Winter Effigies -The Deviant History of the Snowman

In modern movies snowmen are portrayed as something magical, loved by children and they also capture the imagination.

I remember feeling these magical energies when Cassandra Latham Jones and I built a large snowman during the heavy snowfall of January 2010 in the grounds of the mill house in Crean, St Buryan.

The history of the snowman however is quite different as you will see in the following article:

Dutch queen Wilhemina & princess Juliana as snowpeople in the Netherlands (1913) (via Nationaal Artchief)

Humans are innately drawn to creating effigies of their own likenesses, often forging the figures from a crude stack of frozen balls plopped one atop of another. Building a snowman utilizes materials that are free of cost, easy to manipulate, and plentiful in certain times and places. It requires minimal artistic skill, as the placement of a few simple twigs and rocks can furnish your creation with an eerily expressive personality.

Snowman with charred backside in a 14th-century Book of Hours (via Koninkligke Bibliotheek)

Early snowman documentation has been discovered as far back as the Middle Ages, but we must assume that humans, creative beings that they are, have taken advantage of the icy materials that fall from the sky ever since winter and mankind have mutually existed. Bob Eckstein, author of The History of the Snowman found the snowman’s earliest known depiction in an illuminated manuscript of the Book of Hours from 1380 in the Koninkijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, Netherlands (shown above).

The despondent snowman seems to be of anti-Semitic nature, shaped with the stacked-ball method, and donning a jaunty Jewish cap. As he sits slumped with his back turned to the deadly fire, the adjacent text pronounces the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Apparently, plague-ridden Europeans needed a comical stooge onto whom they could foist their blame and frustration, and the Jewish snowman fit that bill.

Women attacking a cop snowman in a 1937 painting by Hans Dahl (via Wikimedia)

In the Middle Ages, building snowmen was a way for a community to find the silver lining in a horribly oppressive winter rife with starvation, poverty, and other life-threatening conditions. In 1511, the townspeople of Brussels banded together to construct over 100 snowmen in a public art installation known as the Miracle of 1511. This event was uncovered by Eckstein in his The History of the Snowman book.

Their snowmen embodied a dissatisfaction with the political climate, not to mention the six weeks of below-freezing weather. The Belgians rendered their anxieties into tangible, life-like models: a defecating demon, a humiliated king, and women folk. Besides your typical sexually graphic and politically riled caricatures, the Belgian snowmen, Eckstein discovered, were often parodies of folklore figures, such as mermaids, unicorns, and village idiots.

The Snowman Trick (1950), illustration by Luke Limner, Esq. (via Abaculi)

The snowman’s place in the traditional Christmas canon of jolly holiday diversions — along with ice-skating and horse-drawn sleighs — gained a higher status in the early Victorian era, when Prince Albert thrust his penchant for German holiday fun onto England. Santa Claus and the snowman became ubiquitous icons who soared hand-in-hand o’er the land of commodified Christmas kitsch.

A snowman receives romantic advice from dog in Hans Christian Andersen’s “Stories for the Household” (1880s) (via Internet Archive Book Images)

The snowman’s lot in life is complicated — he is immobile, explicitly impermanent, and confined to an existence of ruminating upon his fate. He is the perfect metaphorical example of the human condition: longing for that which we cannot obtain, in his case touch and warmth. It’s believed that Hans Christian Andersen’s 1861 fairy tale, “The Snowman,” wherein a snowman falls unrequitedly in love with a stove, held symbolic implications of Andersen’s infatuation with Harald Scharff, a young ballet dancer at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. Andersen wrote about how the thing we love most can eventually destroy us, yet we happily sacrifice ourselves. When the “stove-sick” snowman gazes upon the burning oven from outside, he cries: “It is my only wish, my biggest wish; it would almost be unfair if it wasn’t granted. I must get in and lean against her, even if I have to break a window.”

Modern-day authors, filmmakers, and artists of every ilk have appropriated the Frosty-type character as their own. The snowman has made appearances in hundreds of books and magazines, dozens of films, and seems to materialize at every critical time and place in history, just as long as Old Man Winter, Jack Frost, or any other personification of winter blows his snowy breath onto the land. The snowman’s persona is safe and placid, politically nonpartisan, unaffiliated with religion, and practically androgynous. Today’s snowman is fashioned with much less political allegory in favor of cheap, empty, irony, as he was commissioned to sell products such as liquor, laxatives, and rap albums.

Not unlike how the blank, smiling expression of a clown is inevitably considered creepy, the snowman has a wicked layer beneath his pure face. A snowman has portrayed the evil villain in ‘slasher’ films and sci-fi TV shows, and depicted sexual humiliation in comic strips, kitschy products, and your own neighbor’s front yard. Today’s snowman is as easily a malicious serial killer as he is a fluffy children’s plaything. This marks the period Bob Eckstein refers to as the snowman’s White Trash Years (1975-2000).

Field of Japanese snowmen in Sapporo (photograph by Angelina Farley)

You can wait for a blizzard and construct your own demonic snowperson, or head out to one of the hundreds of snowman festivals and contests. For over 30 years the Japanese city of Sapporo, in the Hokkaido region, has hosted the Sapporo Snow Festival where an infestation of 12,000 mini snowmen cluster in a field, wearing cryptic messages from their makers.

The stalwart “Jacob” (photograph by Schubbay)

There’s also the Bischofsgrün Snowman Festival (Schneemannfest), held every February in Bavaria, featuring “Jacob,” Germany’s über gigantic snowman.

Olympia, in Bethel, Maine (photograph by Chris Dag)

But the prize for the world’s biggest anthropomorphosized snow pile goes to a snowlady named Olympia, created in 2008 by the townsfolk of Bethel, Maine, and named for the state senator Olympia Snowe. Built in a month-long plow fest, the 122-foot-tall conical she-beast was decked in massive snowflake jewels and six-foot-long eyelashes.

The strange ritual of the Sonoma snowmen (photograph by Lynn Friedmann)

Meanwhile in California, every December Sonoma Valley fires up the holiday season with the Lighting of the Snowman Festival. This is what Californians do with a decisively snowless region during winter: plug-in hundreds of electrical snowmen who appear to be marching in military formation.

Symbolically, destroying a snowy effigy can mark the end of icy months and the tyranny of winter. In Zurich, Switzerland, for example, a giant snowman called the Boogg is plugged with firecrackers and detonated to the delight of the cheering crowd.

At the Rose Sunday Festival in Weinheim-an-der-Bergstrasse, Germany, the mayor leads a parade through town, beseeching the local children to behave obediently in order to earn the privilege of spring. The children agree, naturally, and the townspeople incinerate a straw snowman. Lake Superior State University commandeered this tradition in the 1970s with their own Snowman Burning Day. Over the years, LSSU’s annual 12-foot-tall snowperson has represented slightly more political and social issues, whatever they feel needs symbolic burning, from sexism and cloning to the Ayatollah Khomeini and a rival hockey team.

Explosion of the Böög in Switzerland (photograph by Roland zh/Wikimedia)

Children and adults alike can therapeutically release their anger onto the snowman — really let him have it — without much consequence. Pelt him with snowballs, stab him, and run him over with your car. He won’t resent you! He’s harmless! That is, unless you consider it harmful to endure listening to Perry Como’s 1953 rendition of the hit tune, “Frosty the Snowman.” Atlas Obscura.

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Mermaid of Zennor

I have felt a close connection with Zennor from the first occasion Cassandra took me to visit Zennor Hill in 2009. We were there for the specific reason of my spiritual connection with the land. Whilst exploring the hill I was drawn energetically to the village of Zennor that was visible below the hill.

I then learnt about the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor and have already written about on this site https://laetitialathamjones.com/2016/08/02/cornish-mermaid-legends/

I have seen the mermaid carving upon the side of the chair within St Senara’s church in Zennor.

Image- Cornwall Guide

The time-battered chair is tucked away in the side aisle and holds the scars from more than 500 years of constant use.

Image – Commons Wikipedia

The curious carving of the mermaid has many interpretations from its medieval worshippers. Mermaids were a symbol of Aphrodite Goddess of love and the sea who held a love apple in one hand and a comb in the other. the quince (love apple) was later changed to a mirror which is a symbol of heartlessness and vanity. Medieval Christians viewed her as a symbol of the ‘sins of the flesh’. She was used to illustrate the two natures of Christ in the seafaring community as she was half fish and half human symbolizing that the Christ could be both divine and human. This resonated with the inhabitants of the region as their lives were intertwined with and dependant on the sea.

Image – William Fricker

Haunted Britain

Recently I visited The Healing Star in Penzance where they had displayed a cast of the Mermaid of Zennor carving by Rory Te Tigo. He had left it there hoping that they would sell it for him. Each time I entered the shop I was entranced by it, especially as I had found little memorabilia of this particular mermaid. When I eventually decided to purchase her, I visited the shop to discover that Rory had collected the mermaid as he intended to display her at an event.  I contacted him and he kindly offered to make another for me and requested I gave him a period of three weeks to do so.

Tinners Arms Zennor by Zennor Images

Mermaid of Zennor Carving in the Tinners Arms by ViewRanger

Rory had the marvellous idea of producing a casting of the mermaid carving displayed in the Tinner’s Arms at Zennor and creates replicas of it using this method.

I am now the proud owner of a Mermaid of Zennor which is about the same size as the one in the church. Rory described how he created her, as you can see by the photographs he works with precision and achieves wonderful results. Her powerful presence graces our home and brings with her the blessings of the sea.

Image – John Isaac

 

Image – John Isaac

To see more of Rory Te Tigo’s work visit hi website http://www.rorytetigo.co.uk/

Witches, Familiars, Spirit Guardians and Daemons

The folklore of a wicked witch and her familiar is well-known and often told. During the season changes and longer nights it is common to see a black cloaked figure with a cat or toad at their side. This is an archetype of magical practitioners wielding their power over animals and nature, but a far cry from the original beliefs.

Magical spirit creatures have featured within and resonated throughout history in creational myths, religions and tribal traditions. In recent times magical animals and familiars were re-imagined as dangerous or evil companions. Historically they were viewed as guardian angels rather than demons.

The Witch’s Familiar

A familiar is an animal shaped spirit believed to be a domestic servant, spy or companion to a Witch or Magician. They would divine information and assist in bewitching enemies. The animal was believed to have magical powers, for example an ability to shape shift.

During days of persecution during the medieval and early modern periods in North America and Europe, witches were assumed to have familiars in the form of toads, cats, newts, dogs, owls or mice. These were considered low ranking fairies or demons. Through British and Scottish contributions to the lore they were believed to feed off the blood of these witches and they in turn used them for spell casting. Innocent pet lovers were also persecuted because of these beliefs and they were blamed for crop failure or other unfortunate circumstances within the community.

During the Salem witch trials there were little accounts of animal familiars although one man was accused of his dog attacking by magical means. the dog itself was tried, convicted and hanged as Petti Wingington reveals in About Religion.

Pagan Lore told of familiars since that time helped to diagnose sources of bewitchment and illnesses as well as finding lost objects and treasures. Magicians locked them in bottles, rings and stones after conjuring them within ritual. They were then sold as charms for success in business, love and gambling. The witchcraft Act of 1604 only prohibited evil and wicked spirits so these practices were not illegal.

Animals were massacred due to their assumed dangerous nature, particularly cats. This resulted in the tragic situation of the Black Death during the middle of the 14th century as the rat and rodent population grew due to the shortage of cats. This lead to the near- decimation of the human population.

Daemons

A spirit guardian or tutelary was a protector of farms or storehouses and even a household or nation in ancient Rome.

Socrates the Greek Philosopher claimed a daemon or personal spirit guided his conscience, helping him avoid foolish decisions or rash mistakes.

The genius is one type of personal tutelary deity who accompanies an individual from birth to death. Another form is the familiar spirit of European Folklore.

Shrines and altars are dedicated to tutelary spirits in many eastern religions. In Bangkok an abundance of brightly painted spirit houses are used to contain tutelary deities.

Totem Spirits

In Native America mythology, totem animals are strongly featured. they are believed to assist the Shaman when called upon from the spirit realm they inhabit. Totem animals are believed to reflect certain characteristics and qualities to serve as guardian spirits and guides in the spiritual and physical worlds. They advise on journeys and tasks in life. They could be large animals, turtles, buffaloes, deer, coyotes, rabbits, or as small as butterflies. they could be mischief makers but were helpful benevolent creatures.

Familiars and totem animals can be found around the globe in societies including Australia, Africa, Asia, Western and Eastern Europe and more.

Modern Witches

Christians may refer to familiars and demons, but to Pagan or Wiccans they are considered to be guardian angels. They are also believed to be sensitive to psychic vibrations, E.S.P. and are welcome inside the magical sacred space and other workings.

A witch’s familiar can be his or her closest companion offering special knowledge and moral support as well as physical healing. They can react to the presence of negative or evil energies, be it a person who dabbles in vindictive magic or an unseen force.

A fascinating subject isn’t it!

Cornish Legends of Mermaids

Mermaid2

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

Then

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

Watery

End

Robstabor

 

 

Image - Wikipedia

Image – Wikipedia

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 pugh.

Image - Cornwalls

Image – Cornwalls

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.

Image - Wikipedia

Image – Wikipedia

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.

Lutey and MermaidLuty 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.

Image - the Myth Store

Image – the Myth Store

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

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Image – Pirates & Wiki

Other Mermaids

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.

Mermaid's Rock Lamorna Cove.

Mermaid’s Rock Lamorna Cove.

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.

Image - Youtube

Image – Youtube

Cornwall Guide

“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.

Sea Conjuring

 

sea witch

For centuries stories of sea witches have predominately enhanced British folklore. The tradition, and legends, of Sea Witches surrounds experiences of seafarers and beachcombers as well as others in the sea faring trade. These legends with the aid of imagination, and frequently superstition, have produced tales of phantoms, or ghosts of the dead allegedly possessing supernatural powers that control the fate of seafarers on the waves.

However, the tradition of the Sea Witch still exists. Sea Witches focus on Moon lore, the tides, and weather magicks. From these elements came the Witch tradition of women who could raise wind and cause storms, which even 200 years ago could send them to the stake.

Currently the path of the Sea Witch is one chosen by few Pagans. The Sea Witch works with the chaotic forces of nature. Many term chaos evil, especially those enthralled with the powers of light. Here the Sea Witch differs, she or he recognizes that chaos, if evil at all, is a necessary evil because the chaotic climatic elements are part of the environment of the sea. Thus, the Sea Witch does not just use “white magick” and/or “black magick,” but “gray magick” because the person deals with all elements at her/his disposal when maintaining a balance between light and dark powers. Not many ordinary persons can manage such a feat, which is why most Sea Witches are solitary, working alone and by themselves.

Sea magic pertains to magick performed involving the element of Water, usually performed by the seashore; however, in modern times, depending on the location of the Witch, substitutes such as a lake, river, pond, or bath tube can be used. Even placing a bowl of salt water on an altar with the proper intention will suffice. The magic is usually sea related. Although several types of magick may be performed, the most common is weather magick since precipitation is water related. Such activity stems from old traditions when sea witches were called upon to control the weather to insure seafarers safe voyages. Related to Sea Magic is Moon Magic since the Moon controls the tides of the sea.

According to legends witches were believed to be able to control the wind. One method was with the use of three knots tied into a rope, or sometimes into a handkerchief. When the three knots were tied in the proper magical way, the wind was bound up in them. Witches gave, or sometimes sold, these magic knots to sailors to help them experience safe voyages. The release of one knot brought a gentle, southwesterly wind; two knots, a strong north wind; and three knots, a tempest. In the folklore of the Shetland Islands and Scandinavia, some fishermen were said to have commanded the wind this way. The belief in controlling the wind by tying it goes back to the legends of ancient Greece; Odysseus received a bag of wind from Aeolus to help him on his journey.

In other legends the activities of witches and sorcerers have been confused, which is a commom practice even today. For example, Sir Francis Drake is said to have sold his soul to the Devil in order to become a skilled seaman and admiral. The Devil allegedly sent Drake sea witches, who raised a storm that helped him to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. The battle occurred near Devil’s point, overlooking Davonport, which, by some, is still considered haunted by witches.

In summary, Sea Witch magick strives to achieve a balance between light and dark powers; the Witch does not focus more on one than the other. The reason for this is that the Sea Witch realizes such a balance is maintained throughout the continuum of life, even in oneself, just as it is in the environment of the sea. She/he experiences emotional depression and optimism at times, neither are harmful for short durations and both help establish personal emotional stability. When understanding this the Witch, or person, is more complete and better able to deal with life’s situations

The Mystica

Image - John Lund

Image – John Lund

Witches are greatly influenced by their surroundings and in Cornwall there has always been an affinity with the sea. Witches work with the elements and it was, and still is, believed that they can influence the wind and rain.

Predicting and controlling the weather was vital to sailors, fishermen and farmers. Before going to sea, sailors would buy the wind tied in a handkerchief or rope from a witch. The wind was released by untying the knots as required. The first knot produced a gentle wind to fill their sails; the second knot produced a strong wind and the third a tempest. We have not found any spells for calming the wind.

One of the museum’s prized possessions is a caul, a membrane sometimes covering a child’s head at birth. They were much sought after by seamen as they were supposed to prevent drowning.

Image - Pinterest

Image – Pinterest

It is common to find glass fishing floats hanging in cottage windows in Cornwall. These are the local equivalent of ‘witch balls’ and will offer protection from curses and evil. They can also be used for scrying.

The museum shows many examples of charms made with the fruits of the sea; for example, shell charms for love and fertility, mermaid’s purses used as spirit houses, sea-horse charms to protect against the evil eye, and lobster claws containing written spells to attract a good catch.

If you meet some fishermen we recommend that you ask them about their superstitions and taboos. You will find many are still followed today.

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Image – Tripadvisor

 

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic