Sea Witches

We all know what witches are but what do you know about Sea Witches and how are they different?

Sea Witches

Sea Witch folklore originates from the same place as selkie folklore, with deep roots in the icy shores of Scandinavia, Scotland and Iceland. There are also references in ancient Greek mythology and probably most seafaring cultures around the world.

Her magic is interwoven with all that influences the life (and death) of those who live by the sea like sailors and fishermen. Imagine a salty version of the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz (but cooler). Or Tia Dalma from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Tia Dalma / Calypso. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead man’s chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At world’s end).

A Sea Witch has specific abilities within the natural world like the ability to change the weather, summon storms, sing up a catch of fish and influence the moon and the tides. She is more in tune with nature than the garden variety witch we are more familiar with and has been the subject of ocean going tales for centuries.

One of her best-known gifts is the ‘sailors knot’. Sailors would visit a Sea Witch in port and pay her a fee to tie an enchanted rope or handkerchief in three knots. When the ship was becalmed at sea, the sailor would tie the hanky to the rigging and pull once to conjure a gentle breeze, twice to call up a powerful wind and three times to summon a cyclone. Given the mortality rate of sailors there wouldn’t be a huge to demand for refunds if it didn’t work, so not a bad business model either.

Sailor's knot

Sea Witches are less demonised in literature than regular witches, perhaps because her services were more functional and less dark than her forest dwelling sisters. They were said to live openly in their communities, freely plying their trade in seaside villages and towns. The local Sea Witch was probably seen as an inconvenient necessity.

Sometimes in stories, Sea Witches are portrayed as regular human women and sometimes they are intertwined with mermaids and selkies. They tend to be secondary characters and not often portrayed as sympathetic or central to the plot, which is a shame, I’ve always found them intriguing and mysterious.