Journeys to Sedna

Here is the original, unedited version of an article I wrote for SageWoman magazine, which was published in the current “Wisdom of Water” issue, sent out at the end of December 2018.



She is the fingerless, (hu)man-hating, icy, Inuit goddess of the sea. She is the benthic “Big, Bad Woman” and the transfigured mother of marine mammals. Her palace is made of whale bones and lies beneath the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. She is the punisher of broken taboos and disrespect to nature.

It’s plain to see that Sedna is not a warm or welcoming goddess, but I felt her pull as strongly as a fly pulled to a porch light. No chthonic deity has ever really reached out to me, and it was no surprise that this was the one who finally did speak directly to me, as she is both an ocean and an underworld goddess. Indeed, the two are hardly separable.

The ocean – water itself – is everything. Not only in my personal spiritual practice but for all the world and her inhabitants, on all levels. It is life and death. Sedna is both Life and Death.

That woman down there beneath the sea
She wants to hide the seals from us.
These hunters in the dance house,
They cannot mend matters
They cannot mend matters.
Into the spirit world
Will go I,
Where no humans dwell.
Set matters right will I
Set matters right will I.

– central Arctic song (translated by James Archibald Houston)

Should too many of her sacred taboos be broken, should there be disrespect and abuse of nature and of women, Sedna would draw the seals and other sea creatures the People depended upon down to her palace. The shaman, or angakkuq, would then have a most unenviable task; he would need to journey down to her palace to set matters right, to appease her wrath and comfort her so that she would release the animals who would feed and clothe the village.

This was accomplished by combing out her hair, which became knotted and tangled when her laws were broken. Because her traitorous father chopped off her fingers (during the tragic event that would turn her into a goddess) she was unable to do it for herself. If, for whatever reason, the angakkuq failed to appease her, he could be lost to her abyssal graveyard forever.

When I first began to learn about Sedna, I immediately related with her and her story, and I felt that she was summoning me. At first this was somewhat intimidating, as she is not very welcoming of visitors in the best of times. However, she indeed was the one calling me. Loudly. Her taboos and all manner of natural laws have been broken to bits for ages now, countless crimes against nature, women and all life sending her into a constant rage, yet no angakkuit have been coming to see her, not like they used to.

By my own earthly, given name was she calling, specifically the literal meaning of that Welsh name – “Protector of the Sea”.

Will you live up to that name?” she seemed to be asking.

I don’t know how long a pre-Christian Inuit angakkuq would train and prepare to even be able to make the journey to Sedna, but I did learn that female angakkuit, while rare, were typically much more powerful than males. Perhaps this aided me in my efforts, but it still took no fewer than three tries – three separate journeys – to make it to and into Adlivun to commune directly with Sedna.

The first journey took me to the Arctic and showed me the path down to her palace. It consisted of three obstacles beginning with a whirlpool on the frigid ocean surface. This was the portal down into the sea, deep into the darkness, until reaching a long, deep trench that must be followed and then penetrated to reach an even deeper, darker sea. Then, even from a distance, it was clear what the final test was; the classic beast at the threshold; a dark, looming silhouette against the phosphorescent glow the massive whalebone arches.

The second journey, still consisting of entering through the whirlpool, down to the trench and through it to the underworld, took me closer to the guardian at the palace door. It resembled a huge, terrifying yet beautiful three-headed woman with the lower body of a dragon or sea serpent.

The guardian told me that to enter the whalebone gates and speak to Sedna, I would need to make a third journey, this time returning with a Venus Comb murex. A Venus Comb (Murex pecten) is a seashell, so named for the dramatic spines all around it’s exceptionally long siphonal canal.

Since spring of 2017 I have been studying Michelle Hanson’s Ocean Oracle: a 200-card oracle deck featuring 200 different seashells and the meanings that she has received from them over decades of both biological study and meditation.

I have also had the pleasure of frequently corresponding with her via email, as she does with students taking her certification course, developing a friendship as well as a student-teacher relationship. She lives only two states away from me and when she learned she’d be stopping very nearby on her way North, we planned on meeting in person for the first time.

It was shortly after this that I had made the second journey and was told to come back with the murex. Michelle had emailed me, asking if there were any particular shells I would want to see when we met, and I replied listing several favorites.

I tried my luck a bit further, asking if she happened to have an extra Venus Comb I could buy or borrow. At first, she replied saying she unfortunately had only the one in her personal collection that she used for readings.

She then asked if I wouldn’t mind explaining why I needed it, wondering if using the card from the deck (which also bears the shells energy and is useful in various workings) would suffice. I related my journey and my instructions to bring back a real one and she agreed that, in this case, the picture alone would not do.

It was not only, as I understood it, a test of devotion for me to find and return with one. It would also be the token and tool by which I would complete my version of the angakkuq’s task of combing Sedna’s hair and communing with her.

Not two days after Michelle’s initial response and referral to a website where I could try to buy one, she wrote back again with surprising news. She remembered some boxes in her basement which contained several other “extra” shells and happened to find among them a beautiful Venus Comb murex that she didn’t even know she had.

We met shortly after that, and she presented me not only with the near-perfect Venus Comb, but a handful of precious shell gifts (all deliberately chosen for me for their meanings), most of which now rest under the gaze of a mermaid goddess on my ocean altar.

The third journey down to Sedna was one of the quickest and easiest, and the imposing but familiar guardian was immediately accepting of me and my murex.

In her guidebook, “Ocean Oracle: What Seashells Reveal About Our True Nature”, Michelle describes the meaning of the Venus Comb as “healthy self-centeredness, self-love, focusing on one’s needs, discovering and living one’s truth”.

This meaning was echoed in the energy I felt attach itself to the shell once I took it to Sedna. It is now not only symbolic of an actual comb to repair her gnarled hair (an act which itself is both literal and symbolic) and a powerful key to her realm and the understanding she imparts. It’s also a token of love for Sedna and the Earth, and of self-love.

Sedna knew her self-worth when she left an unhappy and misleading marriage, even though that only led to another disaster in which her father turned from rescuer to executioner. But even that final struggle and heartbreak transformed her into a mighty goddess forever.

It is only when we truly know and love ourselves, and honor our personal truths, that we can learn to have divine love for our precious planetary mother and stand up to defend her. But it is only through Earth itself – spirit, nature and magic – that we come to know ourselves.

So, the answer is always to return home, and to ourselves; return to the Great Mother and nurture that which nurtures us, completing the sacred circle.



© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

featured image: Sedna from The Goddess Oracle deck by Amy Sophia Marashinsky

Conchomancy: Scotch bonnet, the Pioneer

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.

tam o'shanter

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.

Cape_Fear_Sunset by Sarunas Burdulis

Cape Fear Sunset, photo by Sarunas Burdulis

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.

Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce

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.

War_of_Independence_figures_by_William Hole

Notable figures in the first Scottish War of Independence, by William Hole

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.

the-turn-of-the-tide John Duncan

Turn of the Tide by John Duncan

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.

scotch bonnet

My Scotch bonnet shell

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!)

royal scottish flag

 


References:
https://www.ncpedia.org/scottish-settlers
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotch_bonnet_(sea_snail)

© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

 

Mermaid Medicine: The Sacred Conch Mudra

In recent months I have revisited my interest in mudras, spiritual hand gestures within the practice of yoga. Of the mudras I was researching, one in particular caught my eye and made me laugh with surprise and delight when I read about its meaning and use.

It is called the Shankh Mudra; Shankha meaning “divine conch”. I was soon after only more delighted to get to the lesson in Michelle Hanson’s Ocean Oracle which included the Indian Chank shell (Turbinella pyrum).

The mudra is made by encircling your left thumb with the four fingers of your right hand, and touching the tip of your right thumb to the tip of your left middle finger.

shankh-mudra2.jpg

This shape resembles a conch shell, which is very sacred within Hinduism and Buddhism, and is one of the Ashtamangala – eight sacred symbols and teaching tools of enlightenment. The conch represents the sound of dharma, the “right way of living”.

The Shankh Mudra benefits the throat chakra and is intended to drive away all problems associated with the throat. This, combined with its association with a shell, is what made me laugh and associate it with mermaids and what then presented itself to me specifically as “Mermaid Medicine” – methods of spiritual and emotional (and physical) healing that resonate with watery, mermaid energies.

mermaid-circle-graphic-sheet-1-5-in.jpg

Mermaids are famous for their beautiful voices and songs. At some point in our lives, we may experience pains and challenges that rob us of our ability to communicate effectively, to speak our truths, or to use our creativity to express ourselves. These hindrances are likely to manifest as blocks or illnesses of the throat or the throat chakra.

Practicing the Shankh Mudra regularly, especially while chanting “OM”, is said to improve the voice, as well as heal and strengthen the throat chakra.

throat chakra

Visualizing and/or evoking mermaid energies or even a specific mermaid goddess while practicing this mudra can further enhance its effectiveness and give it a personalized focus and intention, if mermaid energy resonates with you as it does with me.

In the Ocean Oracle, the Indian Chank shell represents “Something or someone held sacred or dear”, drawing from the shell’s intense spiritual significance to Hinduism (and other Eastern practices).

I think, in the context of using this mudra, this meaning can be extended to valuing your own voice and expression, holding your personal truth as sacred and dear as any deity or other spiritual belief. Meditating on this shell and its meaning while performing the mudra can also enhance its power and give it further personal meaning, as well as teach you to be true to yourself and to have the courage to speak your truth, and to speak it righteously.

The Hindu god Vishnu is often depicted holding the Shankha, and is therefore another appropriate evocation.

Vishnu

Here is an affirmation that you may use, or customize, before or during use of the Shankh Mudra…

My voice is sacred as the holy shell.
Shankha Mudra, heal and clear my throat
So that I may speak and share it well!

Namaste!


© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

Resources: Ocean Oracle by Michelle Hanson
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashtamangala
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbinella_pyrum

Conchomancy: Messages from the Sea

Seashells-Vintage-Images-GraphicsFairy2-658x1024

There are, probably literally, countless forms of divination throughout the world. While you have undoubtedly at least heard of many, such as Tarot, astrology, crystal gazing and dream interpretation, you may be less familiar with conchomancy – the art of divining with seashells.

Just like the myriad spectral crystals that grow deep in Mother Earth’s flesh and bring us healing vibrations and messages, so too do the similarly composed shells that grow in her blood, the oceans.

Purple-Rock-Crystals-GraphicsFairy

Calcium carbonate, the primary compound in seashells and pearls, is also found in its more stable form, calcite, in rocks and crystals.

This scientific fact alone interestingly mirrors the nature and energies of these two different Earth treasures – the broader, original compound comprising the shells that move within the moving element, and its most stable polymorph making up the grounded, much-less-moving crystals.

There are different methods and rituals within conchomancy, depending on the culture. For instance, probably the most commonly known are Obi and Diloggun, originally of West African Yoruba tradition.

These systems, particularly as they have now evolved in Santeria traditions in the Americas, may make use of kola nuts, coconut shell pieces, or cowrie shells.

Yoruba_divination_board

Yoruba divination board – Possibly Owo region, Nigeria, Late 19th to early 20th century

 


The modern method of conchomancy that I am currently studying is the Ocean Oracle that has been painstakingly developed over decades of research by Michelle (aka Shelley, most appropriately!) Hanson.

The following excerpts are from the 200-card oracle deck guidebook, “Ocean Oracle: What Seashells Reveal About Our True Nature“.

The book you hold in your hands is the culmination of a lifelong quest for information, first about shells and then about the depths of awareness. Having never lived near the ocean, my first exposure to seashells came courtesy of my grandparents. Upon returning from a vacation in Florida, they gifted their four-year-old granddaughter with shells that had gathered off the beach. Even at that young age I was famously curious among my family, and these wonders of nature inspired my curiosity with a new intensity.

The following pages contain what I call the language of the shells. To help you as you develop your own interpretation skills, I have included snippets of past readings that represent a broad spectrum of what I have witnessed. I hope you will look upon what the shells have taught me as an indicator of what they may hold in store for you.

Michelle offers an in-depth certification course consisting of five modules of thorough lessons on both the biology and the metaphysics of shells and the creatures that grow them.

ocean oracle kit

Complete Ocean Oracle kit by Michelle Hanson, 2007

I am currently about halfway through the first module and it took no time at all for me to start to tune in to the language of the shells. I found that I intuitively agreed with many of her interpretations, and also received even more (and, sometimes, just different) messages from multiple shells.

One story that Michelle shares early on in the course, is her experience with the book “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Almost every chapter of the book is named for a shell upon which Lindbergh contemplated and meditated while spending a reclusive two weeks on Captiva Island, on Florida’s gulf coast.

Over a long period of time, Michelle Hanson was repeatedly gifted copies of the book, which she hesitated to read for fear that Lindbergh’s interpretations would clash with her own, leaving her to perhaps question the results of her own work and meditations.

However, after receiving a fourth copy (the day after she gave one away, attempting to cull the collection), she finally read it and found that the additional and different meanings presented only reinforced that there indeed is a shell language, and that, of course, different people may receive slightly or even very different messages. This doesn’t mean that any of them are wrong.

pink shell with seaweed 1937 georgia o'keeffe

Pink Shell with Seaweed
by Georgia O’Keeffe 1937

I could not have been happier to have discovered, and then much later, acquire, the Ocean Oracle. For a split second I was slightly intimidated by the size of the deck (200 shells strong), but immediately felt much more excited and satisfied once I realized that that only meant how very much there was to learn and enjoy.

But even the 200 are less than half of what Michelle has in her personal collection that she uses for readings, that is still only a fraction of all the shells in the world. Of her “extras”, I was very blessed to be gifted a few when I met Michelle and her husband this past February.

I had been on something of a hiatus from my Ocean Oracle studies, as well as this blog, since before the holidays last year. However, in meeting Michelle and having wonderful discussions about shells, seeing stunning abalones and others from her collection, and even being gifted with a handful of beauties from her “extras”, I felt a renewed sense of motivation and energy to return to studying the shells and sharing what I learn here.

I hope to build on what Michelle has started and not only share tidbits from her work, but to help expand it and share additional and alternative meanings to shells included in the Ocean Oracle, as well as many others not included.

It is not until the third module of lessons (remember, I’m only still in the first!) that Shelley mentions partnering with one shell to create an inner self-portrait, but I feel that I may have found my shell partner already, at least for now. Interestingly enough, it came from among the shells that she gave me.

Just like guardian and power animals, crystals, trees, flowers, etc., everyone can have a personal shell teacher or even multiple shell teachers and guides throughout their lives. At this moment, at least, mine seems to be the humble little Janthina snail.

Janthina_janthina 1807

Janthina janthina 1807

 

Coming soon:
Conchomancy series continues with the purple, pelagic Janthina snail! Stay tuned for insights into the meanings and energies of the Janthina and the type of meditations and manifestations for which it can be used, and more!

 


 

Ocean Oracle © Michelle Ziff Hanson, originally published 2004

All original material © 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

featured image: At Low Tide by Sir Edward Poynter 1913