Water is the core of all life on this planet. We are all made up of at least sixty percent of water and therefore require it to survive. Many of our ancestors lived and thrived on the waterways: lakes, rivers, and the world’s oceans. And, just as they believed in deities that ruled the cycles of the earth, they also believed in sea gods and goddesses. Here we meet fourteen sea gods and goddesses from various ancient cultures all over the world including Poseidon, Cliodhna, Kanaloa, Atargatis, Lyr and more.
A pattern I noticed, while researching the powerful deities for this article, is that the spirits that reside in the sea are just as wild and unpredictable AS the sea itself. Some of them are the ocean and seas personified, while others manifest in their own form and yet rule the mighty waters. Quite a few sea gods and goddesses are connected to creation via the primordial waters from which life emerged in the very beginning. Think about where we come from. We are conceived in water and carried in our mother’s watery womb for nine months before birth. When life emerged on this planet, it was born of the earth’s waters.
Conversely, the seas can also be destructive, wild, and even deadly. People get lost at sea, ships sink, and people drown in the ocean every day. The ocean can be as calm as a lake and reflect the sunrise in a beautiful display of pinks and blues. And, in an instant, its glassy surface rises up and swirls around in a cacophony of storms that beat the shoreline and torment sailors. It’s interesting to note that many of the sea gods and sea goddesses hold domain over the waters, as well as death and the Underworld. The Underworld, or Otherworld, is frequently dubbed to be under the ocean or somewhere over the ocean in numerous ancient myths all over the world. The home of the sea gods, undines, selkies, and of our ancestors.
There are certain cultures we associate with the water including the Greek, Norse, and Hawaiian. But nearly every ancient people had their own deity that ruled over the waters. Here are seven sea gods from the Norse, Greek, Celtic, Hawaiian, and Canaanite pantheons.
If you say sea god, most people immediately think of Poseidon, one of the Twelve Olympians. And the Greek god of the sea, storms, and earthquakes. Interestingly, his sacred animal is the horse and when he’s been “spotted” in the ocean waves, he manifests in the form of a strong man riding a chariot of seafoam horses. In even older times, he took on the form of a horse and was known as the “earth shaker” because of his connection to earthquakes. When he was freed from his father’s stomach, he was given domain over the earth’s waters.
Not surprisingly, Llŷr is the sea god in Welsh mythology and father to Bran, Branwen, and Manawydan. In his fathering of three of the most powerful deities in the Welsh pantheon, we see his creator aspect, like so many other sea gods. Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about Llŷr but there is speculation he may be the same god as Manannan mac Lir of the Manx mythos.
Njord is the Norse god of the sea, fishing, crops, and wind. He is one of the Vanir, a classification of gods closely associated with the Elves of Norse mythology. Njord is a father of the two most powerful Vanir – Freyr and Freya. His name is closely related to the primal earth goddess Nerthus and likely means something close to “power” and “force”. In addition to having power of the waters, Njord also has power over fire. So, we see sacred polarity embodied in this mysterious watery deity.
After the Romans took over the Greek Empire, they syncretized and absorbed the Greek pantheon into their own. So, often when we think of Poseidon, we also think of him as the same god as the Roman sea god named Neptune. Truly, I don’t believe they are the same deity, but two separate deities who have similar qualities. Neptune isn’t just a sea god but also a god who rules over freshwater. His sacred animal, like Poseidon, is the horse.
Manannan mac Lir is the god of the sea in Irish and Manx mythology, and he is the guardian of the Celtic Otherworld. Which is a place located either over the ocean or under the ocean where the Tuatha de Danann live. And, in some tales, where our ancestors dwell. There is a large statue of Manannan located in County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Just like Poseidon, Manannan rides a horse-drawn chariot over the sea.
One of the most fascinating deities on our list is Kanaloa, a Hawaiian god of the sea who shapeshifts into a squid or octopus. His symbol, a seven pointed star surrounded by a wheel, is represents a specific new age movement called Huna. He works hand-in-hand with one of the most powerful Hawaiian deities, Kane. Some see him as the Yin to Kane’s Yang. Or vice versa. There is a sacred polarity here between the two gods.
In the mythos the Baal Cycle, Yam is the enemy of the Canaanite god of weather, Baal. Yam is the sea god in the Ugaritic religion of old. It’s interesting to note, Yam was a known god in ancient Egypt and is also mentioned in the Bible as an enemy to Yahweh. Although in the Baal cycle, he is favored by the mighty god El.
The sea goddesses honored here are just as primal and potent as the gods above. They hail from various pantheons including Greek, Celtic, Inuit, Germanic, Yoruban, and Syrian.
If you are of African descent, you’ll be happy to know the African native deities are making a comeback. Including the Orishas like Yemaya, goddess of the sea. Like so many other ocean goddesses, Yemaya is also a Mother goddess. She shows compassion and kindness, but she can also be ruthless and wild when the need arises. Yemaya is linked to the moon and is considered a Mother to the human race. She is frequently depicted as a mermaid. This beautiful deity was brought to the Americas with her people when they were forcibly taken during the slavetrade.
Aphrodite is mostly known as the Greek goddess of love. In fact, I would argue she might be one of the most famous of all goddesses in the world. You might be surprised to learn she is also linked to the sea. Some myths claim she was born of the sea, which might actually point to the fact she arrived on Greek shores from somewhere else entirely. The name Aphrodite may translate to “risen from the sea”. She is a deity of beauty and love, as well as of war and revenge.
A Celtic goddess of sovereignty, Cliodhna (pronounced Klee-na) hails from Cork, Ireland. She rules over the sea, witchcraft, banshees, shapeshifting, divination, and the earth. In ancient times, she was the most beautiful woman in the world and lived in the Otherworld in a palace made of crystals. In later times, post-Christianization, Cliodhna became an ugly witch, Queen of the Banshees, and a mermaid. To this day, the tide in Glendore Harbor in Cork is called Tonn Chliodhna, “Cliodhna’s wave”. Every ninth wave that breaks on the shore is Cliodhna’s wave.
The story of Sedna is sad and haunting. There are a couple versions but both tell a tale of Sedna’s father throwing her overboard. When she tries to climb back into the boat, he chops off her fingers and she sinks into the ocean. Her fingers become the mammals of the sea and Sedna becomes the goddess of the water and afterlife. Her sacred animals are whales, seals, and walruses.
Atargatis is the matron goddess of Northern Syria in ancient times. She is a goddess of the sea and is frequently depicted as a woman with a fish tale or as a mermaid. The ancient people credited her for fertility and bounty caught from the sea. She may be a continuation of other even older sea goddesses from the Middle East.
As consort of Neptune’s, Salacia is the Roman goddess of saltwater who also rules over the deepest depths of the ocean. You know the deepest, darkest places in the world’s oceans that no one has explored or dares to explore? That is Salacia’s domain and humble abode. In other tales, Salacia presides over the calm, glassy parts of the sea. I like to think her presence is in every wave and in every underwater ledge. Her name, Salacia, is derived from the word salt.
Nehalennia is an ancient sea goddess who may be either of Celtic or Germanic origin. She recently emerged from the depths of the waters near Domburg, The Netherlands in the sixteen hundreds. Her temple had been buried there for centuries. Nehalennia is known as a protector of the seas, dogs, prosperity, and seafarers. She was worshiped by the Morini, a Belgic people who lived in what is modern day The Netherlands, constructed temples in her name of which people visited from as far away as France and Germany. Some scholars believe she is connected to Frehr and Freya of the Norse Vanir and others claim she is linked to the Germanic earth goddess Nerthus.
If you’re on the water a lot, it’s a good idea to stay in the good graces of the sea gods and goddesses. Story time. Today my family and I went out on the boat to catch some fish. I asked the seas to bless us, and in return I would write an article honoring its most mighty. Well, no sooner did we get out to our spot did we get bombarded with mahi! We caught our limit by 9 in the morning, turned around and went back to clean and filet our catch. So, here I am upholding my end of the bargain. If you’d like to honor and appease the sea gods, here are some ideas:
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