The Book of Tides

a resource site for sea magick

What is Sea Magick?

what is sea magick
Sea magick is not a type of ceremonial magick which requires the gleaming silver chalice, the jewel-hilted athame, the flawless crystal ball on a base of intertwined pewter dragons. The average Witch thinks that they will never be a proper Witch because they can't afford those things for their ritual magickal use. I say "phooey" to that. Fancy tools don't make the Witch. There is no need to buy expensive tools from some overpriced New Age shop. Sea magick is pure folk magick.

The tool of the Sea Witch are typically derived from those items associated with the element of Water, preferably flotsam and jetsam. Flotsam applies to wreckage or cargo left floating on the sea after a shipwreck. Jetsam applies to cargo or equipment thrown overboard from a ship in distress that either sinks or is washed ashore. These constitute the "found" items discovered while beachcombing.

Just walking along the shore, one can find many things that can be used in sea magick: beach stones, seaweed, fishing net, shells, sea grass, driftwood and drift seeds, pieces of sea glass, sand, and of course water. The best way to show appreciation to our Mother Ocean is to put the items She provides to good use. Besides, natural items from the sea have a magickal charge to them that store-bought objects do not have without a lot of effort to charge the items.

The basic rules of beachcombing

If you are interested in beachcombing, start at your favourite local beach. The best time to search is at low tide if you want to largest area of beach available. Determine where the high tide line is to set that as the outermost point of your search.

Hobby beachcombers watch the weather and ocean currents to predict the appearance of a rare find at their preferred location(s). A wild storm can and will cause finds to end up much higher on the beach than usual. If you have a metal detector, it can also be used to find metal objects such as coins, aluminum pull tabs, and jewelry which may be buried in the sand. Set the discrimination to "low" to avoid missing out on a great find such as a gold ring.

Before setting forth on your first collecting expedition, I would recommend acquiring the following gear (feel free to adjust for your specific climate):

A Sea Witch's altar

If possible, you should set up a permanent working space for any magickal workings that may need to sit for a moon cycle. This can be as small an area as a drawer, shelf, or windowsill, or as large an area as an entire room or garden. Work with what you have, and scale your magickal supplies appropriately.

Tip: If you don't have a lot of space, don't try to store half the beach in that space. Collect only the magickal items you need. You can acquire more supplies when things run low.

altar.png Since I do not currently have a large space, my sea shrine is scaled down to an antique desk.

I can open the front of the desk to use as an altar, with the two desk drawers underneath being used for any consecrated items that are not in use at the moment. I can also display magickal items such as a favourite divination deck and my glass scrying float along the top of the desk in addition to stashing small items in the pigeonholes inside the top of the desk. It is a lot of storage in a small space.

One nice feature of this desk is that there is a skeleton key so the top and the drawers can be locked against snooping visitors.

Tools of a Sea Witch

I don't really have a favourite thing in my sea shrine. Everything is carefully chosen and has a particular purpose. I am always finding new things to add, and I remove items that have served their purpose. Some useful tools include:

  • Glass fishing floats: Many years ago blue or green glass floats were used to support fishing nets. Round glass floats can be used for scrying. They can also hang in a window for protection as the old-style "witch balls" were used.

  • Fishing nets: If you live near the sea, having a fishing net in your home is very powerful protection. Draped over doorways and windows, they can act as a filter to capture harmful thoughts and intentions, and keep them from the living space. They are also a convenient place to tie charms for timed spells, which is far better than leaving a candle burning for the required number of days.

Tip: In the absence of actual physical tools, use the best tool of all -- your mind!

Types of sea shells

Sea shells can be acquired during beach explorations to be used in any sea magick workings once they have been cleaned. The shells themselves are made of calcium carbonate and can be used in charms, as tools, or even as storage containers. Hold a large univalve (one-piece) shell to your ear to hear the voice of Mother Ocean. She will speak to you when you are ready to listen.

As expected, each type of shell has its own particular associations which may lend itself more to some spells and charms than others.

Note: Be mindful of your sea shell sources. Commercial sea shell suppliers collect shells and other sea animals while alive, then kill and clean them to sell in the commercial trade. This includes not only shells, but animals such as seahorses, sea turtles, starfish, and pufferfish.

This exploitation disrupts the very ecosystem that we venerate as Sea Witches. It should go without saying that we should not buy shells without knowing their origin.

I will put one caveat that the damage is already long since done in the case of vintage and antique shells. Use them if you have them, but always be grateful to the creature who gave its life for that shell.

If you collect your own shells, check for living creatures before collecting the shell. If it is inhabited, put it down and leave it alone.

Further reading

You might also enjoy these books:

Earth Power Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic by Scott Cunningham (Llewellyn Publications, 1983): A good basic guide to folk magick. Nothing too complicated that requires exotic ingredients.   Earth, Air, Fire & Water Earth, Air, Fire & Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic by Scott Cunningham (Llewellyn Publications, 1997): Somewhat more in-depth than Earth Power, but still simple enough for a beginner to manage.
Sea Witch Sea Witch by Paul Holman (Ignotus Press, 2004): This is a decent introduction to the practice of sea magick. I don't necessarily agree with the author's correspondences, but it's interesting to see a different take on the meanings of different beachcombing finds. I have two primary issues with this book, however. For one, the book has Strong Wiccan Undertonestm such as circle casting, ritual tools, and proper ritual dress (which is fine for those who are actually Wiccan). My other issue that this book is very UK-centric in its assumption that everyone lives in the same climate and has the same needs when beachcombing. If you are a UK-based Wiccan with an interest in sea magick, this would be a useful book for you.   Ocean Amulets Ocean Amulets by Katlyn (Mermade Magickal Arts, 1988): This is a small chapbook. The book is primarily focused on the use of sea shells in magick including lore about each shell, sea shell spells, and divination by cowry shells. There is also a bit of information on common beachcombing finds such as glass floats and beach sand.

Folklore and the Sea Folklore and the Sea by Horace Beck (Wesleyan University Press, 1977): An excellent reference for sea folklore. This is one of my staple texts.

Beachcombing the Pacific Beachcombing the Pacific by Amos L. Wood (Schiffer Publishing, 1997): While many of the tips in this guide are specific to the Pacific Coast, this book is helpful in giving a sense of the types of things likely to be found while beachcombing such as sea beans, glass floats, and driftwood. There are also excellent practical tips for both gear, safety, and group size when going out.   Florida's living beaches Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber by Blair and Dawn Witherington (Pineapple Press, 2007): An all-around excellent guide to the things one might encounter while beachcombing in Florida. This includes beach features, living creatures, sea shells, and other "beach finds" such as sea glass and sea beans. Each entry includes "about" info, a fun fact, and a colour photo for ease of identification.
Flotsametrics and the Floating World Flotsametrics and the Floating World by Curtis Ebbesmeyer & Eric Scigliano (Harper, 2010): A fascinating study of ocean currents and their influence on which drifting items end up on which beaches. A must-read for serious beachcombers.   Florida's seashells Florida's Seashells: A Beachcomber's Guide by Blair and Dawn Witherington (Pineapple Press, 2007): An excellent guide to the native mollusks of Florida. Includes identifying features and habitat for each mollusk, a fun fact about that type, and colour photos for ease of identification.
Beach stones Beach Stones by Josie Iselin and Margaret Carruthers (Harry N. Abrams, 2006): Although there is some text explaining the minerals and colours of beach stones, this is primarily an art book of beach stone photos. Photos generally include info on where that particular group of stones were collected. The photos are quite lovely, though.

An ocean garden An Ocean Garden by Josie Iselin (Harry N. Abrams, 2014): An interesting combination of art meeting botany. Not only are the photos absolutely stunning, but many of the seaweed photos have an explanation of their origins. A fascinating read which is also suitable for the coffee table.

  art of shelling The Art Of Shelling: A Complete Guide To Finding Shells And Other Beach Collectibles At Shelling Locations From Florida To Maine by Chuck and Debbie Robinson (Old Squan Village Publishing, 1995): A basic guide to finding sea shells. The important thing to remember about this book is that it is a guide to collecting shells while beachcombing rather than a guide to sea shells. There are no photos of shells in this, only a few illustrations. This includes a listing of the best beaches to collect certain types of shells, and there is also info on cleaning and displaying any shells found.

These books can be difficult to find since many are out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

The Mermaid's Tale