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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

In Orcadian folklore, the mermaid was that daughter of a Finman.

As such she began her life as a mermaid, typically beautiful with a long, glistening fish tail, tresses of golden hair, snow-white skin and a face that was 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 tail and become a beautiful mortal woman.

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

According to the Orkney folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, 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.

The desire for a human husband was strong in the mermaid and for this reason they were often blamed for the disappearance of many handsome young men in the turbulent seas around Orkney.

The Northern Siren

However, 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 seductive 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 would 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 Debate over the Mermaid's Tail

The mermaid's tail was a subject 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.

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