golden cowrie shell and other meanings

What is Conchomancy? Also Known As Shell Divination

Last Updated: November 8, 2022

Conchomancy (pronounced konk-oh-man-sea) is a form of divination using shells. This is the art of reading the future or gaining insights into other matters by using sea shells. In this blog post, we will explore cowrie shell divination and its origins in Africa. We will also look at the different shapes of sea shells and their meanings. If you are interested in learning more about cowrie shell divination or any other form of shell divination, please keep reading!

Table of Contents

What is Shell Divination?

Working with the natural world is a massive part of a witch’s journey. Using divination as a method for predicting future behaviour or connecting with nature and the divine, you may find shells as a language form your divination practice.

A seashell is an exoskeleton, or an external skeleton, that many marine animals use for support and protection. Different sea creatures create different types of shells. The cowrie is a type of sea snail that creates a smooth, glossy shell in the shape of a cone. Cowrie shells have been used for centuries for divination purposes.

The cowrie shell is not the only type of shell that can be used for divination purposes. There are many different sea shell shapes, each with its own meaning. For example, the conch shell is said to represent communication, messages and new beginnings. It’s shaped a bit like a trumpet, and in mermaid cartoons, it’s always what is being blown by the tritons to produce music or announcements! I find that shell divination is then perfectly named as “conchomancy”, since divination is all about the communication of messages.

African Cowrie Shell divination - is it a closed practice?

Yes. As a closed practice, I cannot go in too deeply about this type of divination. There are many different forms of shell divination, with each having its own unique history and origins. However, cowrie shell divination is thought to have originated in Africa. 

It is said that the cowrie shell was used as currency in some parts of Africa, which is how it came to be associated with divination and fortune-telling. There are plenty of methods out there, including one named diloggún which sadly I am not open to share about as it’s a closed practice.

In religions such as Santería, Candomblé, Umbanda and Palo Mayombe, the cowrie shell is used in a variety of ways. For example, it may be used to represent the Virgin Mary or other deities. It may also be used as a protective charm or worn as an amulet. In cowrie shell divination, the shells are often thrown (or cast) onto a mat or cloth. They are also read after 16 have been pulled, as 16 is a magical and significant number. 

However, I would advise to seek further information from the Yoruba people and practitioners who can share more authoritative insight.

mussels and other shell meanings

Different types of Shells

When it comes to shells to include in your shell divination collection, the best ones are the ones you find yourself. They develop a deeper meaning for you and your practice, but it doesn’t mean you cannot read for others with your own shells too. Most of the shells I’ve mentioned below can be found worldwide, whilst other shells (like the ones that some octopi and squid use) aren’t as available as others.

  1. Cowrie – Round on one side, with small “teeth” on a flatter side, cowrie shells come in a few patterns like Tiger Cowrie, Deer Cowrie, and Money Cowrie.
  2. Conch – Shaped like a spiral with a wide opening, the conch is a popular shell used in divination. Its spiralling shape is often seen as a symbol of life’s journey.
  3. Abalone – A flattish shell with a pearly interior, abalone shells come from a type of sea snail.
  4. Murex – A spiky shell, murex are often available in multiple colours.
  5. Volutes – Shaped like a spiral, volutes can be found in a range of colours from bright orange to deep purple, and are named after “scrolls” due to the way the shell looks to unravel.
  6. Auger – These tall, tower style shells with a sharp point make you think of a Unicorn horn.
  7. Clams – These bivalve molluscs have two shells that are hinged together, and may have rings horizontally from the connection point on them.
  8. Mussels – One of the dark blue shells you’re likely to find in your local beach sand, they have a smooth exterior.
  9. Scallops – One of the most typical shell shapes depicted in imagery, scallops have a distinct fan shaped shell. You might have eaten these as they’re a popular seafood!
  10. Oysters – Oysters are another type of bivalve mollusc, similar to clams and mussels. They’re also a popular seafood choice. The exterior is usually rough and you can get them in pink colours to dark brown, with the inside smooth and iridescent.
  11. Tusk/Tooth Shells (Scaphopoda) – As the name suggests, this tooth or tusk shaped shells look a bit like an elephant’s tusk. They’re found in both deep and shallow waters.
  12. Nautilus – Often seen as a symbol of perfection, nautiluses are coiled shells with a smooth exterior. They’re named after sailing as they reminded early sailors of the sails on their ships.

I recommend for you to learn more about shells here:

Shell Divination Readings

When it comes to utilising shell divination in your magickal practice, I would suggest taking time to analyse the colours your selecting, the overall theme of shapes (such as larger shells promoting bigger themes or rounder suggesting smoother outcomes) as well as the shell meaning itself. Without encroaching onto other culture’s or closed religion’s way to read shells, here are some ways you can use shell divination readings for yourself:

  • You can cast the shells onto a casting cloth or divination board.
  • You can blindly pick a shell from a bag, pouch or lined collection infront of you.
  • You can stumble upon one (which is a form of apantomancy).
  • You can explore your chosen shell’s etymology.
  • You can explore your chosen shell’s colour correspondences (especially helpful for the flashy, iridescent shells).
  • You can hold the shells in your hands and let them fall through your fingers like sand.

After you’ve selected your shells, it’s time to interpret their meanings.

Shell Divination Meanings

  1. Cowrie – often associated with feminine energy, cowrie shells can represent fertility, birth, and new beginnings
  2. Conch – associated with announcements, communication, and messages.
  3. Abalone – associated with cleansing, protection, and emotional balance
  4. Murex – often associated with defenses, protection and power.
  5. Volutes – associated with change, transformation, and new beginnings
  6. Auger – associated with energy flow, foundations and psychic ability.
  7. Clams – associated with beauty, abundance and with feminine energy.
  8. Mussels – associated with abundance, with masculine energy and with home life.
  9. Scallops – often seen as a symbol of the journey of halves, of choices, and of our connections.
  10. Oysters – often associated with sexuality, sensuality and attraction.
  11. Tusk/Tooth Shells (Scaphopoda) – associated with business, wealth, and prosperity.
  12. Nautilus – associated with change, progress and new horizons.

You can learn more about additional shell meanings here:

Shells for Witchcraft + Good Luck

Recommended shells to keep close when you are working with manifestation or you want to check in on how you are accomplishing your goals with some universal insight, here are some recommended shells for good luck:

  • Cowrie shell – Money, Wealth – this is because they were used as a currency in some parts of the world and have a whole designation for “money cowrie”.
  • Jingle shells – Wealth, Prosperity – this is due to them being as shiny as a coin.
  • Snail shell – Travel, Movement – this is due to being able to move between realms of sea and land.
  • Star limpet – Beauty, Art – this is due to it’s individual markings and uniqueness.
  • Periwinkle shells – Children, Fertility – this is due to their size, and the amount you usually can find.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned any shells for career or jobs? This is not really your element, as shells relate more to water, to beauty, to art, to deep feelings and emotions. However, if you want to get a little more specific in your readings, I would recommend using the cowrie for financial help as they are the easiest to come by. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about shell divination, and stay tuned for more different divination methods! Until next time xox


I love curating divination experiences for those invested in spiritual growth with secular honest vibes. I am that witch you come to for these honest, interesting and beneficial divination experiences!

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