The Scotch bonnet shell came to me unexpectedly this past summer, in a little bundle of shells that I bought from, of all places, Michael’s craft store. I had chosen this particular bag of shells because it had several perfect moon snail shells, along with a few other good specimens I recognized and wanted to add to my collection.
It wasn’t until I got home and got them all out that this lovely, bleached-white Scotch bonnet came to my attention. I could see that it resembled helmet shells I had already studied in Michelle Hanson’s Ocean Oracle, and so wasn’t hard to then identify as Semicassis granulata, a gastropod that indeed belongs to the subfamily of helmet and bonnet shells.
It is so named for the resemblance it bears to a tam o’shanter, a traditional Scottish cap. It might seem a vague resemblance based on the shape alone, but it is also the consistent pattern of colored patches, which look like plaid or tartan, that makes this an appropriate comparison.
The Scotch bonnet is a pioneer in the shell world because it was the first ever to be chosen as a state’s official seashell. That state just happens North Carolina, where I was born and where I currently live.
It is not currently included among the 200 shells of the Ocean Oracle, so I suppose I get to be something of a pioneer myself in attributing and describing the meaning of this shell. Though, to be fair, the Scotch bonnet quite plainly shares its very apt meaning, in my opinion, and I just happen to be lucky enough to have additional personal associations with this meaning as well.
It was chosen as North Carolina’s official shell in 1965 to honor the numerous Scottish settlers who founded the state, and obviously it is common to the state’s shores. Scots have been in North Carolina since the earliest permanent settlements, the first significant group being the Argyll Colony in 1739. By the 1780s, it had been estimated that some 20,000 Highlanders had migrated to America in a second wave, most of these settling in the Upper Cape Fear region.
I have proudly known my whole life that our family is of predominantly Scottish (along with English and Irish) stock on my father’s side, through his mother who was a McClung. However, but a couple of months before the Scotch bonnet shell came to me, I had learned that we are in fact direct descendants of the famed Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland.
Granted, many people are descendants of King Robert and his various children, particularly in America where tens of thousands of Scots settled. Yet I can’t help but feel even more proud and happy to have discovered this lineage. And it was very shortly after discovering this that I first read about the movie Outlaw King, which is all about Robert the Bruce and is actually now on Netflix.
Talk about synchronicity! I had even thought to myself, “Never mind Braveheart, why hasn’t anyone made an epic about Robert? You know, the one who survived and became the most famous king of Scotland!” Well, they finally have! I sadly have yet to see it but hope to very soon.
So, not only do I derive the meaning of “Being a pioneer or forerunner” to the Scotch bonnet shell, but due to the connection to Scottish settlers and heritage in particular, I also attribute energies and meanings of “Ancestry, descent and inheritance”.
The “ancestry and descent” meanings might more fairly apply to those of Scottish persuasion, but it is still a great reminder that we all come from somewhere and that many people from many different places are the reason why any of us live in this country.
However, the more widely applicable “inheritance” meaning comes not only through the obvious ancestral connotations, but from the fact that this shell is a very common choice for hermit crabs to inherit and inhabit. Studies have shown that this is not a random choice, but that the Scotch bonnet shell is ideal due to its weight, size, shape and internal volume, as well as its resistance to predation.
The Scots are renowned as being rather resistant to predation themselves, having long fought English domination in earlier centuries. They are a hardy, brave and patriotic people. They are also brilliant inventors and scientists, and we owe many creations and discoveries to Scotsmen such as penicillin, malaria treatment, the television and telephone, radar, threshing and reaping machines, and even the raincoat!
We also owe some of the most beautiful art, poetry and famous fiction to the likes of John Duncan, Robert Burns and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Let us not forget some remarkable Scottish women who were pioneers and leaders, such as Victoria Drummond, the first female marine engineer who was awarded an MBE for bravery at sea during WWII when she single-handedly kept the engines of the SS Bonita running during a German attack. Also, Katharine Marjory was the first female Scottish MP, elected to the House of Commons in 1923, a very impressive accomplishment for a woman of such a time.
We can’t talk about Robert the Bruce without mentioning that he was even crowned by a brave, rebellious woman named Isabella MacDuff (traditionally, the crowning of the Scottish monarch was performed by a member of the MacDuff clan), a countess who defied and left her husband after he sided with the English. As a result, she was imprisoned by Edward I in an iron cell in Berwick Castle for four years.
So, my Scotch bonnet shell now holds a special place with my best and favorite shells on my mermaid altar, reminding me of the brave and legendary king I descended from, as well as all the other Scottish ancestors who settled the state of my birth.
This reminds me of a quote I once read from some great and famous thinker or other: “There is no king that does not have a slave among his ancestors, nor a slave that does not have a king among his.”
This is a both an encouraging and a humbling thought. No matter where we descend from, we all have something and someone important and impressive in our ancestral past and genealogy can be a very helpful and empowering tool. Knowing where we come from can tell us about who we are and help us decide where we want to go.
It can also remind us that sometimes we have to start over. We have to be brave, we have to sail into uncharted waters and create something brand new for ourselves and for future generations, or even contemporaries who can learn from our pioneering example.
But we never have to give up who we are, we need only to improve who and what we are. Our past does not have to equal our future. And sometimes overcoming a painful, challenging past and even present can lead to the glorious dawn of an unimaginably better future.
This brings one final, inspiring quote to mind, from the French author André Gide: “You cannot discover new oceans until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” A fun side note to add to my amazement of other synchronous events of my day, I looked up Gide just now, right after typing the quote from memory, and saw that his birthday was November 22, the day I am writing this! Which also happens to be the Full Moon in my Ascendant sign, and the day the Sun entered Sagittarius. Isn’t it amazing how many wonderful things magically come together the more you pursue wonders and magic..?
Be a pioneer, never stop pursuing new shores and wonders will never cease! And get a Scotch bonnet to remind you to, especially if you have any Scottish blood.
Alba gu brath! (Scotland forever!)
© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved