“‘Kisses,’ she said, ‘are as true at sea as they are false on land.  You men kiss the earth-born maidens to betray them.  The kiss of a sea-child is the seal of constancy.  You are mine till death.’”[1] ~the mermaid to Walter

“Walter vehemently implored forgiveness.  He confessed his deep iniquity.  He promised a life of penitence.  ‘Give me back the dead,’ said the maiden bitterly, and planted another kiss, which seemed to pierce his brain by its coldness, upon his forehead.”[2]

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. ~ Proverbs 4:23 NIV

On Tuesday, we covered Selina’s “mermaid tale.”  A broken heart and a child out of wedlock caused her to realize the fleeting freedom of this world.  Her need for God was awakened, and she traded worldly freedom for freedom in Christ.

But what about Walter?  He, too, was a worldly type of free.  Did he repent?

According the story, no…not until it was far too late and justice was about to be done…

Worldly Walter

Walter was unaffected by Selina’s fate.  When he came back to the area, he frequented a friend’s place where “vicious young men…went after nightfall, and kept ‘high carnival’ of sin.”[3]

One night, Walter left the house of debauchery in high spirits, although not drunk. He wandered down to the beach and heard “the most exquisite music.”[4]  He saw a woman singing near a cave, and he caught her arm as she tried to flee.  When she looked at him, “it was Selina’s face…but it seemed to possess some new power – a might of mind from which he felt it was impossible for him to escape.”[5]  She told him to “go to the grave where the sinless one sleepeth,” and sent him from her as if in a trance.[6]

Early the next morning, he went to Selina’s grave, “and in the fullness of the most selfish sorrow, he sat on the sands and shed tears.”[7]  The priest found him, and Walter told him of his experience.  The priest was convinced “it was but a vivid dream,” and gave him “religious instruction” which he seemed to follow…for a time.[8]

But he hadn’t accepted the godly freedom as better than the worldly type.  Eventually, he fell back into his old ways…

Walter’s Judgement

And when he did, he was lured back to that mysterious cave.  This is significant – if he’d truly repented, what I’m about to tell you would not have happened.

The day he chose to go there “happened” to be the anniversary of Selina’s death.  He did indeed see the strange Selina-like being again.  As the quote above shows, she kissed him…and bound him to her in a trance-like state.  He could not move, he could not leave.  A storm began to brew, and yet still, he could not leave her.  He begged – but to no avail.

Finally, the sea ensnared them both.  And then, “the waves were seen covered with a multitudinous host, who were tossing from one to the other the dying Walter Trewoofe, whose false heart thus endured the vengeance of the mermaid, who had, in the fondness of her soul, made the innocent child of humble parents the child of her adoption.”[9]

The Immortalization of Selina and Walter

Judging by what we know about how folklore is formed, I think this tale is real.  Or, at least, the facts are.  I think there was a rich, selfish young man who took advantage of a poor peasant girl, got her pregnant, and she died.  Even then, it would have been forgotten…had Walter not met a watery death.  Because of the circumstances, this tale is remembered for all time.  The “real” mermaid in this tale joins the ranks of “meaningful mermaids,” giving sense of purpose to an otherwise ironic situation.

What’s more, it so eloquently shows the lessons we’ve talked about.  As I said on Tuesday, Selina’s questions – although answered by the world for a time – were ultimately answered by God in the end.  He gave her worth, and freedom.  Walter, on the other hand, saw no need for it until it was too late.

Reaching the “Worldly Mermaids”

It was an easy out to go with “God takes his own vengeance” theme…Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely that theme, too!  But I would be remiss if I didn’t delve into a theme more appropriate to our lessons.

This story shows two types of “worldly” mermaids: one “good,” one “bad”.  Interestingly, the same priest ministered to both.  He seems to have blessed Selina in compassion,[10] and reprimanded Walter.[11]  Both were worldly free, but received different treatment.  Is that why there was a difference in their response?

As Christians, we are quick to judge the Walters of the world.  The Selinas – although they sinned – evoke compassion in our hearts.  They are clearly wronged.  Our hearts, like the “real” mermaid in this tale, demand justice.  As such, sometimes our actions are less than loving and far less Gospel-centered as they should be.

Would less people face judgement if we were more loving?  Perhaps.  It’s hard to say.  But what is certain is that we can only reach the “worldly mermaids” – those who see godly freedom as confining – by reaching their hearts.  Their deeds spring from their hearts, after all (Prov. 4:23).

So yes, reprimand sin, just as the priest reprimanded Walter.  But to simply give “religious instruction” only serves to curb the deeds; it does not reach past the deeds to the heart.

Yes, confront sin; but do it from a place of love!  Tell the “worldly mermaids” of the hope we have in Christ!  Not all “worldly mermaids” will respond, and will face a judgement like Walter did; but that’s not up to us.  We just have to keep preaching the gospel, and have faith that God will use our efforts for His glory.

As this story shows, vengeance against un-repentance is not ours, and will be given in due time.




[1] The Mermaid’s Vengeance, taken from Robert Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England: The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall, Heidi Anne Heiner, Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales from Around the World (Nashville, TN: SurLaLune Press, 2011), 340.

[2] Ibid., 341.

[3] Heiner, Mermaid, 336.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Heiner, Mermaid, 337.

[6] Ibid., 338.

[7] Heiner, Mermaid, 338.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Heiner, Mermaid, 342

[10] Ibid., 336.

[11] Heiner, Mermaid, 338.

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