Spirit Sperm Whale Painting at Bonehenge

Spirit Sperm Whale

(Physeter macrocephalus animus)

By Karen Hattman


Sperm Whale Spirit (Physeter macrocephalus animus) by Karen Hattman

The sperm whale has endured years of devastation and yet survived to bless us with its grace and power. Having found this specimen gifted to us from the sea, it is important to honor its remains and, I believe, its spirit.

One of the best representations of spirit in nature is found in the northwest coast native art. Bill Holmes, the leading non-native expert on northwest art, has termed the style of painting “formline”. I like to think of it as x-ray vision of the spirit within.

Given that the most frequently depicted whale seen in formline art is the orca, or killer whale, I had to develope my version of sperm whale spirit painting, since this is the whale we are honoring.

There is a large body of information regarding formline design, but I will give an abbreviated version as it appears in this painting.

The painting encompasses both the masculine and feminine essence of the whale.

The head is powerful and fierce. The sperm whale has a real “blockhead” appearance.

Starting with the front, there is a “U” shape with a split “U” inside. This will appear in many areas in the painting giving space and filler at the same time that it is a transitional device which helps the painting work as a unit.

The next form is the eye which is in the typical ovoid shape. The round pupil is typically a Hida tribe representation which I prefer.

Below is the mouth which shows the teeth in their typical “Chiclets” style however I made the first tooth in the shape of the sperm whales’ tooth.

Then, above the eye you see what I have designed as the real essenceof the whale which almost cost them their existence. The ovoid and “U” contail “oil” for which it was hunted to supply light to lanterns of the 19th century human civilization. The three spheres in the front are to guide the whale.

Moving down the painting you will see the heart of the whale depicted as an eagle.

The lightning bolts in the pectoral fin are there to signify the power in the whale.

At this point you may notice several circles which serve as “joints” between the flipper, jaw, and base of the tail.

In the abdomen you will find a full stomach of the sperm whale’s favorite food…squid.

Deep in the belly is the “new moon” to symbolize the waxing and waning of the tides of the ocean in which the whale frolics.

Above, along the top, are the ribs capturing the air brought in through the blowhole and down the back is the spine leading to the feminine tail. The tail contains small bird spirit representations to give lift to the tail as it moves the whale through the ocean.

As this is a young male, you will see the promise of the future to give to the next generation of sperm whales complete with an oil sphere. My hope is that the next generations will multiply and increase in numbers to swim in the oceans for years to come.

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