Octopus symbolism is usually derived from its tentacles and the way the creature uses them to entangle its prey. The arms of the octopus thus symbolize a problem and its many facets or layers. In this guide, we will study the meaning of octopus and also analyze the squid symbol and Kraken symbolism.
Table of contents
- Octopus Symbolism and meaning
- Octopus Native American Symbolism
- Octopus Eastern Symbolism
- Octopus Christianity Symbolism
- Octopus Celtic Symbolism
- Octopus African Symbolism
- Octopus in Dreams
- Octopus Encounters and Omens
- Octopus’ Mythology and Folklore
- Octopus Spirit Animal
- Octopus Totem Animal
- Octopus Power Animal
- Octopus Tattoo Meaning
Octopus symbolism and meaning
Octopuses (octopi) are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Ocean. They have eight legs and no skeletal system.
These intelligent beings are able to grasp things, learn quickly, and even make decisions based on visual, tactile, and chemical cues. The octopus, Kraken, and squid symbol are also linked with sea serpents, spirals, whirlpools, and the spiral.
In many cultures, the octopus has the same symbolism and meaning as other multi-armed creatures. Octopi medallions have been discovered and they were probably carried by seafarers for protection in the high seas.
There is a sinister association to the octopus owing to the black inky material it ejects when they are threatened or frightened. Octopus and squid are also prized for flesh in many parts of the world today.
Ancient Greeks used octopi for their aphrodisiacal properties. In parts of North West, the 8-tentacled creature is considered the devil-fish and is believed to be a powerful creature of the undersea.
Shaman amulets often have the octopus tentacles and suckers symbols that depict this sea-creature as a supernatural being. Primarily, they are considered amorous symbols and believed to have made advances to 8 girls diving for shells or pearls. Octopuses’ 8 arms could symbolize prolific catches. (1)
Octopus Native American symbolism
The Natives often told stories about animals and these tales had moral lessons that helped kids learn concepts. In addition to it being entertaining – the role of animal stories was to encourage acceptable behavior in children.
There is a famous Native story of the Raven and the Octopus. In the story, the octopus was a woman with eight braids for each of the 8 tentacles. One day, she was digging for clams at the beach, just at the edge of the water during low tide.
A man with beautiful black hair (the Raven disguised as a man) came and started bothering the octopus. He kept asking her what she was doing and although she paid him no attention, he continued asking her the same question again and again.
With each question, he moved closer and closer to the octopus. When he was close enough, the octopus used her braids to capture Raven and dragged him into the ocean.
As the tide started to come in, the Raven drowned while the octopus survived as she could breathe in the water. The villagers somehow managed to save Raven out and revived him with the help from Raven’s wise cousin – the Crow. Crow managed to save Raven. But it was a long time before Raven ever went back to the beach and he never bothered octopus ever again.
Native American octopus bags and Athapaskan octopus smoking bags are very popular these days as a fashion statement. Plateau Indians made these bags and they were called so because of the 8 fringes at the bottom.
Octopus Eastern Symbolism
Japanese art depicts octopus or the squid in a humorous manner. The sea creature is shown with its tentacles in knots and a surprised look on its face.
To the Japanese, the octopus is an important source of food and is considered quite a delicacy. The Japanese buy octopus pre-boiled from the fishmongers to cook sushi and other delicacies from it.
In some parts of Japan, the octopus is a sex symbol as it is supposed to make amorous advances to eight diving maidens. According to some Japanese folktales, the octopi could transform themselves into human forms to seduce women.
In some rural areas, the octopus symbol is used to prevent whooping cough. If someone gets whooping cough, seven legs of the octopus are drawn on paper and pasted onto the earthen stove.
The word Chinese octopus has a political meaning. In 1952, an archetypal figure of speech used by Casey stated: the Western allies were debating whether to hack at the tentacles or the head of the Chinese octopus.
Here, the octopus represented an all-enveloping communist state, strangling of individuality and dissent. (2) In many parts of the world, there is a link between the Swastika symbol and the octopus. The Kuna people of Panama believe swastika to denote the octopus that created the world.
Octopus Christianity symbolism
Fish symbolism is very powerful in Christianity. In Christian art, fish symbolized Jesus Christ. Thus almost all sea creatures had a sacred meaning in the Bible. Some fish even had the power to heal the sick from contact with their heavenly charged bodies.
Similarly, the octopus, squid, and mighty Kraken were considered remarkable ‘nautical freaks.’ The Kraken was believed to be like an island, measuring nearly a mile and a half in diameter.
Still, the fishermen believed it to be divine and god-like since it disposed the fish into their nets. Some Christian legends and stories also likened the Kraken to the great cosmic fish of antiquity.
Only two of these fish would survive and they created the world and would die when the world ends. In Christian art, the octopus symbolizes mystery, flexibility, fluidity, intelligence, adaptability, and unpredictability.
It is a lunar creature affected by the tides and the waxing and waning of the moon. It dwells on the ever-changing bottom of the ocean and does not have a skeleton. It has the ability to move quickly and escape from the tightest of places.
Thus, the spiritual meaning of octopus represents creativity. It encourages man to move towards one’s goals in an unorthodox way. It also asks the man to lose his excess physical and emotional baggage. (3)
Octopus Celtic symbolism
The octopus symbol is particularly widespread among the Scandinavians and the Celts. In Scandinavian figures, the arms of the octopus are generally straight, unlike their coiled representation in Mycenaean ornaments.
Therefore, the octopus is linked to the Swastika symbol in parts of Europe. The symbol of the octopus is also linked with the zodiacal sign of Cancer, which corresponds to the summer solstice and depths of water.
That is why, in Celtic culture, the octopus is taken in the malefic sense with the summer solstice being the inferni. Before the swastika became a Nazi symbol, it was considered to be an amulet to confer good luck and long life.
These symbolic meanings are then transferred to the octopus as well. The swastika, and subsequently, the octopus, became linked to the female reproductive organs, the cowry, the Pterocera, and magic.
Octopus was also linked to Goddess Mother and believed to be a personification of Aphrodite. In Polynesian myth, the octopus rose from the primordial waters and had two children, Fire and Water.
Later, it even came to be associated with the dragon. The Celtic God of Nine Rays was also believed to be the octopus. Anthropologists in Britain and Ireland also believe that the spider or octopus may function as a symbol for the Mother. (4)
Octopus African symbolism
In African Art, snail and octopus shapes are stylized in order to convey a sense of slow motion, persistence, and determination.
In Africa, octopus also may have been the symbol of the sun since the sun is represented with a circular face and three arms or legs sprouting in three directions. John Murungi, author of An Introduction to African Legal Philosophy (5) used octopus symbolism to explain racism.
Says Murungi: ‘Racism is a symbol of oppression which is like the octopus. It is hard to tell which of the eight arms has the tightest stranglehold.’ In earlier times, octopus symbols were found in Egyptian vaults on coins.
There is little doubt that the Myceanean spiral and volute are closely linked to the octopus. Minoan paintings and Myceanean decorative art demonstrate the spiral as a life-giving symbol definitely derived from the octopus.
The use of volute on Egyptian scarabs and in the decoration of the Thracian statuette of nude Goddess indicates that it was employed like the spiral and octopus as a life symbol.
In Africa, in the Neolithic phase, the crude idols represent forms derived from the octopus. The octopus may have been a conventional symbol of the ocean and of the watery fertilizing principle.
Octopus in dreams
An octopus attacking or ensnaring in your dreams can symbolize some way that your unconscious mind is pulling you into its realm.
This imagery is common in the dreams of people who resist the call from deep within them to find out what’s down in their hidden psyche.
We must add to this the ability to maneuver in the realm of the unconscious, as an octopus’s habitat is the ocean, the symbolic environment that connects us to that sea creature.
The symbol of the octopus can refer to the organized power within far-reaching influence – especially when harmful or destructive.
Octopi also have eight arms and have soft bodies with arms lined with suction cups. The only hard part on their body is their mouth, which resembles the beak of a parrot.
The number 8 is a fortunate number and a symbol of commitment, eternal life, fortitude, and abundance. However, the octopus is the ‘cheat of the animal world.’ That is why; dreaming of octopus means infidelity.
The octopi have the ability to change their color when threatened. Folklore also portrays these creatures as fickle-minded. (6)
Dreaming of octopus means you have a sense of adventure spirit. See one killed and you’re taking on a moral stand. If an octopus attacks you, there is trouble on the horizon.
Octopus encounters and omens
Octopus, Kraken, and squid are not encountered very easily. However, they have been mentioned in the lore since times immemorial.
Fishermen are terrified of the sea creature called Kraken (pronounced croc-ken) and the word has always oozed mystery, the aura of danger, and intrigue. Scientists have seen giant squid but studies on them are rare.
The prospect of encountering large squids, octopi, and Kraken has always spawned fear in the minds of explorers and fishermen alike. Kraken is indeed rather scary-looking. It has large, snake-like arms with sucker-lined cups all along.
It also has tentacles around a hideous beak that is strong enough to serve heavy gauge wire. Its evil looking eyes are the stuff of nightmares.
Unlike Bigfoot and Loch Ness, cryptozoologists have documented evidence about Kraken sightings. Many specimens of giant squids have been found and preserved in museums.
Moreover, body parts of large squids and octopi – such as tentacles, beaks, and parts of arms – have been washed ashore. Krakens are often believed to be nothing but very large squid or octopi.
An encounter with them is considered dangerous and frightening. One of the most intriguing colossal octopus encounters was documented by the International Society of Cryptozoology in 1985. A sea fisherman named John Ingham lost two huge and expensive crab traps (each measuring 8x8x4.5 feet).
They were made of thick steel wire suspended by a thick rope. The traps were tugged on so hard by an 8-armed creature that the ropes broke and the cages disappeared forever into the abyss. (7)
Octopus mythology and folklore
Long ago, octopuses began to swim through myths and legends, as a symbol of the unseen, mysterious depths. In ancient Fijian mythology, an octopus Goddess defeated a mighty shark god who tried to conquer her island.
She wrapped her arms around him so hard that he cried for mercy. She released him on one condition: that he should protect her people from shark attacks. The Kraken myth originated in Scandinavian waters.
Jules Verne mentioned the huge squid -Kraken – in his famous novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The term octopus comes from Greek and Latin words- octo, meaning eight and pous, meaning pods or legs.
Ancient stories about octopuses have spilled into artwork and artifacts worldwide. The Minoans of Crete painted jugs with goggle-eyed octopi 3500 years ago. Moche Chiefs in Peru wore headdresses of sparkling gold with 8-legged deities inspired by this sea creature.
In Celtic cultures, octopi are linked to the dragon. Cultures have created octopus-centric creation myths, art, and, of course, cuisine. According to Hawaiian mythology, the octopus is the only living holdover from the world’s previous incarnations.
One of the creation myths also has an octopus in it: the Sky and Earth were separated by an octopus and turtle, so creation could continue in the world of Light. (8)
Octopus spirit animal
If the octopus is your spirit animal, you are intelligent, mysterious, and easily able to hide and blend in your surroundings from your enemies.
You are also extremely bendable or flexible, as well as intriguing and unpredictable. You are a naturalist and love the ocean. You also love walking along the shoreline and the beach.
Like the octopus, you are able to squeeze out of cracks and disappear when you want to. The octopus spirit animal is encouraging you to adapt to your situation for things that will change and nothing lasts forever.
Octopuses have the ability to get inside fishermen’s traps and eat the trapped fish and then get out again without any harm. The same is the case with people having octopi as their spirit animals; they are easily able to get opportunities and end up heroes.
Octopuses are known to escape easily from traps and even aquariums. They can also grow new tentacles when they are bitten off. Thus, the octopus spirit animal symbolizes regeneration and renewal.
If you are in a phase of life that is making you feel stuck or dejected, then worry no more; the octopus will guide you. Seek his strength and guidance to get out of sticky situations so you can grow and develop new strengths. (9)
Octopus totem animal
If an octopus is your totem animal, then your element is water and your mineral is brass. The plant or tree you are linked to the Elder Tree. Your personality type is the hider/camouflage/ or the grasper.
People with these characteristics are very emotional. They are solitary creatures and when they feel threatened, they can withdraw or attack. They have a volatile temper. At the same time, they can grasp opportunities with ease and can easily grab them with their arms.
They are intelligent, reflective, and to an extent, even manipulative. As they grab opportunities, they are quicker in manifesting their desires better than most people.
Like their totem animal, they are intelligent and do well in personal and professional life. Like the octopus totem, one has two personalities: one shown to the world and the other is mainly hidden.
Psychologically, people with octopus totem animal are go-getters. Sometimes, they take on more than they can handle. However, they are also flexible and bendable and can get out of traps with ease owing to their ability to blend in with the surroundings.
Negative traits of the octopus totem are arrogance and self-assured stubbornness. As a boss, you can be demanding and difficult. You have a stinging sarcasm and tongue that can hurt other people. (10)
Octopus power animal
If an octopus is your power animal, you have the innate intelligence to get you out of sticky situations. You also have a great deal of insight about human nature. Call upon your power animal if you have to invent, research, engineer, or develop something.
For the octopus, a power animal has all the necessary qualities. Since you are unable to express your emotions freely, you might feel stuck.
But your power animal is there to power you through situations that demand expression. Worry not: like your power animal. You will easily be able to come out of any situation unscathed owing to your flexibility and ability to bend with ease.
You would shine in any areas of research, the Government sector, and areas where they need skill and expertise. Like your power animal, you can somewhat be ruthless in the pursuit of your goals.
You are also strongly sexual and can sometimes feel sexually enslaved or overly-indulgent in matters of sexual pursuit. Call your power animal the octopus when you need help in grabbing onto whatever it is that you desire.
In both your business and personal life, you are organized and efficient. So success will come with ease as the octopuses’ power guides you. (11)
Octopus tattoo meaning
Sailors often get octopus tattoos to honor the sea creature. People can get beautiful octopus tattoos with tentacles spread all over the back in elegant curlicues. Women get octopus tattoos when they have been bullied or abused in childhood.
The octopus tattoo becomes more than a tattoo: it becomes a symbol of strength. It can be a reminder that you are a survivor that has gotten out of a dangerous situation.
Octopus tattoo stands for power, strength, and intelligence, a manifestation of desires, as well as for flexibility and opportunities. Like the octopus tattoo, the Squid tattoo is a nickname for submariners and it is not unusual in maritime tattoo to see a squid that stands for a submarine or sailor.
Squids and octopuses can be individually tattooed or could be part of the scenery of the sea. Squids drift and dart around.
Octopuses hide and camouflage themselves and many times, sailors mistake them to be rocks. Octopus tend to grab onto things that come in their way.
Thus, an octopus tattoo indicates a grasper- one who always is on the lookout for opportunities and one who is willing to grab them quickly to achieve goals and desires.
The meaning of an octopus tattoo will change based on its depiction. So, carefully analyze several tattoos before settling for one.
Octopus symbolism shows the creature in a negative light in that; it is considered the beast of the Underworld. It can devour its prey and grasp it tightly while squirting ink-instilling fear in the minds of its victims. In tattoo form, the octopus can be a symbol of strength. In some cultures, it is the eight-armed Mother Goddess, the creator of the world, and also the dragon.