For centuries stories of sea witches have predominately enhanced British folklore. The tradition, and legends, of Sea Witches surrounds experiences of seafarers and beachcombers as well as others in the sea faring trade. These legends with the aid of imagination, and frequently superstition, have produced tales of phantoms, or ghosts of the dead allegedly possessing supernatural powers that control the fate of seafarers on the waves.
However, the tradition of the Sea Witch still exists. Sea Witches focus on Moon lore, the tides, and weather magicks. From these elements came the Witch tradition of women who could raise wind and cause storms, which even 200 years ago could send them to the stake.
Currently the path of the Sea Witch is one chosen by few Pagans. The Sea Witch works with the chaotic forces of nature. Many term chaos evil, especially those enthralled with the powers of light. Here the Sea Witch differs, she or he recognizes that chaos, if evil at all, is a necessary evil because the chaotic climatic elements are part of the environment of the sea. Thus, the Sea Witch does not just use “white magick” and/or “black magick,” but “gray magick” because the person deals with all elements at her/his disposal when maintaining a balance between light and dark powers. Not many ordinary persons can manage such a feat, which is why most Sea Witches are solitary, working alone and by themselves.
Sea magic pertains to magick performed involving the element of Water, usually performed by the seashore; however, in modern times, depending on the location of the Witch, substitutes such as a lake, river, pond, or bath tube can be used. Even placing a bowl of salt water on an altar with the proper intention will suffice. The magic is usually sea related. Although several types of magick may be performed, the most common is weather magick since precipitation is water related. Such activity stems from old traditions when sea witches were called upon to control the weather to insure seafarers safe voyages. Related to Sea Magic is Moon Magic since the Moon controls the tides of the sea.
According to legends witches were believed to be able to control the wind. One method was with the use of three knots tied into a rope, or sometimes into a handkerchief. When the three knots were tied in the proper magical way, the wind was bound up in them. Witches gave, or sometimes sold, these magic knots to sailors to help them experience safe voyages. The release of one knot brought a gentle, southwesterly wind; two knots, a strong north wind; and three knots, a tempest. In the folklore of the Shetland Islands and Scandinavia, some fishermen were said to have commanded the wind this way. The belief in controlling the wind by tying it goes back to the legends of ancient Greece; Odysseus received a bag of wind from Aeolus to help him on his journey.
In other legends the activities of witches and sorcerers have been confused, which is a commom practice even today. For example, Sir Francis Drake is said to have sold his soul to the Devil in order to become a skilled seaman and admiral. The Devil allegedly sent Drake sea witches, who raised a storm that helped him to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. The battle occurred near Devil’s point, overlooking Davonport, which, by some, is still considered haunted by witches.
In summary, Sea Witch magick strives to achieve a balance between light and dark powers; the Witch does not focus more on one than the other. The reason for this is that the Sea Witch realizes such a balance is maintained throughout the continuum of life, even in oneself, just as it is in the environment of the sea. She/he experiences emotional depression and optimism at times, neither are harmful for short durations and both help establish personal emotional stability. When understanding this the Witch, or person, is more complete and better able to deal with life’s situations
Witches are greatly influenced by their surroundings and in Cornwall there has always been an affinity with the sea. Witches work with the elements and it was, and still is, believed that they can influence the wind and rain.
Predicting and controlling the weather was vital to sailors, fishermen and farmers. Before going to sea, sailors would buy the wind tied in a handkerchief or rope from a witch. The wind was released by untying the knots as required. The first knot produced a gentle wind to fill their sails; the second knot produced a strong wind and the third a tempest. We have not found any spells for calming the wind.
One of the museum’s prized possessions is a caul, a membrane sometimes covering a child’s head at birth. They were much sought after by seamen as they were supposed to prevent drowning.
It is common to find glass fishing floats hanging in cottage windows in Cornwall. These are the local equivalent of ‘witch balls’ and will offer protection from curses and evil. They can also be used for scrying.
The museum shows many examples of charms made with the fruits of the sea; for example, shell charms for love and fertility, mermaid’s purses used as spirit houses, sea-horse charms to protect against the evil eye, and lobster claws containing written spells to attract a good catch.
If you meet some fishermen we recommend that you ask them about their superstitions and taboos. You will find many are still followed today.
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic