By Victoria Foyt
What is it about the power of shells that moves us to collect them? No doubt the souvenir of a pleasant day at the beach or the sheer beauty that some species present entices. And yet, I wonder if in our bones we suspect a shell may hold the awesome power of the sea within its chambers. Does our soul secretly cry out for a little magic in proximity to this mysterious object of nature?
In fact, shells have been used as a ritualistic tool for centuries. One of the most popular shells used in divination ceremonies is the cowrie shell, scientific family name Cypraeidae, of which there are many species. The small shiny egg-shaped shell has a flat undersurface with a long narrow tooth-marked opening. Its powers range from resemblance to female genitalia—in some cultures women hold the cowrie to improve fertility or ease childbirth—to the historical use as shell money.
The cowrie’s sly sleepy aperture suggests a half-open eye or doorway through which we can access the world of ancestors and infinite wisdom. In Obi divination from the ancient religion of West Africa, a method of foretelling events employs four cowrie shells, which represent the past and future, male or female. A shaman will hold the shells as he or she prays over a question before blowing on the shells and tossing them on a table or the floor. The cowrie either falls up/open or down/closed, with sixteen possible outcomes. For example, if all of the shells land facing up, you have received the most blessed response and all of the light available is ready to assist you.
In the tradition of feng shui, the Chinese art of creating a harmonious environment, seashells are believed to reduce stress and offer spiritual protection. Like water, they symbolize good communication, positive relationships and prosperity. Adding seashells to a water fountain will protect your money. A frame decorated with seashells strengthens the relationship with the person pictured within. And a basket of shells by the front door stabilizes and energizes your career. A smooth shell in the kitchen promotes harmony among family ties while one in the southwest corner of the bedroom will bring a couple closer together.
Have you ever made a wish on a shell, perhaps one that called to your heart? Or placed seashells strategically in your home? You just might get a little magic.