Also known as
Myths and Legends Day
annually on October 11th (since 2007)
Kraken Day, also known as Myths and Legends Day, is part of International Cephalopod Awareness Days, or Cephalopod Awareness Week, which takes place from October 8-12 each year. Since octopuses have eight arms and squid have eight arms and two tentacles, the holiday week begins on the eighth day of the tenth month. Cephalopods are a class of marine invertebrates. Related to snails and clams, they have arms and tentacles, three hearts, large brains, and blue blood. Today we celebrate cephalopods of myth and legend, especially krakens.
Krakens come from Scandanavian folklore. Nordic sagas say kraken live off the coasts of Norway and Greenland and terrorize the sailors of the area. Krakens have been a legend for centuries, with Nordic sailors long telling tales about them. The beasts were described in detail around 1250 CE, in the Konungs skuggsjá, an Old Norwegian natural history written by an anonymous author who had returned from Greenland. Carl von Linné of Sweden included krakens in the first edition of his systematic natural catalog, Systema Naturae, published in 1735.
Erik Pontoppidan described kraken in Det første Forsøg paa Norges naturlige Historie (The First Attempt at [a] Natural History of Norway). In this work, published in 1752, he said they were sometimes mistaken for islands, and that their real danger was the whirlpool they left behind. But, he also said that they were dangerous because they could pull the strongest of men to the bottom of the sea. He also claimed that Norwegian fisherman often fished over them because many fish tend to be near them.
Kraken were first described as looking more like crabs than octopuses, and as having traits more like whales than squid. But by the late eighteenth century, they were more associated with squid and octopuses. Pontoppidan's kraken was likely based off stories told by sailors who saw giant squid, and in general, it is thought that giant squid inspired the legend of the kraken. This rarely-seen cephalopod lives thousands of feet deep in the ocean and is usually only found near the surface when it is dead. Giant squids are therefore viewed as a mystery and have inspired fear and stories over the centuries. The first pictures of them did not appear until 2004, with the first video of them not surfacing until two years later. Growing over 30 feet in length, they are the largest invertebrate in the world, along with the colossal squid.
Kraken have appeared in comics, literature, film, television, video games, and other forms of media. Giant squids similar to kraken appear in the book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and kraken appear in Moby Dick. Kraken appear in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, as well in Clash of the Titans, which popularized the phrase, "Release the Kraken."
Besides kraken, there are other legendary or mythical cephalopods. H.P. Lovecraft introduced the Cthulhu, a creature with a head like an octopus, wings like a dragon, and body like a human, in his 1928 story, "The Call of Cthulhu." Lyle Zapato made the fictitious Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus in 1998 and started a campaign to try to save it. Akkorokamui appear in the folklore of the Ainu people of Japan; the Kanaloa is a large squid and Hawaiian god, and cecaelia is an octopus woman from Native American mythology. Today we celebrate the kraken and all these other mythical cephalopods.
How to Observe Kraken Day
Here are a few ideas on how to spend the day with mythical cephalopods:
- Read Moby Dick, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, or a book about kraken.
- Read "The Kraken," a sonnet by Alfred Tennyson.
- Read a comic that features kraken.
- Watch Clash of the Titans (either the original film, released in 1981, or the 2010 remake).
- Watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
- Read H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu."
- Learn about the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus.
- Learn about Akkorokamui, Kanaloa, and cecaelia.
- Read a book or watch a documentary about giant squid.