If you’ve ever been out on the open ocean, you may have seen an albatross flying about. These large birds have white feathers and long wings, and since human beings first laid eyes on them they’ve been seen as symbolic.
Although these birds are mainly found around the southern oceans, they can be found in the northern Pacific as well. From North America to the Far East, albatrosses are symbolic, and to sailors specifically, a sighting can be quite significant.
In this article, I will be examining albatross symbolism to show how these birds are viewed across cultures.
Table of Contents
- 1. What Are Albatrosses Symbols Of?
- 2. Why Is the Albatross Significant in Native American Culture?
- 3. Why Is the Albatross Important to Christians?
- 4. Why Are Albatrosses Symbolic in Celtic Culture?
- 5. What Symbolism Do Eastern Cultures Attach to Albatrosses?
- 6. What’s It Like Having an Albatross as a Spirit Animal?
- 7. What Does an Encounter With an Albatross Symbolize?
- 8. How Are Albatrosses Portrayed in Different Mythologies?
- 9. How Were Albatrosses Viewed in the Maori Culture?
1. What Are Albatrosses Symbols Of?
Albatrosses were made famous by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” These birds are rarely seen on land, and their rarity makes them perfect for poetry.
They are considered to be masters of the skies, which is why they’re often associated with freedom. Here are some other characteristics that albatrosses symbolize:
The albatross is often associated with strength. It’s considered to be a strong bird because it can soar through the air uninhibited by the barriers that make long-distance flying impossible for other birds.
Many refer to the albatross as the Prince of Waves, not only because of its superior strength but because of its ability to navigate effectively as well. Albatrosses are such open-water flying experts, that scientists assume they can fly with their eyes closed.
An albatross is also a symbol of foresight. At all times they know the temperament of the sea, and they can feel bad weather coming from miles away. In fact, sailors used to view the sight of an albatross going in the opposite direction as a clear sign a bad storm was approaching.
3. Good Fortune
Other sailors believed seeing an albatross was a sign of good luck, especially if the ship was lost at sea. Since albatrosses are expert navigators, a lost ship would view a sighting as an indication that they would find their way.
In fact, the absence of this large, white bird was an ominous sign; just one sighting was enough to convince superstitious sailors that the voyage would be a successful one.
In some cultures, the albatross is seen as a bird that can easily go between the physical and spiritual realms. Often seen as a divine messenger, an albatross might appear out of nowhere in the fog of night, and such an entrance would make them seem supernatural.
In short, a sailor could view an albatross sighting as either good or bad; their opinion would largely be shaped by previous experiences.
In many cultures, a dead albatross is a sign of guilt, remorse, suffering, and penance. For a long time, it was standard practice to have a sailor who killed an albatross wear the dead bird around their neck as a measure of penance.
2. Why Is the Albatross Significant in Native American Culture?
To many Native American tribes, the albatross is a symbol of strength and unwavering determination. However, there are some tribes that believe this bird is a symbol of greed and hostility, and seeing one could indicate that war is just around the corner.
But Native Americans, many of whom were people of the sea, also saw these birds as being spiritual guides, as they knew when the rough waters and bad weather were coming.
Native Americans would associate albatrosses with whiskey jacks, and they remarked that the latter bird’s temperament was much better than the temperament of the albatross. But of the two species, the albatross is more visually appealing by far.
Albatrosses will fight each other for food and they aren’t that friendly to humans, whereas whiskey jacks are peaceful eaters who don’t mind human interactions. The albatross confirms the truth that outer beauty does not indicate a pleasant temperament.
3. Why Is the Albatross Important to Christians?
While the albatross isn’t mentioned directly in the Bible, it’s relevant in the story of Jonah. Specifically, Jonah defies God while aboard a ship, and his defiance causes the ship to not go anywhere.
The only way to get the ship to move is for the other passengers to throw Jonah overboard, so they do this. The albatross, being associated with guilt and penance, is relevant here because Jonah did not repent for defying God. As a result, he loses his life.
4. Why Are Albatrosses Symbolic in Celtic Culture?
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a piece of British folklore, a mariner shoots an albatross with a crossbow, and this action upsets the other crew members because they believe what’s just happened will bring bad luck to them all. And their fears are confirmed as the story progresses.
First, they find there is a severe lack of drinking water on board, and then they almost get hopelessly lost. Of course, every unfortunate situation that befalls them is blamed on the mariner.
Finally, and in accordance with contemporaneous practice, the mariner who committed the offense is made to wear the dead bird around his neck as punishment. This practice is the main reason why a dead albatross is a symbol of remorse for past mistakes, sins, or crimes.
5. What Symbolism Do Eastern Cultures Attach to Albatrosses?
The way an albatross takes flight is something the Japanese focus on. Since they have to jump from a cliff or another raised surface to take flight, the Japanese see the albatross as being a gullible bird. They see this bird’s need to be on the ground before it can take flight as a vulnerability.
Therefore, if a person is easily taken advantage of, they are often referred to as an albatross in Japanese society. But this thinking is not accepted across all the Japanese Islands.
Specifically, some view the albatross as a servant of the gods, and these individuals consider it to be a messenger that can cross effortlessly between the physical and spiritual realms.
Unlike their Japanese neighbors, the ancient Chinese saw this bird as symbolic of faith. They too thought the albatross was a messenger from the heavens, one that could deliver blessings.
Despite being positive symbols to many Eastern cultures, these birds were hunted across China Japan, and Korea, in large part because their feathers were used to make clothes. They were hunted to near extinction before governments stepped in.
6. What’s It Like Having an Albatross as a Spirit Animal?
In order for an albatross to be your spirit animal, you need to have had several profound experiences with them, and you must feel a deep connection to these birds. If you’re someone who’s always on the open ocean, there’s a good chance an albatross is your spirit animal.
If such is the case, you may be inclined to seek freedom whenever you can, and you never stay lost or confused for too long. With an albatross as your spirit animal, you will be guided through the storms of life just like the ancient mariners.
An albatross spirit animal will be a teacher, and if you abuse its generous guidance, you will pay for doing so; then you’ll how pain, suffering, and shame really feel. If you have the spirit of an albatross, you will constantly be looking toward the future, and you will be solutions-oriented.
You may also be very creative—always seeking ways to break the mental and physical chains that are holding you back. Those with the albatross spirit totem are rarely constrained or rigid; in fact, usually, they’re open-minded.
One can dream with ease and pursue their goals effectively with an albatross as their spiritual guide, as they’ll never have to worry about straying too far from the right path.
Much like the albatross is a master of both sea and air, you can be a master of your life with this spirit animal by your side.
7. What Does an Encounter With an Albatross Symbolize?
If you come across an albatross, you should take care not to harm this bird, and you definitely shouldn’t kill it. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner makes clear what curse will befall you if you commit such a heinous act.
Moreover, even an unintentional killing could land a crew in troubled waters (literally). Take one crew that killed an albatross accidentally by spilling hot water from a generator on it. Later on, the generator broke down completely and the crew mutinied.
The total disaster was avoided only because another ship intervened. Still, this story shows that immediate bad luck should be a concern for anyone who does harm to an albatross.
Encountering one of these birds is a truly rare event, so an encounter should be appreciated. Therefore, if you’ve seen one of these birds on the open ocean, consider yourself lucky.
Just make sure that the bird is not flying away from the direction your vessel is going in, as it could be trying to tell you that turning around is the best course of action.
8. How Are Albatrosses Portrayed in Different Mythologies?
Albatrosses are referenced in many myths, and in some, they are the center of the story. Some sailors believed that albatrosses were custodians of the souls that had been lost at sea. This belief came from the idea that albatrosses could go between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Another myth has it that an albatross kept close to a ship and guided it through a rough storm, and ever since mariners have had a deep respect for these birds.
But of course, not every myth which revolves around albatrosses is a positive one. In fact, some crews would even pray to not see this bird, as just having it nearby created the possibility that the bird could get killed and bad luck would follow.
According to one Hawaiian myth, an albatross shape-shifted into a god to trick Kane, the most powerful god in Hawaiian mythology. And in New Zealand, the bones of albatrosses are used for both religious and cultural ceremonies.
9. How Were Albatrosses Viewed in the Maori Culture?
Albatrosses were well regarded in the Maori culture. In fact, when these animals died, people would use every part of the body. They would eat the meat, they would make clothes from the feathers, and would use the bones for ceremonies.
It was also widely accepted in Maori culture that albatrosses were demi-gods, and the people believed they were direct decedents of these birds. And if you were a Maori chieftain, it was thought that you had albatross blood running through your veins.
In a famous Maori myth, an albatross teaches a sea monster how to fly. This myth underscores the idea that people generally viewed albatrosses as inherently good-natured and always willing to guide.
Seeing an albatross is still a rare occurrence, which is why these birds have largely retained their symbolic reputations. Whether you associate an albatross with a heavy burden or an indication that prosperity is on the horizon, you have to agree that these seabirds are a symbol of strength and freedom.
And to be the master of one’s own life, like an albatross is, is something nearly all humans strive for.
1. Why is an albatross power animal called on?
If you’re feeling constrained and bored with life, it may be wise to call on the albatross power animal. This being will show you how to achieve total freedom, and it’ll guide you so you see the big picture and elevate your consciousness.
Can’t trust yourself? An albatross power animal can help. This being will also open your mind and show you how you fit into the grand scheme of things.
2. What does it mean if an albatross is appearing in your dreams?
Should an albatross pop up in your dreams, it could be because you need direction in life. The presence of an albatross may also indicate something bad is about to happen, especially if the bird is flying away from you. If you’re the creative type, an albatross in your dreams could signal the end of a creative block.