Article in the Devon Life written by Chrissy Harris.
Any apprehension about coming face to face with a real live witch soon disappears when you meet Selkie Shell.
Maybe it’s the fact she lives in a perfectly ordinary semi in South Devon, or because she immediately disarmed me with a welcome hug, or it could be down to the positive mood-inducing “dragonsblood and Abra Melin” incense wafting through the hall. Whatever it was quickly dispelled any notions of scary ladies with pointy hats and black cats that centuries of fairy tales lead many of us to imagine when we hear that word.
Because let’s face it, witches get a bad press. Once revered, then hideously persecuted and then demonised, their struggle over the years has been well documented. But witchcraft, and people’s need for it, has never gone away. We’ve got to dispel the myths and show the reality of what magic really is,” says Selkie Shell, who is on a mission to inject a pose of positive PR into the ancient occupation.
“I believe that magic is from a pure source, it is the very heart of nature and it lies within the roots, trees, rocks and waters; it is the spirits that dwell within the land, the sea and the sky. Some witches are still afraid to be open about who they are and what they do because of prejudice. It’s time for us to be brave and step out of our proverbial broom closets!” she adds, laughing.
Despite her passion for the “gift” she was born with, Selkie Shell(so named because of she is able to call seals by singing to them) is not afraid to conform to stereotype. Last year she helped to organise a witches’ tea party in Exeter that attracted more than 500 people from up and down the country.
The aim was to honour the last three women, ever to be convicted of witchcraft in England: Tempeance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, who were all from Bideford.
But the tea party was also about having fun. We had an aspect of fancy dress,” says Selkie Shell, 49. “We wanted to open it up to everyone to help dispel prejudice and bring people together to honour all witches. The event was filled with ceremony, song and a whole lot of cackling!”
Selkie Shell says people in Devon seem to be “a little more open” to witchcraft than the rest of the country.
Born in Ormskirk, Lancashire, raised in Liverpool, Selkie Shell moved to Devon when she was 18 and has been West Country based ever since. She says the way of life, people and the connection the area has with Nature have helped her grow to feel comfortable in her own skin. “ I was born like this” she says, matter-of-factly. “ I was always a misfit, the strange girl. I was having psychic experiences and astral travel at the age of six.”
What was it like, I ask? “It was terrifying because I didn’t know what was happening, because with astral travelling you feel completely awake. It’s very different from just dreaming; you see, feel and experience things as you would do in everyday life. I told my mum when I was eight about these otherworldly experiences and she took me to the doctors and they told me I had a vivid imagination. I quickly learned simply to hide who I really was.”
Selkie Shell says life changed when, aged 11, she discovered a book in her local library. “It was called Night Flyers and it was about astral projection, “she says. “ I suddenly thought: crikey! There are people out there like me. It was brilliant. It made me feel so much less afraid.” Selkie Shell admits it’s only recently that she has truly embraced who she is and come out, loud and proud. Her living room in the house she shares with her partner David (whom she married in a “beautiful” handfasting ceremony) and children Taran, 16 and Corvan, 9, is full of her tools of the trade.
There’s a cauldron on the hearth, a cabinet full of foraged ingredients for spells, wooden staffs and even a broomstick. It’s all the equipment Selkie Shell needs to do her job.
“It’s not Harry Potter – we don’t levitate things. Magic doesn’t work like that. It’s about focusing on positive intent,” she says, adding she gets people asking her for help with all sorts of things, from making charms to bring on crop growth to dealing with troublesome neighbours and even love spells.
You can help people fall in love? Now, this is the thing, you can’t do that,” says Selkie Shell. “I believe in the Web of Wyrd. It’s a Viking concept. They believe that everything was connected by an invisible thread, so you’re going to have cause and effect. If you have somebody you’re meant to be with, they are on that invisible thread. The magic will just help draw in the person you’re meant to be with.”
This all makes perfect sense – that’s the beauty of it. Even the most rational-minded person can’t fail to be impressed by the ancient logic of it all. Witchcraft has been around for a very long time and probably always will be.