Every day, we all wish and pray for health, peace, and prosperity.
However, humans have a somewhat restless spirit.
Despite all our love for comfort and safety, the adventures make us tick, make our hearts beat faster, letting us feel more alive.
Humans have always been curious creatures and roamed vast open spaces, hunting animals and gathering fruits. In time, we created many inventions, which enabled us to sail across the seas and eventually enabled us to fly into space and land on the moon! That is surely one adventurous species there, right?
Normally, since we also have a strong attraction to creating symbols, we have assigned certain objects, creatures, and signs to the notion of adventure.
Let’s find out what are the symbolic associations to adventures.
By chance, we start off with one of the main adventurer’s old-time tools – the compass. Since its invention in China during the times Han Dynasty and Tang Dynasty – about 206 BC – the magnetic compass has helped travelers of all sorts.
Because it was such a valuable tool that helped people tell the sides of the world, it has become a representation of adventure and guidance. Coupled with a map, it made an irreplaceable combo that helped humans – that have very poor senses, unlike animals – to orient themselves in the environment, and even on long journeys.
Over time, compasses have evolved, but the basic outline remained the same – its main visual features are the pointers that tell sides of the world, and the moving needle that tells you the direction.
The nautical compass is perhaps the most striking and well-known as a symbol.
Today, we have satellites and GPS – and to be honest, they do a much better job at telling us where we are on the planet. But to our pattern-loving brains, it is the stylish compass that remains the symbol of orientation and of safe travels and adventures taken thanks to this neat invention.
This intelligent, elegant sea mammal has been connected with adventure and protection due to the fact that it has followed ships and in some cases, helped them navigate in troubled waters. What is more, dolphins have also been known to help people who were drowning. These traits, coupled with their entire appearance, evoke a sense of mystery and wonder.
All in all, you could say that dolphins are seen as the protectors of adventures and of adventurous spirits.
Helm or Handwheel
Sailing is one of the things commonly associated with adventures. Many adventures begin by sailing away to a faraway, unknown land.
In the old days, the ship’s handwheel or helm in the hands of daring captains and sailors was the means of directing the sea-faring mission. That is why it is often associated with adventure and is a common decorative element in children’s rooms and other spaces where designers want to bring out a dash of antique escapism.
Horses were the first means of far-distance travel for humans. These fast animals were both a means of getting by and an inspiration – because humans perceive horses as unbound creatures, they are commonly seen as symbols of freedom and speed.
It is only logical a horse became associated with adventure as well – because all land adventures commonly started on their backs, in the saddle.
Stallions are especially famous in relation to horses and adventures. A stallion is an uncastrated male horse, known for its strength, but also a fiery and sometimes unpredictable temperament. While riding a horse – a mare, for example – takes you to adventure, riding a stallion is an adventure in itself. Only strong and brave men could ride stallions (or steeds, as the archaic term goes), and they often accompanied each other in battles.
Most of history’s most famous horses were, in fact, stallions.
Pirates are not favorite children’s characters because they were essentially sea robbers, and like all criminals, quite often cruel. However, as the memory of true piracy faded, their unruly nature and the fact they basically lived out on the open sea in cool clothes is the stuff that became iconic. In time, their lifestyle became synonymous with adventure.
The Jolly Roger flags were flown in the 18th century to identify a pirate ship prepared to attack. Once a dreaded symbol of “terror and pride,” today Jolly Roger is used in much more benign and fun ways. The most famous Jolly Roger design – a skull with two swords – is the Calico Jack’s flag. Ironically, despite being so famous, Calico Jack was highly unsuccessful as a pirate!
Similar to the case of the mountain, the labyrinth is also a common symbol of a life journey, a personal life adventure, and change. The fact that the labyrinth has an entrance winds towards the center and then the winding road out was perceived as a symbol of the individual journey by many ancient civilizations.
The connection of labyrinth with adventure also comes from Greek mythology. The most well-known labyrinth-related myth was that of the Crete labyrinth, inhabited by Minotaur, the human-feeding half-human, half-bull.
King Minos ordered to build the elaborate labyrinth in order to enclose the monster. Still, they had to send in human sacrifices for him to eat – all until the hero Theseus ventured into the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur. That is one of the great Greek mythical adventures.
Mountains always had a mysterious allure – and were commonly the stage for great adventures, both in fairytales and in history. It is no wonder a number of them – from the Himalayas to Mount Sinai to Mount Rushmore – are sacred and associated with enlightenment.
The ups and downs of mountains are often associated with a life adventure, a life journey, of each of us. You climb the mountain of life up to its summit and then go slowly downwards. The way up is harder because we’re trying to achieve so much, and the way down is easier because later in life we’ll hopefully enjoy the fruits of our previous efforts.
Lastly, in modern days, mountaineering is a popular sports activity, with thousands of people per year conquering the world’s highest peaks such as Mount Everest and K2. That is quite a literal adventure, you must agree.
These are all the reasons why a mountain is almost synonymous with “adventure”.
Sailing Boats and Ships
Over the bounding main,
For many a stormy wind shall blow
Ere Jack comes home again!
The sailor’s life is bold and free,
His home is on the rolling sea,
And never heart more true or brave
Than he who launches on the wave…
“Sailing, sailing (Over the bounding main)” Godfrey Marks, 1880
Similar to the already-mentioned helm symbol, sailing boats are an antique symbol of adventure and are often featured on products to enhance that sense of wanderlust and the adventurous human spirit.
In the time of dominance of air traffic and planes, setting sails remains only a hobby or a sport – but the vessels with sails remain a symbol of bravery, freedom, wanderlust, and adventure. In fact, that is precisely why the sailing industry is alive and well today.
Today, some people take cruises on large international cruisers, while others have their own sailing boats. Big or small, modest or luxurious, the point is the same – feeling freedom and embarking on an unusual journey with a deep sense of a quest.
As you can see, a majority of adventure symbols on my list are associated with the sea!
Why have people been so fascinated with the marine environment since… Well, forever?
Well, the more creative explanation is that the “adventure of life” began in the sea – as all life came from it. Our bodies are basically 70% seawater after all!
The more down-to-earth explanation is that as land-bound creatures – we are attracted to the sea as a beautiful contrast to our solid habitat. Besides pure sensory stimulation, the sea has provided us with food and salt since before civilizations existed.
But where does adventure come in? Besides the said roles, when humans learned to sail, the sea became a road to the unknown – a portal to new worlds. That is how the sea became probably the greatest source of adventure for sea-faring peoples across the globe.
Perhaps that fascination with the adventure side of the sea is the most evident in literary works – some of which were the greatest ever written. Homer’s Odyssey revolves around a Greek hero and a king of Ithaka Odysseus, and his journey of 10 years – that starts with a shipwreck.
He encounters numerous temptations on the Greek islands before finally rightfully returning to Ithaca after a decade. The whole adventure is engulfed in the sea and its mythical creatures, from sirens to sea monsters.
We all need a bit of marine adventure in our lives. Or as the witty phrase would have it, “I need vitamin sea.”