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The Green Man
The Sun and the Moon

The Celts
Dragons and Serpents
Whales and Dolphins

Faerie Folk
The Knight's Templar

Whales too are seen as sacred in some cultures. Russian, Slavic and Arabian mythology claims that whales support the world, and in Chinese mythology a whale with the hands and feet of a man rules the ocean. The Chinese also connected the single spiral tusk of the Narwhal, an Arctic-dwelling whale, with the horn of the sacred Unicorn. Statues of the Buddha in Tibet are frequently accompanied by whales.

The great black and white killer whale, or orca, actually the largest member of the dolphin family, is important for many native American cultures. The Tlingit, Nootka and Haida tribes in particular see the orca as one of the many animal ancestral spirits and is viewed as an embodiment of strength and speed. Orca motifs, as well as other whales, appear on many native American objects from clothes to shamanic drums, as well as items of South American origin. Like the river dolphins of the Amazon, however, native American mythology sometimes casts the orca as a dangerous being, who can take people to their realm under the sea and transform them into whales.

Whales are also sources of fear and superstition for some cultures, and are frequently regarded as monsters in myth and legend. Many sightings of sea monsters can be attributed to whales whose sheer size terrified sailors of the old world. A large number of sailors believed in a number of demonic whales, such as the Red Whale, the Horse Whale and the Pig Whale, that sunk ships and ate everyone on board. To even utter the name of these whales was considered bad luck. In Japan however, whales were connected with the more benevolent sea serpents known as Shan, who would visit the coast to play in large numbers. Norse folklore told of whales with magical powers, and cast them as the mounts of evil witches and wizards.

The symbolism of the whale in Christianity is ambivalent. The belly of the whale is often used to represent Hell, and the whale's jaws as Hell's gates and some Christians connect the terrifying biblical sea monster Leviathan with the whales. Yet the "big fish" that swallowed the sinner Jonah is usually interpreted as whale, therefore portraying the mighty sea mammal as God's ally. The Bible tells us that once Jonah had repented, he was vomited out by the whale - thus connecting the whale with rebirth and resurrection. Some ancient Islamic folktales also hold this legend true, and in fact Jonah's whale is one of only 10 animals allowed into Heaven.

The whale features in another story from Christianity, telling of the voyages of the Irish monk St. Brandon. In one account, St. Brandon and his companions land on a strange island, where they settle and begin to cook food. But as the campfire burns, the island shudders and sinks. Having barely escaped, the sailors are told by St. Brandon that the island was actually a mighty whale name Jasconius, whom they had woken when they lit the fire. A very similar tale was told in Persia of the legendary sailor Sinbad, who also became stranded on the back of a whale having mistaken it for an island.

Both whales and dolphins are regarded on a level equalling that of humans in Vietnam. If the body of dead whale or dolphin is washed ashore, its finder must mourn the death like a brother and bury the body. Mass graves filled with the skulls of whales and dolphins have been found in Vietnam by archaeologists. Ironically, this treatment was shared by early whalers in Japan, who on killing a pregnant whale would bury the foetus and give it a Buddhist name.


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Whale tale brooch, available at the Spiral Online Shop

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