Instead of scales, skin stretches across ringed, connected, bony plates which cover a seahorse’s entire body, serving to camouflage this sea dweller, and break up its contours. Most species have eleven trunk rings. These also serve as armor, providing protection. The energy of a knight in shining armor is a distinct part of seahorse’s medicine. Though when we think of armor, we think of protection, humans often develop defensiveness to protect a certain fragility that lies beneath it. How can the strength of armor be used pro-actively, instead of defensively?
Recently, I experienced a perfect example of nurturing chivalry from a man at a gas station. First of all, he let me ask a question of the attendant behind the counter, while he was waiting for his sale to go through. Then, back outside, he was parked at the pump behind me, so after watching me fumble around looking for the squeegee, he leapt out of his SUV, got hold of one, and began washing my front windshield for me. We laughed and talked a bit, and I thanked him with one of the salted caramels I had in my car. This was right after face mask rules had been relaxed outside after a very long, un-fun year of Covid restrictions. His humorous, kind, gallant act reminded me that life could be fun again. He probably has no idea that he made such a difference in my day.
So, if the image of seahorse arrives from reading about them, or in a dream, or an experience like mine, perhaps some good questions to ask are, “What would the presence of chivalry ask of me at this time? How can I express kindness? What segments of the human or animal world’s species could I be instrumental in protecting? What can I do to make the world a better, safer place, especially protecting those humans and animals that cannot protect themselves?”
One of the medicines that comes with such a remarkable creature like seahorse totem is the ability to do things your own unique way. For all who feel a kinship with seahorse totem, if you follow your innermost direction, then you will achieve success like you never dreamed of, expressing your unique talents and abilities. If you open to giving and receiving benevolence, people and situations will begin to show up to help you.
Those who help you achieve your goals will find you to be friendly and charismatic. Seahorse folks tend to be gentle souls. They have genuine concern for others, and because they treat others with compassion and kindness, they usually form successful relationships based on solid principles. Their relationships tend to last, and produce happiness for everyone concerned. Just as seahorse lives in the water element, if this is your totem, you tend to flow with life force energy. In the few instances where people don’t treat you right, you are able to let go of them without too much struggle, focusing on those who do treat you well. Things will work out if you remain calm, anchoring yourself, no matter what may be swirling around you in rough waters. If you find yourself holding on unduly to a negative situation, wait patiently for the tide to turn, and then move forward into change. This is a good time to work with seahorse totem, as the world is looking for new perspectives on life, and seahorse brings in that different outlook. If you have a dream with seahorse in it, pay attention to the emotional and societal context it is urging you to look at. It might be time for a change, both within yourself, and around you, in the way you are living.
About six to eight thousand years ago, coinciding with the end of the last Ice Age, the subsequent rise in sea levels flooding the continental shelf in places like northeastern Australia, afforded indigenous people the opportunity to observe marine life in shallow water. Pipefish, a close cousin of seahorse was perhaps the inspiration for the Rainbow Serpent, the creator-god of the Aboriginal dreamtime. Many ancient cultures attributed good fortune to the appearance of seahorse in one’s life. The Torres Strait islanders held seahorse to be a totem of strength and power, as did the ancient Chinese; one that brings in good fortune, and the power of the sea. Generally, sailors also felt that seahorse brought good luck, and Europeans thought that seahorse carried the souls of deceased sailors to the underworld, protecting them until they reached their soul’s destination.
Seahorses were often depicted in ancient times. In Greek mythology, the Hippocampus (seahorse) was a creature that was half-horse and half-fish. Two Hippocampi drew Poseidon’s (Greek god of the sea) chariot. In Roman mythology, seahorses were steeds for Neptune’s chariot. Silver coins from ancient times in lower Galilee show the god, Melqart riding on a seahorse. Mosaics portraying them decorated the Roman baths at Aquae Sulis in the U.K. and also in Rome. In 1891, in a Denmark peat bog, a male god holding two seahorses was found on one of the outer plates of the Gundestrup Cauldron, which is the largest surviving piece of European Iron Age silverwork. In 2009, an Anglo-Saxon seahorse decoration was an intricately filigreed item in the Staffordshire Hoard. The reason that this is noteworthy is that this piece is only one and a half inches tall, yet a single grain of rice is longer than three of the many tiny metal spirals that make up the decoration. The intricacy and complexity of the craftsmanship is amazing.
There’s often a lot of drama surrounding objects that depict seahorses. A gold brooch of a seahorse discovered in Turkey near Sardis, became the center of an illegal looting of burial mounds. It ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the 1960’s, but in the 1980’s, Turkey sued the museum for its return. After a six-year legal battle costing 25 million pounds ($34,214,125.00 in dollars) Turkey won it back; however, in 2006, the brooch on display was discovered to be a fake – it had been illegally sold by the director of the Usak museum in western Turkey to pay off his gambling debts!
There are 82 known predators of seahorses, including fish like tuna and mackerel, octopuses, crabs, manta and stingrays, sea birds, penguins – and of course, humans. Of the 46 known species of seahorses. 2 are listed as endangered; 12 as vulnerable; and 17 more are still “under-studied.” Millions of seahorses taken from shallow waters every year, wind up dead on the black market. The first record of their use was 2,000 years ago in a Daoist book called the Baopuzi for traditional Chinese medicine, which uses seahorses (hai ma) to treat conditions such as infertility, baldness, asthma, and arthritis. They are also harvested for traditional Japanese and Indonesian medicine. This has created a global demand, and placed undue pressure on seahorse populations. Also, the aquarium trade has endangered them. Worse than being preyed upon is that most seahorses are not caught on purpose. They are bycatch. They get caught in indiscriminate trawling, or in gill nets and crab traps while fishermen are angling for other catches. Fishermen then sell the seahorses for traditional medicine so as not to lose out on income. Additionally, the weighted trawl nets that snag the seahorses, rip up the seabed along with the coral, rocks, and grasses that seahorses cling to.
Some solutions which will help save seahorses is for fishing gear to become more selective, trawlers to be banned from coastal areas, and for there to be more marine protected areas. Since 2002, special permits have been required for importers to sell non-native species, and certify that native, wild populations have not been harmed, which means that those shops could no longer sell bycatch. What followed was that most of the exporting countries, like Thailand, banned trade in seahorses. 96% of the seahorse trade is now illegal, which sounds good, but between 20-25 million, dead, dried seahorses a year are moved across borders and sold illegally. Captive breeding and farming of seahorses has begun in Australia, Sri Lanka, and Hawaii, but this has not made an alternative dent yet to taking seahorses out of the ocean. Volunteer divers in a number of countries have been recruited to help collect information on seahorse populations in the hope that this will produce heightened awareness of the plight these extraordinary creatures face. Hopefully, such measures will help save them from exploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change.
Are there ways an individual can help turn the tide for seahorses and the habitats they live in? In her comprehensive book on seahorses, Sara Lourie, a foremost expert on seahorse taxonomy, offers the following:
- Make sustainable seafood choices, especially not eating shrimp, as trawlers have the most impact on seahorses populations
- Don’t purchase wild-caught aquarium fish
- Help keep marine habitats healthy
- Volunteer for marine conservation projects
- If diving in seahorse habitat, take care not to disturb the ecosystem
- Contribute to marine conservation organizations
The most important thing is to care. When we care, we make the right choices for ourselves, for others, and for the world in which we live.
See archives: https://wisdom-magazine.com/Article.aspx/5495/ for Seahorse Part 1
Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 45 years; author of this column for 21 years. Send me your email address if you wish to be notified with a link to Wisdom when a new Totems article comes out.
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