14 Famous (& Obscure) Ocean & Sea Myths from Six Cultures

Because of their awesome power and mystery, oceans and seas have produced countless myths and tales in every culture across the world, and across nearly every time period.

Norse Sea and Ocean Myths

Aegir and Ran

The Ancient Norse people had multiple sea deities. The supreme sea god was Njord, a member of the Vanir tribe.

However, two other divine beings ruled over different aspects of the sea.

These two beings were Aegir and Ran, two giants married to one another, one representing the calm and stormy sea, and the other the terrible stormy sea.

Kindly and good-humoured, Ægir represents the peaceful rather than the stormy sea. He was supposed to cause and quiet the great tempests which swept over the deep.

Ægir was also very rich, and was celebrated also for great prudence and wisdom. His chief residence was in the island of Hlesey or Leesöe, in the Kattegat.

By contrast, Ran (whose name means “robber”), Ægir’s wife and the queen of the ocean, was of a cruel and avaricious disposition, and it was she who caused all shipwrecks.

Her favorite pastime was lurking near dangerous rocks, where she would entice mariners.

There she spread her net, her most prized possession, and, having entangled the men in its meshes and broken their vessels on the jagged cliffs, she calmly drew them down into her cheerless realm.

All who were drowned were believed to go to her, a belief which the Swedish peasants still hold of the mermaid.

Ran was therefore also considered the goddess of death for all who perished at sea.

 The Norse nations believed that she entertained the drowned in her coral caves, where her couches were spread to receive them, and where the famed mead of poetry flowed freely as in Valhalla.

The goddess was further supposed to have a great affection for gold, which was called the “flame of the sea,” and was used to illuminate her halls.

This belief probably originated from the shinning phosphorus trails that sometimes illuminate the sea floor.

Regardless of the origin, Norse sailed believed that to win Ran’s good graces they had to have some gold on them whenever they crossed the sea, and especially during long voyages.

Njord and Skadi

Njord is the Norse god of the sea, but also god of wealth and commerce. While Aegir and Ran rule different aspects of the sea, Njord rules the sea in its entirety and everything that is in it.

Njord married the giantess Skadi, and as was custom for the Norse, Skadi went on to live with Njord in his home of Noatun (meaning “ship-place” or “haven”).

For a time, Skadi was happy. However, Skadi was a mountain giantess and she grew to dislike Noatun, with its constant cry of seagulls, wetness and never ending crashing of waves into the rocks.

As such, she left Noatun and returned to her own home in forests of Thrymheim, (“Home of noise”).

Njord at first went after her, but he too couldn’t adapt to this new strange environment, filled with the sounds of howling wolves, cracking trees and roaring bears.

And so Njord and Skadi made an arrangement: the couple would spend nine days together in Thrymheim, and three days together in Noatun; and in that way the two continued to live forever after.

The explanation given by some scholars of the nine nights’ stay in Thrymheim and three at Noatun, is that “nights” signifies months, and that the sea in the extreme North is ice-free and open for sailing only for three months of the year. For the other nine it is sealed by ice and winter-storms.


Jormungandr, also known as the Midgard Serpent or the World Serpent, is a colossal sea serpent from Norse mythology.

The creature is one of the three monstrous offspring of the trickster god Loki and the giantess Angrboda, along with the wolf Fenrir and Hel, the queen of the Norse Underworld.

Jormungandr was cast into the ocean by the chief god Odin, who wanted to separate the dangerous offspring of Loki from the gods and their realm of Asgard.

After touching the water, Jormungandr grew to such an immense size that it encircled the entire world of Midgard (the realm of humans), biting its own tail, and thus earned the name “World Serpent.”

In this way, Jormungandr was intimately connected to the sea as it encompassed the oceans surrounding the known world.

For the Norse, the sea had many symbolic meanings, but it was commonly an element of destruction.

But Jormungandr silently dwelt at the bottom of the ocean, protecting mankind from chaos and anarchy, including the Norse gods who banished him into the depths.

During Ragnarok however, Jormungandr is destined to emerge from the depths of the ocean, releasing its tail and causing massive earthquakes and tsunamis.

It will then engage in a fierce battle with the god Thor, who will eventually slay the serpent but succumb to its venomous bite shortly after.

The story of Jormungandr highlights the significance of the sea in Norse mythology as both a life-giving force and a source of chaos and danger.

The World Serpent embodies the immense power and unpredictability of the ocean, while its ultimate role in the end of the world serves as a reminder of the destructive potential of the untamed forces of nature.

Universal ocean and sea myths


Mermaids are mythical creatures with the upper body of a human and the tail of a fish.

One of the earliest known mermaid figures was Atargatis, the ancient Assyrian goddess of fertility and the sea. She was depicted as a fish with a human head and arms, and her story dates back to around 1000 BCE.

In ancient Greek mythology, mermaids and mermen were associated with the Nereids and Tritons, who were the aquatic nymphs and messengers of the sea god Poseidon.

In East Asian folklore, mermaids were often portrayed as gentle and benevolent creatures with the power to grant wishes or bestow good fortune.

Similarly, Japanese folklore featured a mermaid creature called Ningyo, who could bring good luck and longevity when caught and eaten or prophesize destruction and calamity if it beached on the shore.

However, Western cultures usually depicted mermaids as dangerous and seductive.

The sirens of Greek mythology, often portrayed as half-bird, half-woman creatures, lured sailors to their doom with their enchanting songs. Over time, the image of sirens shifted to more closely resemble mermaids, but they retained their reputation for being perilous to seafarers.

Some stories even claimed that mermaids were the souls of drowned women seeking vengeance on sailors.

The mermaid’s image gained further popularity during the Age of Exploration when European sailors ventured into uncharted waters.

Encounters with marine animals, such as manatees and dugongs, led to mistaken reports of mermaid sightings, fueling the myths and legends surrounding these creatures.

The Kraken

The Kraken is a legendary sea monster from Nordic mythology, often described as a giant squid or octopus. This fearsome creature is said to dwell in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, particularly in the waters surrounding Norway and Greenland.

The origins of the Kraken can be traced back to the 13th-century Old Norse sagas. In these texts, a giant squid-like beast was referred to as hafgufa (“sea-steamer”).

Later on in the 17th century, the Norwegian term “krake” would be used to describe this same creature in the book The First Attempt at [a] Natural History of Norway by Erik Pontoppidan.

The Kraken’s size was said to be so colossal that, when resting on the ocean surface, it could be mistaken for an island.

The Kraken was known for its fearsome power and destructive capabilities. Its most notable ability was to drag entire ships and their crews beneath the waves using its powerful tentacles.

It was said to be able to create massive whirlpools when it descended back into the ocean, pulling anything nearby into the abyss.

Some legends describe the Kraken as having numerous tentacles that could reach great distances, allowing it to ensnare and crush multiple ships simultaneously.

Its strength was such that it could easily crush the hull of a ship or tear it apart.

In addition to its physical prowess, the Kraken was also rumored to possess the ability to create a mist or fog when it surfaced. This would disorient sailors and make it difficult for them to navigate or escape the creature’s grasp.

Some accounts even suggest that the Kraken could change its color to blend in with its surroundings, making it difficult to spot until it was too late.

In some accounts, the Kraken was believed to be a solitary creature, while in others, it was said to have a mate or even offspring.

Ancient Greek Sea and Ocean myths

Ceyx and Alcyone

Ceyx, the king of Trachis, and Alcyone, the daughter of Aeolus, the god of winds, were a happily married couple who deeply loved each other. However, their happiness would be short-lived.

Ceyx decided to visit an oracle in order to seek answers for some pressing issues in his kingdom. The journey required him to set sail across the sea, despite Alcyone’s deep fear of losing her husband to the treacherous waters. Unable to dissuade Ceyx, Alcyone prayed for his safe return.

During Ceyx’s journey, a violent storm broke out, and his ship was wrecked. Ceyx drowned, and his lifeless body floated in the sea. Back at home, Alcyone was unaware of her husband’s fate and anxiously awaited his return.

The gods took pity on Alcyone and decided to inform her of the tragedy. Morpheus, the god of dreams, appeared in her sleep and showed her the lifeless body of Ceyx. Distraught, Alcyone rushed to the shore the next morning, where she found Ceyx’s body washed ashore.

In her overwhelming grief, Alcyone prayed to the gods to be united with her husband in death. The gods, moved by her devotion and love, transformed both Ceyx and Alcyone into birds called halcyons. In this new form, the couple reunited and lived together for eternity.

In celebration of their love, every year there are seven days on end when the sea lies still and calm; no breath of wind stirs the waters. These are the days when Alcyone broods over her nest floating on the sea.

After the young birds are hatched the charm is broken; but each winter these days of perfect peace come, and they are called after her, Alcyone, or, more commonly, “halcyon days, while birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.

Scylla and Charybdis

In Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis are two dangerous sea monsters that reside on opposite sides of the narrow Strait of Messina, making it treacherous for sailors to navigate.

The story of Scylla and Charybdis is made famous in Homer’s Odyssey, where the hero Odysseus must sail through the strait during his journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

Scylla is a monster with six heads, each of which has three rows of sharp teeth. She is said to live in a cave on a cliff and snatches sailors from passing ships, devouring them with her many heads.

Scylla is usually described as a beautiful nymph who was transformed into a monster by the sorceress Circe due to jealousy. In other accounts, she was a sea monster from birth, the daughter of the sea gods Phorcys and Ceto.

Charybdis, on the other side of the strait, is a whirlpool that threatens to swallow entire ships. She is often depicted as a sea monster with a gaping maw, sucking in and spewing out massive amounts of water three times a day.

In other versions of the myth, Charybdis is the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia, punished by Zeus for flooding lands and consuming ships.

When Odysseus must pass through the strait in the Odyssey, he is advised by Circe to sail closer to Scylla, as the loss of a few sailors is preferable to the entire ship being swallowed by Charybdis.

Odysseus follows her advice, and although he loses six of his crew to Scylla, the rest of the crew and the ship survive the perilous passage.

The story of Scylla and Charybdis has become a metaphor for being caught between two dangerous situations, where choosing the lesser of two evils is the only option. The phrase “between Scylla and Charybdis” is often used to describe such dilemmas.

Selene emerging from the ocean

In ancient Greece, there was a moon goddess named Selene, known as Luna to the Romans. She was the sister of the sun god, Helios, and together, they were entrusted with the responsibility of lighting the sky.

As siblings, they carried out their duties in harmony, Helios illuminating the day while Selene brightened the night.

Selene’s chariot, drawn by majestic white horses, traversed the heavens, mirroring her brother’s own celestial journey.

During the day, as Helios guided his chariot across the sky, Selene would bathe in the ocean, preparing herself for the night ahead.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, Selene would emerge from the waters, enveloped in her radiant robes.

With the sun’s descent and the arrival of dusk, Selene’s ascent into the sky commenced. She climbed higher and higher, her moonlit chariot following a path parallel to her brother’s.

In this delicate dance, the siblings ensured that light always graced the earth, bringing comfort and guidance to the people below.

The city of Atlantis

The myth of Atlantis originates from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s works, “Timaeus” and “Critias.”

According to Plato, Atlantis was a powerful and advanced island civilization that existed around 9,000 years before his time.

The island was said to be located beyond the Pillars of Hercules, now called the Strait of Gibraltar, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantis was described as a highly advanced and prosperous society, with a highly organized political and military structure.

It was made up of concentric rings of water and land, connected by canals, with a central island on which stood the royal palace.

The civilization was ruled by a line of kings descended from the god Poseidon and his children with a mortal woman named Cleito.

The Atlanteans were initially noble and virtuous, living in peace and harmony. However, over time, they became corrupted by greed and power, which led to their decline.

Seeing this moral decay, the gods decided to punish Atlantis. In a single day and night, a series of earthquakes and floods destroyed the island, causing it to sink beneath the ocean and disappear forever.

Regardless of its historical accuracy, the myth of Atlantis serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris and the consequences of abandoning virtue and wisdom.

Japanese & Ainu Sea and Ocean Myths

Namazu, the Japanese earthquake god

According to Japanese mythology, earthquakes are caused by a giant catfish called Namazu that lives under the isles of Japan.

Whenever the Namazu thrashes or moves, the earth moves with it, causing tremors and earthquakes above.

Eventually, the Namazu was brought under control by the god Takemikazuchi, who planted a giant pivot stone upon its head and thus immobilizing.

Repun Kamuy, the Ainu sea god

The Ainu are an ancient indigenous people located in the northern Japanese islands. Their mythology is rich, and one of their most important deities is the sea god Repun Kamuy.

 Repun Kamuy, the most esteemed sea god in Ainu mythology, is believed to appear as a large whale and is well-disposed towards humans.

Coastal Ainu communities worship him by offering inao (ritual wood sticks) and sake, especially during the fishing season.

Elderly men can often be found praying to Repun Kamuy by the sea, asking for good weather and an abundant catch. If their prayers are granted, they give thanks and celebrate with more sake.

Repun Kamuy is said to have two special servants acting as messengers between him and humankind. The first, Rep-un-kontukai, appears as a tortoise and plays a crucial role in delivering prayers and blessings.

The second servant, an albatross known by various names, is considered a good omen by fishermen.

Both servants’ heads, once caught and dried, are kept for worship and offered inao, with prayers often chanted to both the live bird and the dried head.

Christian and Jewish ocean myths

The Leviathan

In the Hebrew Bible, the Leviathan is a primordial sea creature often associated with chaos and destruction.

According to the Bible, God created Leviathan on the fifth day of creation.

It is often portrayed as a massive serpent with fearsome teeth and impenetrable scales, capable of breathing fire and causing enormous waves.

In the Book of Job, God uses the Leviathan to illustrate his omnipotence, challenging Job to see if he can tame the creature or control it as God can.

In the Book of Isaiah, the Leviathan is described as a symbol of the enemies of God and Israel, and it is prophesied that God will ultimately slay the creature during the end times.

The demise of the Leviathan represents the triumph of good over evil, as well as God’s power to overcome chaos and bring order.

As a creature of chaos and destruction, the Leviathan represents the forces of evil and disorder that challenge God’s sovereignty.

Its ultimate defeat signifies the victory of good over evil, as well as the restoration of order and divine control.

Noah’s Ark

The myth of Noah’s Ark has a strong connection to the sea because God used a global flood to cleanse the world of wickedness and corruption.

As such, the sea becomes an instrument of God’s divine judgment, but at the same time a symbol of renewal.

According to the story, God chooses Noah, a righteous man, to build a large ark that would save his family and a pair of each animal species from the impending flood.

Once the Ark is built, the floodwaters begin to rise to such a height that they cover up even the highest mountains, destroying everything that is outside the Ark.

But just as the sea destroys, it also purifies and creates the new world.

As the floodwaters recede, a cleansed Earth emerges, providing a fresh start for the surviving inhabitants of the Ark.

And so the sea wipes away the old, while paving the way for a new beginning.

Once the Ark comes to rest on the mountains of Ararat, Noah, his family, and the animals disembark and repopulate the Earth.

After the waters recede, God promises to Noah never to destroy the Earth with a flood again.

The rainbow thus becomes a symbol of this promise and a reminder of God’s enduring relationship with humanity.

Irish Celtic sea and ocean myths

The Fomorians

Before Ireland was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick, the local population worshipped a race of gods named the Tuatha Dé Danann.

The sworn enemies of the Tuatha Dé Danann were the Fomorians, an invading race of supernatural beings often depicted as monstrous, misshapen, and sometimes even grotesque.

The Irish associated the Fomorians with the forces of chaos, darkness, and destruction, and believed them to be the enemies of the divine and semi-divine races, like the Tuatha Dé Danann, who represented order, light, and civilization.

The Fomorians were said to dwell in the sea, on islands, or in the underworld, and were considered to have immense power over natural elements, such as storms and diseases.

The connection between the Fomorians and the sea is not random.

The waters that surrounded Ireland were treacherous and deadly for navigation, unlike the calm Mediterranean Sea.

As such, the Irish naturally viewed the ocean as a much more dangerous place, animated and ruled by an evil race of beings.

More importantly however, Ireland has a tumultuous history of being invaded or raided by peoples from across the sea.

As such, the Fomorians who lived in the sea would come to represent every calamity, natural or man-made, that would alter the delicate stability of Ireland.


  • Dictionary of nature myths : legends of the earth, sea, and sky by Andrews Tamra
  • The waters of life : the facts and the fables by Finn Bevan
  • Man, Myth & Magic The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Mythology by Richard Cavendish
  • Giants, monsters, and dragons by Carol Rose
  • Dictionary of gods and goddesses, devils and demons by  Manfred Lurker
  • Ancient Tales & Folklore of Japan by Richard Gordon Smith
  • Mythology of All Races by Louis Herbert Gray and John Arnott MacCulloch
Atlas Mythica

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