Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mysterious Monday: Merrows

Photo by Victor Habbick.
Found on freedigitalphotos.net
This mermaid picture is the closest royalty-free
picture I could find to a merrow.

Another day late post. I’m so sorry. I’ll be staying with my dad for another week and a half. While I’m here, it’s been difficult to find time to write. My father is a wonderful man, but he’s ever been the restless sort. If I don’t do chores for him while he’s at work, he’ll come home and do them; I don’t want that, as I feel it’s the only way to really “pay” him for mine and my son’s stay here. He doesn’t want any pay, but I hate to take and not give—it’s just who I am. I am also here to work on helping him clean up some of my mother’s items now that she is in a nursing home. If I don’t step in, he’ll have photos and interesting family history in the garbage.

He’s also from the generation and class that has this image that if you’re not doing physical labor, you’re not working. Since my sales business and my writing career both involve a lot of time on the computer, either typing letters or stories or blogs, or contacting folks, or taking classes, I have to almost “hide” my computer activities in my basement bedroom. I don’t want to stay downstairs too much, though, as I am here to visit as well as doing the cleaning up of thirty years in one home. So please bear with me for the next couple of weeks, until I can get home and settled once more. I appreciate your continued support.

At any rate, continuing the watery Irish mythology theme, this week’s Mysterious Monday focuses on merrows. Merrows share many similarities to both mermaids and selkies. These half-fish, half-human creatures sat on rocks, luring sailors to their deaths on the nearby obstructions.

Male merrows are purportedly drunkards who wait for ships to sink and then liberate the doomed ships of their supplies of whiskey and brandy. The males are described in very uncomplimentary terms—sometimes as having a red nose from their drinking, sometimes as being completely covered in green scales with green hair. They are also said to have pig-like features and long, pointy teeth.

Female merrows, however, are quite beautiful—more the pity and curiosity that the males are so hideous, then. They have the upper torso of a human and the lower torso of a fish; fine webbing is found between their fingers. The female merrow usually wears a red cap and sometimes a dark cape which covers a bright white gown. It sounds like the merrow is a bit more modest (or cold) than her counterpart in Greece.

Like the selkie, a human male may find that which holds her magic, in this case, her red cap. Should he do so, the merrow will become his willing and submissive wife, but—also like the selkie—she will return to sea immediately upon finding her cap. Unlike the selkie, she does not remember her sea home while in her role as fisherman’s wife.

Sailors who tried to steal the merrow’s cap were taking quite a risk. As members of the magical Sidhe-folk, a merrow’s temper was as changeable as the sea. One moment, she could be sitting on the rocks, singing a lovely tune in her beautiful voice; the next, she could tear the mortal apart. Only if he was lucky enough to snatch her cap and make her his bride would she become docile. On land, she would age like a normal human, but once she found her cap and returned to the sea, all of her mortal years would fall away and she would become immortal once more.

With all these magical creatures finding the sources of their magic and leaving, it does make one wonder why the mortals kept these items, instead of destroying them. A number of reasons come to mind:

  • Bragging rights: “My wife’s a merrow!” “Prove it!” And he brings the lads home from the pub, pulls the cap from hiding, and shows it about while they all oooh and aaah.
  • Insurance: Since these men are heartless enough to woo a female by trickery and theft, it’s not a stretch to think that they might want to make sure that they can get out of the marriage should something better come along, or should they decide they don’t like being married all that much.
  • Idiocy: If they have to steal the merrow’s cap to find a bride, they might not be the brightest bulb in the box.
  • Cover story: What better alibi for your wife deciding to leave you than to claim that she was a magical creature who found the source of her magic and returned home? Also good for a man who kills his wife, especially if he’s already claimed that she was a merrow or selkie.

Do you believe in the magic of the sea? Or do you find a more pedestrian explanation for these myths?

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