The ocean is a powerful symbol. Throughout history, it has been seen as a symbol of power and strength. Today, it is often seen as a symbol of mystery, endlessness, calmness, hope, and even truth.
The ocean as a symbol often appears in literature, too, where it takes a whole different meaning. It’s often connected to our emotions, but it also symbolizes the sheer creative power of Mother Nature (these are overlaps here with water symbolism and ice symbolism).
Many people see the ocean as a source of calmness. Its seemingly endless and often enigmatic nature has inspired different symbols that we’re going to discuss here.
7 Things the Ocean Represents as a Symbol
If we’re talking about the ocean purely as a symbol, then there are various meanings that it can have.
1. Power and Strength
There’s just something incredibly empowering about the ocean. Maybe it’s the ocean’s ruthless nature when it comes to weather and powerful waves. Or perhaps it’s because the sea doesn’t allow itself to be disturbed and influenced by us, the humans.
When a sailor goes to sea, he has to adapt to the ocean, not the other way around. Throughout history, humans have found it difficult to challenge and “beat” the sea.
After all, the first great ocean liner appeared only in 1843, which is relatively late compared to other sailing feats. It was the SS Great Britain, widely considered the first great ocean liner in history.
What’s on the other side of the ocean? How far does the ocean extend? How do we cross it?
Those were just some of the questions the people living by the ocean probably asked themselves frequently. When we sit on an ocean beach, the ocean seems never-ending, and it looks as though it extends to an eternity, which is not the case, of course.
All this creates a feeling of mystery. This representation of the ocean as a symbol has some other implications, too. Countless sailors have disappeared in the ocean’s waves, trying to make sense of this incredible mess. However, those that did succeed are still held in high regard, even today (James Cook being the prime example).
Another facet of the ocean’s mystery is the fact that it’s a relatively unexplored entity, especially when it comes to its deeper parts. Who knows what’s lurking thousands of meters and kilometers below the surface, and what creatures there are that we might not even know of?
The ocean is a never-ending mass that connects continents and covers the majority of the Earth. When a person swims too far into an ocean, we connect it to “discovering one’s true self.”
Sometimes, when we think about something in abundance, we connect it with the phrase “the ocean of…”. For example, we sometimes say “the ocean of lies” when we spot someone who tells a lot of lies. Or, “the ocean of books” (it could be anything instead of books, really) when there’s a lot of books in one place.
There’s a reason why yogis and people who meditate like to perform their practice next to the ocean. The ocean’s waves are one of the most calming things in this world.
The ocean’s not always calm, but when the weather is serene, there’s nothing better to just sit by the ocean, and indulge in the pleasantries that come with listening to the ocean’s waves.
There’s also an element of hope to an ocean. People have always wondered what’s on the other side of the ocean; perhaps there was a better life waiting on the other side? Or maybe the ocean carried some valuable resources (in the last two centuries, it’s oil, and even before it was treasures.
It inspires hope for a better life. Perhaps it might bring something great with it one day, too.
6. Life and Immortality
Often, we connect the ocean to something greater than life. We think of it as a defining figure connecting the “worlds” and crafting human beings’ futures.
In Hinduism, especially, the ocean is revered as a symbol of life and life’s energy. Many Hindu gods and demons extracted the “elixir of life” from the ocean, giving them immortality and supernatural abilities.
If life begins in an ocean, it also ends in it. It’s also a symbol of life and mere existence in some Western civilizations and cultures.
Perhaps we can think of the ocean as a symbol of life because it provides us with valuable resources we can live off. It provides us food, valuable natural resources, and countless other surprises and treasures.
7. Connection with Nature
The ocean is this unknown and unexplored entity, yet it connects continents. People who live near an ocean form a natural affinity with the ocean where they learn to live with it; they adapt to it and its many quirks, from massive storms and tsunamis to the beautiful aspects of the ocean such as calmness and resources.
The tides of the ocean sometimes represent a source of revenge by the ocean for the way people treat it. It might also represent a message from God himself for the bad deeds done by the people living by the ocean.
Similarly, the tides of the ocean are influenced by the moon.
The Symbolism of Ocean in Literature and Culture
The ocean is also an ever-present figure in literature. It has been noted in some of history’s most reputed works.
In literature, the ocean symbolizes:
- A massive creative force controlled by Mother Nature
- Human emotions
One of the more notable works where the ocean is present is Wordsworth’s sonnet “The World is Too Much With Us”. In the sonnet, the ocean is depicted as this massive, creative force controlled by Mother Nature, and something we as human beings can’t control at all.
In Walt Whitman’s poem, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”, the ocean represents sexuality and procreation. Sometimes, the ocean in literature represents danger, or even an opportunity – in these senses, these meanings are not that much different from the meanings of the ocean as symbols.
In many other poems, the sea and the ocean are closely tied to human emotions. We thus have the “sea of love”, or when someone’s “drowning in pity”. It’s also closely tied with calmness or even anger when literature characters unleash their “ocean storm inside” upon others when they get angry.
The ocean is also constantly present in the culture. For example, it’s a constant figure in movies. One of the more well-known movies where the ocean crafts one’s life is “Life of Pi”, where the main protagonist tries to survive the merciless nature of the ocean.
“Cast Away” is also a very popular movie where the ocean is represented as this powerful and unsurpassable figure. Chuck Nolan, the main protagonist, is stuck on a desolate island after a deadly plane crash. He has to adapt how to live with the ocean, depicting the sheer power of the sea, which is also apparent when he tries to leave the island on a very crude wooden boat.
The Symbolism of Ocean in Dreams
Sometimes, the ocean is also present in our dreams, and if you can’t make sense of it, here’s what it means.
13. Dream of a Calm Ocean
If you’ve recently dreamt about a calm ocean, then that’s an excellent sign that you’re living a fair and balanced life. It shows your emotional stability and that you’re dealing with life effectively and stably.
14. Traveling Across an Ocean
When you dream about traveling across an ocean, then it represents something uncertain in your life. Perhaps you’re facing something that doesn’t seem as clear-cut as before, or maybe you have an essential decision to make about something or someone critical in your life.
15. Dream of a Rough Sea
Dreams involving a rough sea after or during a storm represents that you’re going through something challenging in your life. You might be going through a patchy period in your life where something is not quite going to plan. However, there is hope at the end, because the sea will get calm sooner rather than later, and you’ll also get back to normal soon.
16. Dream of a Pink Ocean
This is a peculiar dream, but it does happen sometimes. It might happen when your lust for someone is too intense for you. You’re repressing your genuine sexual emotions and you’re having difficulty making sense of this strong attraction. If you don’t address this feeling in your life, then it could potentially become a big problem for you in the future.
The ocean is truly a tremendous force that shapes our lives. It’s this seemingly endless mass tying cultures and continents together. Its rugged nature has led to many symbols in our lives where we connect the ocean to our feelings. If there are sea creatures in your ocean in your mind, it’s worth exploring their unique symbolism too. You could start with exploring the symbolism of turtles, for example.
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.