Seaweed tangles as the winds thrash. Waves decimate the shoreline dragging sand, shells, driftwood—anything its dark fingers can reach, dragging it to the bottom of the ocean, never to see daylight again. Rain pelts the sea grasses, tearing roots from the earth, pummeling the ground.
Tropical storm? Maybe. But it could be the doing of a sea witch.
There are many stories of sea witches, particularly in old Norse mythology. They are malevolent spirits of the water, sometimes shown as mermaids or selkies (see the archives for posts on these creatures!) that can control the waves, the tides, and often times, the weather (www.ancient-origins.net).
Many legends of sea witches focus on the lunar cycle and the tides. This is especially true in British mythology. Many a tale has been brought back by a sea-fairing sailor about dangerous sea witches out in the open water or storms and damage they caused (www.themystica.com).
There’s not a ton of information out there about sea witches in particular. Their legends often blur with other similar sea myths. Most frequently, tales of these wicked mystical creatures have their roots in siren lore, oftentimes mistaken for a mermaid (more on sirens on a future post…did you know sirens originally had feathers and wings, not tails and fins?).
Sea witches may have gotten a nasty rep simply because they’re very forgetful (I mean, I forget things all the time, and I don’t have all that water pressure sitting on my brain). In desiring a hunky sailor, the sea witch may take him down to the depths of her ocean city, but drown him in the process because either they forgot he needed oxygen, or didn’t realize he didn’t have gills (although I’d think a quick scan of the neck for gill activity would suffice?). What a way to go, poor sailor. Other tales claim that men jumped overboard to save what they presumed was a drowning woman, only to drown themselves as the mermaids/sirens/sea witches swam away to safety (www.gods-and-monsters.com).
The story of Thessalonike may be the best go between for the siren/mermaid and sea witch stories. Thessalonike was the sister of Alexander the Great, and as I’m sure any caring older brother would do, when he obtained a jar of water from the Fountain of Immortality, he washed his sister’s hair with it. Because, isn’t that what we would all do with water from the Fountain of Immortality? Sign me up for some of that hair care.
At any rate, when Alexander died, Thessalonike was so beset with grief, that she flung herself into the sea, wishing to join him in death. But because of her immortally-washed tresses, she transformed into a mermaid. It’s said she roamed the Aegean Sea for ages. When sailors passed her, she’d ask them if Alexander was still among the living. If they answered yes, then she let them pass. But if they told her he was dead she transformed into a hideous monster and drowned the lot of them.
The sea witch seems to have some pretty murky origins, mixed and matched with different mermaid and siren stories from different places in the world. But as a rather murky dangerous sea creature, I imagine that’s just the way most sea witches would prefer things.
What would you do if you found a flask of water from the Fountain of Immortality? Pop up to the top of the article, click the grey “Comments” button, and let me know!
Fury by Merrie Destefano (read Fathom first—it was recommended on Selkie week!)
The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen
Of Song and Sea by Chanda Hahn (also this week’s giveaway!!!)
Creative Writing Prompts
I clasped my hands and wailed. Where was my brother? Where was Alexander? The seaweed tangled about my tail, mocking my grief.
Anger burned through my veins. How dare the humans disobey me. I’d show them who had the power. With a twirl of my fingers, I set the clouds to gathering and darkening with my brewing anger.
Oh. Oh dear. The man. The beautiful man. He wasn’t breathing. I brushed his skin with my tail, but nothing happened.
Because you can’t talk about sea witches without mentioning the most famous of them all: