Wind, in mythology, literature, and art, frequently represents change and transformation because of its dynamic and changing nature.
Because wind was thought to be the “breath of God”, it was often linked with divine inspiration, creativity, and prophecy.
Because of its divine status, wind symbolizes life force or spirit, and is the unseen power and vital force that animates the environment and the creatures within it.
Yet, wind can also symbolize destruction, punishment, time, nothingness, speed, navigation, news, and even music, depending on its cultural and contextual interpretations.
- 17 Symbolic Meanings of Wind in Literature, Art & Mythology
- 1. The Creation Spirit
- 2. The Voice of God
- 3. Regeneration and reproduction
- 4. A part of the Air symbol
- 5. Freedom
- 6. Virtues and Vices
- 7. Prophecy and creativity
- 8. Life force, the spirit within
- 9. Time
- 10. The Void, nothingness
- 11. Divine Punishment and destruction
- 12. Speed
- 13. Navigation & Movement in life
- 14. Rumors and news
- 15. The Anemone flower is a symbol of wind
- 16. An Element of Feng-Shui
- 17. A symbol of music and sound
- The Four Winds, their Personalities & Powers
17 Symbolic Meanings of Wind in Literature, Art & Mythology
1. The Creation Spirit
In many religions, wind was linked to the divine, carrying primal waters or representing a heavenly spiritual energies.
For instance, in Islam, the wind transported the fundamental waters that supported the divine throne.
In Hinduism, Vac was the goddess of Voice, and the breath of her voice was believed to have created the universe through the spoken word, bringing the essence of soul to all things. By uttering names and revealing sacred mantras, Vac wielded the power to control the gods.
Thus, wind’s association with creation, fertility, and spiritual essence led ancient cultures to view it as a manifestation of a higher deity.
2. The Voice of God
In many religions, winds were seen as the instrument of God’s power, providing life, punishment, and teaching.
Thus, winds acted like divine messengers, similar to the angels found in the Book of Psalms, Koran and Bible. For this reason, the wind that moved the treetops were thought to be a sign of God’s presence. Wind and even lends its name to the Holy Spirit in Christianity.
In Hindu symbolism, the wind, personified as the god Vayu, signifies cosmic breath and the Word.
3. Regeneration and reproduction
In various cultural and religious traditions, wind symbolizes regeneration and reproduction.
In the Abrahamic tradition, wind is a force of life as seen in Ezekiel’s invocation of the four winds to resurrect dry bones.
Wind is also viewed as a transitionary space for souls, a notion echoed in a phrase from the play Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare:
“To be imprisoned in the viewless winds. And blown with restless violence round about the pendent world.”
Similarly, the Aztec deity Quetzelcoatl often transformed into the wind deity Ehecatl. Thus, as both solar and wind god, Quetzelcoatl / Ehecatl symbolized the cycle of death and rebirth and the fertilization of crops.
In Chinese mythology, wind plays a crucial role in populating the world. According to myth, the goddess Nu Gua’s clay pieces are scattered by the wind across all corners of the world. These flesh pieces then transform into the first people, demonstrating the wind’s role in spreading seeds of transformation and growth.
4. A part of the Air symbol
The element of Air is linked symbolically with wind and breath. Wind belongs in the middle zone between Earth and Heaven, home of what the Chinese call the “qi” or “chi”, the breath of life.
However, wind is also seen as the violent manifestation of air when it takes the form of storms, whirlwinds, hurricanes etc.
Free as the wind.
In culture, art and literature, wind is often viewed as a symbol of freedom because it is untamed, unpredictable, and unbound by physical barriers.
Its ability to move freely across vast landscapes, soaring high into the sky and sweeping across the earth, is often used to symbolize limitless freedom and unrestricted movement.
Finally, since wind cannot be controlled or owned, it also represents the idea of spiritual or intellectual freedom, a liberation from social norms or earthly constraints and the power of independent thought and expression.
6. Virtues and Vices
Wind can symbolize both virtues and vices, and these are largely associated the direction the wind comes from.
The North wind symbolizes destruction and creativity, the South wind brings warmth and summertime, the East wind is tied to rain, comfort, and can be an ill omen, while the West wind is connected to gentleness, fertility, and death.
Generally, however, wind epitomizes transitoriness, inconstancy, and nothingness due to its intangible and rapidly changing nature.
Furthermore, literature often uses wind as a metaphor to reflect human conditions such as grace, spreading of vice, ingratitude, and fickleness, as seen in works such as the theater plays Henry V, Pericles, and As You Like It.
7. Prophecy and creativity
In various mythologies and literatures, wind is regarded as a symbol of prophecy and creativity. The rustling of wind through the leaves, especially of an oak tree, is often considered oracular particularly among the Irish Celtic druids.
Even in the Middle East, prophetic powers were attributed to such sounds. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hero of the Flood Utnapishtim predicted the coming cataclysm because of the sound of the wind in the reeds and wattles of his hut.
But wind is also a symbol of intellectual creativity, such as in Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” where wind stands in opposition to stagnant calm, representing the ecstasy of the creative impulse and inspiration, thus symbolizing a powerful force for creativity, change, and divine messages.
8. Life force, the spirit within
Wind is often interpreted as the divine spirit that animates living beings.
In Biblical traditions, wind, or God’s breath, brought order to primordial matter and life to the first man, highlighting its role as a life-giving force.
This idea of wind as a spiritual life force can be found in terms like the Greek ‘pneuma’, Arabic ‘ruh’, and Hebrew ‘ruach’, all referring to the divine breath that animates all creation.
Further, in Babylonian myth, Marduk overcomes the primeval waters with winds, and in Navajo tradition, wind is believed enter a living human being the moment they are born, giving them language, thought, and leadership.
Gnostic literature claims that Sophia, a feminine aspect of God, created Adam’s body from six elements of the material world, but the soul she gave Adam came from her own divine breath.
Wind can symbolize time because of its relentless and ever-moving nature, similar to the ceaseless progression of time.
In the T.S. Eliot’s ‘Song for Simeon’, the verse “My life is light, waiting for the death wind” signifies the inevitable passage of time leading towards death, represented by the ‘death wind’.
Similarly, in Dylan Thomas’ ‘Should lanterns shine’, the phrase “So fast I move defying time, the quiet gentleman / Whose beard wags in Egyptian wind” uses wind to denote the passage of time; the movement of the gentleman’s beard in the wind acting as a metaphor for the slow, but inevitable advance of time.
10. The Void, nothingness
Because wind is intangible and elusive, it was sometimes used as a symbol for nothingness or emptiness:
“He that troubleth his own house, shall inherit the wind” (Proverbs 11:29). Here, the wind signifies something without substance or value—effectively nothing—reflecting the pointless efforts of causing disruption in one’s own home.
“The (false) prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them” (Jeremiah 5:13). Here, false prophets becoming ‘wind’ suggests their words, over time, are devoid of substance or truth
In the poem “The Waste Land”, writer T.S. Eliot uses the wind as a symbol to describe the concept of nothing, the void and generally the inane and seemingly pointless passage of time:
‘What is that noise?’ The wind under the door. ‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’ Nothing again nothing.
11. Divine Punishment and destruction
Wind is a common symbol of divine intervention and punishment.
In Japan, divine winds or “Kamikaze” saved the country by destroying invading Mongol fleets.
In Irish mythology, Mog Ruith uses his breath to turn enemies into stone.
In the tale of Odysseus, a careless sailor releases divine winds from a bag which results in twenty years of aimless wandering.
In Christian and Jewish Psalms, a divine wind of heat symbolizes inescapable destruction, persecution and war.
Similarly, the Greek myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus exemplifies how the west wind, personified as the jealous god Zephyrus, kills Hyacinthus with his own disc after he became Apollo’s lover.
Finally, in the story of Moses and Pharaoh, a divine wind splits the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to cross, but then returns to engulf Pharaoh’s pursuing army, demonstrating wind as a divine instrument of judgement and punishment.
Wind is a symbol for speed because it moves swiftly and can change direction on a dime.
This association of wind with speed can be seen in art.
Hermes, the Greek god of commerce, is portrayed wearing winged sandals, suggesting Hermes rides the wind the same way birds do.
In paintings and sculpture, characters that are moving quickly are depicted with wind motifs, such as hair swept back, or wind spirals around them.
Finally, the phrase “swift as the wind” is used all the time in language and literature to describe great speed.
13. Navigation & Movement in life
Wind symbolizes navigation and the journey through life due to its significant role in sailing and travel.
In mythology, such as the tale of Castor and Polydeuces, favorable winds are often associated with successful journeys, guiding sailors in their navigation.
This mirrors life’s journey, where winds represent both the obstacles we face, and the support we receive, that can influence our life journey.
Just like a good sailor, understanding the direction of the winds in one’s life can help a person navigate through challenges and reach their destination safely.
14. Rumors and news
Wind is a symbol for news and rumors because it carries sounds, scents, and even physical objects across great distances, in a similar process to how information seems to spread.
In literature, this concept is often used to symbolize the rapid spread of gossip or news. For instance, in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, Ariel is a spirit of air, delivering messages and manipulating events according to Prospero’s will, symbolizing how information can be carried swiftly like the wind.
The phrase “winds of change” also embodies this concept, suggesting how news or rumors can signal changes or transformations.
15. The Anemone flower is a symbol of wind
The anemone is often seen as a symbol of the wind due to its transient nature, much like the unpredictable and fleeting gusts of wind.
The name “anemone” is derived from the Greek word for ‘wind’. Its fleeting blooms, which appear and disappear with the wind, symbolize the fleeting nature of life, evoking themes of fragility, grief, and death.
16. An Element of Feng-Shui
Wind is an essential component of Feng Shui because it represents the flow of life’s energy, known as Chi, in the environment. The wind, in particular, is seen as a vital force that circulates Chi and links everything together in the natural world.
The term Feng Shui itself translates to “Wind-Water”, signifying the importance of the invisible forces, like wind, that interact with the physical landscape to influence our well-being, prosperity, and harmony.
17. A symbol of music and sound
The natural sound winds create as they rustle leaves or whistle through narrow spaces has often been seen as a form of natural music.
As far back as antiquity, mankind mastered and built “wind instruments”, which are musical instruments that produce sound through the vibration of air as it flows into them. These include flutes, saxophones, trumpets, and many more.
In visual format, such as paintings or cartoons, wind instruments are often described as airy or breezy.
The Four Winds, their Personalities & Powers
In Greek mythology, the four winds, known as the Anemoi, were minor deities each personifying a different directional wind:
Boreas (the North Wind), Zephyrus (the West Wind), Notus (the South Wind), and Eurus (the East Wind).
They were the children of Titan Astraeus, god of the dusk, and Eos, goddess of the dawn.
Each wind had a unique role in controlling the climate and weather, and by extension, the wellbeing of humans.
Other cultures, such as the Maya or Norse, also split the winds into four categories, each with its own properties.
This was generally connected to a fascination with the number four, and also because dividing winds according to their cardinal directions was thought to help in navigation and farming.
Regardless, each of the cardinal winds had a particular role and personality:
The North Wind, represented by Boreas in Graeco-Roman mythology, is a figure of strength and hardiness, often associated with warfare and victory. It brings frost and fair weather but can also be destructive, as seen when it helped the Athenians destroy Xerxes’ Persian fleet. In Norse traditions, the Norse Wind is linked to religious persecution, resilience and sometimes, to craftiness.
The South Wind, Notos or Auster, symbolizes contrast – it can bring both heat and rain, mist and winter. It has a bit of a dark side, being considered the ‘breath of Seth’, with its heat causing criminality. In Norse mythology, the South Wind is associated with apocalyptic fire and destruction, bringing the invading armies of Surtur and Loki as they seek to destroy the Asgardian gods and all mankind during Ragnarok.
The East Wind, Eurus, is associated with change and renewal, being the morning-wind that brings rain and melts the snow. It’s also linked to comfort and prosperity. In the Norse context, the East Wind signifies cold and darkness, being the source from which wolves come during Ragnarok, but also a symbol of wealth.
The West Wind, Zephyrus or Favonius, is often depicted as mild and gentle, promoting fertility, agriculture, and nurturing life. It’s the evening wind, often associated with death and the autumn season. In Norse tradition, the West Wind represents vigorous and dry weather. However, the West Wind also represents only the simpler, more basic necessities – those born under it are said to only achieve basic sustenance: food and clothes.
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