The lore surrounding the Orkney Finwife has a distinctly
disjointed feel. So much so that I believe the surviving tales are a mish-mash
of various traditions and myth.
On first glance,
the Finwife stories appear to be a combination of tales involving Orkney's "spae"
wives - wise women or witches, huldrefolk
and mermaid lore.
these are conveniently merged with the tales of the Finmen.
while the Finman actively shunned contact with mortals - unless absolutely necessary
to his purpose - the Finwife was more involved with her human neighbours.
a child of the Finfolk, the Finwife was saaid to begin her life as a mermaid
- stereotypically beautiful with long, glistening fish tail.
however, the young mermaid married a Finman - a fate that awaited her if she did
not acquire a mortal huband - she was doomed to become progressively uglier, eventually
becoming a haggard Finwife.
that these Finwives were often sent to shore to use her magic to earn precious
silver for her husband. Once settled on land, she would often tell her neighbours
she was of Caithness origin - in other words not Orcadian - and then "pretend
to earn a living" by spinning and knitting.
Finwife was renowned for her skill in curing diseases in men and cattle. Because
of this is usually did not take long to become an invaluable member of the community.
Once accepted she would begin to practice her "infernal arts", all the
while sending the silver coins she earned back to her avaricious husband beneath
If the supply of "white metal"
came sparingly or was delayed at any time, the unfortunate Finwife could expect
a visit from her Finman husband, who, upon his arrival, would administer a sound
beating that usually resulted in the witch being confined to bed for days.
curious parallel to witch tales from other cultures is that the Finwife was said
to keep a black cat.
The similarity ends
here, however, as the Finwife's cat had the ability to transform into a fish so
it could carry messages between its mistress and her relatives in Finfolkaheem.