Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Myths of the Ebb Tide

Art concept. Vintage still life with old book near lighting candle

Happy Tuesday! Today’s Cabinet of Curiosities post is short, but one that speaks to my heart for many years of acquaintance with the subject.

If you’re like most people, the thought of an ebb tide brings a feeling of tranquility. Who doesn’t love to walk along a barren stretch of beach with the glittering hem of the ocean gently receding from shore?

The eastern seaboard has been my second home through countless springs, summers, autumns and even winters. I know areas of it as intimately as my own backyard. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked on sunbaked beaches or sand cooled by twilight after the sun was swallowed by the vulture-beaked rim of the Atlantic.

Sunset over the ocean with waves rolling into shore

I’ve picked up shells, stones, and pieces of driftwood, scattered souvenirs left by the lap and kiss of the receding tide. Although I find those strolls on the beach rejuvenating, the myths of yesteryear would have me believe differently.

In days of yore, people thought an ebb tide capable of draining someone’s spirit. Anyone who dwelled by the sea knew the receding tide would steal the spirit from the body. New ventures were best embraced when the tide was high. By the same token should someone fall ill, their soul was likely to depart with the ebb tide. Plantings of any kind were done when the waters were high so that their essence was not whittled away and carried off by the vanishing waters.

Old wives’ tales aside, there is something magical about an ebb tide. To this day, it’s one of the visual images I embrace during nightly meditation. Superstitions about the give and take of the ocean may have changed over time, but the music is much the same.

Are you a fan of seaside strolls and ocean folklore?

68 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Myths of the Ebb Tide

  1. I love this post and the ocean. I grew up a hour away from the ocean and spent a lot of time there. Nothing like a foggy day on the beach or a sunny winter day too. I didn’t know all the wise tales but find strength and energy in ocean.

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    • I just love being near the ocean and the bay, Denise. How wonderful that you grew up only an hour away. It’s a 3.5 hour or 4 hour drive for me depending on which beach I hit, but we used to make the trip most every weekend from spring through fall when my MIL had property there. Hubby and I also visit in the winter. You can’t beat the beach any time of year!

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  2. I’ve always loved the ocean and use ocean sleep sounds some nights via headphones. Living in Cornwall is awesome as none of our coastlines are that far away. Great post, Mae. I never knew the superstitions about ebb tides but can see where they came from. Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Harmony, how wonderful that you don’t live far from coastlines. I love visiting those on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. My stomping ground is mostly Maryland and Delaware beaches, but I’ve ventured to others as well. And I love listing to ocean sounds to lull me to sleep. I sometimes do that as well.
      I’m glad I could share some of the folklore about ebb tides. They’re magical!

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  3. I like early morning seaside strolls or jogs when the only people out there are other strollers or joggers. It makes me feel small and God’s creation huge. Before people understood how the moon and tides worked, it would seem supernatural. No wonder myths came to be.

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    • Early morning and twilight or after the sun has set are my favorite times for strolling the beach, Priscilla. I love what you said about feeling small and sensing the vastness of God’s creation. It’s so true. Another reason those ebb tide myths probably came into play way back in the days of yore!

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  4. You would have thought, growing up so close to the beach, I would have heard of beach/ocean lore. But I don’t think I did. The beach is my happy place. I would say it rejuvenates my spirit rather than drains it but maybe I mostly walk on it at high tide. ❤️

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  5. I haven’t heard a lot of ocean folklore. As you know, the moon has an affect on high and low tides. Planting by zodiac signs is common among many, so I can actually see the wisdom of taking the high tide into consideration.

    I enjoyed this bit of folklore, Mae.

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    • I love ocean folklore. When I wrote Twelfth Sun, I spent a lot of time immersed in it, and picked up a number of cool myths and legends. One of my favorite times to stroll the beach is after the sun has set and the moon has risen. It’s beautiful to see moonlight on the water and watch the lap of the surf on the shore when its dark. I love how moon folklore and ocean folklore go together.

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Joan!

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    • People surely feared the ocean as well as respected it in earlier centuries. I agree that it makes sense they would develop superstitions based upon the tide, especially an ebbing tide. Glad this was a new bit of folklore for you, Craig!

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  6. Terrific post, Mae. I walked on the Gulf sands every day for ten years and what always amazed me was that no two days were alike. By that, I mean the beach is always in a state of change. The tide never comes in or out the same way, leaving different marks and objects on the sand. I do miss my daily strolls.

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  7. To answer your question, absolutely. MC. I wish I lived on the beach, but when we vacation there I am out on the sand morning and evening, squishing my toes in the water and looking for shells, sand dollars, and unusual pebbles.

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    • You sound exactly like me, Noelle. I love strolling on the beach when we vacation there. My MIL had property at the shore for a number of years and hubby and I used to make the trip most every weekend spring through fall. I have so many good memories of those times!

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  8. Didn’t know that about the ebb tide, Mae. I need to check on that. It would be fun to add to my next trilogy.

    You are such a wordsmith!–“the lap and kiss of the receding tide”, “vulture-beaked rim of the Atlantic”–woah! What great images.

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    • I’ve enjoy nautical superstitions in general, Jacqui, but found these myths related to ebb tides to be especially intriguing. I’m glad they’ve got you intrigued too.

      And thank you for the nice compliment. Thinking about the ocean and tides resurrected so many wonderful memories of my time at the shore. I wanted to do those feelings and memories justice with the images I remember. 🙂

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  9. Ooh, I haven’t actually heard about that one before! Thanks for sharing, Mae 😊

    I don’t live near the sea, but my province is an island so beaches are aplenty and I’ve been to them many, many times throughout my life. I love sunsets on the beach, but I’m actually afraid of going to the deep – not because I can’t swim (because I can) but because of what might be there beneath the waves, haha!

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    • Marie, as much as I love the coast, I don’t venture too deep in the water either. Like you said—I worry about what might be lurking beneath the waves. Especially given the water is not clear in my part of the world and you can’t see the bottom.

      You are so lucky to have all those beaches around you. I bet the sunsets are breathtaking!

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      • I don’t have the guts to swim with fishes (or worse, sharks) either, haha! I also think I’m partly a vampire since I wilt easily under the heat 🤣

        Yeah, the heat and humidity here are offset by the stunning views. But nature is breathtaking no matter what the form, I’ve found!

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    • Someday I may have to weave some of that folklore into a story, Staci. Especially given I set a number of my stories in small coastal towns or villages. I’m glad you enjoyed the ebb tide myths. And it doesn’t surprise me you love the shore as well. We are kindreds on that! 🙂

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  10. Ebbing tide is not rejuvenating Mae, it seems to mitigate the power of ocean… that is my interpretation of this myth. The magic of waves affects the spirit, each wave hitting your feet evokes a feeling, a thought. I’ve poured many into my poetry. 😊

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    • I know you’ve used the ocean in much of your poetry, Balroop. Always with beautiful imagery that places me right back at the beach, immersed in the surroundings.
      And your interpretation of the ebb tide myth is spot on!

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  11. We live in the Midwest, so we don’t get to sandy shores very often, but when we do, they’re magical. The beach relaxes me, but I can see if you had to work or live near the water, there are times it could be frightening. And approaching darkness can make things more frightening, too. I’d never heard the ebbing tide lore, so thanks for sharing it. BTW, your writing was gorgeous!

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    • I know people who work near or in/on the ocean have a deep-abiding respect for it. Imagine those same people centuries ago and how they must have taken those fears and shaped them into superstition. I love thinking about how this stuff came to be, Judi.

      I’m thrilled you love the beach, too. I once met someone from the Midwest who had never seen the ocean. That was mind-boggling for me!

      And thank you for the lovely compliment about my writing. I was inspired to weave my feelings and memories of the ocean into this post! 🙂

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  12. Beautiful, Mae. Though I hadn’t heard of the tales attached to the ebb tide until your post, I can attest that when the water recedes, my soul journeys with it, BUT that journey is expansive and stretches into the heavens. Walking at or sitting by the breaking waves calms my spirit more than anything else. Maybe it’s the combination of salt air, sound, and the visual majesty of it all. Oh my, now I want to plan a vacation. 💗

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    • Just reading your comment has me wanting to plan a vacation too, Gwen! 🙂
      Fortunately, hubby and I do have a shore vacation coming up in early summer, and I can’t wait to stroll along the sand again. Like you, visiting the beach calms my spirit.

      I love what you said about your journey stretching into heaven. Witnessing God’s majesty in the roar of breaking waves and the roll of the ocean is profound! I can feel the sun and breeze on my face now, and hear the call of seabirds!

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  13. I’ve never thought about it, but I guess I don’t know much about ocean lore. Even though we visited often as a family when I was younger, I’ve always been more of a woods & mountains girl. But, I do agree with the peacefulness you feel from the ocean and its waves. A great share, Mae! Thank you!

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    • Ahh. I’ve got plenty of legends about woods and the mountains, too, Mar. I’ll be digging into them in future posts. I don’t want you feeling deprived, LOL.
      I actually enjoy the peace of the woods and hiking among the trees. I think because I spent so many years at the shore (my MIL had property there), I’m more drawn to the beach, but as you can appreciate the serenity of the ocean, I do the same with woodlands and mountains!

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  14. What a wonderful post, Mae. There is nothing more soothing than the sounds of the ocean ebb and flow. I love walking on a deserted beach and discovering treasures left by the tide. What an odd superstition, and one I’ve never heard of, but fascinating. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it amazing the treasures the ocean deposits for us to find, Jan? I love strolling along the sand as well, listening to the ebb and flow of the tide. It’s an image I can easily resurrect in my head and use when I want to unwind and relax.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the ebb tide myths, too. I find them so fascinating!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I know there’s a scientific explanation, but it’s always amazed me where all that water goes! We’re blessed to live about five minutes from the Pacific and spend every moment we can wandering its driftwood-blanketed beach.
    I love the poetry of your words above, Mae. I can feel the love you have for the ocean ❤

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    • Five minutes from the Pacific? Oh, I envy you, Jacquie. It must be wonderful being able to visit so often. I would treasure every moment of haunting those “driftwood blanketed” beaches.
      Thank you for the compliment, too. I truly love the coast and visiting the shorelines. I’m glad that passion came through! 🙂

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  16. I’m surrounded by water my entire life, Mae. Taking the ferry was a daily routine until I came to the US in the late 1970s. My college is in an island so small that can only accommodate bicycles. I often studied on the (flat) roof top or simply gazed at the ocean. I’m fortunate to first come to Portland, OR, closed to the river, and Seattle by the water, and now southern CA close to the beaches. Hubby and I enjoy our day trips to walk on the sand, look for the little creatures in the tide pools, and watch the sunset.
    Your sunset photo is gorgeous. I enjoy reading your post.

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  17. I love the sea, but I’m hundreds of miles from it. You were blessed to enjoy the sea many times over the years! I can understand how people once associated the tide with the draining of the spirit because of the lives lost on the sea. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the wonderful post, Mae. 🙂

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Mark. I’m thankful to have grown up so close to the shore. Spending so many years…well, decades there, has truly ingrained a love of coastal living in me. I would love to be able to retire there some day.

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  18. For some bizarre reason, I had always thought that there was something ominous about an ebb tide – that it had a bad omen attached to it. I really don’t know where I got that or why I had hung on to that thought for so long, but thanks for clearing up my own misunderstanding! 🙂

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    • Oh, that is very strange, Robbie. I’m sorry to hear you’re allergic to salt water, but glad that you can still enjoy seafood. I could live on the stuff, especially shellfish! I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

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  19. Your post has me missing Greece, and the seaside dinners and strolls my husband and I enjoyed there over ten years ago. We are hopeful that we can make it back with our son next summer, so he can meet all of his family and enjoy the sea for himself. I guess we’ll see if the trip will even be possible, given the current state of the world. 😞

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