Sharks dominate our oceans with their formidable power. As apex predators, they have been tyrannizing the sea for 400 million years.
Humans admire and fear these creatures in equal parts, and sharks have long been the subject of myths and stories passed down through the ages.
Of all the characteristics we associate with sharks, their powerful jaws and endless conveyor-belt of teeth are perhaps the most fascinating.
As humans we get just 52 teeth in our lives – 20 primary or baby teeth and 32 permanent ones.
Sharks have, on average, between 50 to 300 teeth in their mouths at any one time. But, over the course of a lifetime, they can go through up to 50,000!
For sharks, teeth are an essential part of their predatory equipment, but for humans, they represent something else entirely. So what does a shark teeth symbolize?
What is the Spiritual Meaning of Shark Teeth?
Shark teeth are associated with power and protection. During the Sixties, shark tooth necklaces became popular accessories in the surfing world, with many surfers wearing them hoping they would bring good fortune and protect them against shark attacks.
The spiritual meaning of shark teeth dates back to the Sixties, however. According to Daniel Maile the Education Programs Manager at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, in Hawaiian culture, “sharks are recognized for their fierceness,” their hunting prowess, and their speed.
Not all sharks enjoy the same status in Hawaiian, however. Most shark species are known as mano, while the tiger and great white shark are considered much more dangerous and are called niuhi, meaning “maneater.”
The teeth from these two shark species were more highly valued as a result of their perceived danger. They were also used in the creation of shark-toothed weapons like the traditional leiomanō.
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Hawaiians have complex cultural beliefs relating to sharks and their teeth. For them, “sharks embody the spirits of gods, ancestors, and family deities, also known as aumakua.”
These ancestors manifest themselves as sharks to “provide safety and security over people, plants, animals, and families.” In addition to representing strength, the shark’s tooth also “represents honor and tradition.”
Traditionally, sailors and surfers have worn shark tooth jewelry for superstitious reasons, wearing it, as shark teeth symbolize strength that will prevent shark attacks.
In addition to being a talisman, shark teeth are also associated with masculinity. Some even believe that wearing a shark tooth will make them more desirable and attract women.
Do Shark Teeth Bring Good Luck?
Few sailors wear shark tooth jewelry to attract women. To them, the shark tooth offers protection against the dangers of the sea.
A shark tooth necklace is thought to protect them against drowning and keep the sharks at bay. This belief comes from an ancient myth about a young Hawaiian warrior who battled a sea god off the coast of Hawaii.
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When the man emerged victorious from the ocean, he was wearing a shark tooth necklace which was said to have protected him and secured him victory.
It’s not only wearing a shark tooth that brings good fortune in native Hawaiian cultures. Having one tattooed onto your skin can also keep the sharks at bay.
Another old Hawaiian myth tells the story of a woman who a shark captured. She persuaded the shark to release her by convincing him that he was her aumakua or ancestor.
The shark agreed to let her go but not without first biting her on the ankle. He told her these teeth marks would enable him to recognize her in the future. “Since then, it is said, some Hawaiian people tattoo their ankles to let sharks know that their aumakua is a shark.”
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The shark tooth motif also appears on the traditional Hawaiian textile known as kapa. At Bishop Museum hangs the feathered cloak of Kīwalaʻō. Made from the inner bark of the Wauke Tree, it is decorated “equilateral triangles” resembling the teeth of the great white. The shark tooth pattern was thought to bring the wearer good luck and bestow on him the ferocity of a shark.
Can a Shark Tooth Protect You?
Native Hawaiians believed that a shark tooth could protect you against drowning and prevent shark attacks, although I doubt there’s any scientific evidence to support that theory. It’s not only within Hawaiian culture that the shark symbolism extends to shark’s teeth, however.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period between the 13th and 16th century, poisoning was a popular way of eliminating an enemy. Sharks teeth were believed to be able to prevent such an attack, not merely symbolically but physically.
Fossilized shark teeth would be “mounted as amuletic pendants” close to the banquet table where it was believed, they would begin to “sweat profusely” or even change color “when in proximity of poisoned food or drink.”
The teeth would even be dipped into beverages to “neutralize any poison that might not have been already detected.”
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In some instances, the shark teeth were even “ground into a powder that deactivated poison.” There is some scientific reasoning behind this approach, as shark teeth contain calcium carbonate that reacts with arsenic. Calcium carbonate “mops up the arsenic molecules.”
Despite this, I’m not sure I would recommend relying on shark teeth for your survival, although wearing one may offer you some protection, depending on your beliefs.
Do Shark Teeth have Spiritual Healing Properties?
In addition to protecting you against shark bites and improving your physical strength, shark tooth jewelry is believed to have specific healing properties that can help you in life.
A shark tooth necklace is said to contain the energy of the shark, which “confirms the momentum, self-confidence, and self-trust in the life of the wearer.”
What does a shark tooth necklace symbolize? Aside from being a fashion accessory, shark tooth jewelry is said to help the wearer adapt to different social situations confidently, making them the masters of their own survival.
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Wearing a shark tooth is also said to help those calcium deficiency, presumably because of its calcium carbonate content. In addition, shark tooth necklaces are also believed to boost the immune system, detoxify the blood and promote cell regeneration.
In addition to being associated with power, strength, and masculinity, a shark tooth brings the wearer increased confidence and leadership skills, enabling them to “take control of any situation and be the ‘Alpha’ while working harmoniously for the good of the entire group.”
A shark tooth necklace is also said to support karmic healing. Wearing one nourishes self-respect and generates power for “environment and personal healing.”
The power of the shark tooth isn’t only available to those wearing real shark teeth jewelry. In Hawaiian culture, shark teeth were used to create weapons known as leiomanō or shark’s lei. Resembling an “elongated ping pong paddle,” the leiomanō has grooved carved around the edges, into which prized shark teeth are embedded.
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Tiger shark teeth were most commonly used for these weapons, which proved almost as powerful as the shark itself. Using the serrated edges of the shark tooth, the leiomanō was used by”
ali’i or chiefs
“who were trained “to make the rapid up and down slicing motion that could cut into the abdomen or major arteries of their enemy.”
Certainly a lot more frightening than a shark tooth necklace!
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.