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Our Lessons in the Fisherman and His Soul

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned the mermaid lessons inherent in every story so far.  This is because it’s easier to discuss them after you know the story. For the lessons make up a vital part of the overarching theme of the story…

Worldly vs. Godly Mermaids

In my first few posts, I talked about how everyone has the opportunity to be free and wild like the mermaids.  Either you are free and wild in a worldly way, or you are free and wild in Christ.

But there is another category: those who are not wild, either in the world, or in Christ.  I’d say we deal with those types of people throughout the story.


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The Little Mermaid’s Idol

I know in my last post I said I was going to do The Fisherman and His Soul.  However, when I started re-reading it to refresh my memory, I changed my mind and have decided to do it in chronological order.

The Little Mermaid was written in 1837, a little over 25 years after Undine; The Fisherman and His Soul was written in 1891, over 50 years after The Little Mermaid. The reason I had wanted to do The Fisherman and His Soul first was because I didn’t want anyone to forget noble Undine’s quest for a soul, as well as the kindly priest, which are so at odds with the characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Fisherman and His Soul.

But more importantly, I didn’t want to write about The Little Mermaid because everyone knows the story.

Well, parts of it.  I’d bet most don’t know the nobility of our Little Mermaid, nor the tragic twist at the end.  But the beginning is also full of “lessons” to explore about mermaids…and ourselves…


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Undine’s Sorrows, God’s Sorrows

“Huldbrand’s heart began to turn from Undine to Bertalda” and “Bertalda more and more responded with ardent affection to the young knight….how Undine wept…”[1]

This sums up the state of Undine’s marriage.  It’s all the more tragic because Undine is so innocent and pure.  She would never have expected the cruelty of her friend and husband – indeed, it’s as if they had no souls.

To make matters worse, Uncle Kuhleborn repeatedly pays terrifying visits to them – especially Bertalda, who “had already several times been made ill with terror.”[2]  

The Last Straw

One day while Huldbrand is out, Undine gets her servants to place a large stone over the fountain in their courtyard.  This causes a tiff between her and Bertalda, for Bertalda claims she needs the water for her “complexion;”  but Undine “although gentle as usual, was more than usually firm.”[3]


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The Changes in Undine

“My father, who is a powerful water-prince in the Mediterranean Sea, desired that his only daughter should become possessed of a soul, even though she must then endure many of the sufferings of those thus endowed….I am now possessed of a soul, and my soul thanks you. ”[1]

After Undine’s strange outburst, Father Heilmann, full of wise compassion, prays over her.  He then turns to Huldbrand, saying “‘So far as I can discover there is nothing of evil in her, but much indeed that is mysterious.’”[2]

But he needn’t have worried about Undine.  For indeed, she was completely changed…


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Undine’s Soul

‘There must be something beautiful, but at the same time extremely awful, about a soul….The soul must be a heavy burden…’”[1]

Last week we left Undine wild and lovely, and Huldbrand smitten.  Cut off from the rest of the world, the two soon fall in love, and the fisherman and his wife see them “as already united in marriage.”[2] And yet, they need a priest to make it official.  A priest showing up on their island seems impossible…and yet a priest unexpectedly knocks at their door one evening.[3]

Father Heilmann had set out toward the bishop to tell him of the “distress” of his monastery and surrounding villages because of the floods.  However, when trying to cross the raging river, the boat was capsized and he wound up on their newly formed island.[4]

Huldbrand doesn’t wait.  He suggests the priest marry himself and Undine.  And since everyone agrees, there’s no reason to delay!


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The Lovely (and Wild) Undine – Part 1

She “knew she was created for God’s praise and glory….She was therefore baptized ‘Undine,’ and during the sacred ceremony she behaved with great propriety and sweetness, wild and restless as she invariably was at other times.”[1] 

This is my favorite “mermaid” story!  It was written in 1811 by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, a French ex-patriot who lived in Germany.  Interestingly, it came before many other mermaid tales, including Hans Christian Anderson’s famous Little Mermaid.

Even though I’ll give a thorough outline, I highly encourage you to read it yourself – it is lovely…and wild.  Just like Undine…


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Caught in Transition: Liban the Mermaid

I love the story of Liban, for it reflects God’s heart so beautifully!  God longs for all to be saved, and He’ll stop at nothing to make Himself known.  Liban is unique: she was a mermaid who became a saint.  Rather than be reviled and judged, she was accepted and hallowed.

And despite all odds, it shows how some sea priestesses felt the tug of the Gospel on their hearts…

Liban of Lough Neagh

Liban was a lovely young woman whose family died when Lough Neagh overflowed.  She, however, “lived for a whole year with her lap-dog, in her chamber beneath the lake, and God protected her from the water.”[1]  Sounds like Noah, which makes sense – many water deities echo the truths of Noah,[2] having been corrupted over time.


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Kidnapped Mermaids

“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[1]

“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[2]

“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…


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Selina’s “Mermaid Tale”

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. (more…)