These definitions, legends and stories are commonly attributed to the birds, fish, animals, people and mythological creatures used in Western tribal arts. Some tribes may have different meanings.
Common Symbolism and Features
Under Water Creatures
Meanings of Under Water Realm Symbols and Totem Pole Creatures
Underwater realm characters are powerful beings who live deep within whirlpools under the sea. These include fish, octopi, air-breathing sea turtles, dolphins and whales among many other creatures. In this section are a mixture of creatures that actually appear on authentic totem poles and whimsical creatures just for fun.
Killer Whales are considered to be monsters and rulers of their own underwater city. Orca, Killer Whales, or Blackfish, share the underwater realm with such royal creatures as Copper Woman and Komogwa, the underwater sea king. Whales have the ability to shed their skin and transform into Sea Wolves so they can hunt on land in killer-packs.
Whales are mortal enemies of the Thunderbirds because Thunderbirds can scoop whales out of the water to feed people on land. Thunderbirds are benevolent supernatural beings and considered to be the source of the thunder.
Evidence of an earthquake that struck the American Pacific Northwest in 1700 suggests that the Thunderbird and Whale mythology describes this event. The Thunderbird myth could be partly based upon encounters by people of a prehistoric bird called Aiornis which fed on stranded whale carcasses.
Octopus, or Devilfish are feared because these deadly devilfish would grab fishermen and hunters and drown hold them underwater until they drowned.
Underwater Realm Creatures Include:
|Clam or Giant Killer Clam: exists in legends and myths see Giant Rock Oyster Boy in Saxman Totem Park||Copper Woman: Spiritual attributes of copper include wealth and prestige. Copper Woman is the interfering, social climbing wife of Komokwa, the Chief of the Undersea World. She befriends the Frog and when disguised as Volcano Woman can cause volcanic eruptions.|
|Komokwa: Chief of the Undersea World and the master and protector of the seals. The word Komokwa means "wealthy one."||Whale/Blackfish::|
|Dogfish or shark: Spiritual attributes include persistence and strength. The dogfish is represented with gill slits as crescents, frowning crescent shaped mouth filled with sharp, saw-like teeth.||Dolphin: Spiritual attributes include breath, communication. Dolphins are thought to be able to interpret dreams.|
|Frog: Spiritual attributes include spring, new life, communicator and stability. The frog is a misunderstood and underestimated creature but also a symbol of wealth. Frogs are friends with Copper Woman and can survive volcanic eruptions. Never insult a frog.||Halibut: Spiritual attributes include life protector, strength and stability. Usually depicted with a continuous fin and both eyes on the same side.|
|Octopus or Devil Fish: Feared for its ability to grab people and drag them underwater. Attributes include bird like head, hooked beak, suction plates and tentacles.||Otter: Spiritual attributes include trust, inquisitiveness and intelligence. The otter is thought to be a loyal friend.|
|Oyster: exists in legends and myths.||Salmon: Spiritual attributes include dependability and renewal. As a provider, the salmon is very important in West Coast culture. Salmons are portrayed with round eyes and flat sides.|
|Sea Creatures: Are generally portrayed with round eyes. All other animals are oval with a large pupil.||Seal: Spiritual attributes include bright, inquisitive, organized.|
|Sea Wolf: The killer whale is a prominent fixture in the history, art, spirituality and religion of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Thought to be both a wolf and a killer whale, Sea Wolves appeared as wolves in winter and as killer whales in summer.||Siskiutl: The sea serpent is an enemy of the Thunderbird. Is feared because it can pull war canoes into the site of a battle and can turn enemy warriors into stone with a single glance. Siskiutl has removable crystal eyes and protects crest holders from injury during war.|
|Turtle: Pays attention to earthly things and keeps its feet on the ground.||Whale and Killer Whale, Orca or Kwakiutl: Spiritual attributes include goodness and having the ability to share the wisdom of the ages. Whales are rulers of the Underwater Realm where they live with other noble supernatural beings. The whale hates Thunderbirds which frequently scoop them out of the water to eat them. Some whales can turn into wolves and walk on land. The killer whale is usually portrayed downward facing, with long flat sides with white or black tail fins, two or more dorsal fins, large head, upturned mouth and two spins above the eyes. Many times it is depicted holding a fish or a seal in its mouth.|