mermaids

Maidens of the Deep

Mermaids. Almost from the dawn of time, mankind has told stories of these half-women, half-fish creatures.

But why? After all, of all the things we think of as attractive, fish don’t usually make the list. I’m not convinced they ever did, either.

There are many theories, of course. We’ll cover some of them as we look for God in these aquatic stories. However, I think the primordial reason is because mermaids are the “natural” creatures to symbolize a man’s love for the sea.

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mermaids

God and the Mermaid

“You cannot realize our free and untrammelled existence” ~ the Mermaid to Old Man Lutey[1]

This series seems to be one of fluidity – it’s always changing, always surprising.  I had all sorts of disparate ideas about mermaid stories, and I’m beginning to see them all come together in a way only God can do.  

The Lessons

Last time, I talked about our “questions” and lessons, but I want to expound upon them further.   We are all trying to answer these two vital questions:  “Do I have what it takes?,” and, “Am I worthy of love?”  We talked last time of how mermaids answer our questions for us; however, only God can truly fulfill those questions.  He gives us the ability to “do what it takes” in any endeavor, and He gives us our worth.  

What we turn toward to answer our “questions” determines what type of “mermaid” we are.  Either we are “worldly mermaids” or “godly mermaids.”  And as such, everyone has a “mermaid tale.”  I think that’s why there are so many mermaid stories – they all resonate differently with each one of us, according to our life stories.  Or, some may say, testimonies.

“Worldly mermaids” turn to the world to answer their questions.  And sometimes the world answers in a positive way…at least it often does in our stories!  And so I found myself asking: how do you convince those who think they’re free that they are not free?  After all, we all know those people – the unbelievers who truly seem to be better people than we are, who embrace a “what will be, will be” attitude. Like the mermaid above, they tell us we “cannot realize their free and untrammelled existence.”  How do we show them that they do need Christ?  How – when Christianity looks like such a fetter to most people?

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My “Mermaid Tale”

Before we get started on the “real” tales, I thought it important to share my own “mermaid tale.”  As I said previously, everyone has a “mermaid tale” – or, as Christians say, testimony.  We all have struggled with answering our “questions” of worth and love-ability, and we all struggle with the pull of the world on our souls. 

I didn’t have that theory before this blog, though.  All I knew was that mermaids were often seen as sex objects, or creatures who lured innocent men into sin and death; as such, I was hesitant to delve into these stories.  I was convinced that God would condemn the mermaids. 

I couldn’t have that.  Mermaids were too near and dear to my heart.  They were too much a part of my own journey for me to consider that possibility…   

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Meaningful Mermaids

“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.[1]   

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:

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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…

Selina

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]

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The Mermaid’s Vengeance

“‘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…

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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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Svané and Rosmer the Merman

“Then wrought proud Lady Svané lyle what Rosmer little wist; for she’s tane out the goud sae red, and laid herself i’ the kist”[1] ~ describing Svané’s ruse to escape from Rosmer (i.e. she took out the gold and put herself in the chest)

Not all kidnapped women were mermaids; occasionally, mermen would capture mortal women and take them into the sea.  Such was the case of Svané, who was stolen from her mother’s home in Denmark.

The story of Rosmer Hafmand was written down in the Kaempe Viser, a Danish work composed in the early 1500s, and finally written down in 1591.[2]  It has three renditions of this tale, two with an “Eline,” and one with Svané.  The only one in my collection was Svané’s story, and I could not find the other two anywhere except in summary.  It is, however, the first of the collection,[3] and from what I can go off of, it seems the most authentically Danish.  After all, “Eline” is not really a Danish name…

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Historical Mermaids: Priestesses

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God ~ 1 Corinthians 3:19a

The story of Svané got wrapped up in something bigger than her: an ancient religion.  It’s unclear what this religion was, and frankly it doesn’t matter for our purposes.  What does matter is how it shaped the women we know today as “mermaids.”

I originally got the idea of these mermaids – or sea maidens – being priestesses from an offhand comment in Norma Lorre Goodrich’s King Arthur.  While speaking of the Lady of the Lake, she describes her as a queen, “or, as the Irish say about their ancient kings, she was a priestess.”[1] I don’t know for certain that my supposition is correct; however, I’m fairly confident that it is a viable theory.  How else can we explain the traits of our mermaids?

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Historical Mermaids: Caught in Transition

Last week we discussed the attributes of the Celtic priestesses who became our “mermaids.”  What did these powerful women do when faced with Christianity?  Fortunately, our stories show us some tantalizing glimpses…

The Lady of the Lake

As I said last week, I got the idea of mermaid stories having their roots in historical priestesses from Norma Lorre Goodrich’s King Arthur.[1]  Although she did not make this connection, the Arthur myths seem to (almost) perfectly capture the transition from priestess to water spirit.  One of these women is the Lady of the Lake, who I believe to be a remnant of the undine tradition.

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