TL;DR- The vast ocean has mystified us since prehistoric times. Her depths reach deeper than we could imagine and for some, she reaches deep into their soul. Studying the lore, superstitions, and deities of the seas provides a portrait into the way human beings perceive the sea, and the magic we work helps us to connect to it. This article will explore the sea and explore goddesses and gods of the sea. Superstitions and how to connect to the magic of the sea will also be discussed.
The Magical Sea
Seventy-one percent of our planet is covered by water and some of those bodies of water are seas. Defined as a body of salt water, normally located between land and an ocean, there are 50 seas on earth. The largest sea is called the Philippine Sea located in the Western Pacific Ocean and is about 5 million square miles and at its deepest, plunges to 13,450 feet deep. The smallest sea, in comparison, is the Sea of Marmara in Turkey which connects the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea and it is 7,053 square feet and 4,490 feet deep. Some seas are almost entirely surrounded by land, some being only connected to an ocean by a small bay.
As early as 26,000 years ago, there was a lot more of the water on earth that was frozen, and the sea levels were 410 feet lower than today, which meant more land was exposed. Human beings migrated on foot during this time all over the globe, and places where they would have walked and resided are below water now since some melting of some ice sheets has occurred. The movement of oceans and seas moderate the earth’s climate and change its temperatures. The rising and falling sea levels called the tides are because of the earth’s rotation and the gravitational forces of the Moon. The planet and its waters are interconnected in their movements, and these affect all life on earth, even creatures who do not live near an ocean or sea.
It is no wonder that we attach great spiritual and magical meaning with the seas. People around the world have worshiped gods and goddesses of the sea, and superstitions governing how the seas have been traveled dictated taboos and behaviors to help assure safe passage until land was reached once more. Beyond worship and taboos, people have sought to connect to the sea’s magic and empower themselves with the gifts she brings. Who are these sacred sea deities and what are some of the taboos and superstitions people have believed about the seas? How can you draw from the magic of the sea and bring her power into your own life? Read on to learn how!
Goddesses of the Sea
People have always believed there are gods and goddesses ruling everything on earth, and they also believe in sea deities. Some people have male gods and others have female goddesses they venerate for the sea. Three powerful sea goddesses from around the world are Olokun, Tiamat, and Ran. All of these sea goddesses are powerful deities of both creation and destruction. Like real waters, they create life with the powerful waters and their waters can drown out life as well.
This deity is represented as male, female, and androgynous in different religions and is venerated by devotees of traditional Yoruba faiths. Olokun is more than a sea deity, however, and rules over all bodies of water in general. In Olokun’s human life, it was said she was the senior wife of the Emperor Oduduwa and her great magic was how she created the Atlantic ocean when she had a rivalry with one of the emperor’s other wives. Olokun is also a creator deity. In the beginning there was no form to the earth, and Olokun was the deity who was responsible for gathering up the waters and putting them where they are today. Olokun grants children to women who cannot conceive and controls ocean waves, sinking ships of those who anger her. Olokun is a deity of wealth and bestows riches upon their devotees.
In some accounts, Olokun is a god who has many wives and it is believed once Olokun rose out of the sea, angry with humanity, and decided to flood the earth, and destroy all human beings. The other gods quickly organized, and the god Obatala chained Olokun, saving humanity. Olokun is revered in more religions than the traditional Yoruba one, of course, being revered in Candomblé and Santeria as well. Olokun’s colors are blue, white, and black, like the colors of the sea. The numbers 7 and 9 are sacred to Olokun, and a jar of water can represent them.
Tiamat is a primordial Mesopotamian goddess who begat younger gods and goddesses with the god Abzu. In an elaborate myth, her husband suspects their children are plotting to kill him, and he is correct. He declares war on his children, and he is slain. Heartbroken and angry, Tiamat creates monsters and attacks her children. She is defeated and killed by the storm god, Marduk, and he uses her body to create parts of the earth and the sky. Not only has this goddess created other deities, but she comprises parts of our whole world if this story is to be believed. She and her husband Abzu filled the world with the waters of creation, and she is a shining goddess whose very body helped to form all things.
Ran is a Norse sea goddess and she is married to Aegir, god of the ocean. They have nine daughters who are the waves of the waters. Ran and Aegir live at Aegirheim at the bottom of the sea and in their beautiful home, they welcome the souls of those who died at sea. Aegir is benevolent, but Ran is out to drown sailors. She poses as a lovely mermaid and catches sailors in her nets, dragging them to their deaths beneath the water. Sailors would carry gold with them so they could try to bargain with Ran for their lives if she snared them in her nets. So feared was she that when it was stormy on a voyage, captains gave each sailor a piece of gold to use to buy their lives from Ran. It is believed by some scholars that Aegir represents the good things about the sea and Ran represents the dangers of the sea.
Gods of the Sea
Some people have sea goddesses who are beautiful in their terrifying splendor, and some believe in sea gods who are mighty and bold in their strength. Three of these ancient sea gods are Lir, Poseidon, and Yam. Like sea goddesses, sea gods created and could destroy. They protected those they smiled upon but could crush anybody they did not favor.
Lir is an Irish sea god and the father of the epic hero Manannan Mac Lir. The very name Lir means “sea” and interestingly, Manannan Mac Lir seems to have taken over the role of sea god for his father. Lir may have been an Irish version of the Welsh Llyr, whose children were transformed into swans by a jealous stepmother. The lore tells us that Lir believed he should have been named the king of the Tuatha De Danann, but instead Bodb Derg was. In hopes of keeping the peace with Lir, Bodb Derg gave his daughter Aiobh to Lir in marriage. Together, they bore four children and lived happily together until tragedy struck, and Aiobh died. Bodb Derg sent another of his daughters, Aiofe, to marry Lir. Unfortunately, Aiofe became jealous of Lir’s children and cursed them, changing them into swans, and decreeing they would live as swans for nine hundred long years. They were finally released to their deaths after all those centuries.
A happier tale is about Manannan Mac Lir, who drove his chariot over the waves of the sea and he owned a mighty boat named “wave -sweeper” and a horse who could gallop upon the face of the waters. He was a god of war as well as the sea, and a god of the Otherworld where the Sidhe and the dead live. He was a protector of the Tuatha De Danann and the lore disagrees and different accounts say he was either an advisor to the king Bodb Derg, or his second in command. It is said that Manannan Mac Lir was the first ruler of the Isle of Man, and thus the island was named for him. He was a ruler of men and gods and a protector of both the living and the dead.
Poseidon is one of the twelve main gods of ancient Greece, also called the Olympians, and he is the god of the sea, horses, earthquakes, and storms. He is one of the sons of mighty Cronus, the titan who was overthrown. When Cronus was overthrown Zeus was given dominion over the sky, Hades was granted rulership of the underworld, and Poseidon was granted the power and kingship over the sea. All three gods rule the earth and Mount Olympus, home of the gods. Poseidon resides in the Island of Atlantis, and he strikes the earth with his trident, and creates springs of water.
It is not agreed upon whether Poseidon was first a horse god or a god of the sea, but he was believed to cause earthquakes by making the waves of the sea crash upon rocks. When he was happy, he made the seas calm, and he created islands. When he was angry, he struck the ground with his trident to cause shipwrecks and death at sea. Horses were sacrificed to him by sailors as offerings to pray for safe passage at sea. He fathered dozens of children, and vied unsuccessfully for the city of Athens to be named after him but he was granted the Isthmus of Corinth. He was feared as a god who used storms and earthquakes to destroy but was also a protective god who helped with the taming and breeding of horses.
The name Yam means “sea” in Hebrew , and Yam was a Canaanite god of lakes, rivers, the oceans, and underground water. It is believed by some that the Leviathan is a form of him, a dreaded sea serpent who Yahweh defeated. Yam was given the role of divine kingship by the father god, El, but that was not good enough for him. One day, he insisted that El and all the other gods bow before him and become his servants. El agreed, but Baal refused. Instead, Baal waged war on Yam, and overthrew him, becoming the king in his place. This was not the end of Yam, however. Although he was overthrown, he was still a powerful god, and in writings, it is indicated that the gods and people gave offerings to Yam. He was given rams, and offerings of gold and precious gems were given to him by casting them into the sea.
Beliefs in gods and goddesses are not the only beliefs people hold about the sea. There are countless superstitions and taboos people observe. Lighthouses have always had deeper meaning to people, and having women aboard a ship is considered bad luck for reasons you might not expect. Names for ships, the words used while aboard, and how people say goodbye to those embarking on a trip over the waves have surprising meanings as well.
In ancient times, large fires burned at ports to help guide boats and ships into harbor, and they acted as lighthouses. In more modern times, large buildings that shine light so powerful, it can be seen from miles away, guides ships and boats to where dangerous coastlines are and some show where the safe harbors are. The lighthouse has been viewed as lifesaving, with those seeing the light from the distance being thankful. Mark McRae, a yachtsman had this to say about a lighthouse: "It is a 'welcome home' sign, it's certainly something we all cherish and it brings tears to our eyes, particularly after a long, hard voyage to at last see that lighthouse … you're home and you're safe." Those traveling by sea believe the lighthouse can be trusted to operate in all weather conditions and it will always guide the weary seafarer safely to shore. To read more about what some said about lighthouses, read here: The challenge of maintaining lighthouses, still important in a modern world - ABC News
The lore of the lighthouse includes belief they are places of safe passage, and they represent the guiding light of deities, the Christian god Jesus for example. Lighthouses represent strength and resilience as well, because they are set right at the coasts which can be battered with dangerous waves, and even coated in solid ice but the lighthouse still operates and guides ships safely. Lighthouse keepers maintain the light of the lighthouse no matter what is going on in their lives until they can’t anymore, and then another lighthouse keeper steps in to take their place. Because of this, lighthouses represent reliability. Lighthouses also illuminate coastlines that may disguise dangerous rocks, so the lighthouse represents being warned of hidden dangers.
Women on a merchant vessel or military ship were traditionally considered bad luck, because their beauty made them a distraction to the crew. The crew could neglect their duties on the ship, and start fighting with one another out of jealousy of the woman, and this was believed to anger the very sea herself. The sea was believed to cause storms and dangerous waves if a woman was aboard the ship. Red headed women, and all redheads in general portend bad luck on a ship, and if you saw a redheaded woman before getting on a ship, you could deflect the bad luck by speaking to them first. Ironically, it was believed women were expert at navigating ships, and a woman’s bare chest would calm the sea. Thus, figures of bare-chested women adorned many ships and since women were taboo on professional ships, sometimes, women were known to disguise themselves as men so they could get jobs at sea!
Naming the Ship
Ships are named so they can be identified and tracked, but the naming is serious business. It is believed to be bad luck to sail a ship that doesn’t have a name, and the name must be chosen carefully. Names must not risk upsetting the sea or sea deities, so names that would brag about the boat like “The Rich Cat '' or “The Victory” are avoided. A christening ceremony to bless and name the ship is necessary and in ancient days, an animal sacrifice to bless the boat was made sometimes. Never rename a ship unless you follow ascribed ceremonies for undoing a name and renaming properly or that is bad luck as well. It is considered forbidden by some to rename a ship no matter what because over time a ship is believed to take on a life of its own and it would be disrespectful to change its name.
While on the ship, it is important to choose your words wisely. Using words like “drowning” or “good luck” are said to rouse the anger of the sea or tempt it to harm you. Farewells, too, are frowned upon, so family members should say their goodbyes to those embarking on ships before they leave the house. This is based on the old belief that if you say goodbye the wrong way to somebody sailing, you might never see them again. Besides watching your words, mind the sounds you make, lest you summon the wind. So, no whistling, which can make the wind grow stronger and no clapping, which could make lightning appear. Opening umbrellas, which are used in rain are believed to summon storms and throwing rocks into the water is believed to cause storms and dangerous ocean swells.
Connecting with the Magic of the Sea
The beauty of the sea draws us in, but many of us know the sea is more than the beauty we see on the surface. The sea is home to over two million different species of plants, animals, and fungi, and people use the sea for travel and to get food. There are cities that have disappeared under the seas we may be able to explore if sea levels go down someday, and who knows how many other species of lifeforms are beneath the waves we have yet to discover? All the stories about deities and superstitions combined with the things the sea holds may have you asking how you can combine your own magic with the magic of the sea.
Some people view a day at sea as a vacation or an opportunity to showcase a great tan or swimsuit, but magical people know that a day at sea is an opportunity for listening to magic! At the beach or in a ship or boat on the water of the sea, sit in quiet meditation. Breathe in the clear sea air, and listen to the sounds of the waves, winds, and the birds flying overhead. Watch to see what swimming creatures come close to the surface. Notice how the light reflects off the water and how the temperature feels different than it does on land. Experience the motion of your boat moving across the water, and in your heart and soul, know that you are one with the sea at this moment. Now quietly ask the sea to give you messages, and then listen. You will be pleasantly surprised by what the sea has to say to you. This is a wonderful way to connect your energy with the sea.
Some people collect shells on a beach to remember their trip to the sea, but other people know seashells have their own magic and symbolism. Cowrie shells symbolize wealth to some people and have been used as currency. Put a cowrie shell in your wallet to help increase your wealth. They also represent fertility to some people and can be worn around the hips by women who want help with conception. Seashells also represent shelter and safety, as many creatures use them as homes and hiding places, and a shell can be worn for protection. The abalone shell is considered a sacred shell that carries messages to the spirits and is used to burn incense during prayer circles by some people. Oysters are aphrodisiacs when eaten and their shells represent fertility and love. Give somebody who you love an oyster shell as a gift and make them a dish of oysters to arouse their desire.
Besides using the sea for your own magic, helping to protect the sea is perhaps the most powerful magic of all. Not everybody knows just how much damage human beings have caused to the sea. National Geographic reported that there were over 5 trillion pieces of trash in the sea as of 2015 and that’s just trash made of plastic. Sea animals eat this trash, and it kills them. Other creatures become entangled in trash and suffer greatly. It is estimated that 33% of plastic is used once and then thrown away and 85% of the plastic in the world is not recycled. This is piling up and will continue to do so for as long as we continue these behaviors. To read more from the National Geographic article, see here: Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, but Big Questions Remain (nationalgeographic.org)
To help, first, don’t use single use plastics anymore. Recycle what you do have, and reuse everything else. Don’t dump trash on the beach or into the sea either. Stop using plastic drinking straws as well. Creatures like sea turtles get straws inside them and if the straws are not removed, they suffer greatly. You can join your local efforts for cleanup of the sea and beaches, but not everybody lives near such a place and can’t participate. However, there are causes you can help with no matter where you live. Oceana is one organization dedicated to protecting the seas and oceans, and you can always donate, but not everybody has a lot of money to give. You can symbolically adopt an animal for a small amount and you can read about that here: Collections – Oceana Marine Wildlife Adoption and Gift Center
It's undeniable that the sea is powerful and draws us to it. Humanity’s belief in goddesses, gods, and taboos show our reverence for the sea, and our need to connect with the magic of the sea is as old as time itself. Christen your ship with the perfect name and carry gold in your pockets when you go to the sea in case you have to bargain for your freedom from Ran. Wear a seashell necklace for protection, and make sure to protect the sea by recycling and symbolically adopting an animal. May the sea share its magic with yours. So Be It. Reach out to one of our talented psychics to learn how the magic of the sea can unlock the mysteries of your destiny today. Online Psychic Readings | Spiritual Blossom
About the Author: Lady Saoirse has studied magic and lore for most of her life but started walking her own Magical Path after being spiritually reborn in the desert. Today she is a High Priestess for The Temple of the Goddess, she shares her gifts as a Psychic and Content Writer for Spiritual Blossom and she writes for Pagan Pages emag.