Plant, animal or other? Coral

Most of us know coral when we see it and I think everyone has probably seen a picture of a coral reef at some point but what exactly is it?

An individual coral is a polyp, a very small, simple creature which has been described as essentially just being a stomach and a mouth surrounded by tentacles.  Living inside the polyps are algae which provide the coral with food and gives it colour. Thousands of identical polyps live together in a colony and this forms the reefs we are familiar with.  Different coral grow at different rates but to form a reef takes a very long time, with estimates for todays reefs being started 5-10,000 years ago.  That being said, not all coral are reef builders.

An alternative take on the creation of reefs comes from Greek mythology.  It was said that they were created from the blood that was shed when medusa was decapitated.  This blood mixed with the seaweed to create the stone reefs.

“With no Pharaoh to lead them, this army of tentacled midgets has built the greatest of the ocean’s wonders, working together for millions of years on their mighty projects.”
– Jeffrey Levinton

Cooperation is a theme amongst the creatures of the reef.  A symbiotic relationship between coral and algae allows the reef to grow and provides the coral with their colours. Coral reefs are home to lots of organisms and provides cracks and crevices for fish and crabs to live in.  So when a starfish comes along and attacks the coral, the fish and crabs step in and defend it.  This allows the coral to keep growing and creating more cracks and crevices for future fish and crabs.  There are also fish which ‘farm’ on the coral, growing algae and in doing so, they are creating ideal conditions for more coral to grow.  And then there are the cleaner wrasse; fish which clean other fish, a service which improves the health of the sea life around the reef.

“No other marine habitat shows so well the intricacies of biological interdependency”.
– Jeffrey Levinton

But despite this incredible interdependency, the reef is a dangerous, cut throat world.  Coral use barbed, venomous tentacles to catch zooplankton and tiny fish and they can also extrude their stomach and digest neighbouring coral…

The competitive nature of the habitat means some coral dwellers have developed nasty chemical defences.  For example, the sea squirt makes sulphuric acid to burn predators and also a poisonous metal that could kill a horse.  The sea whip produces higher amounts of prostaglandin than other creatures making them taste terrible to most predators (although a type of snail and worm can eat them).  Poisonous fish live among the coral and sharks patrol the edges.  This beautiful underwater garden can be a deadly place.

But those deadly poisons and chemicals may actually be of use to us.  We may be able to use some of them to develop cancer cures, to help neurological diseases, to treat infections and to fight drug resistant bugs.  Corals themselves can be used in bone graft surgery as well.

As well as medical value, coral reefs provide coastal defences, tourism, food (an estimated 0.5 billion people rely on coral reef fisheries worldwide for 95 percent of their protein) and jobs.  The Great Barrier Reef has been valued at at AUD $56 billion, contributing 64,000 jobs and $6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.

But despite their importance, we are not treating them kindly.  Coral reefs are threatened by overfishing, pollution, invasive species and ocean warming and acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels.  In the last 30 years, we have lost 50% of the coral and scientists predict that we will lose 90 percent of coral reefs globally by the year 2050.

This would be catastrophic.  Life on the reef is a diverse one, paralleling that of the rainforests.  Apparently, despite reefs covering less than 1% of the earths surface, a quarter of ocean biodiversity depends on reefs for food and shelter.  Without the reefs, the health of the ocean will suffer and without a healthy ocean, we cannot have a healthy planet.



Shark: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck


The shark is a fish, so it is worth having a look at that card as well.  

Whilst we are familiar with a few key species of shark – the tiger shark, the hammerhead, the mako shark etc – there are actually over 500 species which range from 17cm long to 12m.  I recently read an article about the great white shark.  It covered lots of technical info but the bit that stuck with me was the duality of appearance that they drew my attention to.  From the side, they can appear comical, clown like.  And then when they turn and face you, they are, without any doubt, menacing.  I loved this.  Sharks have a really bad reputation as fierce, heartless killers but really, especially compared to humans, they’re pretty gentle and ethical killers.  Unlike us, they kill to survive.

Sharks have been described as killing machines and whilst that is a very one sided perspective, it is true.  The shark, like other apex predators, has evolved to be an efficient hunter.  They are streamlined and fast with excellent manoeuvrability.  Despite our fear of shark attacks, they are actually elusive creatures who are likely to only attack people if they are threatened or they mistake the human for a seal.  Think about it, the shark will see the person and the seal from underneath, as a shadow against the surface of the water and in certain positions, they look the same.  This does give us some insight into the nature of the shark – they are action orientated, act first, think later.  If there’s something you feel you should do, do it, do it now and don’t overthink it.  Follow your gut.

I think some people probably associate the shark with anger, with uncontrolled temper, with pure fear. But they aren’t like that all the time.  On one side they are killers, they do strike fear into prey.  But there is another side to them.  Like most big sea animals, they are a bit like a moving, living ecosystem.  Little fish actually swim into the mouths of sharks – they help the shark out by cleaning their teeth, eating parasites etc.  And the shark does not eat them even though they could and would in other situations.

It feels like actually, the shark, if you consider it to have a temper, has a very controlled one.  It can say to the cleaner fish, yes now is a good time, I’m in a good mood, I’m not hungry, come on in.  And conversely, it can say no, not now, go away, not right now.  This feels like it would be a really good skill for us.  How much easier would it be if we could recognise and easily communicate when we need to be left alone.  There is a common reaction that if someone wants you to leave that you’ve done something wrong but the shark shows us that you will probably be welcomed back with open arms.  It’s just about timing.

As I’ve said, they are not gratuitous killers, instead killing when they need to eat.  I think humans probably kill more than we eat because of fears around scarcity.

“Scarcity thinking says that there will never be enough of anything – love, food, energy, power – so we must hoard or conditionally offer and withdraw, what we have… Abundance thinking says that together, we have enough of what we need, that there is enough for all of us if we recognise our essential interdependence.” – Autumn Brown

The shark has overcome this difficult relationship with scarcity and abundance with an internal rationing system.  This means they can delay digestion when food is scarce so they are really planning for the future, putting something aside for a rainy day as it were.

Let’s have a look at a few facts and bust some myths…

  • Their teeth are continually being replaced. True.  Keep your tools sharp, keep your skills fresh.
  • They can smell blood from far away which led to the belief that sharks could sense if a death was imminent.  True.  Sailors believed that seeing a shark would mean someone on board would die.
  • They have to keep moving or they’ll sink.  False.  However some species do need to keep moving in order to keep breathing and are able to sleep whilst swimming.
  • Sharks are loners.  False.  Some species are but most are social animals and even solitary sharks meet up for breeding and in rich hunting grounds.
  • Sharks are speedsters.  True and false.  It varies between species but they travel at an average speed of 5mph.  They can reach higher speeds, an average of 12mph, in short bursts. Like the cheetah, this isn’t a marathon, it’s a short sprint.
  • Sharks migrate.  True.  They have complicated migration patterns that we don’t know much about.  They travel great distances and manage 45 miles a day.

As I mentioned in the stingray post, sharks and rays can detect the electrical pulses given out by living beings through senses on their skin.  Have a look at this video for more info about how this works:

This extra-sensory experience of the world, plus the belief that sharks could predict death, has led them to be linked with clairsentience (psychic feeling or touching) and clairolfactus (psychic smelling).  The shark is asking us to tune into our senses, tune into our intuition, tune into our emotions and what our body is telling us.  Trust these ways of knowing to help you navigate the deep seas of your soul.

And I do mean deep.  Sharks are deep divers, common down to 2,000 metres.  This primitive, instinctual animal is comfortable in the dark waters of our emotions.  Perhaps we need to strip back part of ourselves, our logical, modern mind, and instead approach our inner self in a more intuitive, more primal way.  Feel our way through and not worry about how we put what we experience and see into language.

Sharks are often demonised; the Western view of sharks has been that they are malevolent, dangerous and evil.  A clear example of us fearing what we don’t understand.  And not making much effort to get to know what we don’t understand.  Instead, we make a decision about the nature of a thing and perpetuate myths and beliefs about it so we don’t have to challenge our own thinking.

As we saw with the panther, there is a difference between revering and respecting an animal and just being blindly afraid.  Sharks and shark gods are prominent in Hawaiian mythology.  One of these, Kamohoali’i, would guide lost sailors home and could take the form of any fish.  Both Hawaiian and Polynesian mythology tell of the shark as a resting place for the soul and in a similar vein, the Fijian shark god Dakuwaqa would eat lost souls.

When you’re looking at the shark, try and see the duality, try and see this duality in yourself as well.  We are not clear cut beings.  We are predators and prey.  We are killers and creators.  We are graceful and we are vicious.

Fish meditation

So, following the exploration of the fish spirit card, I did actually write and record a guided meditation about entering into the world of the fish.  Mostly for myself, I find it helpful to have a recording telling me what to do.

I wanted to share it in case it was helpful to anyone else.  It’s very short, I find with brain fog and pain and things that that is most helpful for me right now.  Otherwise I get part way through and need to move or pain starts to interfere or I completely lose concentration.

What I tend to do is repeat guided meditations a few times so I get the idea of where they’re taking me and then I can use that “place” or process on my own to go deeper.  So when I listen to a safe space meditation, I often use it more as a prompt to get into my safe space and now I’ve done it a few times I know where that is and once the speaker has guided me into it, I can do my own thing.  So if you do want to use my recording, I’d really recommend using it more as a way in and start extending it yourself – just ignore me when I close it!

Fish Meditation


Fish: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck


There are about a trillion different kinds of fish. To me, this seems like some kind of carp but I have very little knowledge about these things.  If you do know what kind it is, please let me know in the comments.

The red crescent was a symbol adopted by the red cross in some parts of the world and is still used by 33 countries.


Fish are probably the iconic creature of the water and whilst there may not actually be a trillion types, there are a lot.  The biggest being the whale shark, over 12 metres, and the smallest being the Paedocypris progenetica, a type of carp, at a mere 7.9mm.  Fish range from brightly coloured, to highly camoflaged.  Some live alone, others in schools.

This huge variety makes this card one of the harder ones to understand I think.  When you draw this card, think about what fish mean to you.  If you’re a diver you probably have a very different relationship to fish than someone who lives inland and nowhere near lakes and streams.

Whilst we all intuitively know what a fish is, a more technical definition is “a limbless cold-blooded vertebrate animal with gills and fins living wholly in water.”  Water covers 2/3 of earth, mostly in the form of seas but also freshwater streams, rivers, lakes and so on.  And fish can be found in a lot of these habitats, at all depths, although most stick to salt or fresh water.  I think this epic diversity is an important aspect of this card.  Perhaps as a reminder that we all have a place to play in the ecosystem, or to respect diversity or to just be who we are.

They have been the same for 100 million years and were the first creature to develop a spine which would turn out to be a key evolutionary development.  The basic features of a fish include scales, fins, a skelaton, gills, a swim bladder and a lateral line which feels changes in water pressure and movement.  Most use an s shaped wiggle to move through the water.

Whilst we often consider fish as somehow more primative to us, most of them do have highly developed senses – after all, they’ve had a lot longer than us to develop them.  Daytime fish often have colour vision at least as good as ours.  Many have great sense of taste and smell and they use their lateral line to hear with as well as their ears (which don’t work so well).  The lateral line gives the fish a way of detecting movement and vibrations around them and feels a bit like a sixth sense and a reminder to listen to your body.  Some fish can detect electric currents but as this is a key part of the shark, I’ll focus on this ability when I get to that card.

Fish have been hugely important to waterside communities as a vital source of food and income.  Indeed fish farming has been carried out since 3500BC.  Because it’s such an vital source of food, in particular protein, it has often been deifyied.

The fish features heavily in christianity but also has symbolic meaning in many religions.  In Buddhism for example, the fish is a symbol of happiness; they can move freely through the water without fear of drowning in the ocean of suffering.

Some gods take the form of fish including shark gods which we’ll look at with the shark card.

  • The Hindu god Vishnu could appear as a fish.
  • Ika-tere is a fish god in Polynesian mythology and is the father of all sea creatures, including mermaids.
  • Seketoʻa was a fish god in Tongan mythology.
  • Ravgga is a Finnish fish-god who could tell fortunes.
  • Dagon may have been a fish god and was associated with fertility in the ancient Mesopotamian world.

Going back to their habitats, they can be found at all levels of the sea and are able to withstand vast pressure in the depths, much greater pressure than we can cope with without technical equipment.  Think about this from an symbolic perspective, do we need assistance to dive deep into our emotions?  Do we need to channel fish energy to help us handle the pressure?

As masters of water, fish can help show us how to navigate the currents in life and our emotions.  I’m wondering if a fish visualisation would be one way of approaching this.  I’m thinking of imagining myself as a fish and seeing what the water around me looks and feels like.  Does it feel stale?  Do I feel trapped?  Do I feel like the oceans are there to be explored?  I did once dream I was a fish but I was for sale at a market… And actually, thinking back, it was probably very telling of my emotional state at that point in my life…

As an iconic animal of the water, the fish has undeniable associations with emotion, intuition, creativity, the unconsciousness and relationships with ourselves and with others and asks us to focus on this.  Mix things up, use art to help tune into your intuition, use words to unpick your relationships, use dance to tap into your unconsciousness.

The fish is also a symbol of cooperation, I imagine this is based on the shoals of fish who work together for their safety, almost as one super organism.  It could also come from the ecosystems that arise around some fish.  For example when little fish clean bigger fish.  Again, we see that having support helps us as we enter the watery world.

Talking of shoals, they tend to have one breeding male and then when they die the lead female changes sex and takes it’s place.  Interesting right? Apparently it is also a major flaw in Finding Nemo…  This flexibility is echoed in the way fish move and often increasing flexibility in our thinking and our habits can make a huge difference to how we experience our lives.

There seems to be a lot of superstition and belief around the fish.  For example the haddock was apparently considered lucky in Scotland.  The salmon are considered an ancient and wise creature in Celtic folklore.  A lot of fish swimming near the surface are supposed to fortell bad weather.

In terms of astrology, we have Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac, the fish.  Pisces is a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, completing the astrological cycle.  It is said to hold qualities of all the signs but is most associated with emotion, intuition and dreaming.  The symbol of Pisces is two fish, tied with a string and swimming in opposite directions.  One possibly heading to the heavens and the other more focused on material issues; or one focused on spiritual matters and the other on reality.  It also has a strong tie to the moon which as we’ve seen before represents the unconscious and thus ties in very well with the water element and the fish who dwell there.  Indeed, the moon is thought to be an influence on fish and some species will only mate during certain moon phases.