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Gannet Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

Two Gannets on Rock

Gannets are large and impressive sea birds which somewhat resemble albatrosses in size and behavior, but are most closely related to boobies. Like albatrosses, gannets mate for life, breed in large colonies, and spend much of their lives at sea. In North America, the entire population of gannets use only a handful of coastal breeding colonies. (1)

Known for their incredible diving ability, gannets plunge into the surf from up to one hundred feet above in pursuit of prey which they hunt using their keen eyesight. (2)

Amongst human cultures, gannets have a somewhat mixed reputation. Like cormorants, these birds are often associated with gluttony and thievery. Nevertheless, birdwatchers often make pilgrimages to witness their enormous colonies firsthand. The gannet is an absolutely stunning animal whose unique adaptations allow it to thrive in the harsh but beautiful environment of earth’s stormy seas.

On this page
Gannet Symbolism and Meaning
Gannet Native American Symbolism
Gannet Christianity Symbolism
Gannet Celtic Symbolism
Gannet in Dreams
Gannet Encounters and Omens
Gannet Mythology and Folklore
    Japanese Mythology:
    Greek Mythology:
Gannet Spirit Animal
Gannet Totem Animal
Gannet Power Animal
Gannet Tattoo Meaning

Gannet Symbolism and Meaning

The chief bit of symbolism associated with the gannet is gluttony. In England especially, but not exclusively, the word “gannet” is often used to refer to someone who greedily devours large helpings of food. This word is often used to complain about people who take more than “their share” of communal food, such as at parties or gatherings. This reputation for gluttony may come from the observation of gannets feeding. When gannets locate shoals of fish, they dive into the water at high speeds in a flurry of activity that might look like a “feeding frenzy” to the uninitiated. What many don’t know, however, is that gannets actually do not engage in “kleptoparasitism” like many other sea birds do. In fact, gannets are quite considerate of each other and will avoid encroaching on another gannet colony’s feeding area. Researchers believe that avoiding other gannets’ feeding areas may be a practicality rather than a courtesy, however this behavior is still quite a far cry from the gluttonous gannet which has made its way into the modern English lexicon. So, while gannets may represent gluttony, they may also represent restraint, strategy, and misunderstandings. (3)

Gannet Pair
Photo by Birger Strahl on Unsplash

Albatrosses are often touted as some of the most romantic birds around, and for good reason. The internet is bursting with stories of Wandering Albatrosses who wait for years to reunite with a lost mate, or Layson Albatrosses who spend several years at sea before choosing their mates and bonding via preening and special courtship dances. (4) Gannets, however make stiff competition for the devoted albatross. Monogamous birds which mate for life, gannets perform a variety of bonding rituals including nibbling on each other’s necks, touching their bills together, and making clacking noises. Once together, the pairs will spend the rest of their lives rearing young together during the breeding season at the same nesting site year after year. Gannets are devoted parents who fiercely defend their young. (5)

A gannet may then represent marriage, romance, devotion, faithfulness, parenthood, family, or protection.

Gannet nests are quite large and have been known to contain weird items collected from human debris. Shotgun shell casings, false teeth, and golf balls are just some of the unusual objects which have been found built into gannet nests. (6) So, the gannet can also represent collections, eclectic-ness, and eccentricity.

Finally, the long stretches of time that the gannet spends at sea may also associate this bird with endurance, travelers, mariners, and navigation. A gannet may be considered a good luck charm for long voyages, especially those that traverse oceans.

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Gannet Native American Symbolism

While it is difficult to find a source that specifically names the gannet in the context of Native American folklore, sea birds in general are important to a number of costal Native tribes. In many cases, sea birds are associated with storms and changes in the weather as well as the might and power of the sea itself. On the Pacific Island of Rapa Nui, or “Easter Island,” for example, terns and frigatebirds are part of an ancient tradition which mandates that a ceremonial king be named based on his ability to win a race to find sea bird eggs. While this specific tradition doesn’t include the gannet, it does highlight the importance of sea birds to coastal cultures. (7)

Gannet Christianity Symbolism

Cormorants, a sea bird which somewhat resembles the gannet, are mentioned in the Bible as examples of animals which are too unclean for human consumption. Thus, the gannet may be associated, in biblical iconography, with uncleanliness and impurity. For many Christians who appreciate birds, however, this association is weak and unsatisfying. Instead, gannets and sea birds are thought of as symbols of the beauty and balance of nature and the gratitude that Christian’s ought to share for the natural world. (8)

Gannet Celtic Symbolism

Sea birds like gannets are associated, in Celtic folklore, with the otherworld, the supernatural might and influence of the sea, and with various sea gods. The god Mac Lir from Irish folklore is especially connected with seagulls and other seafaring birds. (9)

Gannet in Dreams

Dreaming of a gannet is a surefire sign that you are ready to move to the next step in your relationship. The devoted lifelong romance of the gannet is something that most people long for. Whether you are waiting to pluck up the courage to put yourself out there or contemplating diving into a new milestone in an established relationship, dreaming of gannets means that somewhere deep down you know it is time to go for it. Your heart is crying out for deep connections and being brave and taking the plunge is the only way to forge this sort of bond.

Gannet Wings
Photo by Benoit Gauzere on Unsplash

Additionally, dreaming of gannets may speak to a desire for community or a large family. Not only are gannets devoted parents, but they rear their young on massive rocky colonies with many many gannet families nearby. Dreaming of a gannet may indicate a general desire to connect with a larger community.

Gannet Encounters and Omens

Encountering a gannet is good luck, especially for someone who is about to undertake a voyage. Gannets spend long stretches of their lives at sea, diving from impressive heights onto shoals of fish and squid below. A gannet encounter can indicate a thirst for adventure as well as an inner fortitude that allows one to weather whatever storms may come. In addition, encountering a gannet may be a sign to take heart and have courage. Gannets must trust themselves to stay aloft over miles and miles of roiling sea. Furthermore, when the time is right these birds take death-defying plunges into the foamy waves. Encountering a gannet may be a sign to trust your instincts or to “take the plunge” and courageously dive into whatever challenge life sends your way.

Finally, a gannet encounter might be a reminder not to judge others too hastily. As mentioned previously, the name “gannet” is connected with gluttons. Gannets, however, are much less gluttonous than their reputations imply. Encountering a gannet might be a reminder that not every assumption you make about others will be true. Let people show you who they are before you make any hasty decisions.

Gannet in Mythology & Folklore

Gannets are not often the subject of major cultural myths, however, like other sea birds, they are connected with many sailors’ superstitions. It is often held that the slaying of an albatross, for example, is bad luck for sea voyages. This tradition could very neatly apply to the gannet as well. Furthermore, seagulls are sometimes thought of as bearing away the souls of sailors who have died at sea. The gannet could also be connected with this. (10)

Japanese Mythology:

In Japan, cormorants, which are somewhat similar to gannets are traditionally used to fish for fisherman. This ancient tradition involves trained birds with strings tied around their necks to prevent them from swallowing the larger fish that they catch. Gannets have not been used for this, but they are similar enough to cormorants that they might also be connected with cooperation, good fortune, and a bountiful harvest. (11)

Greek Mythology:

Although more often connected with kingfishers, the Greek myth of Halcyon and the “Halcyon days” can sometimes be connected with gannets. In this story, Halcyon was the daughter of the god of the winds and was happily married to a human man named Ceyx. Halcyon and Ceyx were so deeply in love that even the gods watched them with admiration. This meant that when Halcyon and Ceyx made a private joke about the gods, the eavesdropping gods overheard and grew angry. Because of this overheard joke, Ceyx was doomed by Zeus to die on his next voyage at sea.

Gannet in Flight
Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Unsplash

Although Halcyon begged him to avoid sailing, Ceyx made the ill-fated journey anyways. Unfortunately, Ceyx could not escape his fate and his ship was destroyed by the merciless sea. When Halcyon found the body of Ceyx on the shore she leapt into the sea in her grief. In an act of remorse for Halcyon’s heartbreaking anguish, the gods revived and transformed her and Ceyx into sea birds so that they could be together. Halcyon became a kingfisher (which is called “halcyon” in Greek) and Ceyx became another sea bird, which is sometimes considered to be a gannet. Unfortunately, though they were together, Halcyon and Ceyx’s nests kept getting battered by waves and their offspring lost. Pitying them, Zeus declared that there would be fourteen days of clear still weather each year. These would be the “Halcyon days”; the days during which Halcyon could safely lay her eggs and raise her young. (12)(13)

Gannet Spirit Animal

If the gannet is your spirit animal then you are likely to be extremely driven, emotionally intelligent, sociable, and focused. The gannet spirit animal wants nothing more than to provide for their loved ones. Ambitious in their careers, gannet spirits never lose sight of what’s truly important and always make time for their families. A desire to build a stable and prosperous home is the gannet’s most driving motivation.

Gannet Colony
Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

People with the gannet spirit animal often seem somewhat straight-laced because they are unlikely to start conflicts or deviate from the path that they feel is right. Despite this, however, when one gets to know a gannet spirit it becomes evident pretty quickly that these individuals have an eccentric side. People with the gannet spirit animal don’t reveal their weirder interests to just anyone, but they tend to be fascinated with the unusual. The gannet spirit is a born collector and loves to fill their home with odds and ends.

Gannet Totem Animal

If the gannet is your totem animal then you likely embody many of the same traits present in the gannet spirit animal. In addition, the gannet totem tends to be fiercely protective and imbued with an inherent sense of justice. If the gannet is your totem animal then you might see yourself as the defender of the home and protector of the family.

People with the gannet totem are easy-going and forgiving, but they absolutely hate being lied to. Dishonesty is a major taboo for the gannet totem animal.

Gannet Power Animal

The gannet power animal is associated with energy. Flying for months at a time over the open sea and diligently feeding and rearing helpless offspring is no easy task. The gannet never complains, though! These powerful sea birds seem to have an endless drive to survive and carve out a living in a tough ecological niche. If the gannet is your power animal then you are bursting with energy and capable of enduring even the most exhausting trials.

People with the gannet as their power animal use seemingly endless energy to fuel their powerful ambition and achieve the goals which motivate them.

Gannet Tattoo Meaning

A gannet tattoo is a great choice for someone who spends a lot of time at sea. These birds are considered good luck for voyagers and are connected with navigation, travels, and homecomings.

Someone might also choose a gannet tattoo to represent love, romance, and faithfulness. The lifelong partnerships of gannets are touching and inspirational models for human relationships.

Gannet with Chick
Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Finally, one might choose a gannet tattoo to represent either gluttony or the dangers of misjudging others. While the gannet is associated with gluttony, this association does not reflect this bird’s actual behavior.

Conclusion

Gannets are large beautiful sea birds with complex and heartwarming relationships. Gliding over the harsh but beautiful sea, these birds represent both the intense difficulty of surviving Mother Nature’s challenges and the surprising and incredible tenderness that one can find upon closely examining the natural world.

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