Sea Witches

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).

Original Artwork by DreadD @Drea.D.Art on Instagram

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).

Original Artwork by Julia Ruprecht @julruprecht on Instagram

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.

Alexander the Great, brother of Thessolonike

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.

Original Artwork by Rilee Belnap @Bella_ran_art on Instagram

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!

Book Recommendations

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:

Selkies

Though the stories of selkies are often romantic, in the end, someone always ends up with a broken heart.

The most popular of the Selkie legends (although it does vary some from place to place) start with the finding of a seal pelt.  Occasionally, Selkies come to the shore and shed their furry skins simply for the enjoyment of being on land for a while. If a human man happens upon the seal skin while it’s unattended, he can coerce the Selkie woman to become his wife.  Most stories hold that Selkie women make excellent wives as long as they cannot find their skins.  Once they find their pelts, they are compelled to escape to the sea, leaving their human life behind forever.  Some legends even have the Selkie’s own children accidentally discovering their mother’s seal skin and returning it to her, and consequently, robbing themselves of their parent.  It’s a tragic tale that never ends well.  Someone—sometimes someones—are left bereft.

Selkies are sometimes mistaken for mermaids or lumped together with them.  However, Selkies are said to be beautiful women (occasionally men, but most legends refer to them as women) who wear magical seal skins in the water but who become women on land once their seal skin is removed.  Fur, not fish scales on the lower half.

Original Art by Stuart Higgins. See more @limbo_artwork on Instagram

Legends of these creatures are popular in Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia, and particularly the Orkney Islands.  In fact, the term selkie is the Orkanian (from Orkney) word for seal (www.orkneyjar.com).  To this day there are selkies all over the place in the cooler climates of Orkney and Scandinavia.  However, Selkies might be a bit harder to spot (they don’t like to make a fuss, you know.).

Looks like a good Selkie habitat

It’s thought that hundreds of years ago, people used stories to explain oddities or strange happenings.  Often these stories involved gods or goddesses, or unfamiliar (some maybe real?) creatures to explain such things. The Selkies have their own descendants in this way.  In the Outer Hebrides, there is a clan who claims they come from a line of Selkies due to the hereditary webbing of skin between their fingers (the condition is called Syndactyly) (www.conollycove.com, www.cinncinatichildrens.org).    I think that’s a pretty logical explanation for a child born with scaly-like skin (like psoriasis) or for the webbed digits—we must come from these revered creatures of legend.  See?  Here’s our proof!  

What do you think?  Would you rather meet up with a mermaid or a Selkie for afternoon tea?  Go up to the top of the article, click the grey Comments, and let me know!

Selkie by Julia Ruprecht. Find more of her artwork @julruprecht on Instagram

Book Recommendations

Tangled Tides by Karen Amanda Hooper

The Little Selkie by K. M. Shea

An Echo of the Fae by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Fathom by Merrie Destefano. (Fathom is going on sale for .99 this week!!!)

Creative Writing Prompts

The sun feels glorious on my skin as I shiver in the light breeze that flits off the ocean.  I peel the rest of my seal skin from my legs, reveling at my toes that wiggle into the rough sand.

“Your mother must never touch the skins kept in this trunk.  Do you understand?”  I nodded my wee eyes, terrified at the vehemence in my father’s voice as he locked the cedar trunk.

I stared at the webbing between my fingers proudly.  It proved I was kin to a Selkie.

Contains some slightly mature content