Sea Witches, Sailors, and SALT & STORM
I think I'd like to be a witch.
I'd churn the sea, I'd tether the winds,As suited my fancy best.I'd wreck great ships, if they crossed my path,With all the souls on board.
Old Cornish Song
One of my favorite parts of writing SALT & STORM was researching stories of sea witches and water magic and diving into the world of superstition and legend that surrounds sailing. I was careful to make the details of SALT & STORM as historically accurate as possible, so that my main character, Avery, wears the kinds of things a real girl in 1869 would wear and that the island on which she lives had the look, feel, smells, and sounds of a real New England whaling town, but I also drew on historical research to help build and develop the magical aspects of the book.
In the first chapter, Avery sits down with her grandmother, a famous water witch, and learns the secrets of tying the winds in three knots of a piece of rope. It sounds like pure fantasy, but I actually based it on a real practice described by a sixteenth century Swedish historian:
“The Finlanders … knit three magical knots, … and they gave them to the merchants, observing this rule, that when they unloosed the first, they should have a good gale of wind; when the second, a stronger wind; but when they untied the third, they should have such cruel tempests that they should not be able to look out of the forecastle to avoid the rocks, nor move a foot to pull down the sails, nor stand at the helm to go/ern the ship; and they made an unhappy trial of the truth of it, who denied that there was any such power in the knots”
Sailors have always been extremely superstitious, with a complicated understanding of rules and omens designed to keep them safe at sea (for example: never set sail on Friday). In SALT & STORM, the characters use tattoos to give themselves special abilities and magical powers, which I based on real sailing traditions. You can still see sailors wearing tattoos that are supposed to give them magical protection, like “HOLD FAST” written across the knuckles (meant to keep a sailor secure in the rigging) or images of a rooster and pig (said to protect against drowning).
As the home of the Salem witch trials and the birthplace of the American whaling industry, New England has a complicated history with magic and sailing. Stories of witch trials are full of women accused of cursing ships or raising storms out of retribution, like these examples from seventeenth century Scottish accounts:
Margaret Barclay caused the wreck of a ship by molding a figure of it in wax and casting it into the sea. She sank her husband's brother's ship, in sight of land.Violet Leys, because of her husband's discharge from a ship, so haunted it with storms that it was near being lost, and much cargo was thrown overboard.A Dunrosses witch, becoming vexed at a boat's crew, put a wooden cup into a bowl of water, and sang to the devil. The water became agitated, the cup overturned, and the boat never came in.
Many women accused of witchcraft were often just independent or eccentric women, living alone in a time when women were expected to marry, remarry, or live with family. A woman with special knowledge of healing or midwifery might get a reputation as a witch, but she would often be tolerated or even respected for her skills—until a shipwreck or a bad storm hit. These women, already alone and vulnerable, lived at the mercy of the changing opinions of the communities in which they lived, something that the witches in SALT & STORM also have to learn to navigate. Avery’s grandmother often warns her that, despite their importance to the islanders, she has to be careful not to upset them or they’ll turn on the Roes.
In the end, a lot of these stories came back to one thing: the sea is a wild, unpredictable, dangerous place. From the endless lists of sailing superstitions to the witch trials that tried to punish innocent people for devastating storms, people will do anything to believe they have some way to control what happens to them on the ocean—and in their lives. I loved taking those feelings and bringing them into a world where magic exists and where, as Avery learns, not even magic can give you control over your fate.
About The Book:
Salt & Storm by Kendall KulperHardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: September 23rd 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Goodreads | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads | Website | Twitter
A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder--and the one boy who can help change her future.Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane--a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.
About The Author:
Goodreads | Website | Twitter
Kendall Kulper is the author of SALT & STORM, a Young Adult historical fantasy to be published by Little, Brown in September 2014. She grew up in the wilds of New Jersey and currently lives in Boston with her economist husband, Dave, and Abby, her chronically-anxious Australian Shepherd.
For more reviews, author features, discussion posts and giveaways, click on the banner to see the full MERMAIDS & MYTHS schedule!