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“Then she remembered the sea witch, who lived far from the castle beyond a forest of trees with strange, slimy branches.” – The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen
– Illustrated by Christian Birmingham
Traditionally, sea witches were witches who appeared among sailors or others involved in the seafaring trade. Sea witches used witchcraft related to the moon, tides, and the weather, or were believed to have complete control over the seas. Many sailors fell prey to the sea witches curse on ships and were finally delivered to the one who rules all.. In some folklore, sea witches are described as phantoms, ghosts, or in the form of a mermaid. These creatures would then have the power to control the fates of ships and seamen.
Sea witches often improvise on what they have, rather than making purchases from a store or from another person. Common tools include clam, scallop, or oyster shells in place of bowls or cauldrons. Other items include seaweed, fishing net, shells, sea grass, driftwood, pieces of sea glass, and even sand.
A sea witch named Morgana was a main contributor in luring sailors to their deaths. After falling in love with a young hero, who was sadly lost to the sea, she vowed to help other heroes and sailors in their travels. This caused her to be outcast among her sisters. After trying to help a son of Ares she was impaled with a spear and dissolved into the sea foam, her final resting place.
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.
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 magick 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 magick 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 Magick is Moon Magick 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 common 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 popular culture, the sea witch is commonly seen the way we’ve met her as Ursula in Disney’s Little Mermaid.
By nature, Ursula is very dark in tone, with a wicked sense of humor. After her banishment from Atlantica, the sea witch established herself as a physical beacon of hope towards unfortunate merpeople, allowing them to strike deals and business propositions that would supposedly result in their happiness, should they successfully fulfil their end of the bargain. During such deals, she speaks in a grandmotherly tone, as if her only concern is the satisfaction of her customers. This makes her schemes easier to fall for, though should she feel a deal is going nowhere, she resorts to pressuring her victims into accepting her offer, additionally portraying herself as their last attempt at making their dreams come true. However, if Ariel’s deal is to be believed, Ursula sadistically ensures her customers fail at upholding their end of the deal, resulting in their souls being forever in her possessions and their bodies becoming permanent members of her living garden, as polyps. The motivation of such practices are never revealed for any individual other than Ariel, whom Ursula uses to obtain power over the seas, implying the sea witch simply enjoys causing havoc to the innocent, having no sense of true morality or remorse for those she torments.
Ursula’s magical abilities, even without the Trident, were very potent. She was able to concoct various potions to create various spells, including mass-transfer (implied during the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls”) as well as physically altering people’s bodies, as evidenced by her transforming Ariel into a human, as well as her own transformation into Vanessa and Ursula (although in the case of Vanessa, she needed Ariel’s voice to disguise her own). However, she was incapable of altering her reflection, which is eventually how her enemies got the drop on her. When it comes to physical powers, Ursula possesses Superhuman Strength, though not as strong as Triton, yet strong enough to throw a mermaid to a rock, as what she did to Ariel in the alternate ending of the movie.
She was also capable of creating poisonous ink clouds which could absorb the energy of the Trident, and enhancing Ursula’s power. Her most dangerous ability, however, was her ability to turn people into polyps should they fail to fulfil their end of the bargain via contracts, having done so multiple times under unspecified circumstances, nearly did so with Ariel, and successfully did so with Triton. It’s also implied that she absorbs their souls while transforming them into polyps, making herself more powerful in the process. Likewise, once the contract is made, it is indestructible even to someone as powerful as Triton.
Presumably, this arcane power is one-way, as she does not end up becoming a polyp for failing to fulfil her end of the contract. In fact, the only way to completely stop a contract short of fulfilling it is via her death, as evidenced by the aftermath of her death at the hands of Prince Eric.
This character also appears in the ABC TV series Once Upon A Time.
In the fantasy drama series, Ursula is a mythical sea goddess who is considered a myth by merfolk as she hasn’t been seen for a thousand years. This identity appears in the episode “Ariel“, where in the episode, the eponymous Ariel prays to her for guidance so she can be able continue her life as a human and forever be with Prince Eric.
Although Ursula’s physical appearance is largely based on the Disney version, her personality is closer to that of the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, being largely a neutral entity, although will get vengeful when someone poses as her.
In the animated series Winx Club, the Trix turn themselves into sea witches. They also encounter the scariest sea witch of them all in the magical ocean…
Ah, sea witches are so misunderstood. And yet there are those that live up to their reputation…
A sea nymph, in mythology, is a female nature deity of the sea, or female spirit of sea waters.
Sea nymph primarily refers to:
- Nereid, one of the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris in Greek mythology
- Oceanid, one of the three thousand daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys in Greek and Roman mythology
In Greek mythology and, later, Roman mythology, the Oceanids (/oʊˈsiːənɪdz, ˈoʊʃᵊnɪdz/; Ancient Greek: Ὠκεανίδες, pl. of Ὠκεανίς) are sea nymphs who were the three thousand daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. Each was the patroness of a particular spring, river, sea, lake, pond, pasture, flower or cloud. Some of them, such as Clymene, Asia, Electra/Ozomene, were closely associated with the Titan gods or personified abstract concepts (Tyche, Peitho).
In Greek mythology, the Nereids (/ˈnɪəriɪdz/ NEER-ee-idz; Greek: Νηρηΐδες, sg. Νηρηΐς) are sea nymphs (female spirits of sea waters), the 50 daughters of Nereus and Doris, sister to Nerites. They often accompany Poseidon, the god of the sea, and can be friendly and helpful to sailors fighting perilous storms, as the Argonauts find the Golden Fleece.
Nereids are particularly associated with the Aegean Sea, where they dwelt with their father Nereus in the depths within a golden palace. The most notable of them are Thetis, wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles; Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon; and Galatea, lover of the Cyclops Polyphemus.
They symbolized everything that is beautiful and kind about sea. Their melodious voices sang as they danced around their father. They are represented as very beautiful girls, crowned with branches of red coral and dressed in white silk robes trimmed with gold, but who went barefoot. They were part of Poseidon’s entourage and carried his trident.
In Homer’s Iliad XVIII, when Thetis cries out in sympathy for the grief of Achilles for the slain Patroclus, her sisters appear. The Nereid Opis is mentioned in Virgil‘s Aeneid. She is called by the goddess Diana to avenge the death of the Amazon-like female warrior Camilla. Diana gives Opis magical weapons for revenge on Camilla’s killer, the Etruscan Arruns. Opis sees and laments Camilla’s death and shoots Arruns in revenge as directed by Diana.
THE NEREIDES (Nereids) were fifty sea-nymphe daughters of Nereus the old man of the sea. They were goddesses of the sea’s rich bounty and protectors of sailors and fishermen, coming to the aid of those in distress. Individually they represented various facets of the sea from the salty brine, to the sea foam, sand, rocks, waves and currents, as well as the various skills possessed by seamen.
The Nereides were depicted in ancient art as beautiful, young maidens, sometimes running with small dolphins or fish in their hands, or else riding on the backs of dolphins, hippokampoi (hippocamps) and other sea creatures.
Homer, Iliad 18. 37 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) : “The goddesses gathered about her [Thetis], all who along the depth of the sea were Nereides (daughters of Nereus). For Glauke was there, Kymodoke and Thaleia (Bloom), Nesaie and Speio and Thoe, and ox-eyed Halia; Kymothoe was there, Aktaia and Limnoreia (Sea-Marsh), Melite and Iaira, Amphithoe (She who Flows Around) and Agaue, Doto and Proto, Dynamene and Pherousa, Dexamene and Amphinome and Kallianeira; Doris and Panope and glorious Galateia, Nemertes and Apseudes and Kallianassa; Klymene was there, Ianeira and Ianassa, Maira and Orithyia and lovely-haired Amatheia, and the rest who along the depth of the sea were Nereides. The silvery cave was filled with these.”
The Winx look eerily like sea nymphs in the season where they go to save the magical ocean in Winx Club.
There’s something magical about sea nymphs. Being so different from mermaids in general, gives them an even greater ethereal quality.
Here’s how these different women of the sea appear on the Origin of the Fae page on this blog:
These Fae are the embodiment of everything beautiful and kind about the sea. They love to sing and dance, causing happiness and serenity throughout the sea. Sea Nymphs are always at the height of fashion, though they prefer being barefoot. They appear frivolous, but they are actually extremely powerful and loyal.
They protect the sea, those who live in it and those who travel over it. Which naturally makes them clash with the Sea Witches from time-to-time.
Some live with the king of the ocean in his golden palace, but most prefer travelling the depths and discovering new things.
On occasion they’ll take part in parades and ride on the backs of dolphins or hippocampi.
The first kind only live in the sea. They sometimes appear as phantoms or even ghosts of the dead to help seafarers safely across the sea – or to lead them to their deaths. The first kind of sea witch is actually Fae. They look like they are one with the sea: usually black, green or purple in appearance with something scary about them like tentacles or electric eel tails. Their main form of creating balance is to make a blood sacrifice: sailors or Selkies are their favourites.
The second kind use the moon to control the tides and the weather. This second kind of sea witch is human with Fae ancestry. They usually perform their magic on the seashore, though a basin of salt water or even a bathtub filled with briny water will do in a pinch.
Both kinds of sea witches work with the chaotic forces of nature. Some believe them to be evil. But being one with the sea means that they are chaotic of themselves. They neither use magic associated with the Seelie (light) or the Unseelie (dark) Court, but rather the grey magic of chaos to create balance between light and dark. Though they are chaos, they bring balance to the sea – something extremely difficult to manage. Some think that they are evil, not just their magic but also their duty to the sea, which keeps sea witches solitary.
They’re really something else, aren’t they? Sea nymphs and a sea witch feature in the newest instalment of The Adventures of Saphira Dog too. Here’s an extract from Saphira the Mighty Faery Dog.
“Six sea nymphs sat on a grouping of rocks, looking utterly bored. Their dresses of pleats and folds floated in the current in a different way than their butterfly wings. They looked as perfect as they always did.
<I have work for you,> Saphira said once she was close to them.
‘A Faery Dog?’
<I do not have time for your incessant babbling. We are going to save the ocean,> Saphira said impatiently.”
– Saphira the Mighty Faery Dog, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the sixth tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Do you like sea nymphs? How about sea witches?