I’m a water baby, I’ve known that forever. I grew up by the North Sea; I swam in it quite regularly even though it’s bastard cold and murky grey and you’d be well advised not to swallow even a drop of it. The worst part of wearing hearing aids for me is having to take them out and find somewhere safe to keep them before I can swim. I can never just launch myself into the waves like I yearn to, not unless I want to experience some very expensive regret.
Living away from the sea made me unhappy. I didn’t realise just how unhappy until I lived in land-locked Leicester for twelve years. It messed with my head. It disrupted my rhythms. I was ungrounded and never felt settled. I’ll never let anyone tear me away from the waves again. When my time comes to leave, I want the sea to take me. Scatter my ashes over the water, let my soul go where the ocean roars.
As someone of the gothic and perhaps witchy persuasion, I suppose it’s no great surprise that I put a great deal of trust and thought in the movements of the sea. I go there to reconnect, to soothe and to rebalance, to literally clear my head thanks to the powerful ocean air. When I was a child I grew up in the country, a little way from Whitby on the coast. I frequently took myself off for walks — on my own, but I never felt unsafe.
As I walked I would make a witchweave or a pocket spell, a handmade talisman of sorts. Terry Pratchett called them “shambles”. They are quite simply little pieces of things you find as you walk along; grass, string, sheep’s wool, sticks. They are things offered to you by nature, left for you to find. You twist them together and they make a web, their purpose is entirely up to you. When you’re done, you leave them behind in nature. They’re not something that should follow you home.
The same is true at the beach. The sea may give and the sea may take — what it offers you is only yours for a while. It’s gifts are always temporary, and should always be returned. In New Zealand one should be doubly aware of this — the laws of our nature reserves demand that nothing is taken or destroyed. I find it helpful to remember the old saying:
“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Keep nothing but memories. Kill nothing but time.”
The beach was here before you, it’ll outlast you long after you are gone. The sea is a beast you cannot tame, but honour it, respect it and it may just allow you to pet it for a while.
Anything left on the beach which is not part of the sea should be taken away. Plastic. Rubbish. Sharp, broken glass. Everything else should be left where it is, or returned before you leave — unless permission is granted. You may dismiss it as “woo” or some other oddness, but personally, I’ve always felt very strongly that I know if the sea is happy to gift me something, or if it should stay where I found it. Call it a gut feeling if you wish, but it’s something I can never ignore.
I make witchweaves when I walk on the beach, gathering treasures the sea has left. I gather beach glass that the waves have tumbled, and I do often take it home. For me that fits into a different category — a man-made item wrecked by the rocks, once sharp and cruel and dangerous, now smoothed and made safe to touch. I feel like the sea does that to me; it takes off all my hard edges and gives me a more rounded view. The sea offers me glass to remind me: you can be strong without needing defences. It’s okay to let yourself be tumbled in the waves. You won’t break, you’ll just change shape. Trust the journey.
You don’t have to call yourself a witch to be fully at one with nature. Looking and listening and actually hearing what the outside world says to you can be enough. Walk barefoot on the beach or on the grass and tell me it doesn’t feel different, better, than when you keep your shoes on. Tell me you can’t climb up a high mountain or ridge and look out across a tapestry of greens and not feel awed. Stand upon the beach and stare out across the ocean towards the far horizon, and see how much the world has got to offer.
The world is huge and you are small and yet, here you are.
Right now, in this moment, you are here and you are connected to all things.
Drifting as far out as I dared,
My toes free from the ocean floor.
I said to the sea, “Would you take me?
I’m too tired to swim any more.”
And there arrived a gentle whisper,
A wave nudged me closer to shore.
“It is not time,” it told me, softly,
“Keep in mind all that you’re swimming for.”
T. L. Wood 2019