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  The Sorcerous Finfolk

The mermaid - daughter of the Finfolk

"The mermaid is the loveliest creature on a' Geud's earth, or in a' the wide sea."
Anonymous Orcadian

Mermaid: Illustratian by Sigurd TowrieIn Orkney, the mermaid was traditionally thought to be the daughter of a Finman.

She began her life as a mermaid, typically beautiful with a long, glistening fish tail, tresses of golden hair, snow-white skin and a beauty beyond compare.

This young mermaid had but one goal in her life - to acquire a mortal husband. It was only then that she could discard her fish tail and become a beautiful mortal woman.

If she failed to attract, or trap, a mortal husband, and had to marry one of her own kind, she was doomed to grow uglier and uglier.

Orkney folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, documented that during the first seven years of marriage to a Finman, the mermaid would gradually lose her exquisite loveliness.

During the second seven years she became "no fairer than a mortal woman" and in the third seven years the mermaid degenerated into an ugly and repulsive Finwife.

For obvious reasons, the mermaid's desire for a human husband was strong in the Orcadian superstition. For this reason they were often blamed for the disappearance of many young men in the turbulent waters around the islands.

"The only way by which the mermaid could escape this loss of her charms was by marrying a man of human race. And this union could only be consummated by sexual intercourse, Hence her frequent attempts, by displaying her beauty on the seashore and by her enchanting music, to lure a man into wedlock."
Walter Traill Dennison

The northern siren

Mermaids: Illustrating by Kerry CooperHowever, it was not only the mermaid's exquisite form that was said to have the power of bewitching unfortunate mortals.

Her beautiful singing voice was also enchanting and, like the Sirens of Greek mythology, had the power to ensnare anyone who heard it.

When the mermaid resorted to using her hypnotic singing to allure a man into her embrace, the victim had but one chance of escape.

Gathering his wits he had to recite the following charm, the only way in which the mermaid's spell could be broken:

"Geud tak a care o' me! Geud's neem,
I hear de mermaid sing;
Hid's bonnie, bonnie, bit no sae bonnie,
As Geud's bells I heeven ring."

the mermaid's tail

The subject of the mermaid's tail was hotly debated by the storytellers of yesteryear.

Some had it that in the water the mermaid had a fish tail that was a part of her body. Others, however, were adamant that her tail was nothing more than a skirt that fastened around her waist.

When the mermaid was on land this skirt formed a beautiful embroidered petticoat, while at sea it was gathered together at the bottom into a tail-like garment that covered her feet.

The Finwife