The sea serpent was one of three cards I drew in my first reading with this deck. For me, there is a strong element of protection with this card. There is room to explore yourself and do difficult things in rough waters but with the reassurance that the sea serpent is protecting you. She* is creating a space where the water is calmer, where the risk is less. So it’s like stepping out of your comfort zone, but with someone there to have your back.
Sea serpents have been interpreted in many different ways from sea snakes to giant octopuses to driftweed to eels. Based on the image, this particular sea serpent feels like a sea snake or eel or other long, thin, flexible kind of thing. However, think about how the sea serpent feels to you, what could it be mistaken for, does looking at the meaning for that help you. So whilst I do consider this to be a sea serpent and not a case of mistaken identity I think I can learn a lot about it from the other animals that are similar in appearance. Perhaps the sea serpent is also asking us about identity and misidentification in our own lives.
Feeling misunderstood or misindentified is one of my core issues. It makes me feel rejected, invalidated, ignored and/or dismissed and I think this card asks me to look at that. Through a lot of hard work I am now at a place where I can recognise when I am feeling unheard or misheard and I am much better at understanding why I react so strongly to this. There is still a long way to go for me and perhaps the sea serpent can help me by giving me a safe space to explore these issues.
As we saw with the snake, the image on the card portrays an ouroboros – a serpent eating it’s own tail. This is a symbol of unity, eternity, completeness and the cycle of death and rebirth and it’s parallel, creation and destruction. Particularly poignent if, like me, the sea serpent in your card is female. This echoes with the creation of the world, of women giving birth and of matriarchal lineage.
There is something in this card which speaks to me of self sufficiency. Plato discussed the ouroboros as a symbol of the perfection of the universe. Wikipedia suggests that it “could be interpreted as the Western equivalent of the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol”. In Gnosticism, a serpent biting its tail represents eternity and the soul of the world. Whatever it means to you, this is a powerful symbol. The idea of the World Serpent which we’ll see in a minute, combined with the image we have on the card and the ouroboros all speak to the immense power of the sea serpent as well as her wide reach.
There are a lot of myths which focus around the idea of slaying the sea serpent but I’m not going to go into much detail as this is a prevalent idea when it comes to dragons so I’ll discuss it in the next post. When it comes to myths, it is not always clear whether the creatures in question are sea serpents or dragons so it is perhaps worth considering them alongside each other.
Perhaps the most famous of all sea serpents is the Kraken, said to live in the seas off Norway. She is said to swallow men and ships and even whole whales! And if you weren’t eaten, you were in danger because of the whirlpools that she leaves in it’s wake. Totally in keeping with the idea of creation and destruction! The Kraken is so big that it has been mistaken for islands.
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
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
– Alfred Tennyson
Norse mythology also gives us Jörmungandr, also known as the Midgard Serpent and the World Serpent. Jörmungandr was the middle child of Angrboða and Loki along with Fenrir and Hel. The gods were distressed by this as there had been prophecies that the children would bring doom. To try and prevent that, the gods scattered the children. Hel was put in charge of the Underworld and death. Fenris, a wolf, was fostered by the gods who hoped to tame his wildness. And Jörmungandr was cast into the ocean that surrounds Midgard where she would grow so big that she could surround the earth and place her tail in her mouth, as per our picture. Encompassing the world, she could cause tsunamis and tempests and when she releases her tail, the end of the world will begin. Perhaps this is because the ouroboros will be no more and thus the cycle of life and rebirth will have been broken.
Still in Scandanvia, in 1028 AD, Saint Olaf is said to have killed a sea serpent in Norway, throwing its body onto the mountain Syltefjellet. When we look at the dragon we’ll see a lot of Christianity slaying things as a way of controlling nature and menstruation and women. This is one of the reasons I’m sticking with my gut feeling that this sea serpent is female**. The Swedish writer Olaus Magnus describes a sea serpent in his work from Marks on the mountain are associated with the 1555:
Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.
A very different story comes from the Philippines where the Bakunawa, a giant sea serpent is believed to be the cause of eclipses. There are a few versions of the myth but all feature the Bakunawa eating the moon. In mythology, Bathala created seven moons to light up the night sky. The Bakunawa was mesmorised by their beauty and rose out of the sea and swallowed the moons whole. To prevent this, tradition tells of people going out with pots and pans to make lots of noise in the hope of scaring the monster away or of playing soothing music in the hope of sending it to sleep.
Despite these myths portraying a malevolent creature, I like the sea serpent. I like that she can encompass the world and make waves and scare gods. I also really like that the moon comes up – I love the moon! Despite the focus on destruction in the myths, I feel like she is a nurturing creature, encouraging your first steps out of your comfort zone. A mother holding her hand out as her child takes her first unaided steps. She is on hand and she has created a safe environment for you to tentatively move forward.
*I get some pretty powerful mother goddess type vibes from this card
**Not that it really matters too much. Most of the time I don’t consider the sex of the animal in the card unless it’s clear or the message would change or I feel intuitively that for me a particular card is male or female. So the bear is strongly a mother card for me because the metaphor of the mother bear is important to me.