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Octopus - Animal Symbolism - Northwest Coast Native View your cartTell a friendPrint previewBack one page




“The Octopus is a remarkable, unique, eight armed sea creature. The final spirit helper -  its transformative nature is represented by its natural ability to incorporate its body into its surroundings and its means of capturing and devouring its prey. It has the ability to change colour, shape and even texture, as well as to eject dark ink in self-defense. It constructs its dwelling place by moving rocks and pebbles, it examines its environment, collects food and defends itself by raising its arms and seems to use its large eyes for intelligent observation.


The natural behavior suggests both supernatural and human connections. Octopus is common in shamanic art, undoubtedly because of its amazing transformational abilities. It is also a crest in some religions- among the Tsimshian Eagle clan, for example. Among the Haida, Octopus feature in legend and myth, but is not a crest.


Myths speak if giant devilfish monsters that occasionally devour canoes and sometimes even entire villages. Octopus is a powerful potential sea spirit helper, often shown in complex compositions involving other creatures. In some tribal cultures, eight is considered a magic and auspicious number, which adds to the appeal and power of Octopus. Octopus is a servant of Kumugwe’, chief of the undersea world, and is also a symbol of great wealth in Kwakwaka’wakw mythology.


Octopus is identified by long tentacles that have round marks, often in double rows, representing suckers; a fluid, invertebrate body; Round, high, head, large eyes; and a short beaked like mouth. Tentacles and rows of suckers often appear elsewhere on it as decorative motifs or visual puns; they may also form anatomical elements (such as eyebrows) on the faces and bodies of other creatures, to indicate transformational abilities and shared spirit power.”


Taken from Understanding Northwest Coast Native Art  by Cheryl Shearar.  This book can be purchased from The Path Gallery, or likely borrowed from your local library.          

Northwest Coast Native Art Handcarved in the Northwest Coast Native style by a Native Artist of the Northwest Coast.

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