Conchomancy | Broccoli Mag
There was a time when my greatest summertime aspiration was to sit hunchbacked, crouched low onto the heels of my sandy feet, collecting shells along the shoreline. I’d comb the surface and dig to unearth them, folding my favorites—some jagged and broken, others gleaming, perfect, iridescent—into the waistband of my bathing suit bottoms. The more they smelled of the sea, the better. Briny. Murky. A little bit wild and maybe a touch spoilt. They made me scrunch up my nose and imagine unseen worlds.
Maybe you, too, have eagerly held a seashell up to your ear to see if in fact, as you have been promised, the vast oceans were contained therein. Humans have long admired, even treasured, seashells as objects of wonder, beauty, science, symbolism, and magic. Throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, beads made with shells date back nearly 100,000 years, making them some of the earliest evidence of a modern human culture. In Buddhism, a conch shell is one of the so-called Eight Auspicious Symbols, while excavations suggest that Roman emperors and Egyptian pharaohs alike valued shells right alongside precious metals and gemstones. One tale recounts the third emperor of Rome, Caligula, ordering his troops to gather seashells as “spoils of the ocean” during a wartime jaunt to Britain. (Historians have wondered if in fact he was referring to women at the brothels, or if the shells themselves were intended to be some type of wartime treasure.)