About Orkney
 About the Site
 Search Site 
  The Sorcerous Finfolk

The Finman Arrives: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieThe Finwife

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.

All these are conveniently merged with the tales of the Finmen.

But while the Finman actively shunned contact with mortals - unless absolutely necessary to his purpose - the Finwife was more involved with her human neighbours.

As a child of the Finfolk, the Finwife was saaid to begin her life as a mermaid - stereotypically beautiful with long, glistening fish tail.

If, 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.

Tradition dictates 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.

The 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 the waves.

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.

A 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.

Hildaland - The Summer Home of the Finfolk