Someone many years ago, who expressed themselves by tongue of wisdom and fire, told me that if a person afflicted by illness and dark demeanor wished to release themselves from these maladies, they could do no better than immerse themselves beneath the Ocean waves. Submersion just as the dawn Sun peaked over the distant horizon was best, and one must remain beneath the cold dark waters for the passing of nine waves to be cured.
Healing waters from the nine, be it wave, spring, stream or Holy Well, permeates the ancient and enduring folklore of the British Isles, and many have gathered at sacred date and liminal time to draw healing power and sustenance from the waters of the living landscape.
It is also said that those suffering from mental ill health (from mild depression to overt psychosis) would be taken by family at the midnight hour to the edge of Loch Mo Naire in Strathnaver, Scotland. Under the cold Moon and stars they would be stripped naked, and after many grueling and frozen hours, they would be immersed in the icy waters of the Loch at first light. Loved ones and invited onlookers would throw coins into the water, by way of payment for the aid in the healing of these poor wretches. Pulled out sharply from these bitterly cold waters, and no doubt suffering from hypothermia, they would then be marched Sun-wise around the perimeter of the Loch, many miles in fact, and instructed not to turn their heads until the water was clear out of sight, and the morning Sun had fully risen.
And so I found myself, standing upon that desolate shore with the raging ocean stretching out in front of me, as far as my eye could see. Even now, I clearly remember just how it felt for the insistent wind to whip and pull my hair into a tangled mess, and how the salt air made my eyes sting as I gazed out onto the horizon, lost in deep emotion and memories. Strong reason and purpose had paved my way to this place, a moment that had been calling me for years and demanded careful planning over many thoughtful months. I had taken a preliminary look around the coastline to make sure that I was alone and would not be disturbed by others, knowing full well that the hour and location should dissuade the casual visitor. If anyone was to be present, then undoubtedly my best laid plans would surely fail.
From a moderately warm evening, the temperature plummeted as I neared the rocky shoreline and goosebumps arose upon my cooling skin. First went the sandals, kicked off into the darkness, and then my dress slipped away, falling onto the wet sands. A spontaneous string of obscenities escaped my lips, enough to startle the Saints, as I stepped into the chilling water (It was bloody cold!). Taking a few gasping moments to acclimatize (I wasn’t going to let a little thing like freezing cold water stop me, was I?), I stepped further into the frigid water, waves now falling hard against my legs, threatening to take them from beneath me well before my body would become accustomed to the shock of my new environment.
Violent shivering joined third degree goosebumps, which now covered my quivering frame from head to toe, as I waded forward and away from the shore, deeper still into cooler and stronger currents. Now the waves lapped against my stomach and breasts, splashing against my neck and face. Numbness dictated my next move and taking the deepest breath, I plunged myself beneath the dark waves.
Turbulent black waters enfolded me, embraced me, as I dove deeper into the gloom. My family often remarked that as a child, I swam as well as my Grandfather, who was renowned for his sea legs and his capacity to avoid drowning in difficult waters. Not often does one get the opportunity to challenge the boastings of our proud parents, so in this moment I was handing all over to my fate and to my genetic blood ties; an appointment with my Ancestors in fact.
Holding myself below the waves until the ninth had washed over me, I violently broke the surface of the water with a sharp breath, desperately filling my lungs, and uttering a deep sigh of relief and elation.
That was it.
All that I had ventured here for in the first place.
Against all of the rules, the clock had been re-set.
I swam further out into the frothy waves and after a while, whilst treading water, I let forth a wail. A wail that became a mournfully low sound of utter sorrow and sadness; the shattering tone of age-old guilt, and painful experience, escaping my mortal frame through my salt ravaged lips. To this day I really don’t know where that note came from; its resonance seems never-ending and still reverberates deeply. It was if the sound was torn out of me and cast across the Sea, rising in pitch and fed by a deep seated pain and burning anger, not mine, but something we all partake of as we cross these thresholds.
Not my voice and no longer my own emotions, more than I could possibly bear or contain, followed then by the crushing silence of the Bitter Sea. My whole world, all that I am, fell into utter silence. All ceased and my awareness, like the eternal flow of the tide, began to slowly draw back.
The tears flowed freely then, as the waves lulled me. I can remember how that silence broke, suddenly, and then the roar of the ocean came crashing back. The message had been taken upon and beneath the waves. My call was surely heard. Where my Rite ceased, my real work had now begun.
I’ve always had an affinity with Water, in all its forms and manifestations, but this experience is what really kicked off my love affair with the Sea, and I have been weaving folk/Sea lore, angling lore and superstitions picked up from the coastal regions throughout England and Scotland into my personal Witchery since.
In subsequent years I have returned to that coastline and have visited many others, wandering aimlessly along the beaches, weaving force & form while singing the old songs, and dancing wildly with the raging flames and flickering firelight upon the midnight shores.
Always lost in thought and deliciously entranced by the lapping of tide on shoreline, eyes fixed upon the shadow line where they entwine as one. No longer truly visible as separate states, but suspended and conjoined by the dark mist in-between, the place of dark dreaming, far memory and deepest vision of our future past and temporal becoming.
The Kent coast is indeed a wonderful place to find Cuttlefish bones, and I have vivid childhood memories of combing the beaches at Romney, filling my bucket with these treasures. Years later I would find myself using Cuttlefish bones for a different purpose entirely; drawing arcane sigils upon the sands beneath the Sun, Moon & Stars while forging, binding and breaking pacts with the enduring Spirits of Earth, Wave and Wind. Promises and wishes alike, cast like the wave skimming stones. Knotting, cutting and re-tying hempen cord and linen strips, often discovered bleached and Sun-dried upon the shoreline; gifts from the Sea.
There is a dizzying amount of Sea lore from the British Isles, and to cover it all in a single article would be a Fool’s errand, so here I wanted to just give a few snippets, some impressions of this volume filling subject.
The Sea Witches of the Scottish, Cornish and Sussex coast would literally ‘Sell the Wind’ to superstitious Sailors by means of a triune knotted rope. Purposefully untying the first knot would unleash a fine breeze, releasing the second knot would summon a high wind, and letting the third knot loose would invoke the fiercest of gales. Throughout history, Ancient Mariners have also been known to be able to ‘Whistle for the Wind’, a skill perhaps taught by the Sea Witches of antiquity. This form of magical practice relies upon direct action from the Seafarer, and constitutes a dynamic invocation to ‘The Prince of the Powers of Air’ to exert himself on their behalf.
What gales are sold on Lapland’s shore,
How whistle rash bids tempests roar,
Of witch, of mermaid, and of sprite,
Of Erick’s cap and Elmo s light;
Or of that Phantom Ship, whose form
Shoots like a meteor through the storm;
When the dark scud comes driving hard,
And lower’d is every topsail-yard,
And canvas, wove in earthly looms,
No more to brave the storm presumes!
‘Rokeby’ – (Sir Walter Scott)
The summoning of spiritual intervention while at Sea was regarded by most sailors as a risk laden and highly treacherous last resort, only ever to be used in times of dire need, when there was little or no wind at all, to fill the sails of their motionless vessels. It was held in firm belief by the Mariners, that any foolish captain who whistled without genuine need for Unseen assistance would call forth ill winds, often leading to swift horrific storms, that would quickly ravage their vessels, taking ship and crew to the Ocean bed in a violent and cataclysmic manner. Triangular fish bones, much the shape of ‘Thor’s Hammer’, were amongst a fisherman’s most prized possessions, being regarded as a good charm for safe traveling and to protect against thunder, lightning and squalls, affording such a measure of protection as he should ever he need to ‘Whistle the Wind’.
Invocations to the Saints, regional Spirits of the Sea and the winds, or even the Devil himself, were employed by the Sea Witches and the Ocean bound sailors. For good or ill, it was recorded that a Sea Witch from Trotternish called forth a gale so fierce, that it capsized a boat and drowned her intended victim.
“Gaoth tuath bho ifrinn fhuair,
a thionnd’as am muir ri aon uair,
A Chonnain, cuir ‘na deaghaidh,
‘na sradan tein’ on teinntean”
Uttered she: calling upon St. Conan to bring a “North wind from cold hell, that in one hour, drives the sea upwards from the bottom” and for him to “push it on in sparks of fire, as from the hearth”**
An angling superstition I particularly like (and I promise it’s not just for the Whisky) is the custom in Scotland of beginning new fishing nets (and repairing older ones) when the tide is rising, to bring good luck, bounty and abundance towards them. This work had to be completed without any interruptions, and once done Whisky would be drunk to assure even more good luck! I have incorporated this into my own personal esoteric practice, and so when beginning any new venture or rite beside the Sea, I wait for the tide to rise, carry out my work and heartily drink my Whisky; pouring some into the water as an offering on conclusion of the work.
Once my observances and rites have been carried out there is a form of divination I was told of by an old lady, who lived on the Sussex coast, to ‘check its outcome’. A bowl of sea water should be set in the sand, and if the light of the rising sun ripples and glimmers on the surface of the water it will take a while for your working to come to fulfillment. If the light is steady, then the change has already set in place, and you will see the labours of your work soon.
This practice is very reminiscent of the Easter Day custom held by the Marsh men of Lincolnshire. The ‘ Wading of the Sun’ was carried out to divine the weather for the coming season. As the Sun rises on Easter Day, a bucket of water was placed out to catch the earliest rays. If the Sun ‘waps and wades’, the season would be wet; but if steady, a fine Summer was surely around the corner.
The Art and practice of scrying has evolved and honed by genuine Witches and Magicians down the ages, often employing different regional methods that bear root similarities. Methods that I have used in my own practice have predominantly focused upon bodies of water; still lakes, dewponds or hand held dark bowls of liquid taken from specific Holy sources, the Ocean being one (an approach favored by the famous seer, Michael Nostradamus). Please remember though, as with water from Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, a portion of whatever you take should be given back in a respectful manner, to honour the Spirits that have assisted you in your work.
Throughout Old England, another object that has been commonly used for the purpose of scrying, which stems from the fishing communities that has for centuries, scraped a meager living from the sea, is the simple coloured glass fishing-float. Often known as ‘Witch Balls’ and used by Sea Witches in the same manner as the ‘crystal ball’. These green and blue spheres can often be viewed hung up in the windows of the small fishing cottages, in belief that they protect dwellings and owners from Witchcraft, the Evil Eye and other hostile occult influences.
For myself, I much prefer to employ fishing floats that I know have been used at Sea in the past, and you can come across these in antique stores along the coast in most parts of Britain. Ones found more recently online are generally replicas and have never even had a whiff of the sea breeze, let alone been submerged in the water.
A public house I once managed on the banks of the Thames, was converted from two fishermen’s cottages, and the three fishing floats that hung in the downstairs windows were found during the buildings conversion and renovation. Many a-night after the punters had left, and all was wrapped up, you would find me sitting alone with one of them; usually the deep sea green one, as it reminded me very much of one I had formally owned, and lost upon the way (as these things tend to do).
It is mentioned above that you should always give back a portion of whatever water you take for your rites, but equally, you should also pay for anything you reap from the Sea too. It’s long been held by fishermen, that it was vital to offer payment to the Sea Gods and Spirits for the fish that their Oceans yielded during the fishing trips. Silver coins were inserted into the cork floats of the fishing nets, and if by chance any coins were to fall out it into the waters, then it was considered that the payment had been accepted and taken beneath the waves. If the coins remained it was said that the Gods had no need of money or payment and were appeased by the offer alone. Your payment or gift needn’t be coins, but some sort of exchange is necessary, and better if the item has a great meaning to you, as your sacrifice will surely be appreciated.
…And now after all that has been spoken of, I hear the call of the distant Sea once more, only greater than I ever have before… Its magnetic pull upon my body and soul is persistently fierce now, and the bitter Sea requires my presence… I yearn to smell the iodine in the Bladderwrack, feel the wet sand between my toes, taste salt upon my tongue… My primal Mother, the great leveler, calls and I must listen and respond… For she is Mother Moisture, willing vessel to the ice-cold burning Moonlight… She, whose tongue will tear at the land until it falls…
Great Queen of Primal Life that emerged from the dark, vast depths in the very beginning, hear the cries of your Daughter once more… I hear you and cannot resist your devastating power…
Text – Sarah-Jayne Farrer & Matt Baldwin-Ives
Images © Matt Baldwin-Ives (www.milescross.co.uk)