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The Legends of the North Atlantic

Updated on October 13, 2015
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Every body of water has had its share of mystery and legends. The North Atlantic Ocean was full of them as the European sailors concocted stories and expanded on them generation after generation. The result was many became accepted as fact. In fact, today some are still believed.

Sailing Off the Edge of the Earth

One of the biggest legends that has been passed down through the years is that all Europeans believed the world was flat. But they were fearful of what lay far away over the horizon. Since no one had traveled that far, they had no idea what lay before them. The unknown is a perfect place for a vivid imagination. Stories rise up and morph into even more strange and bizarre tales. Then they are accepted as fact.

It makes sense that Europeans would think that there was an edge to the water that seemed to go on and on. They didn’t know any better. Thus was how legends and myths of the North Atlantic were born.

Legends of Old

So many legends have risen up over the years. But most have some basis of truth in them. Legends of monsters from the deep aren’t so farfetched anymore. The giant squid was attributed to overactive imaginations of sailors. Ah, it is not legend. This giant has not only been captured on film, the remains of some have washed up on shore. The legends are real.

We take many things for granted today because we know scientifically the source. But in the olden days, they were mysteries and usually attributed to magic or the gods. As perfectly stated on “Strange as it looks by today's standards, this picture of a dissected head of a giant white shark actually marked significant progress in marine biology. For years, fossilized shark teeth were believed to be tongues of serpents turned to stone by St. Paul, and hence were named glossopetrae, or "tongue stones". (

Legends are usually based on facts and creatively expanded on. You could call those who started the stories closet writers. What about Mermaids? These tales arose from sightings in the Atlantic from Europe to the New World. Sailors sighting sea cows added to the legends and mystery.

Then there is the Bermuda Triangle….Everyone knows about the Bermuda Triangle. Rumors have been spreading about this area of the Atlantic for a few hundred years, but the truth is that the real mysteries only just started to build momentum within the last fifty to seventy years. It is a triangle section with points at Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda which is close to half a million square miles. This area has become famous for odd occurrences, disappearing ships and planes.

Christopher Columbus is the first to have sailed through the Sargasso Sea and the Bermuda Triangle. He is also the first to have reported unusual events.

He actually saw a light on the horizon on October 11, 1492, which does remain unexplained today. (In a 1979 documentary on Charles Berlitz’s popular book on the Bermuda Triangle all the elements of cheap tabloid fiction came together to showcase this as a host of blue-green glowing UFOs: the compasses rocked as they darted to and from the surface of the sea, and Italian actors with poorly dubbed English lines grunted and moaned.)

But when traveling through the Sargasso Sea and Bermuda Triangle truly unusual things did happen.

Scholarly debate has tried to account for the erratic compass readings. One theory suggests that during the night reading the compass was brought out on deck and set near a bucket of nails or some other metal object which deflected it— though this supposes that the seaman were stupid and did not check for any metal.

Our compasses are too sophisticated today to be effected by minor changes, but Columbus’ was primitive enough to have registered something disturbing magnetism nearby.

The sea “rising” without any reason might be explained that they encountered the North Equatorial Current while exiting the Sargasso Sea. Without this, it is hard to explain, except as undersea tremors.

On the eve of discovery, there was yet another unknown event: a light was seen in the distance; it rose and dropped and then disappeared. Some try to explain this as torch lights on the beach of an island or that native fishing parties with torches were some miles off the island. It is a bone of contention today as Columbus landfall scholars try and determine just what Bahamanian Island he actually landed at. This “light” has been used to try to calculate his distance from any land. But it usually turns out he was too far to have seen any light on land— hence it must be fishermen far out trying to get their evening catch or a light on some other islet off the main island (thus helping to pinpoint where the true San Salvador might be). Scholars note that Columbus never discovered the sources after landing on San Salvador (whatever island that may be today). In modern vernacular, perhaps, Columbus would have eventually opted to have called it a “weird light” as many others in the Bahamas have done with more modern sightings of the same.

All of this did happen in the Triangle. They have never been explained and remain truly odd forecasts before the discovery of the New World and of the unusual events still being seen in the Bermuda Triangle.


Oh, the attraction of Atlantis! It pulls at our hearts. Why? Because it is the ultimate of Atlantic mysteries.

It all started with Plato who in two of his dialogues described this culture as “a powerful and advanced kingdom that sank, in a night and a day, into the ocean around 9,600 B.C.” ( Since then, legends have risen about the location of this mysterious island as well as its inhabitants.

Attraction of Legends

Why are legends so attractive to us? Why do we talk about them for centuries and centuries and write stories and make movies about them? It’s the mystery and the unknown and...the possibilities.

Legends are wonderful material for writers and filmmakers. There are usually no clear cut answers which gives so many ideas for writers to play with. What if they were true? What if they were partially true? What grain of truth could they be based on?

Impact on History

Legends have influenced history probably more than you realize. Legends have spurred quests and crusades as well as explorations. Look at the explorations of the New World. Most of it was based on legends heard from native cultures whether it was gold or long life.

They have inspired geniuses and mad men. Look at Hitler. Legends of cult pieces had him sending special agents far and wide to find mystical objects found in the legend books.

Impact on Writers

It is almost obvious to say that legends have had a large impact on writers. Great stories have been created inspired by legends such as The Lord of the Rings. Movies have been inspired to carry us away on these legends and fight alongside Arthur and Lancelot. The power of the legends have been great to the imagination of all ages.


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