It was rumored that Selina’s mother bathed her in a pool “which was a favourite resort of mermaids.”  One day, the child “leapt from her arms into the water, and disappeared” for a moment before reappearing.  “The mother knew no difference in the child whom she pressed lovingly to her bosom, but all the aged crones in the parish declared it to be a changeling.”[1]

“See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity.” ~ Deuteronomy 30:15

Last week I talked about “meaningful mermaids,” which are mermaids who are used to explain occurrences.  But what does the meaningful mermaid have to do with the lessons we talked about?  Sometimes nothing.  But today I want to show you just how beautifully they can come together…


Once there was a lovely maiden named Selina who lived with her father and mother.  Selina was beautiful – so beautiful, the gossips whispered that she was a mermaid changeling (see the snippet above).  However, since Selina “showed none of the special qualifications belonging…[to] mermaids, it was almost forgotten” by the time she grew up.[2]

Almost, but not quite. There were other peculiar things about Selina. First, she loved bathing in the sea, “and wild tales were told of the frantic joy with which she would play with the breaking billows.”[3]  Second, she seemed to have “an increasing dislike” of church.  When her myriad of excuses didn’t work and her mother forced her to go, Selina “always shuddered as she passed the church-stile, and again on stepping from the porch into the church itself.”  However, when inside she followed decorum, although she was often caught “sleeping, or seeming to sleep, during the sermon.”[4]  (This was important because mermaids were considered to be condemned, and so had reactions upon entering a church.)

Gossips being what they are, Selina was probably just a normal young lady blessed with beauty.  She loved the sea, and got bored in church.  These things would have been forgotten over time had other events not occurred…

Selina’s “Mermaid Tale”

Everyone has their own “mermaid tale.”  A tale of struggling to be defined by God, and not by man; a tale of struggling with the pleasures of this life.  And Selina is no different.  Selina fell in love with the squire’s nephew, Walter.  Walter fell into lust with her.

Walter was a cad, but was able to manipulate everyone to his desires.  Everyone, except an old fisherman who was convinced Walter brought him bad luck while fishing.  He took to watching the pair carefully, and said that as they walked on the beach, he could see “‘merry maidens rising from the depth of the waters.'”  These creatures tried to look after poor Selina, as well as scare Walter with various “sights and sounds.”[5]

But to no avail.  When Walter had his fill, he left Selina, “and rarely, if ever, dreamed of the deep sorrow which was weighing down the heart he had betrayed.”[6]

Poor Selina had a broken heart and a swollen belly.  Used, rejected, and left to pay the consequences, she began to decline as “the wounds of the soul grew deeper.” Ultimately, she died in childbirth.[7]

“Worldly Mermaids”

I know that isn’t the happy ending we wanted – but the story isn’t over yet.  Justice will be served, and we’ll look at that next time.  For now, I want us to focus on the aspects of our lessons in regards to the tale.

As I said previously, everyone has a “mermaid tale.”  Everyone is presented with a choice: to allow the world to answer our “questions,” or to allow God to do so.  Who we allow to answer our questions determines whether we take the path of a “worldly mermaid” or a “godly mermaid.”

Both Walter and Selina were “worldly mermaids.”  Both were a worldly type of free.  Selina was a “good” worldly free – she frolicked in the waves and didn’t hurt anyone.   Walter was a “bad” worldly free – he frolicked for his own enjoyment and hurt many in the process.

Neither of them thought they needed godly freedom; they were content in the freedom they had, and God only stiffled the freedoms they wanted.

From Worldly to Godly

One of our “lessons” is: how do we tell people who think they are free that they need a savior?  How do we tell lovely Selina that she needs the Savior preached about in the sermon she sleeps through?  How do we tell handsome Walter that he needs a better freedom than his wanton way of living?

There must be a crucial turning point of faith.  How that happens, though, is unique for every person.  In this story, the turning point for Selina was a broken heart.  I believe Selina did realize her need for redemption.  The story says she saw other worldly creatures (i.e. angels) and was able “to derive solace from” them.  When she died, she was buried on consecrated ground. [8]  (That was considered important to salvation in the old world.)

What’s more, no one seemed to condemn her, which is quite different than I expected.  Having a child out of wedlock was a serious misdemeanor.  However, the priest does not condemn Selina, and treats Walter as in the wrong.  Upon Walter’s return to the area, he convinced Selina’s father not to do Walter any harm, for, he said, “the Lord would, in His own good time, and in His own way, avenge the bitter wrong.”[9]  Such words of compassion show the priest’s sense of godly justice and love.

I believe that Selina realized worldly freedom was a snare, a sham.  She realized that having the world answer her “questions” of worth was faulty – it only led to “death and adversity” (Deut. 30:15).  She had worth, not in the love of Walter, but in the love of God, for only He brought “life and prosperity.”  In the end, she received comfort and freedom in God.  She chose to be a “godly mermaid.”

But what about Walter?



[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), 331.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Heiner, Mermaid, 332.

[5] Ibid., 334.

[6] Heiner, Mermaid 335.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Heiner, Mermaid, 336

[9] Ibid.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments