Exploring the Meaning: What Do Eels Symbolize?

Eels are mysterious creatures that have captivated human imagination for centuries. These slimy, snake-like creatures come in different shapes and sizes, and are often associated with secrets, darkness, and transformation. But what do eels symbolize exactly? Do they represent something positive or negative? Well, the answer is not so simple. Depending on the culture and context, eels can have various interpretations and meanings that range from fertility and resilience to deception and danger.

In some Asian cultures, eels are considered a delicacy and a symbol of abundance and prosperity. They are often featured in traditional dishes and are believed to strengthen the body and promote longevity. However, in other parts of the world, eels are seen as creepy and uncanny creatures that hide in the shadows and prey on unsuspecting victims. In literature and art, eels have been used to convey different themes and emotions, such as mystery, fear, temptation, and even eroticism. For example, the famous poet Sylvia Plath wrote a poem called “The Thin People” where eels are used as a metaphor for anorexic bodies, while Hokusai’s woodblock print “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” depicts a woman fondling with two giant octopuses and an eel.

Overall, eels are fascinating creatures that have both positive and negative connotations in different cultures. They can symbolize many things, such as adaptability, endurance, transformation, mystery, danger, and deception. Whether we love them or hate them, eels have a special place in our collective imagination, and their symbolism will continue to inspire artists and thinkers for generations to come.

The cultural significance of eels in Japanese mythology

Eels have been an important symbol in Japanese culture for centuries. They can be found in various aspects of Japanese mythology, from ancient folklore to modern-day traditions. In Japanese folklore, eels are often associated with a variety of different traits and characteristics, such as strength, perseverance, and adaptability.

  • One of the most popular legends surrounding eels is the story of the giant eel deity, named Unagi no Kami. In this tale, Unagi no Kami is believed to have the power to control the weather and is often depicted as a fierce and powerful deity.
  • Eels are also associated with the ancient practice of ‘unagi no nedoko,’ which translates to ‘eel beds.’ During the Edo period in Japan, farmers would capture eels and breed them in ponds, providing a reliable source of food and income.
  • Another common tradition in Japan is eating eel during the summer months on a day called Doyo no Ushi no Hi. It is believed that eating eel on this day provides the body with strength and vitality to endure the hot summer weather.

In addition to their role in folklore and traditions, eels are also a popular food in Japanese cuisine. One dish, in particular, is called Unadon, which consists of grilled eel served over a bed of rice. This dish is commonly eaten as a way to ward off the summer heat and boost energy levels.

Overall, eels hold a significant place in Japanese mythology, culture, and cuisine. Their adaptability, strength, and endurance have made them one of the most fascinating and revered creatures in Japanese folklore and traditions.

The Role of Eels in Ancient Greek Cuisine and Mythology

Eels have played a significant role in ancient Greek cuisine and mythology. They were one of the most popular food items, and the Greeks had a great respect for these sea creatures.

  • The Ancient Greeks commonly ate eels, both fresh and preserved. They would pickle and salt them for preservation, to be used out of season.
  • It was believed that eels possessed medicinal properties and could cure ailments such as rheumatism and epilepsy.
  • In ancient Greece, eel was considered a delicacy, and many famous Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Socrates, were known to enjoy it too. Aristotle even wrote a book on the subject, known as his Historia Animalium.

Apart from cuisine, eels were also a significant part of Greek mythology. One of the most famous instances was the myth of the river god Achelous, who transformed himself into an eel to escape Hercules’ grasp. The eel also appears in the story of Aphrodite and Adonis. When Adonis was attacked by a wild boar, Aphrodite turned him into an eel to save his life.

In the Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus, the eel plays an important role. One of Prometheus’s punishments was to be chained to a rock while an eagle ate his liver every day. As punishment for stealing fire from the gods, Prometheus provided the first eel to humanity. The secret of how to cook eel was closely guarded by the gods, but Prometheus was the only one who knew how to prepare it correctly. Prometheus gave humans the skill and knowledge to cook eel, which led to them becoming a staple food in Greek cuisine.

Symbolism of Eels in Ancient Greece
The eel was a symbol of transformation, as seen in the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis.
Eels were also associated with the ability to cure ailments, and they were considered symbols of healing, as seen in their use in ancient medicine.
The eel was a symbol of knowledge, as seen in the story of Prometheus. Prometheus provided humanity with the knowledge of how to prepare eel, which led to it becoming a staple food in Greek cuisine.

In conclusion, the role of eels in ancient Greek culture was vast and significant. From cuisine to mythology, eels were a respected and celebrated part of the Greek way of life. The symbolism of the eel was intertwined with stories of transformation, healing, and knowledge. Today, eels might not be as prominent in Greek culture, but their legacy lives on in the ancient myths and the memories of those who enjoyed them in traditional Greek cuisine.

Eel symbolism in medieval Christian art

Eels are often depicted in medieval Christian art, and their symbolism is rooted in a number of different beliefs and traditions.

Significance of the number 3

  • In Christian tradition, the number 3 is often associated with the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
  • Eels are often depicted in groups of three, which may represent the Holy Trinity or the three virtues of faith, hope, and love.
  • The number 3 also has significance in the natural world, as eels are known to spend their lives in three distinct environments: freshwater rivers, the open ocean, and the Sargasso Sea.

Eel symbolism in religious texts

In religious texts, eels have been associated with a variety of different symbols and meanings.

In medieval Christian art, eels were often depicted as a symbol of sin and temptation. This may have been due to their slimy appearance and the fact that they were often caught in nets along with other “unclean” creatures.

However, eels were also associated with positive concepts such as regeneration, rebirth, and resurrection. This may have been due to their ability to migrate long distances and to survive in a variety of different environments.

Depictions of eels in art

Eels were a popular subject for medieval Christian art, and they were often depicted in a variety of different ways.

Luttrell PsalterDepiction of eels and other sea creatures in the margins of the Luttrell Psalter (14th century)
The Tiberius BeaconIllustration from The Tiberius Beacon (12th century) depicting an eel knocking at the door of a church
Barthélemy d'EyckDepiction of eels at the feet of the Virgin and Child in a painting by Barthélemy d’Eyck (15th century)

Despite their sometimes negative association with sin and temptation, eels were also valued for their culinary and medicinal properties. In fact, eel pies were a popular dish in medieval Europe and were believed to have healing properties for a variety of ailments.

The Significance of Eels in Native American Folklore

Eels have held a significant place in Native American folklore and mythology for centuries. They have been admired, respected, and even worshipped by different tribes across North America. Here are some of the reasons why eels are so important in Native American folklore:

  • Eels were thought to possess great healing powers and were often used for medicinal purposes. The Iroquois believed that consuming eel would cure any ailment, while the Cherokee used them to treat rheumatism and arthritis.
  • Eels were also associated with fertility and abundance. The Natives believed that eels were responsible for the abundance of fish in their rivers and would honor them during their fishing seasons.
  • Some tribes saw eels as a symbol of renewal and transformation. The Cree believed that eels would leave their rivers and travel to the ocean, only to return as mature and transformed creatures.

The significance of eels varies among different tribes, but they all share a common respect and admiration for these creatures. Eels have even found their way into Native American creation stories, such as the tale of Skywoman and the turtle in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture.

Here is a table of the different beliefs and symbolism associated with eels across different Native American tribes:

TribeBeliefs and Symbolism
IroquoisEels were believed to have healing powers and could be used to cure any ailment. They were also seen as a symbol of abundance and fertility.
CherokeeEels were used to treat rheumatism and arthritis. They were also associated with intuition and spiritual wisdom.
DelawareEels were believed to have the ability to connect the living and the dead and were often used in healing ceremonies.
CreeEels were seen as a symbol of renewal and transformation. Their journey from rivers to the ocean and back was seen as a metaphor for personal growth and change.

Eels remain an integral part of Native American culture and continue to be celebrated and honored today.

Eel totems and their meaning in shamanism

Eels have been revered by shamans for centuries, as they are believed to embody spiritual power and magical abilities. In shamanism, eel totems are often used in rituals and ceremonies to offer spiritual protection and guidance to the shaman and their community.

  • Adaptability: Eels are known for their incredible ability to adapt to their environment, and this trait is highly valued in shamanism. Shamans often meditate on the eel totem to learn how to be more flexible and adaptable in their own lives.
  • Spiritual transformation: In shamanism, eel totems also symbolize spiritual transformation and rebirth. Just as eels transform during their lifecycle, shamans use the eel totem to guide them through their own spiritual transformations and help them emerge renewed.
  • Conservation: As eels are a rare and endangered species, many shamans also use the eel totem to promote conservation efforts. They believe that by honoring the eel and protecting its natural habitat, they can preserve the spiritual power it represents.

Shamans often incorporate eel totems into their rituals and ceremonies through the use of symbolic objects, such as eel bones or eel skins. They may also create elaborate visualizations of eels in their meditations, calling upon the eel’s spiritual power for guidance and protection.

In some cultures, eel totems may also be used to represent the power of water and the importance of maintaining a balance with nature. This is particularly true in indigenous cultures that rely on water sources for their livelihood and spiritual practices.

Eel Totem Meanings
AdaptabilityHelps the shaman be more flexible and adaptable in their life
Spiritual transformationGuides the shaman through their own spiritual transformation and helps them emerge renewed
ConservationPromotes conservation efforts and honors the eel’s spiritual power

In conclusion, eel totems hold great spiritual significance in shamanism, representing adaptability, spiritual transformation, and conservation. Through the use of visualizations and symbolic objects, shamans use eel totems to guide them in their spiritual practices and offer protection to their communities.

Eel mythology in Maori culture

Eels are a significant part of Maori culture, and various myths and legends were created to explain the eel’s origin and significance. They are known as Tuna in Maori, and their mythology can be traced back centuries.

  • The eel is believed to be a demigod named Tuna-roa, who descends from the heavens to earth.
  • In some Maori legends, Maui – a famous demigod who is best known for fishing up the North Island of New Zealand – is said to have turned into an eel, which is why he could swim so fast.
  • Tuna was also associated with the goddess Hine-wai, who was responsible for the freshwater.

While these myths and legends vary, the underlying theme is the eel’s connection to the gods and goddesses in Maori culture.

Another symbol of the eel in Maori culture is the number six.

The significance of the number 6

The number six has a strong connection to eels in Maori culture. It is believed that eels enter the rivers from the sea on the sixth day of the new moon. This is known as the “sixth moon phase.”

In Maori culture, the number six is also associated with balance and harmony. The Maori believe that there are six directions – north, south, east, west, up, and down – and that they need to be in balance to achieve harmony.

Moreover, the number six was considered sacred in Maori culture. They believed that all human beings have six senses and that it is through these senses that they can connect with their spiritual selves.

TunaDemi God
MauiFamous demigod turned into an eel
Hine-waiGoddess of freshwater
Number SixBalance, harmony, sacredness, six senses

In summary, the eel holds great significance in Maori culture, and its myths and legends offer valuable insights into the Maori worldview. The connection between the eel and the number six shows the deep spiritual beliefs of the Maori and reinforces the importance of balance and harmony in life.

The spiritual significance of eels in African religions: The number 7

In many African religions, the number 7 holds great spiritual significance and eels play a role in representing this number. The number 7 is considered to be a sacred number and is believed to have a powerful spiritual energy that can be harnessed for various purposes.

  • Seven eels are often used in rituals to represent the seven days of the week in some African religions.
  • In some cultures, seven eels are given as offerings to deities as a symbol of completeness and perfection.
  • The seven bones of the eel’s skull are also believed to hold spiritual significance in some African religions and are used in divination practices to gain insight and guidance from the spirit world.

The number 7 is thought to represent many things in African religions, including the seven directions (north, south, east, west, up, down, and center), the seven chakras, and the seven heavens. Eels, with their sleek and sinuous bodies, are seen as a representation of the flow of energy and the connection between the material and spiritual realms. They are believed to possess a unique spiritual power that can be used to enhance the effectiveness of spiritual practices and rituals.

In some African cultures, the number 7 is also associated with the concept of initiation, as individuals must undergo seven stages or steps in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. This process often involves the use of eel-related symbolism and imagery, such as seven eels swimming in a circle, to help the initiate connect with the spiritual realm and gain a deeper understanding of their spiritual path.

Seven DirectionsThe eel’s connection to the seven directions represents its ability to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual realms.
InitiationEels are often used in initiation ceremonies as a symbol of the initiate’s spiritual journey, as they navigate the twists and turns of the eel’s sinuous form.
Completeness and PerfectionSeven eels are used as offerings to deities to represent the perfection and completeness of the universe.

Overall, the eel holds great spiritual significance in many African religions, particularly in regards to the number 7. As a symbol of the flow of energy and the connection between the physical and spiritual realms, the eel is an integral part of many spiritual practices and rituals, offering a powerful source of spiritual energy and guidance for those seeking a deeper understanding of their spiritual path.

The representation of eels in contemporary art and literature

Eels have been present in the visual and literary arts for centuries. They have been depicted as symbols of various ideas and concepts, from fertility and rebirth to danger and darkness. In contemporary art and literature, eels continue to have significant meanings and roles. Below are some examples:

  • Environmental issues: Eels have become a symbol of the global environmental crisis. In the book “The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World” by Patrik Svensson, the author explores the life of eels and the threats they face due to climate change, pollution, overfishing, and habitat loss. In contemporary art, eels have been used as a motif to raise awareness about ecological problems and human impact on the environment.
  • Mystery and spirituality: Eels have mysterious and paradoxical qualities that make them ideal symbols for mysticism and spirituality. In Karen Russell’s short story “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” eels are depicted as creatures that bridge the gap between life and death and connect the living and the dead in a metaphorical sense. Eels have also been used in contemporary art and installations to represent the unknown and the transcendent.
  • Number 8: In numerology, the number 8 is associated with change, cycles, and regeneration. It is also the symbol of infinity and eternity in some cultures. Eels have eight pairs of muscles along their bodies, which has led to the association of eels with the number 8. In contemporary art and design, the eel’s muscular structure and the number 8 have been used as visual motifs to represent the idea of evolution and transformation.
  • Food and culture: Eels have been a part of human diet and culture for thousands of years. In contemporary literature and art, eels have been used as symbols of tradition, nostalgia, and identity. In the novel “The Eel” by Patrik Ourednik, eels are used as a metaphor for the slow and steady pace of rural life and the loss of traditional values in modern society. In visual art, eels have been depicted in food-related compositions and as motifs in culinary design.

Eel’s Muscles and Number 8

The eel’s iconic structure with eight pairs of muscles has made it a symbol of the number 8. Number 8, in numerology, is associated with regeneration and cycles. It is also the number of infinity and eternity in some cultures. The link between eels and the number 8 has influenced contemporary art and design, such as eel-inspired sculptures with eight segments and pieces featuring the numeral 8. The muscular structure of eels has also inspired works exploring the concept of evolution and transformation, such as installations that play with light and the inherent movement of the eel’s body.

Eel’s Muscles and the Number 8 in Contemporary Art and DesignImage
Eel-inspired sculpture with eight segments Toyo Ito, Tower of Winds, Yokohama, Japan
Eel-inspired luminaire with eight segments by Milan-based designer Filippo Protasoni

The eel’s unique structure and number of muscles have made it an intriguing and inspiring subject for contemporary artists and designers. The use of eel symbolism highlights the endurance and transformation that can be found within cycles from the cellular to the spiritual, making it a powerful and meaningful artistic trope.

The connection between eels and water elements in feng shui

As one of the primary symbols of water in feng shui, eels play an important role in balancing energy and creating a sense of harmony in your living or working space. When it comes to the connection between eels and water elements in feng shui, there are several key points to keep in mind.

The significance of the number 9

  • In feng shui, the number 9 is considered extremely auspicious and represents creativity, success, and a connection to the divine. It is also the number associated with the Fire element, which is fed by the Water element.
  • When it comes to eels, their long, sinuous bodies are said to represent the number 9 and its positive qualities.
  • For example, if you display nine eels in a water feature or aquarium in your home or office, it is believed to attract success and abundance while also promoting a sense of calm and tranquility.

The benefits of incorporating eels into water features

Whether you choose to include live eels or decorative eel sculptures in your feng shui water features, there are several benefits to incorporating them into your interior design:

  • Eels are believed to possess healing energy, making them a useful addition to spa or wellness spaces.
  • Their long, sinuous bodies naturally draw the eye and add visual interest to any water feature they are placed in.
  • For those interested in wealth and prosperity, the presence of eels is thought to attract good fortune and financial success.

How to position eels for optimal feng shui

If you are incorporating eels into your feng shui water features, it is important to position them correctly in order to maximize their positive influence. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

PositionWhat it Represents
EastHealth and family relationships
WestCreativity and children
NorthCareer success and opportunities
SouthFame and reputation

By placing your eel water feature in one of these cardinal directions, you can amplify its energy and attract the specific benefits associated with that area of your life.

The Metaphorical Use of Eels in Popular Culture and Modern Media.

Eels are fascinating creatures that have played many important roles in different cultures throughout history. Their unique appearance and behavior make them a popular symbol in popular culture and modern media. Let’s explore some of the metaphorical uses of eels in different forms of media and entertainment.

  • Mythology: In Greek mythology, eels were believed to be the offspring of the goddess Aphrodite and the god Zeus. They were also associated with the goddess Thetis, who transformed herself into an eel to escape the advances of the god Peleus. In Japanese mythology, the god Ebisu is often depicted holding a fishing rod with an eel on the end, as eels were considered a symbol of good luck.
  • Literature: Eels have been featured in literature for centuries. In Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist,” the character Fagin is described as having eel-like movements. In the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, the line “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” is often interpreted as a metaphor for the movements of an eel.
  • Film: Eels have made appearances in many popular films such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Princess and the Frog.” In the film “The Little Mermaid,” Ursula the sea witch uses electric eels to create a storm and overthrow King Triton. In “The Princess and the Frog,” Dr. Facilier uses a voodoo charm in the shape of an eel to control the main character.

Eels are not only used as a symbol of luck or a tool for villains in media. They also symbolize the need for adaptability and resilience.

In summary, eels have been used as a powerful symbol in various forms of media. Whether as a representation of strength and good luck or an embodiment of villainy, it is clear that eels have an enduring presence in popular culture and modern media.

What Do Eels Symbolize FAQs

1. What do eels symbolize in Japanese culture?

In Japanese culture, eels symbolize stamina, perseverance, and vitality due to their ability to swim upstream against strong currents.

2. What do eels symbolize in ancient mythology?

In ancient mythology, eels were considered to be creatures of transformation and rebirth. They were associated with goddesses of fertility and the cycle of life and death.

3. What do eels symbolize in spiritual beliefs?

In some spiritual beliefs, eels are seen as symbols of intuition and the deeper mysteries of life. They are often associated with the element of water and used in divination practices.

4. What do eels symbolize in literature and art?

In literature and art, eels are often used as symbols of mystery, darkness, and danger. They have been portrayed as elusive and alluring creatures that tempt humans into the unknown.

5. What do eels symbolize in modern culture?

In modern culture, eels are commonly associated with sushi and other seafood dishes. However, they are also used as symbols of resilience and adaptability in popular media.

6. What do eels symbolize in Native American culture?

In Native American culture, eels were believed to have healing properties and were used in traditional medicine. They were also seen as symbols of renewal and transformation.

7. What do eels symbolize in Chinese culture?

In Chinese culture, eels are considered to be symbols of good luck and prosperity. They are often eaten during important celebrations and festivals.

Closing Thoughts on What Eels Symbolize

We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of what eels symbolize in various cultures and beliefs. From the stamina and perseverance associated with Japanese culture to the mysterious allure found in literature and art, eels are a complex and fascinating creature with multifaceted symbolism. Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back here soon for more fascinating tidbits!