Myth, Legend, and Symbolism

Nov 20, 2002
Prospero año nuevo a todos los amigos, amigas, y calamares....

Inspired by an exchange with Fujisawas Sake (John) on another thread, I thought it might be fun to add a new one for 2003 dealing with cephs in traditional (as opposed to pop) culture, folklore, arts and literature.

I'd like to kick it off with an excerpt from a book that should be especially close to Steve-O's and Kat's hearts -- PACIFIC MYTHOLOGY: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTH AND LEGEND by Jan Knappert, 1995 edition, Diamond Books, London. Surprisingly, I could find no entries under Cephalopod, Cuttlefish, Nautilus, or Squid. However, when I looked under Octopus, it said "See Kupe." Here is what I found under the latter entry:

KUPE: According to legend, a man named Kupe was fishing near his home on Raiatea when an octopus stole his fishhooks with its many arms. Enraged, Kupe jumped into his canoe and pursued the beast for 35 days. By that time he had covered 2,400 miles to the south-west and there he sighted an island larger than any he had ever seen before: North Island, New Zealand. He sailed back and invited his compatriots to follow him to the new found land. They did so and became the Maoris.

-- from PACIFIC MYTHOLOGY, page 162 (paperback)

I don't know where Raiatea is, or whether there really was such a place, but perhaps our Antipodean contingent can fill us in as to whether there is some historical truth about the geographical origins of the Maori in this legend.

TONMOers, feel free to add to this thread with any ceph symbolism, legend, lore, and myth that you can find, online or otherwise.

(And if you don't mind some off-topic factoids every now and then, PACIFIC MYTHOLOGY also contains entries for Kat, Tangaroa, and Taniwha.)

Let's see if we can expand this thread into a GOLDEN BOUGH of teuthophilia! :idea:

Tani, Transmitter of Teuthsome Tales
There is something fascinating about the giant squid that taps into our fear and curiosity.

-- from

IMHO, there is indeed something primal about Architeuthis-as-archetype. Does it symbolize our own subconscious, lurking in the shadowy depths below the surface of our "higher" mind, difficult to conceptualize for the very reason that it is so inseparable a part of us? The human mind studying itself must, by definition, affect the object of its study. It is elusive, like Architeuthis. "Squid = Id"? Why not?

The seemingly paradoxical "fear and curiosity" reaction, I believe, comes from the simultaneously familiar and alien features of the animal. Too many legs, rocket-shaped body, predatory beak, gargantuan size -- alien. Great human-like eyes, dexterity of limbs, ease of movement -- familiar. Though we have not yet seen any living adults, we take pleasure in artistic representations of them. Even though they may raise a shudder in some observers, we remain fixated upon their image. We want to know them, as we want to know ourselves, in spite of ourselves.... dark corners and all.

What would Jung say? Freud? Any and all contributions of ceph legends, and commentary/analysis by TONMOers, would be most appreciated.

My :twocents:,
As I recall, in 'Island of the Blue Dolphins' there's mention of hunting the 'devilfish,' an enormous octopus of probably exaggerated size and aggression. I think there's also brief mention of what the native American peoples who encountered them (coastal, I suppose :smile: ) thought/believed about them, at least those living on the northern west coast of North America.
Hm, a vague and unresearched post. Anyone else know more about this?

Yeah, I remember reading an old Polynesian or Hawaiian legend about a greedy shark who nearly gets himself killed by a lazy octopus reef guardian who puts the squeeze on shark (literally) for waking him up from his nap.

I'm a-Freud I don't have much insight on fear (groan!) :lol: , but I think that we need our monsters. We need some mysteries out there, some lurking horror (BLATANT Lovecraft plug) to strike some fear... I think it has something to do with fear keeping us a bit sharp and wary of the world around us... I have no idea.

Well, that's my two clams worth...

Hi John!

I like your theory about "fear keeping us a bit sharp and wary of the world around us." Not to go too much off-topic, but I remember reading a book called THE GIFT OF FEAR which encourages people to distinguish between unfounded paranoia and the "gut instinct" which is an evolutionary survival advantage in avoiding potentially dangerous situations (e.g., not taking a shortcut through Central Park at 2 a.m. with a roll of $100s sticking out of your pocket!).

Back on-topic, I loved the contribution about the octo defeating the shark -- please let us know if you find out any more details about this.

Here is something I gleaned from a beautiful book titled NA PULE KAHIKO: ANCIENT HAWAIIAN PRAYERS, by June Gutmanis, Editions Limited, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1983. By way of explanation, Kanaloa -- god of the deep ocean -- is one of the four great male gods in traditional Hawaiian religion. According to Gutmanis, Kanaloa is the 'aumakua (guardian spirit) of the squid and octopus. He is also associated with the west (called the "much traveled road of Kanaloa"), with ocean winds, and with bananas. Additionally, he is often associated with healing.

Following are two prayers -- preceded by explanations and followed with English transations -- taken from NA PULE KAHIKO:

This prayer to Kanaloa is one used in treating a sick person. After putting the patient to bed without medicine, the treating kahuna [healer - TD] recites the following over the sick person:

E Kanaloa, ke akua ka hee!
Eia kau mai o (inoa)
E ka hee o kai uli,
Ka hee o ka lua one,
Ka hee i ka papa.
Ka hee pio!
Eia ka oukou mai, o (inoa)
He mai hoomoe ia no ka hee palaha.

O Kanaloa, god of the squid!
Here is your patient, (name)
O squid of the deep blue sea,
Squid the inhabits the coral reef,
Squid that burrows in the sand,
Squid that squirts water from its sack!
Here is a sick man for you to heal, (name)
A patient put to bed for treatment
by the squid the lies flat.

Toward morning a fisherman is sent out to catch a hee mahola, that is, an octopus which is lying on the sand, outside its hole, with its legs extended on the ocean floor. While letting down his hook and lure the fisherman prays as follows:

Eia ka leho,
He leho ula no ka heehoopai.
Eia ka kao, he laau,
He lama no ka hee-mahola, no ka hee-palaha.
E Kanaloa i ke Ku,
Kulia ke papa,
Kulia i ka papa hee!
Kulia ka hee o kai uli!
E ala, e Kanaloa!
Hoeu! hoala! e ala ka hee!
E ala ka hee-palaha! E ala ka hee-mahola!

Here is the cowry,
A red cowry to attract the squid to his death.
Here is the spear, a mere stick,
A spear of lama wood for the squid that lies flat.
O Kanaloa of the tabu nights,
Stand upright on the solid floor!
Stand upon the floor where lies the squid!
Stand up to take the squid of the deep sea!
Rise up, O Kanaloa!
Stir up! agitate! let the squid awake!
Let the squid that lies flat awake,
the squid that lies spread out.


It's interesting that "octopus" and "squid" appear to be interchangeable in the Hawaiian language. Or, perhaps, "octopus" is referred to as "the squid that lies flat." Not having studied Hawaiian language -- though it's one of my dreams to do so someday! -- I don't know if this is correct. Perhaps one of our New Xenaland contingent may know enough Maori to solve this for us (since I believe all Polynesian languages are strongly related).

Well, as resident wannabe kiwi, afraid I can't shed much light on the etymology of octopus/squid being the same, although I'm pretty sure that 'wheke' does mean both in Maori, and 'feke' likewise in Tongan (since, yes, the Polynesian languages are very closely linked - for example, the god mentioned in the above prayer as Kanaloa is easily recognizable as Tangaloa in (I think) Maori (although maybe Fijian) (and there are way too many sets of ()s in here).
Clear as mud? :wink:
Re: Myth, Legend, and Symbolism

TaningiaDanae said:
(And if you don't mind some off-topic factoids every now and then, PACIFIC MYTHOLOGY also contains entries for Kat, Tangaroa, and Taniwha.)

Do tell, don't Tanitalise :biggrin2:
Re: Myth, Legend, and Symbolism

Steve O'Shea said:
Do tell, don't Tanitalise :biggrin2:

OK, You Asked For It!

KAT: The Good God of the Banks Islanders, who taught the people how to hollow out a tree trunk and make a canoe.

[I did a netsearch for Banks Island, and according to which source you believe, it is either a part of Queensland, Australia, or the westernmost island of the Alaskan archipelago. Help with this, somebody? -- TD]

TANGAROA: (Maori; Kanaloa, Hawaiian; Tangaloa, Tongan; Tagaloa, Samoan; Ta'aroa, Tahitian) The Polynesian God of the Ocean, the Polynesian Poseidon, son of the Earth-Goddess Papa, who had so much water in her body that it swelled up one day and burst forth, becoming the ocean. Tangaroa breathes only twice in 24 hours, so huge is he. We call that the tidal movement. His brother is Rongo, who was, according to some myths, the same as Maui, the Fisher of Islands, the inventor of sail-ships.

Tangaroa is shown in some famous sculptures as the Creator, out of whose body the creatures emerge, including human beings. The Indian god Brahma created nature in a similar fashion. The myth of the Ocean-God as the Creator is explained by the myth of Ika-Tere, the Fish-God, some of whose children were partly human, like mermaids and mermen, although often the right side was fish while the left side was human. Gradually they became all-human.

In Tahuata (the Marquesas), Tangaroa is known as Tanaoa, the God of the Primeval Darkness (like Chaos, one of the oldest gods, according to Hesiod). At a given morning a new god, Atea, "Space," emerged, freeing himself so that there was room for Atanua, "Dawn," to arise. She married Atea, since light can only exist in, or together with, space. Their child was Tu-Mea, the first man. Tanaoa was confined to the depths of the ocean, where darkness and silence still reign.

[There are many fascinating points in the above definition. For one thing, they confirm Tintenfisch's statement about the fact that Kanaloa is the Hawaiian equivalent of Tangaroa, and about the strong similarities of the various Polynesian languages.

Secondly, the Marquesan "children of the fish-god" myth -- like "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" in reverse! -- pre-dates and accurately predicts Darwin's concept of life originally evolving in the sea.

Similarly -- though I know very little about the science of cosmology -- it seems to me that the Marquesan "creation" myth in the third paragraph, may be a very early predecessor of the Big Bang theory, in which Light and Space emerge simultaneously from the primal chaos. That may be pure coincidence, but it certainly shows great insignt into the way the world works from a society which some modern nations may arrogantly consider "primitive." -- TD]

TANIWHA: A huge monster like a dragon or an enormous lizard which once lived in numbers in the caves and lakes in the mountains of New Zealand. Two of them were slain by the hero Pitaka.

[Dammit, Jim, I'm a bioluminescent cephalopod, not a reptile! -- TD]


Let's keep those myths, legends, literature, folklore, art, psychology, and symbolism coming, gang....

Not a Meanie
Re: Myth, Legend, and Symbolism

TaningiaDanae said:
KAT: The Good God of the Banks Islanders, who taught the people how to hollow out a tree trunk and make a canoe.

I thought everyone knew this... ? :mrgreen: (Actually the only other definition I knew for 'Kat' is 'a south African shrub chewed as a stimulant' - also spelled 'khat' or even better 'qat' - making it an invaluable Scrabble word :wink: ).

Hey, speaking of Lovecraft and mythology, my grandmother (an Elder Being, LOL) saved a newspaper article for me from November, about a research vessel taking sonar readings of the ocean floor just west of Cuba, and finding a series of remarkably geometric formations that could without too much imagination-stretch be construed as ruins of a civilization... under 2000' of water! The stone blocks are along the lines of 8'x10', circular, square and pyramid-shaped.
... Hello, Lovecraft fans... ?!! :cthulhu:

So did anyone else hear about this?
In reply to an early question about the location of Raiatea... I believe it is an island in the Society Islands of French Polynesia, to which Tahiti belongs. The Marquesas are another group of islands in French Polynesia. I happened to pick up a slightly older travel guide called "Tahiti and French Polynesia a travel survival kit". I have found it very interesting. I gather from the book that the Marquesas were established first and then Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, and Tahiti were discovered and established from there. I wonder if Maori and Tahitian mythology concerning octopus and squid would be similar? It seems that might be true since the cultures share similar creation mythology and such. No mention of cephs. :frown:
Re: Myth, Legend, and Symbolism

Tintenfisch said:
TaningiaDanae said:
KAT: The Good God of the Banks Islanders, who taught the people how to hollow out a tree trunk and make a canoe.

I thought everyone knew this... ? :mrgreen:

Cough, choke, splutter, spit, gasp! She could hollow out a tree trunk and make a canoe with her wit, but that 'good God' business is taking it too far!!! :mrgreen:
This work of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was posted on the old board many moons ago, but as the ultimate Archi poem, it deserves a special place in any anthology of classical ceph literature:


Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Yes, they like to use that poem in various squid films... most recently a crew of students from Auckland doing a Master's in film spliced little bits of it into their production. Sets a nice mood. :smile:
While the following is not an ancient legend, it is more accurately included here than under a regular "Pop Culture" forum due to its source -- THE SECRET DOCTRINE, a massive 1888 compendium of the world's esoteric traditions, by Theosophical Society founder Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, who in turn quotes another author below:

Victor Hugo was ridiculed for . . . . his marvellous word-painting of the devil-fish, and his description of a man becoming its helpless victim. "The thing was derided as an impossibility; yet within a few years were discovered, on the shores of Newfoundland, cuttle fish with arms extending to thirty feet in length, and capable of dragging a good-sized boat beneath the surface; and their action has been reproduced for centuries past . . . . by Japanese artists." ("Mythical Monsters," p. II Introd.).

-- THE SECRET DOCTRINE by H.P. Blavatsky, Vol. 2, pp. 440-441 (ellipses and italics by author)

While perpetuating the sensationalist image of Architeuthis as a ravenous monster -- and tacitly accepting the quoted author's inaccurate description of Archi as a cuttlefish rather than a squid -- HPB at least regards its existence as fact rather than fabrication.

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