“She implored him in the most moving accents to restore her dress [a seal skin]; but the view of her lovely face, more beautiful in tears, had steeled his heart….The sea-maiden, finding she had no alternative, at length consented to become his wife” ~ The Mermaid Wife, Shetland Islands
“When the mermaid understood that there was no prospect of obtaining her garment [a cloak] she regained her composure, and followed Donald meekly to his house” ~Donald and the Mermaid, Ireland
“But if it doesn’t please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship….As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.” The people replied, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord…” ~ Joshua 24:15-16
Today, we move from our “meaningful mermaids” to our kidnapped maidens of the deep. These stories are timeless, for the tragedy they speak of has occurred throughout all ages. In the ancient world, and especially for coastal countries, the major threat to women came from the sea. Vikings, pirates, and rogues plagued northern shores well into the 17th century.
And so, these women became “sea maidens,” taken from their loving homes across the sea. Perhaps the places they ended up were kind; perhaps they were not. Regardless, the longing to return to their old life would have run deep in their souls…
This longing was transferred to the mermaids in our stories. These maidens of the deep were taken from their watery homes and made to stay on land. They always had “kind” captors, but that didn’t expunge the desire to return to their first home, to be who they once were.
Their stories – the real women’s hope for a kind master and the longing to return home – is why our mermaids always reclaim their identity and return to the sea. Always.
Kidnapped mermaids generally have the same tale: a token (comb, clothing, hat, etc.) is taken from them, they marry their captors, and they have human children. The husband is always desperately in love with his mermaid wife, but she always leaves him.
There are many such tales, but the two mentioned above are my favorite, for they end in poignant ways…
The Selkie Wife
In “The Mermaid Wife” (more accurately “The Selkie Wife”), one of the maiden’s children finds her seal-skin and brings it to her. She is ecstatic – she can finally go home! But “one thing” gives her pause: “she loved her children, and she was now about to leave them forever.” Still, she could not resist the chance she was given, and “after kissing and embracing them several times” she runs toward freedom.
Before we accuse her of being heartless, we must know the end of the story: Her husband sees her as she jumps into the sea, sees her meet lovingly with another selkie. Before she departs, she yells back to him, “‘Farewell…and may all good fortune attend you. I loved you well while I was with you, but I always loved my first husband better.’”
She had been taken from a loving husband and forced to have children with another. I would leave, too. I would do anything to see Andrew again.
Donald and the Merrow
I like the second tale for different reasons. This sea maiden (probably a merrow) spends 30 years on land, married to the man who took her cloak. She sees her children grow, and her past seems all but forgotten in light of all the “happy days” she spends on land.
But the merrow has not forgotten who she is.
When the family decides to move to the city, the now elderly matron goes through the house one last time. She finds her cloak, which “Donald had forgotten” about. “And no sooner did she grasp it than she laughed so loudly that her laugh was heard all over the village….In an instant, she regained her former youth and beauty,” and “returned joyfully” to her watery home.
When I first read the story, her laugh gave me shivers. Can you imagine: a powerful, magical creature has finally reclaimed her identity. Her laugh is one of delicious victory. Never more can she be kept from the sea, nor her true identity. They know what she is, and who she is.
She is Merrow, hear her roar!
I’ve talked exhaustively about the “lessons” of our mermaids: how we must choose who will answer our “questions” of worth and love-ability. In other words, it is a question of identity. Who will we allow to define who we are? Will it be the “captors” of the world – the human and spiritual forces that ultimately tear us apart? Or will it be God?
The Israelites faced the same choice after capturing the Promised Land. God had made them into a people – He had given them an identity. They now had a choice: to keep their identity and look for their worth in God, or turn to the gods of the world.
Like any mermaid, they emphatically chose to cling to their first identity. And, just like the mermaid, they got captured by the world.
But unlike the mermaid, they forgot who they were in God, and allowed the world to define them. It would be like a mermaid forgetting she came from a magical place under the sea, and yet it happened. How could they forget? And yet…how could we?
The truth is, we are all “captives” in this world. We must fight to remember who we are in the midst of this. We cannot forget that we are a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ, as surreal and wonderful as any mermaid. We cannot forget that we are a chosen people, God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9)! And we cannot forget that one day, we’ll be able to escape and return back to our True Love.
Be like the mermaids. They never forget who they are. They never forget their longing to return…
 The Mermaid Wife, taken from Thomas Keightley’s The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Supersitition of Various Countries, in Heidi Anne Heiner, Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales from Around the World (Nashville, TN: SurLaLune Press, 2011), 175.
 Donald and the Mermaid, taken from A. T. Sinclair’s article “The Secret Language of Masons and Tinkers,” in Heidi Anne Heiner, Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales from Around the World (Nashville, TN: SurLaLune Press, 2011), 285.
 The Mermaid Wife, Ibid., 175.
 Ibid., 176
 Donald and the Mermaid, Ibid., 286.