Shells have a long history of meanings, symbolism and magical uses. As they are born from the ocean, they are related to water, to our emotions and deeper longings, and therefore also to the Moon, whose energy is always moving the tides. Both the water and the moon give shells a feminine quality to them, a nurturing, soft form of energies.
In Buddhism, shells represent hearing, listening. For Chinese Buddhism it is one of the 8 emblems of good luck. It is a symbol of light. It accompanies many of the sea deities, like Triton.
In Christianity it represents salvation, and were used to sprinkle baptismal waters. They are also worn by Christians to indicate the completion of the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in Galicia, Spain, originally the shrine of the Goddess Bridgette, the Celtic version of Aphrodite.
The scallop shell is associated with the goddess Venus (“born of the sea”) as she was carried to shore by shell in some of the versions of the myth. In Hindu mythology, the version of Aphrodite is associated to the goddess Lakshmi (“born from the churning of the ocean”), consort of Vishnu, and who represented beauty and good fortune.
There are therefore many associated symbols to the shell. The feminine. The moon. The tides. Cycles of change. Gods and Goddesses of the ocean, of beauty, of joy. Intuition. Deep search. Diving in the subconscious. Knowing. Wisdom.
To listen to the sound of the ocean through a shell, or blow a conch shell and listen to the sound, are some of the best experiences to connect with all these deeper meanings. Shells are created by the creatures that inhabit them, and then left behind when no longer needed. This intrinsic wisdom of letting go, of getting rid of the weight that doesn’t serve us in our paths. Nature.
If you don’t know, taking shells affects the ocean. It can damage the environment and destroy ecosystems. They might serve a purpose there. I always encourage everyone I meet in any beach anywhere to leave everything as they found it or better (by collecting trash), to not take a piece of Nature with them. Everything in Her has meaning and reason to exist within Her. So please, maybe next time think about it before you take shells with you home. Every single action CAN be done with awareness.