. Whale song is symbolic of the creative energies available to us all and the need to open ourselves to the opportunities that surround us.
Learn more about Whale and its symbolism in Part 2, publishing tomorrow. Here we’ll look into Whale as symbolic of Good Luck, Divine Blessing, Collective Unconscious, Ancestral Wisdom, Spiritual Awareness, Duality and Balance, Sacred Teacher, Transformer, and Healing and wrap up discussing the wisdom Whale has for us all.
Sources: Nspirement, Harvard University Ed Portal, Whale Facts, World Birds, Joy of Nature, Constellation Guide, Korea’s Whale Myths, Numbadda’s Sacred Rainbow, What’s My Spirit Animal, Otter Dance Earth Medicine, Whale Facts, Shape of Life, NOAA Fisheries, The Fact File
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. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Wisdom – to be released this fall. 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.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!