Symbols appear to us in dreams or patterns of synchronicity. When they do, it is wise to take note. Symbols are the language of the unconscious and understanding their meaning can help you reach a moment of self-realisation.
Dolphins are a symbol you want to see revealing themselves to you. We are told these sophisticated mammals are a symbol of intelligence, peace and prosperity. They are actually more than that. In short, the symbolic meaning of dolphins augurs a connection with your True Nature.
When an aspect of the personality you were previously unconscious of is recognised by the light of the conscious mind, you have the opportunity to expand conscious awareness. In doing so you are able to grow. This is why exoteric sources say the symbolic meaning of dolphins represents intelligence, peace and prosperity.
Exoteric sources also say the symbolic meaning of symbols represent guidance, protection, communication, freedom, romance, transformation (death and rebirth), and psychic abilities.
Whilst none of these interpretations are wrong, they can be misleading.
In this article, I explain how to remove the veil of illusion the scraps offered by exoteric sources erect. By understanding the veiled wisdom, you are able to piece the scraps together and reveal the esoteric meaning.
First of all, we need to take a look at where and how dolphins appear in world mythologies. By examining the symbolic meaning of dolphins across different cultures, it is possible to identify patterns that lead you to the motifs hidden meaning.
Dolphins in World Mythologies
Before we explore the symbolic meaning of dolphins, let’s take a look at how these intelligent animals appear in ancient mythology. [I have also added in brackets, why the exoteric meaning might have been derived.]
In Greek mythology, Poseidon sends a Dolphin to persuade Amphitrite to be his bride. [Messages / communication / romance]. Below, you can see a mosaic of dolphins pictured with a trident representing the god Neptune, the Roman equivalent to the Greek Poseidon.
Poseidon is identified amongst the Greek gods because of the trident he carries. Do you find it strange that the dolphin is often depicted on a trident or a cross in Christian traditions – a motif reflecting the crucifixion and purity of Christ. [Transformation, death and rebirth]
It shouldn’t really come as any surprise given that dolphins have a reputation for saving human lives by guiding their ships to safety. Jesus Christ is also said to guide men to safety by offering protection.
In Christian churches, the trident is often replaced with an anchor to represent the symbolism of the dolphin.
There is also a story in Greek mythology involving the god, Dionysus; another Greek god that shares numerous similarities with Jesus Christ.
The god of wine was captured by Etruscan pirates and tied to a mast. The ship’s crew attempted to pull him limb from limb – dismemberment representing fragmented consciousness.
“Dionysus is also a creative deity, but creative through thought, as it were. He produces the idea of the world, and his knowledge sustains it in all its reality. At the same time he is dismembered by the Titans, who are the direct creators of physical matter, and distributed into the human race, i.e. he is also the higher mind in each one of us.” ~ Mystery Religions in the Ancient World, Joscelyn Godwin
Despite the best efforts of the pirates, Dionysus could not be annihilated. Dionysus, like Jesus, represents pure consciousness that has reunited. Dionysus is known as the ‘thrice born’ and Jesus’ resurrection as the second coming; death and rebirth.
On the pirate ship, Dionysus transforms the oars into serpents. Terrified, the crew jump overboard and are transformed into dolphins so they can spend the rest of their days helping to guide ships to safety.
The indigenous peoples of South America revere the pink river dolphin in such high esteem it is believed to bring bad luck if you kill them. [Freedom]. Legend states that, at night, the pink river dolphin transforms into a handsome man at seduces young girls that fall in love with him. The mysterious handsome stranger is said to make love with the girls and impregnates them. [Romance]
The Chumash culture, a native American Indian tribe from modern-day California, depict dolphins as the saviours of humans. Tribal myths tell of how Hutash, Mother Earth, sends a rainbow across the ocean so people can walk across it like a bridge.
However, some travellers fall into the ocean below. To rescue them from drowning, Hutash transforms them into dolphins. [Help, guidance, transformation].
In Chinese mythology, dolphins are the most celebrated creatures of the river Yangtze, deemed to be the goddess Baiji.
In one version of the story, Baiji is a princess who was thrown into the river by her father because she refused to marry a rich man. Another version tells how the young girl leaps into the river to avoid being raped by her evil stepfather.
To the local fishermen and boatmen, Baiji is a symbol of peace, prosperity and protection.
In Hindu mythology, a dolphin is said to have guided the goddess Ganga down from the heavens. [Protection, guidance, messages].
The Esoteric Meaning of Dolphins
Like all spirit animals that appear in ancient legends, dolphins reflect aspects of human consciousness. It was through the observation and study of wildlife that the ancient magi devised symbolic meaning for animals, plants and trees etc.
To understand the exoteric meaning behind a symbol, you have to piece together the exoteric meanings offered by various “authoritative” sources.
As mentioned above, the symbolic meaning of dolphins represent:
- Guidance, protection, peace, prosperity
Communication, psychic abilities, intelligence
Transformation (death and rebirth)
By themselves, these fragments of symbolism mean very little, and if anything is more misleading than helpful.
For example, we are told dolphins are a symbol of transformation, but we are not told why or how they are a symbol of transformation. The general conclusion is that when dolphins appear to you in dreams or through synchronicity, you have the capacity to transform your life.
You do, but would you know what you need to transform and how?
On the other hand, if you know what the esoteric meaning of dolphins relates to, you would know what you need to transform. The esoteric meaning of dolphins is the acquisition of self-knowledge that was previously unconscious.
When you acquire new knowledge about yourself, you are in a position in which you can transform your life. Such a transformation can liberate your mind from the bonds of ignorance – which is why dolphins are associated with freedom.
A transformational process in self-development involves the transformation of energy. All energy carries information and cells communicate with one another.
Here we see why dolphins are associated with messages and communication. When we say, “messages from the universe it means the same thing.”
In modern times, the universe, you could say, is a symbol for the unconscious. In ancient times, the sea was a universal symbol for the sea.
Since dolphins live in the sea but rise to the surface, ancient writers associated them with self-knowledge that rises from the depths of the unconscious. When self-knowledge rises to the surface you have the opportunity to reprogram your subconscious.
I’ll explain this in greater depth below. It’s easier to grasp how the symbolism works using actual examples in myth. But before we get onto that, consider this:
Why did ancient writers associate dolphins with messages, communication and “psychic abilities”?
With the knowledge we have today, it’s easy to see why the poets would make this connection. Dolphins have complex communication systems which use sonar, or echolocation. They emit low and high-pitched frequencies to better understand their environment.
Did the ancient magi know and understand that dolphins had sonic communication, and how would they even understand what it was?
If we were to answer that question through the lens of academia and their official version of history, we would have to say no, the ancients could not have known how dolphins communicate.
Yet, dolphins repeatedly appear in myths as messengers. Poseidon sends a dolphin to deliver a message to Amphitrite. The Oracle of Delphi is said to receive messages from the sun god Apollo – a deity that is linked with dolphins.
The reason for this type of symbolism is because we receive messages from the unconscious to the conscious mind. As I explain in the Beginner’s Guide To Symbolism, the subconscious is where our personal programs are stored.
It’s perfectly plausible to determine that ancient cultures knew this – the large body of writing indicates they did. So it begs the question, why did they choose an animal that uses echolocation to assess their environment as a symbol of communication. Echolocation involves sending out sound waves that bounce off nearby objects.
Messages are generally regarded as new information. We receive new information from the unconscious, not from subconscious programs that store information of past experiences. Furthermore, this exchange of information through energy is influenced by vibrations similar to sound waves.
Just a thought.
You may think this side question is a stretch of the imagination, but I will come back to it shortly with an example as to why I raised the question.
Symbolic Meaning of Dolphins in Greek Mythology
To explain the deeper symbolic meaning of dolphins, let’s dive into Greek mythology. Surrounded by the sea, dolphins are naturally featured in their mythology quite often.
As a matter of fact, dolphins are the sacred animals of at least four Olympian gods; Poseidon and Dionysus I have already mentioned. Dolphins were also sacred to Aphrodite – and the sun god Apollo.
It’s easy to see why Aphrodite would be associated with dolphins given she was born from the foam of the ocean. Although dolphins never feature in any of the mythologies concerning Aphrodite, the creatures often appeared alongside the goddess in artwork.
It is widely regarded that the dolphin was a symbol of romance in ancient Greece. Many may suspect this is because of the sea creatures association with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
However, that is not the case.
Aphrodite represents the love of life; feelings of passion, intensity, enjoying the sensations felt by the body, things that you hold in high regard because they bring you joy.
It is the romantic nature of life that the dolphin and Aphrodite represents. For many of us, desensitised by life and society, this richness of feeling and sensation must be recovered and cultivated. For so many of us, such feelings are buried in the unconscious.
Another reason why dolphins are associated with romance is the symbolic coupling of the unconscious and the conscious minds. This phenomenon is known as the union of opposites – or in Hermeticism, the Alchemical Wedding.
When the brain rejects information from our environment, usually experiences that intend to protect the ego, it is said that consciousness is “split-off”. The brain dissociates. Jung says ancient cultures called this dissociation “the loss of the soul.”
To heal, you must recover the fragmented piece of the soul. This is symbolised by the union of man and woman in mythology, most often a prince and princess that become king and queen.
As we saw in the South American myth, the dolphin is a man that impregnates young girls. In symbolism, male characters represent the mind; or thoughts. Young women are subconscious programs that are not yet fully matured with wisdom.
The mind, you could say, impregnates the subconscious with information, knowledge, intelligence.
“Your subconscious mind behaves to the nature of your thoughts. You think with your conscious mind, and whatever you habitually think sinks down into your subconscious mind, which then creates according to the nature of your thoughts. Your subconscious mind is the seat of your emotions. It is the creative mind.” ~ Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
Mind, knowledge and intelligence are where Apollo’s association with dolphins comes into play. We also find the Greek god is associated with music, a symbolic motif or vibration.
And so we return to the echolocation system of dolphins which enables them “to locate and discriminate objects by projecting high-frequency sound waves and listening for echoes as the sound waves reflect off objects.” ~ seaworld.org
Why is Apollo Associated with Dolphins?
For the ancient Greeks, Apollo is the sun god, thus more aligned to the sky than the sea. His only affinity with water is due to his birthplace on the island of Delos which is naturally surrounded by water.
Still, an island birthplace is a far stretch for ancient magi to associate a sun god with an aquatic animal. Homer also links swans to Apollo. So there must be a reason why Apollo crosses the symbolic boundaries of sky and water.
As I mentioned above, the ocean is a symbol of the unconscious. The sky, on the other hand, is a symbol of the conscious mind. The mind and the unconscious are intrinsically interlinked.
As a sun god, Apollo represents self-awareness; self-knowledge rising from the unconscious to the surface of the conscious mind. You might find this phenomenon described as dolphins moving between the supernatural world (water) and the natural world (earth).
Carl Jung pointed out that by integrating unconscious content into the conscious mind we become whole, fertile and complete. It is unconscious energies, which Jung called archetypes, that serves as your guide and leads you to the discovery of your True Self.
Jung called this the process of individuation. It is the challenge faced by anybody that seeks self-improvement to upgrade personal programs that drive habitual patterns of thinking and behaviour.
“Principal amongst the ideas dominating the philosophy and practice of alchemy, is the belief in some universal agent, some homogeneous medium into which the ego, the unpurified stone, is to be dissolved and then reconstructed according to another pattern.” ~ Israel Regardie, Gold
The quote above alludes to those mysterious “messages from the universe” that help and guide us. It is self-knowledge that brings us peace (inner peace) and prosperity (a wealth of knowledge – or wisdom). The wise man and woman know what to do in every situation.
In his assessment of Apollo, Carl Kerenyi explains the god was also known as Apollo delphinios. This is how his temple came to be built in Delphi. In ancient Greece, the word dolphin was also taken to mean uterus – the womb.
The sea is also regarded as the womb of the Great Mother. Just as all life is thought to come from the sea, when unconscious content is given life, it improves your life.
It’s worth noting that unconscious content is associated with the dead. Fragmented, or split-off consciousness that sinks into the unconscious mind needs to be given life.
“If you can touch your shadow – within form – and do something out of your ordinary pattern, a great deal of energy will flow from it. [The shadow needs to be given life in order for the ego to be given a new else of life – otherwise life becomes mundane and depressing.” ~ Robert Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow
Apollo was also the god of music – a symbol that reflects the vibratory nature of energy. Energy vibrates. Thoughts, actions and emotions are energy and transform your vibration – higher or lower.
We see this concept in the myth of Apollo and the satyr (a half-man, half-goat create) Marsyas. The latter challenges the god to a musical contest. Apollo wins and punishes Marsyas by having him flayed to death.
Death and rebirth is the transformation of energy.
We also see dolphins associated with music in the Greek myth involving Arion who, like Apollo, plays the lyre, and like Dionysus, is captured by thieves that want to steal his money.
To escape, Arion jumps into the sea and is rescued by dolphins.
You might be interested to note also that Apollo and Dionysus share the temple at Delphi, Apollo for six months of the year and Dionysus for the remaining six.
Delphi, associated with Dolphin, is where the famous oracle advised visitors by channelling the spirit of Apollo; or as the exoteric meaning of dolphin symbolism calls it, communication, psychic abilities and messages.
As an archetype, Apollo is the sage, also known as the Oracle. The key quality of the archetype is inner-wisdom, self-knowledge. And here we arrive at the esoteric meaning of dolphins.