“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NASB)
When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil. ~ Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Now to dive into our stories! Our fist category are the “meaningful mermaids.” These maidens of the deep explain anything from natural phenomena to family traits. Many countries have such stories, since mermaids (and other water spirits) are not necessarily tied to the ocean, but also dwell in lakes, rivers, and streams.
They don’t always fit into our lessons, but they have equal value to us. Even the pagans recognized that things didn’t just “happen.” There had to be a reason, a meaning behind it. Otherwise, it was pointless.
In the sea-side countries, maidens of the deep gave meaning to historical, natural, and personal events:
- Mermaids attached fishing hooks to the bottom of the sea/river/lake
- In revenge, a mermaid who was used and then rejected hid the Isle of Man in mist
- The O’Brien family in Ireland killed a mermaid, and the entire clan disappeared
- Someone injured a mermaid in the ports of Padstow (Cornwall) and Seaton (England), and now the ports are full of sand
- And my favorite: The village of Shawbost in the Hebrides captured some sea cows from a mermaid. She was able to steal them back, and as she did so, she shouted that if they had eaten porridge, they would have been able to catch the cows…So, the people began eating porridge.
As you see, most of the stories do not focus on our questions, and it doesn’t really matter if they are “worldly” or “godly.” They are simply stories, with perhaps a grain of truth in them. Yes – they all contain truth. Historical events are always remembered, but don’t “remain in popular memory intact.” They change and morph. For all stories are as fluid as the lakes, oceans, and rivers that our maidens swim in.
A Myth of Living Memory
There is a (true) story of a Romanian folklorist who recorded stories from mountain villages. One poignant ballad spoke of “the death of a young man bewitched by a jealous mountain fairy on the eve of his marriage.” The unfortunate man “was driven off the cliff” by said jealous fairy, and the folklorist was told it was “a tragedy of ‘long ago.’” And why should he doubt that?
Come to find out, the fiancée was still alive! Curious, he “went to interview her. To his surprise, he learned that the young man’s death had occurred less than 40 years before. He had slipped and fallen off a cliff,” and the locals had made up the story of the fairy.
Why? Because “the myth seemed truer, more pure, than the prosaic event…‘it made the real story yield a deeper and richer meaning, revealing a tragic destiny.’”
As humans, we long to find meaning in this seemingly senseless world. It sounds so much more wonderful to have a tragic destiny involving a fairy, rather than to have simply slipped off a cliff. And so, maidens of the deep and other creatures have given meaning to otherwise “pointless” events. They have given the tragedy a mask of heart-breaking destiny. They have given the mundane a beautiful mystery. And they have taken history and made it timeless.
Searching for Meaning
This longing for meaning, this need to explain, is not accidental. It is God-given. We long to have a destiny, a beautiful mystery, and a timelessness. Otherwise, there is little good, and much randomness in our lives.
Solomon hits the nail on the head in Ecclesiastes. “All is vanity!” or, in some translations, “futility.” Everything is pointless – everything…
Unless it is given a deeper meaning.
After telling us all the futile things in the world, Solomon tells us the one thing that gives true meaning to life: following after God. “Fear God and keep his commandments,” he says.
Note, though, what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say all will be made clear to you. He doesn’t say it won’t seem pointless. Rather, he calls on us to have faith despite the seeming “futility” of circumstances; he calls us to have faith that God has a plan for us…A plan to prosper us, and not to harm us (Jer. 29:11) – which was said as the Israelites went into slavery, mind you!
These meaningful mermaids aren’t bad – in fact, they are good, for they help us remember history and give a romance to the mundane of the world. However, if we leave these stories as they are, we miss the point: that things are meaningful, and we should look to God to ultimately find their meaning.
What’s more, meaningful mermaids may have been created to explain circumstances, but that doesn’t mean all of them are bereft of our lessons. As we shall see next week, sometimes the meaningful mermaid stories fall right in line with our lessons, showing God’s sovereignty over even the smallest story…
 Heidi Anne Heiner, Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales from Around the World (Nashville, TN: SurLaLune Press, 2011), 116.
 Ibid., 173.
 Heiner, 204.
 Ibid., 247-248
 Heiner, 322-323, 326.
 Mermaids are often linked with cows for some reason. Heiner, Mermaids, 243, 217, 218, 287.
 Heiner, 217-218.
 Laura Knight-Jadczyk, The Secret History of the World and How to Get out Alive (Otto, NC: Red Pill Press, 2005), 32. https://books.google.com/books?id=X3I_7Srgs1oC&pg=PA32&lpg=PA32&dq=story+about+mountain+fairy+kills+man+out+of+jealousy&source=bl&ots=KC0eAgaVR4&sig=_RnnwlMC28i9zRTEkkD79cEpxT8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjf0Nigz87ZAhUF4WMKHXzrDlsQ6AEIVjAE#v=onepage&q=story%20about%20mountain%20fairy%20kills%20man%20out%20of%20jealousy&f=false
 Ibid., 32.
 Knight-Jadczyk, Secret History, 32.