It is said that Neptune once made
A beautiful legendary, but strange Mermaid
Who sang and danced and often played
Who Sailors feared with great fear and dread
Because you only saw her, or so it was said
When your ship had sank and you had drowned
So you were now alas quite quite dead
She would feed your bones to cuttlefish
This as we all know, is their favourite dish
And then torment your soul
With the promise of a kiss
As your soul drifts in the great Oceans
Great dark abyss
But they now do say
That sailors will not see
The Mysterious Mermaid of the wild sea
As the great fables of the Ocean
Are seen merely as a fairy tale
Like Moby Dick the giant man eating whale
But if you find yourself
In a wild force 10 storm
With a mighty and terrible swell
And you hear distant singing
Be warned that
All will almost certainly
Not end well.
As the Ocean roars
And then Tries to send
You deep to the ocean floor
To meet a tragic
Mermaid of Zennor
Legend has it that many, many years ago a richly dressed and beautiful lady occasionally attended the church at Zennor. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from, but her unusual beauty and lovely voice made her the subject of much discussion.
With such beauty, the lady had no shortage of want-to-be suitors in the village. One of these local men was Mathew Trewella, a handsome young fellow with the best singing voice in the village. He took it upon himself to discover who this beautiful stranger was.
After a service one Sunday, the lady had smiled at Mathew Trewella so he had decided to follow her as she made her way off and towards the cliffs.
He never returned to Zennor.
Years passed and Mathew Trewella’s unexplained disappearance faded into the past. Then one Sunday morning a ship cast anchor off Pendower Cove near Zennor. The vessel’s captain was sitting on deck when he heard a beautiful voice hailing him from the sea. Looking over the side of the ship he saw a beautiful mermaid, with her long, blonde hair flowing all around her.
She asked him if he would be so kind as to raise his anchor as it was resting upon the doorway of her house. She explained was anxious to get back to her husband, Mathew, and her children. For it turns out that the beautiful stranger from the church was in fact one of the daughters of Llyr, king of the ocean, a mermaid by the name of Morveren.
Warey of stories of Mermaids the captain weighed anchor and headed for deeper water fearing the mermaid would bring the ship bad luck. He did, however, return later to tell the townsfolk of the fate of Mathew. It was to commemorate the strange events and as a warning to other young men of the dangers of merry maids that the mermaid was carved into the church pew.
According to a slightly different version of the tale, Morveren was drawn to the church by Mathew’s beautiful voice and would dress as a human and listen at the back of the church. Every night at evensong the mermaid would come to hear him until one night as Mathew sang a particularly lovely verse Morveren let out a tiny sigh.
Although it was as quiet as a whisper Mathew stopped and turned – Morveren’s eyes were shining, and the net had slipped from her head and her hair was wet and gleaming – It was love at first sight.
The mermaid was frightened and made her way back to the sea with Mathew (and a fair few of the townsfolk) in pursuit. In her haste to get back to the sea Morveren became tangled in her dress and tripped. Mathew now saw the tip of her fish tail poking out from beneath the dress.
“I cannot stay. I am a sea creature, and must go back where I belong.”
But it didn’t matter to him.
“Then I will go with ye. For with ye is where I belong.”
With that Mathew picked up Morveren and ran into the sea never to be seen by the folk of Zennor again. However that doesn’t mean they never heard him again.
He would sing soft and high if the day was to be fair, deep and low if Llyr was going to make the seas rough. From his songs, the fishermen of Zennor knew when it was safe to put to sea, and when it was wise to anchor snug at home.
The Doom Bar and The Mermaid of Padstow
In years gone by Padstow was an important port as it was a natural safe haven on an otherwise rocky coast. However, over the years the river mouth has become so choked up with drifting sand as to be more or less useless to anything but small craft. In the past it had been deep enough for even the largest of vessels under the care of a ‘merry maid’ (mermaid).
One day, for reasons that are not clear, she was shot from a visiting boat. She dived for a moment but then re-appeared to make a vow.
Raising her right hand she swore the harbour would be from that day forth desolate, and always will be. Shortly after a storm blew up wrecking several ships and throwing up the huge sandbank known as the Doom Bar. Since then the sandbank has caused a great number of ships to flounder through the centuries.
Luty and The Mermaid
Hundreds of years ago, there lived somewhere near the Lizard Point a man called Lutey or Luty, who farmed a few acres of ground near the seashore, and followed fishing and smuggling as well, when it suited the time. One summer’s evening, seeing from the cliff, where he had just finished his day’s work of cutting turf, that the tide was far out, he sauntered down over the sands, near his dwelling, in search of any wreck which might have been cast ashore by the flood; at the same time he was cursing the bad luck, and murmuring because a god-send worth securing hadn’t been sent to the Lizard cliffs for a long while.
Finding nothing on the sands worth picking up, Lutey turned to go home, when he heard a plaintive sound, like the wailing of a woman or the crying of a child, which seemed to come from seaward; going in the direction of the cry, he came near some rocks which were covered by the sea at high water, but now, about half ebb and being spring tides, the waves were a furlong or more distant from them. Passing round to the seaward side of these rocks, he saw what appeared to him a fairer woman than he had ever beheld before. As yet, he perceived little more than her head and shoulders, because all the lower part of her figure was hidden by the ore-weed (sea-weed; query, is ore a corruption of mor, sea?) which grew out from the rocks, and spread around the fair one in the pullan (pool) of sea-water that yet remained in a hollow at the foot of the rocks. Her golden-coloured hair, falling over her shoulders and floating on the water, shone like the sunbeams on the sea. The little he saw of her skin showed that it was smooth and clear as a polished shell. As the comely creature, still making a mournful wail, looked intently on the distant and ebbing sea, Lutey remained some minutes, admiring her unperceived. He longed to assuage her grief, but, not knowing how to comfort her, and afraid of frightening her into fits by coming too suddenly on her, he coughed and ahem’d to call her attention before he approached any nearer.
Looking round and catching a glimpse of the man, she uttered a more unearthly yell than ever, and then gliding down from the ledge, on which she reclined, into the pullan, all but her beautiful head and swan-like neck was hidden under the water and the ore-weed.
“My dear creature,” says Lutey, “don’t ’e be afraid of me, for I’m a sober and staid married man, near thirty years of age. Have ’e lost your clothes? I don’t see any, anywhere! Now, what shall I do to comfort ’e? My turtle-dove, I wouldn’t hurt ’e for the world,” says Lutey, as he edged a little nearer. He couldn’t take his eyes from the beautiful creature for the life of him. The fair one, too, on hearing his soothing words, stayed her crying, and, when she looked on him, her eyes shone like the brightest of stars on a dark night. Lutey drew near the edge of the pullan and, looking into the water, he discovered the fan of a fish’s tail quivering and shaking amongst the floating ore-weed: then, he knew that the fair one was a mermaid. He never had so near a view of one before, though he had often seen them, and heard them singing, of moonlight nights, at a distance, over the water.
“Now my lovely maid of the waves,” said he, “what shall I do for ’e? Speak but the word; or give me a sign, if you don’t know our Cornish tongue.”
“Kind good man,” she replied, “we people of the ocean understand all sorts of tongues, as we visit the shores of every country, and all the tribes of earth pass over our domain; besides, our hearing is so good that we catch what is said on the land when we are miles away over the flood. You may be scared, perhaps,” she continued, “to see me simply dressed, like naked truth, because your females are always covered with such things as would sadly hinder our sporting in the waves.”
“No, my darling, I am’at the least bit frightened to see ’e without your dress and petticoats on,” Luty replied, as he still drew nearer, and continued as kindly as possible to say, “now my dear, dont ’e hide your handsome figure in the pullan any longer, but sit up and tell me what makes ’e grieve so?”
The mermaid rose out of the water, seated herself on a ledge of the rock, combed back her golden ringlets from her face, and then Lutey observed that her hair was so abundant that it fell around and covered her figure like an ample robe of glittering gold. When this simple toilette was settled, she sighed and said, “Oh! unlucky mermaid that I am; know, good man, that only three hours ago I left my husband soundly sleeping on a bed of soft and sweet sea-flowers, with our children sporting round him. I charged the eldest to be sure and keep the shrimps and sea-fleas, that they mightn’t get into their daddy’s ears and nose to disturb his rest. “Now take care,” I told them, “that the crabs don’t pinch your dad’s tail and wake hint up, whilst I’m away to get ’e something nice for supper, and if you be good children I’ll bring ’e home some pretty young dolphins and sea-devils for ’e to play with. Yet noble youth of the land,” she went on to say, “with all my care I very much fear my merman may wake up and want something to eat before I get home. I ought to know when the tide leaves every rock on the coast, yet I was so stupid as to remain here looking at myself in the pullan as I combed the broken ore-weed, shrimps, crabs, and sea-fleas out of my hair, without observing, till a few minutes since, that the sea had gone out so far as to leave a bar of dry sand between me and the waves.”
“Yet why should ’e be in such trouble, my heart’s own dear?” Lutey asked, “Can’t ’e wait here, and I’ll bear ye company till the tide comes in, when you may swim away home at your ease?”
“Oh, no, I want to get back before the turn of the tide; because, then, my husband and all the rest of the mermen are sure to wake up hungry and look for their suppers; an, can ’e believe it of my monster (he looks a monster indeed compared with you), that if I am not then at hand with half-a-dozen fine mullets, a few scores of mackerel, or something else equally nice to suit his dainty stomach, when he awakes with the appetite of a shark, he’s sure to eat some of our pretty children. Mermen and maidens would be as plenty in the sea as herrings if their gluttons of fathers didn’t gobble up the tender babes. Score of my dear ones have gone through his ugly jaws, never to come out alive.”
“I’m very sorry for your sad bereavements,” said Lutey. “Yet why don’t the young fry start off on their own hook?” “Ah! my dear,” said she, “they love their pa, and don’t think, poor simple innocents, when they hear him whistling a lively tune, that it’s only to decoy them around him, and they, so fond of music, get close about his face, rest their ears on his lips, then he opens his great mouth like a cod’s, and into the trap they go. If you have the natural feelings of a tender parent you can understand,” she said, after sobbing as if her heart were ready to burst, “that, for my dear children’s sakes, I’m anxious to get home in an hour or so, by which time it will be near low water; else, I should be delighted to stay here all night, and have a chat with you, for I have often wished, and wished in vain, that the powers had made for me a husband, with two tails, like you, or with a tail split into what you call your legs; they are so handy for passing over dry land! Ah,” she sighed, “what wouldn’t I give to have a pair of tails like unto you, that I might come on the land and examine, at my ease, all the strange and beautiful creatures which we view from the waves. If you will,” she continued, “but serve me now, for ten minutes only, by taking me over the sands to the sea, I’ll grant to you and yours any three wishes you may desire; but there’s no time to spare,—no, not a minute,” said she, in taking from her hair a golden comb in a handle of pearl, which she gave to Lutey, saying, “Here, my dear, keep this as a token of my faith; I’d give ’e my glass, too, had I not left that at home to make my monster think that I didn’t intend to swim far away. Now mind,” she said, as Lutey put the comb into his pocket, “whenever you wish me to direct you, in any difficulty, you have only to pass that comb through the sea three times, calling me as often, and I’ll come to ye on the next flood tide. My name is Morvena, which, in the language of this part of the world, at the time I was named, meant sea-woman. You can’t forget it, because you have still many names much like it among ye.” Lutey was so charmed with the dulcet melody of the mermaid’s voice that he remained listening to her flute-like tones, and, looking into her languishing sea-green eyes till he was like one enchanted, and ready to do everything she desired; so stopping down, he took the mermaid in his arms, that he might carry her out to sea.
Lutey being a powerful fellow, he bore the mermaid easily on his left arm, she encircling his neck with her right. They proceeded thus, over the sands, some minutes before he made up his mind what to wish for. He had heard of a man who, meeting with similar luck, wished that all he touched might turn to gold, and knew the fatal result of his thoughtless wish, and of the bad luck which happened to several others whose selfish desires were gratified. As all the wishes he could remember ended badly, he puzzled his head to think of something new, and, long before he came to any conclusion, the mermaid said,
“Come, my good man, lose no more time, but tell me for what three things do ye wish? Will you have long life, strength, and riches?”
“No,” says he, “I only wish for the power to do good to my neighbours—first that I may be able to break the spells of witchcraft; secondly that I may have such power over familiar spirits as to compel them to inform me of all I desire to know for the benefit of others; thirdly, that these good gifts may continue in my family for ever.”
The mermaid promised that he and his should ever possess these rare endowments, and that, for the sake of his unselfish desires, none of his posterity should ever come to want. They had still a long way to go before they reached the sea. As they went slowly along, the mermaid told him of their beautiful dwellings, and of the pleasant life they led beneath the flood. “In our cool caverns we have everything one needs,” said she, “and much more. The walls of our abodes are encrusted with coral and amber, entwined with sea-flowers of every hue, and their floors are all strewn with pearls. The roof sparkles of diamonds, and other gems of such brightness that their rays make our deep grots in the ocean hillsides, as light as day.” Then, embracing Lutey with both her arms round his neck, she continued, “Come with me, love, and see the beauty of the mermaid’s dwellings. Yet the ornaments, with which we take the most delight to embellish our halls and chambers, are the noble sons and fair daughters of earth, whom the wind and waves send in foundered ships to our abodes. Come, I will show you thousands of handsome bodies so embalmed, in a way only known to ourselves, with choice salts and rare spices, that they look more beautiful than when they breathed, as you will say when you see them reposing on beds of amber, coral, and pearl, decked with rich stuffs, and surrounded by heaps of silver and gold for which they ventured to traverse our domain. Aye, and when you see their limbs all adorned with glistening gems, move gracefully to and fro with the motion of the waves, you will think they still live.”
“Perhaps I should think them all very fine,” Lutey replied, “yet faix (faith) I’d rather find in your dwellings, a few of the puncheons of rum that must often come down to ye in the holds of sunken ships, and one would think you’d be glad to get them in such a cold wet place as you live in! What may ’e do with all the good liquor, tobacco, and other nice things that find their way down below?”
“Yes indeed,” she answered, “it would do your heart good to see the casks of brandy, kegs of Hollands, pipes of wine, and puncheons of rum that come to our territory. We take a shellful now and then to warm out stomachs, but there’s any quantity below for you, so come along, come.”
“I would like to go very well,” says Lutey, “but surely I should be drowned, or smothered, under the water.”
“Don’t ’e believe it,” said she, “you know that we women of the sea can do wonders. I can fashion ’e a pair of gills; yes, in less than five minutes I’ll make you such a pair as will enable ’e to live in the water as much at your ease as a cod or a conger. The beauty of your handsome face will not be injured, because your beard and whiskers will hide the small slits required to be made under your chin. Besides, when you have seen all you would like to see, or get tired of my company and life in the water, you can return to land and bring back with you as much of our treasures as you like, so come along, love.”
“To be sure,” said Lutey, “your company, the liquor, and riches below are very tempting; yet I can’t quite make up my mind.” The time passed in this kind of talk till Lutey, wading through the sea (now above his knees), brought her near the breakers, and he felt so charmed with the mermaid’s beauty and enchanted by the music of her voice that he was inclined to plunge with her into the waves. One can’t, now, tell the half of what she said to allure the man to her home beneath the flood. The mermaid’s sea-green eyes sparkled as she saw the man was all but in her power. Then, just in the nick of time, his dog, which had followed unnoticed, barked and howled so loud, that the charmed man looked round, and, when he saw the smoke curling up from his chimney, the cows in the fields, and everything looking so beautiful on the green land, the spell of the mermaid’s song was broken. He tried long in vain to free himself from her close embrace, for he now looked with loathing on her fishy tail, scaly body, and sea-green eyes, till he roared out in agony, “Good Lord deliver me from this devil of a fish!” Then, rousing from his stupor, with his right hand he snatched his knife from his girdle, and, flashing the bright steel before the mermaid’s eyes, “By God,” said he, “I’ll cut your throat and rip out your heart if you don’t unclasp your arms from my neck, and uncoil your conger-tail from my legs.”
Lutey’s prayer was heard, and the sight of the bright steel (which, they say, has power against enchantments and over evil beings), made the mermaid drop from his neck into the sea. Still looking towards him, she swam away, singing in her plaintive tone, “Farewell my sweet, for nine long years, then I’ll come for thee my love.”
Lutey had barely the strength to wade out of the sea, and reach, before dark, a sown (cavern) in the cliff, where he usually kept a few tubs of liquor, buried in the sand, under any lumber of wreck, secured there above high-water mark. The weary and bewildered man took a gimlet from his pocket, spiled an anker of brandy, fixed a quill in the hole, and sucked a little of the liquor to refresh himself; then lay down among some old sails and was soon asleep.
In the meantime, dame Lutey passed rather an anxious time, because her husband hadn’t been home to supper, which the good man never missed, though he often remained out all night on the sands to look after wreck, or with smugglers or customers in the “sown” and on the water. So, as there was neither sight nor sign of him when breakfast was ready, she went down to the “sown” and there she found her man fast asleep.
“Come! wake up,” said she; “and what made thee stay down here without thy supper? Thee hast had a drop too much I expect!”
“No by gamblers,” said he, rising up and staring round, “but am I here in the “sown” or am I in a cavern at the bottom of the sea? And are you my dear Morcenna? Ef you are, give me a hornful of rum, do; but you don’t look like her.”
“No indeed,” said the wife, “they cale me An Betty Lutey, and, what’s more, I never heard tell of the lass thee art dreaman about before.”
“Well then, of thee art my old woman, thee hast had a narrow escape, I can tell thee, of being left as bad as a widow and the poor children orphans, this very night.”
Then on the way home, he related how he found a stranded mermaid; that for taking her out to sea, she had promised to grant his three wishes, and given him the comb (which he showed his wife) as a token; “but,” said he, “if it hadn’t been for the howling of our dog Venture, to rouse me out of the trance, and make me see how far I was from land, as sure as a gun I should now be with the mermaidens drinkan rum or huntan sharks at the bottom of the sea.”
When Lutey had related all particulars, he charged his wife not to say anything about it to the neighbours, as some of them, perhaps, wouldn’t credit his strange adventure; but she, unable to rest with such a burden on her mind, as soon as her husband went away to his work, she trotted round half the parish to tell the story, as a great secret, to all the courtseying old women she could find, and showed them what Lutey gave her as the mermaid’s comb, to make the story good. The wonder (always told by the old gossips as a great secret) was talked of far and near in the course of a few weeks, and very soon folks, who were bewitched or otherwise afflicted, came in crowds to be helped by the new pellar or conjuror. Although Luty had parted from the mermaid in a very ungracious manner, yet he found that she was true to her promise. It was also soon discovered that he was endowed with far more than the ordinary white-witch’s skill. Yet the pellar dearly purchased the sea-woman’s favours. Nine years after, to the day on which Lutey bore her to the water, he and a comrade were out fishing one clear moonlight night; though the weather was calm and the water smooth as a glass, about midnight the sea suddenly arose around their boat, and in the foam of the curling waves they saw a mermaid approach them, with all her body, above the waist, out of the water, and her golden hair floating behind and around her.
“My hour is come,” said Lutey, the moment he saw her; and, rising like one distraught, he plunged into the sea, swam with the mermaid a little way, then they both sunk, and the sea became as smooth as ever.
Lutey’s body was never found, and, in spite of every precaution, once in nine years, some of his descendants find a grave in the sea.
Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall
Other Mermaid Legends
There are several stories of mermaids from around the Cornish coast including Seaton, between Downderry and Looe Here, where now only exists a sandy beach, was once a thriving fishing town. One day a local man insulted the mermaid and she cursed the town to be swallowed by the sands.
Mermaids Rock, near Lamorna in the west of Cornwall is home to a mermaid who sits upon a rock and appears as a warning of storms. Her singing is also heard before a shipwreck. They do say that she sat upon the rock combing her hair and singing in order to lure local fishermen to their deaths.
“To you will I give as much of gold
As for more than your life will endure;
And of pearls and precious stones handfuls;
And all shall be so pure.”
Duke Magnus, Duke Magnus, plight thee to me,
I pray you still so freely;
Say me not may, but yes, yes!
“I am a King’s son so good
How can I let you gain me?
You dwell not on land, but in the flood,
Which would not with me agree.”—Duke Magnus and the Mermaid.