The magick of seashells
Posted by Michelle Gruben on
Seashells are a very special magickal material—a beautiful gift of Earth and Sea. Shells are found in the secret space between these two kingdoms, which is revealed only during the change of tides. They are treasures from an invisible world.
Whether plain brown or white, or cascading with a rainbow of colors, each shell brings a message to the person who is fortunate enough to find it. Read on to find out more about the magickal properties of seashells.
The amazing seashell
Normally, I’d just dive right into the correspondences of shells and their uses in spellwork. But instead, let’s stop for a minute to consider how unique and amazing shells are as a material.
What are seashells? They are the hard, protective exoskeletons of marine mollusks. Soft-bodied invertebrates create their own shells from minerals in their bodies and the sea. Each creature makes a shell that will be its home for its entire life. For this reason, shells can be seen as symbols of independence, solitude, and self-reliance.
Not only are they essential for marine life, shells rival anything created by humans in their beauty, strength, and mathematical precision. (The outward curve of a Nautilus shell famously follows the Fibonacci sequence.) The shapes and patterns aren’t random—they’ve been passed on through countless generations. It’s hard to contemplate a shell without being in awe at the power of ancestral memory and Divine creativity.
Correspondences of Seashell
Every child knows that if you hold a shell up to your ear, you can hear the ocean. Naturally, shells are often used on the Pagan altar to represent the element of Water. Shells also correspond to Venus (the planet and the deity) and to the Moon, who gently tosses them ashore every tidal cycle.
For millennia, shells have been a symbol of feminine beauty. Their white-pink colors recall the blush of a fair complexion, and some shells resemble the female breasts or vulva. When Botticelli painted the Goddess of Love floating upon a seashell raft, he cemented an age-old correspondence into an indelible image.
Cups, mirrors, and combs are often made with shells (or shaped like them) in keeping with the Venusian aspect of shells. The use of shells in necklaces goes back to the Stone Age—though we have no way of knowing if these shell artifacts were used for male or female adornment.
But seashells aren’t just about beauty. Shells are also linked to prosperity and abundance. They have long been an important religious symbol to coastal dwellers who take their nourishment from the sea. Shells have also been used as currency by many world cultures. There are probably trillions of shells in the ocean, but it still feels special and lucky to find a perfect shell resting in the sand.
Despite their family resemblance, different types of shells have different properties in magick. Generally speaking, shells symbolize mystery, divinity, love, and prosperity—but each type has its own nuances. See the list of shells at the end of this article for detailed correspondences.
Shells in magick
The natural cup shape of many shells makes them great for holding things! Shells make perfect little dishes for incense, sand, crystals, and herbs. Cleaned seashells can also hold food or drink for rituals.
Abalone shells are a very popular choice for Sage smudging. The shell is used either to catch the ash or to hold the burning herbs. (Some people believe that the latter use is improper—that it’s disrespectful to place Fire in a Water vessel.) If you do burn herbs or incense in a shell, put a thin layer of sand in the bottom to help distribute the heat and avoid scorching the shell.
Shell is sometimes cut into thin slices and used to decorate pendants, bowls, or just about any flat or curved surface. A shell-covered box or mirror could be a lovely tool for a Water witch’s altar. Small shells or shell tiles can be incorporated into the handle of a ritual wand or knife.
Of course, the most popular way to use shells is in their natural, unaltered form. Large shells can be placed on your altar or used to decorate indoors and outdoors. Smaller shells make beautiful jewelry. (Some even have natural holes for stringing!) You can add shells to magickal windchimes, mojo bags, or incorporate them into charms and amulets.
Finding your own shells
It’s a fact: Shells that you scavenge for yourself are more pleasing than the fanciest boutique purchases. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, find out what kind of shells are available from your local coasts. Or head out at the first low tide and see what you see!
If you do buy shells, please purchase from responsible sources. Small-ish and common shells are the best bet. The bigger and flashier the shell, the higher the odds it comes from an animal that is slow-growing or overhunted. Illegal exporting of rare shells is a big business that funds environmental pillaging, organized crime, and exploitation of labor. Don’t be that guy!
Some types of sea life have been making seashells in more or less the same designs for millions of years. Seashell shapes are timeless and sacred. They were here before humans, and will probably outlast us. Here are some of the most common shell shapes and their magickal lore:
The Abalone shell incorporates all the colors of the sea and sky. The inside of the shell is coated with nacre, the same substance in pearls and mother-of-pearl.
Abalone has been an important food source for tens of thousands of years. The shells represent the giving power of the Mother Ocean. The iridescent hue promotes feeling of abundance, peace, and compassion.
Abalone shells have an especially sacred meaning in Native American and Polynesian religion. Most people are familiar with Abalone as a vessel for Sage smudging, a Native American spiritual practice.
The vibrant color and natural luster of Abalone shell makes it ideal for jewelry and ornamental objects. Wearing an amulet of Abalone is said to impart a calming, spiritual vibration and to help the wearer work through emotional issues.
The Scallop is perhaps the most familiar seashell shape. It has a sacred meaning in Christian Europe, dating back to the earliest pilgrims—many of whom would have been illiterate—who were guided to pilgrimage sites by the Scallop emblem. The Scallop is an emblem of Saint James the Apostle. It may be adopted as a badge by anyone who has undergone a spiritual quest. Scallop shapes may be discerned in countless Christian altars and cathedrals.
Art nerds will recognize the Scallop as the seat or carriage of many an ocean deity. Poseidon is depicted riding upon one, and Aphrodite floats to shore in a Scallop shell. The Scallop appears on Pagan altars as a symbol of the sea goddess and the element of Water. Use a Scallop shell as a chalice, offering bowl, or vessel for love magick. (The large and colorful variety found in magick shops is a warm-water species called Lion's Paw or Mexican Sea Scallop.)
The Scallop is distinguished from other shells by the multiple rays and ridges, converging on a single point near the base. To medieval Christians, this represented the varied paths of travelers on their way to a holy site. To earlier humans, the Scallop’s rays may have resembled the Sun’s beams converging on the horizon at sunrise or sunset. This makes the Scallop an especially fitting symbol of Venus, who is called the Morning Star or Evening Star.
The Nautilus is the nomad of the sea, traveling hundreds of miles on currents (and a raft of bubbles). The name means “sailor” in Greek. The Nautilus shell is an important symbol in sacred geometry and even mathematics—displaying a logarithmic spiral in its growth pattern.
Unlike some other shell creatures, the Nautilus does not shed or exchange its shell, but creates a large chamber for its body as it grows. The Nautilus shell is thus a symbol of growth and renewal. The outward spiral shape of the Nautilus suggests that it can keep growing indefinitely.
The Nautilus is one of the few sea creatures to have survived since the time of the dinosaurs. It is one of Nature’s true masterpieces. Meditate on a Nautilus shell, or use it in your magick of spiritual growth and expansion.
The Auger shell is an elongated spiral, with an opening at the base and a point at the tip. In the language of shells, the Auger is both masculine and feminine, representing completeness. There are hundreds of varieties worldwide.
Auger shells come from a type of predatory sea snail, and the aggression of the animal is implied by its narrowly focused shape. Augers possess a venomous tooth that is the terror of marine worms. In magick, Augers are one of the only shells that may be properly attributed to Mars. Augers are popular for headdresses, magick wands, and protective charms.
The familiar Cowrie shell is yellow or white and egg-shaped, with two rows of teeth along a central gap. Cowrie shells have appeared as currency, decoration, and religious items in nearly every part of the world.
Owing to its shape, the Cowrie often represents the life-giving vulva. It is used in charms for wealth and fertility. Cowrie shells are strung onto necklaces or sewn into garments. Additionally, the shells may be used for divination. There are several distinct systems of Cowrie divination stemming from African and Afro-Carribean occult traditions.
Cowrie shells are admired for their fine natural polish. Their glossiness symbolizes refinement and luxury. The Italian word for Cowrie is porcellana (“little pig”)—from which we derive the word porcelain.
Not technically a seashell, Starfish are nonetheless available at many a beach seller’s stall. The Starfish is a spiny sea creature whose dried body forms the shape of a star. They are symbols of heavenly power, renewal, and good luck.
Because of their resemblance to the heavenly stars, the Starfish has an affinity with various sky Gods and Goddesses. How amazing to uncover a star within the depths of the seas! (As that old thrice-great Egyptian guy says, “As above, so below.”) As a (usually) five-pointed creature, Starfish are also linked to the Pentagram and the number 5, the number of Man. No wonder the Starfish speaks to the mystic's heart.
Biologists will tell you that Starfish are exquisitely sensitive animals. Its nervous system radiates from the center and extends through each limb, allowing it to explore the ocean floor with grace and ease. Starfish are symbols of instinct and intuition. As a totem or amulet, Starfish reminds a sensitive person to adapt and thrive within their surroundings.
Starfish possess the superpower of being able to regrow a missing limb. Use them in charms for strength and recovery from trauma.
I hope this article has inspired you to dig deep into your collection of seashells! Read more in the archive, or browse our top articles. SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave