The new live-action Little Mermaid has caused a curiosity about sea witches to bubble up from the depths. But what is a sea witch?
While some aspire to emulate Ursula, the powerful and malevolent witch from the Little Mermaid who transforms Ariel into a human (spoiler alert), others simply feel a deep affinity for the sea.
What Is a Sea Witch?
In modern times, most sea witches simply connected or drawn to the element of water, especially the sea. Most don’t have a desire for eels to do their bidding. But, they do feel a strong bond with the ocean, both as a calming force and a chaotic one and draw from that energy to do their magic.
Witchcraft as a low magic practice, works closely with the natural cycles of nature and celestial forces. The sea encompasses both of these pillars, as its ebb and flow are governed by the Moon.
In folklore and history, however, sea witches were depicted as individuals capable of controlling ocean storms, weather patterns, and creatures from the depths. They were also believed to aid in safe passage at sea.
According to Cyrus Day in his book Quipus and Witches’ Knots, notes that people as far back as ancient Greece believed in wind brokers or “witches [who] could imprison the wind in knotted strings and handkerchiefs.”
During the Middle Ages, sailors would purchase ropes tied with three knots from witches or wind brokers at seaports in Finland, Lapland, Scotland, and other Northern European countries.
When they needed a strong wind, they would untie one of the first two knots, but the third knot always remained tied. Unleashing the power of the third knot would result in a storm so fierce that it could potentially wreck their vessel.
Sea Witches in Mythology
When it comes to mythology and folklore, things get a bit murky. While there are many water gods and goddesses like Amphitrite, Triton, Poseidon, Anahita, Anuket, Aphrodite, Boann, Kymopoleia, and others, the presence of sea witches is relatively scarce.
When sea witches do make an appearance, they are often depicted as sirens, selkies, or mermaids with a desire to lure humans into the depths of the sea. Considering that sea voyages were historically perilous and shrouded in mystery, it’s unsurprising that the mythological creatures associated with the sea are also dangerous.
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The origins of these ominous portrayals of the Sea Witch might be traced back to the Norse goddess Ràn. In Norse mythology, Ràn personifies the sea and is known for ensnaring seafarers with her net. Her name, which means “plundering” or “robbery,” reflects her nature.
According to Norse scholar Rudolf Simek, “while Ægir [her husband] personifies the sea as a friendly power, Rán embodies the sinister side of the sea, at least in the eyes of the late Viking Age Icelandic seafarers.” And that, as Poetic Edda translator Carolyne Larrington writes, “to give someone to the sea-goddess is to drown them.”
To pay homage to Ràn, NorthenPaganism.org offers an invocation and guidance on how to honor her. They suggest creating an altar adorned with colors reminiscent of the sea, with a preference for shades of green.
Additionally, including shells, sea life, gold jewelry, symbolic “pirate treasure,” dried seaweed, and small toy ships symbolizing those claimed by Ràn are all welcomed additions to the altar.
2. Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
One of the most famous fictional sea witches is easily Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Wicked as she is in the Disney version, she’s even more intense in the original 1837 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
In Andersen’s tale, she is known solely as the Sea Witch. When we meet her, the scene unfolds as thus: “In the centre of the clearing was a house built of the white bones of men: there the Sea Witch sat, making a toad feed out of her mouth, as we make a little canary bird eat sugar.”
She informs the mermaid that she already knows her desire and offers a Faustian-like condition to fulfill it: “‘I shall make a drink for you, and with it you must swim to the land before the sun rises, put yourself on the beach there, and drink it up; then your tail will part and open into what men call pretty legs.'”
However, this transformation comes at a price. The Sea Witch warns, “‘But it’ll hurt, it’ll be like a sharp sword going through you. Everybody that sees you will say you are the prettiest human child they ever saw.
You’ll keep your swimming gait, and no dancer will be able to float along like you. But every step you take will be as if you were treading on a sharp knife, so that you would think your blood must gush out. If you can bear all that, I will do what you wish.'”
The little mermaid agrees to the terms, including the stipulation that she must marry the prince, as failure to do so would result in her turning into seafoam. However, the Sea Witch demands one more thing: the mermaid’s voice.
In the Disney version, Ursula simply removes the voice. In the fairy tale, the Sea Witch goes to the extent of cutting out the mermaid’s tongue. Ah, fairy tales.
6 Signs You Might Be a Sea Witch
- You love water and feel most at home near lakes, rivers, ponds, or the sea.
- You like to collect shells, sand, driftwood, and other elements from the ocean.
- You feel stronger and more empowered when you’re close to the ocean.
- You’re incredibly intuitive. In tarot, the High Priestess is associated with the element of Water.
- While many witches feel a pull towards the Moon, you feel lunar shifts particularly strongly.
Sea Witch Altar Ideas
To create a sea witch aesthetic or connection to the ocean no matter where you are, consider placing some of these on your altar or around your home.
- A small jar or chalice filled with sea water
- Sea glass
- Blue, silver, or white candles
- Images or representations of sea creatures
- A status of a water deity such as Aphrodite or Poseidon
- Kelp powder or spirulina
- Blue, white, and green crystals such as aquamarine, moonstone, or ocean jasper.
Sea Witchcraft Ideas
Here’s a short list of ideas to inspire your witchcraft. I also recommend checking out the book The Sea Witch: A Grimoire of Ocean Magick for many more.
1. Create a Book of Tides
2. Take a Sacred Bath
If you have the opportunity to visit the sea, bring back some sea water to use on your altar or for a cleansing bath. You can find a wonderful sea witch bath spell here.
3. Care for the Ocean
This idea is a little less spellcrafty and more nature-based. Take responsibility for the ocean by participating in beach cleanups or organizing them with friends.
Reduce your consumption of non-sustainable sea creatures or eliminate them from your diet entirely. Support initiatives that prevent waste dumping into water bodies and avoid using products that degrade into microplastics, which harm marine life.
4. Make an Ocean Jar for Your Altar
Take a pretty jar and fill it with sand, seashells, pebbles, and other treasures from the seashore. Place it on your altar or anywhere you want to feel inspired and reminded of the sea in your home.
Make sure not to bring home live animals from the sea, though.
A #seawitch always uses nature in her craft 🤍🌊🧜🏻♀️🐚 remember to check the rules of your local beach, never take live shells and thank mother nature for her gifts!! #mermaidvibes #witchtok #cancer♋️ #witchytips
5. Do Low Tide or High Tide Magic
If you live near the sea or a large body of water, such as one of the Great Lakes, consider visiting to practice tide magic.
According to The Sea Witch, focus on spells that attract abundance and protection. During low tides, perform rituals related to banishing, letting go, breaking curses, or finding rest.
6. Explore Conchomancy
Conchomancy is the act of divining using seashells. It comes from the Greek meaning “shell prophecy.”
7. Work with Janarric Runes
Also known as “sea witch runes,” these 36 symbols were created by Italian coastal witches and drawn on shells, then placed on the shore. They runes were drawn on shells and placed at the shore, allowing the tide to carry their intentions into the water during high tide. More on how to cast, offerings for the undines, and incantations here.
You can make your own or order a set of them from Etsy.
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