O is for Ocean

This week’s Pagan Blog Project post is about the ocean. Why does this pertain to Paganism I hear you ask? Well, the oceans are made up of water (of course they are silly I hear you say). Water is especially significant to pagans of all sorts. Even if you’re not a pagan there is something completely magical about the ocean, or the sea.

At first glance people seem to always think the ocean is blue but that’s not the case at all. The ocean can be blue but green and silver too. In fact it can be a myriad of shades of blue, green, brown, gold and silver. It all depends where you are and the light. Its colour and nature can change suddenly, in a flash, just like our emotions can. The connection here isn’t surprising since water is closely linked with the emotions. In fact being by an ocean or sea is a very good way of releasing pent up emotions and an extremely cleansing experience. There is always a sense of invigoration being by an ocean or sea, the salt spray on the face and the smell of the brine. I have always gotten the best night’s sleep ever after visiting the ocean.

The ocean (or sea) has always played a huge part in Celtic tradition. The Celts were sea-faring folk, as well as being pastoralists. The Celtic diaspora shows originating in Europe and settling in far flung places such as Britain, Ireland, Iberia and so forth; yes, they were good sailors and established many lucrative trade routes across oceans and seas.

For me, the foremost Celtic sea or ocean deity is Manannan mac Lir, who is a sea deity in Irish mythology. He is a ‘gatekeeper’ god, guarding the entrance to the Underworld, as well as the weather and mists.  Although often seen as an Irish deity he also has strong associations with Scotland and the Isle of Man. As is common with Celtic deities, he has many magical possessions – the goblet of truth, a ship that did not need sails (known as Wave Sweeper), a cloak which rendered him invisible, a flaming helmet, a sword named Fragarach (Answerer or Retaliator) and a horse named Enbarr of the Flowing mane, who could travel over water and land. He is also associated with the Cauldron of Regeneration, which isn’t surprising since to journey to the Underworld and return is to be transformed (literally doing deep shadow work on oneself).

The poem Sea Fever by John Masefield (first published in 1902) really does sum up the ocean for me. Here it is in its entirety, evoking the spirit of the ocean.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,  

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,  

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,  

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

 I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide  

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;  

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,  

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,  

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;  

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,  

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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