Goldfish symbolism (in folk lore and spirit animal beliefs) includes:
- Warmth and Friendship
Goldfish play a big role as carnival fish. They’re something we win in celebration, later take home as a trophy and proudly nurture. Yet goldfish symbolism is something of a mystery to us.
We know there are many species of goldfish. Maybe that they’re a small member of the carp family. Possibly that they can even see ultraviolet light.
But we know little about what they mean beyond the limits of our aquariums and fish tanks.
So let’s find out their deeper significance.
A lot of what goldfish symbolize comes from ancient history and tradition. But dreams, folk tales, spirit animal beliefs, and animism all play a part too.
1. Warmth and Friendship
Goldfish inherit much of their learned behaviour from carp. Judging by the way they act, moving around in schools, feeding together etc, they are thought of as a “friendly” fish. They are socially harmonious and protective of each other.
It’s very rare that goldfish attack other fish or members of their own species. When breeding they’re also non-aggressive. Males tend to show warmth toward females.
The only time they might get a little irritable is when competing for food!
The origins of goldfish spring out of ancient China. Historically bread for food, it wasn’t until the Tang dynasty of AD 618-907 that they took their more symbolic place in the ponds of ornamental gardens. It was there the key mutation took place, turning them from silver to gold.
Red and gold varieties both grew in popularity a little later. The empress of the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279), built a large pond on her palace grounds to house them. She also banned anyone outside from keeping the yellow (her imperial color) variety of the fish.
Finally during the Ming Dynasty (1388-1644) goldfish started to move indoors. This was how the fancy-tailed goldfish variety was bread. A mutation that wouldn’t have occurred naturally in ponds.
Read Also: What do Crowns Symbolize?
Away from China, following the introduction of the fish in Portugal and the rest of Europe in the early 1600’s, another symbol emerged. Goldfish became a popular first year wedding anniversary gift. Given from husbands to wives, their metallic scales were understood to represent hope and prosperity for the future.
When Buddhist missionaries came from India to China they brought with them eight symbols. Four of these symbols directly represented the Buddha. The others are associated with the religious tenets of the faith.
In that last category fit the symbol of a pair of goldfish. Standing as the sixth symbol, sandwiched between the wheel of life and the endless knot, they represent tenacity and domestic happiness.
Perhaps another reason why they feature as motifs in Buddhist temples.
Part of Iranian New Year celebrations (Nowruz), goldfish are a common feature during the holidays of the March equinox. Seen in their fish bowls placed on top of the Haft-sin table, they are something to look at during the feast of Persian olives, apple, garlic and sumac. The table also features painted eggs, mirrors, bowls, hyacinth and coins too.
Observed in Armenia, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and many other countries also, Nowruz is a thirteen day festival. The fish, a symbol of life during the celebrations, are released into the wild on the final day.
6. Calmness and Serenity
Due to their still and placid habitat, it’s not surprising that goldfish are commonly associated with calm and serenity. Afterall, they’re freshwater fish. And ones that don’t have to fight rapid currants or contend with intimidating tides.
Looking at them in this environment is akin to a meditative state. Their movement is gentle and graceful.
Perhaps this is the reason why, after years of dabbling in vibrant scenes of dance and celebration, they later became a fascination of the French painter Henri Matisse. His work The Goldfish even features them directly. Here they stare out at the audience from their bold and shining place, becoming something of a fixation of the viewer.
The work was said to be inspired by the locals of Tangiers, Morocco. Who, Matisse claimed, spent hours staring fixedly at the fish in city ponds. Maybe it was their tranquility, stillness and poise that cast the spell?
7. Transformation and Strength
Keep goldfish in outdoor ponds and they’ll survive the hardest of winters. Keep them in the summer and they’ll regulate their heat, gently below the surface. They’re hardy and resilient.
As long as there’s enough oxygen, goldfish can stand the test. They’ve even been observed to survive in frozen water too.
Similar to their koi counterpart, a species they’re very close to (see: koi fish symbolism), goldfish are sometimes seen in ancient folktales transforming into dragons and other mythical creatures. The powers they’re said to have? They exist as signs of virility and power.
8. Luck and Abundance
Due to their shimmering color and striking appearance, goldfish pay close resemblance to wealth and treasure. Perhaps this is why, in many Asian cultures, they’re held as beings of luck and abundance. Another reason why they’re such a common sight in stately homes and gardens.
According to Eastern tradition, they’re often held as celestial beings in tune with dual forces. Bright colors indicate solar force. Their aquatic habitat signifies lunar.
Maybe it’s this contrast that sees them so keenly associated as messengers from the heavens.
In animism goldfish are seen as useful totems and spirit guides. For people looking for positive change or seeking wealth, they’re said to be a good omen. Likewise for those hoping for good luck or a sudden surge of strength.
Call on them when you need to make important decisions. The same from when you’re looking to bounce back from failure.
The art of alchemy, turning objects into gold is intrinsically linked to goldfish. Their end color is the goal of the labor. Their mutation in early history directly mimics the process.
Seeing this change in an organism like a fish stands as hope that it can occur elsewhere in life. If only we remain patient and open-minded.
Goldfish Symbolism in Dreams
Goldfish occur in different scenarios in dreams. Each time with a new meaning. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Being a goldfish. This is a sign of a possible threat coming into your life. Or a call for you to look for ways to protect yourself.
Buying a goldfish. This could be a sign of losing money or making a bad investment. Sometimes leading to an even worse decision.
Catching a goldfish. Signifies an important business trip on the horizon. A chance to make useful contacts and expand your network.
Holding a goldfish. Symbolizes good fortune and a new beginning. For women it could also point to getting married.
Goldfish swimming in an aquarium. Indication of a happy life. Or good times ahead.
Jumping goldfish. Linked to happiness on the horizon. Or current efforts leading to a big success.
Summary – Is the Goldfish your Spirit Animal?
After exploring a little more about goldfish symbolism, maybe it’s safe to say we’ve moved a little closer to one of the most common of aquarium-based pets.
Life in the goldfish bowl and the privacy they once had? Given we know more about what they signify – in life, history, dreams and more – it’s hard to go back.
Maybe we’ll be looking at our nearest fish friends ever closer from now on.
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.