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Myths and Legends Pop Culture

The Mermaid of Zennor

St. Senara Church in Zennor

A popular Cornish folklore is the Mermaid of Zennor. The mermaid is beautiful, but there is one detail about this legend that is distinct from other mermaid legends. The human is the one with the enthralling singing voice, not the mermaid. 

The small town of Zennor in St. Ives, is known for two things: The Mermaid of Zennor and the Mermaid chair (located inside St. Senara’s Church). 

The legend is about a beautiful, young woman, dressed in fine clothes, who attended mass occasionally at St. Senara’s Church, located in the small coastal village of Zennor. The mermaid named Morveren never aged, which baffled the parishioners, who had seen her attend mass for years, and would watch her from Tregarthen Hill. Morveren was the daughter of the sea king Llyr and resided in Pendour Cove, which wasn’t that far from St. Senara’s Church.

After many years, Morveren became smitten with Matthew Trewella, who was “the best singer in the parish”. Matthew was known for having the most beautiful singing voice and was incredibly handsome. She was so infatuated with him, that she only attended mass to see him sing.

The Mermaid of Zennor, by John Reinhard Weguelin (1900)

Matthew, eventually figured out that the beautiful woman, was a mermaid disguised as a human. It didn’t take long for Matthew and Morveren to fall in the love. Yet, one thing ached Morveren. She desperately wanted to tell Matthew, that she was a mermaid, since she couldn’t be with him on land, knowng that she had to return to the sea.

When Morveren told Matthew that she had to leave, he told her that he couldn’t live without her in his life. So, Matthew followed Morveren to Pendour Cove, where she jumped into the water and he did the same. It is said, that they lived happily in the sea.

Locals wondered what had happened to the happy couple, since they had simply disappeared.

Years later, when a mermaid appeared to sailors, asking for the anchor to be raised, since she couldn’t reach her children. The sailors kindly obliged and raised the anchor for her. It’s speculated that the mermaid they had seen was none other than Morveren, the mermaid who had lured Matthew to live with her in the sea.

Pendour Cove locals say on calm nights, Matthew’s sweet voice can be heard over the waves. That if his voice is high, the waters will be calm, but if it his voice is low, it will be rough waters. Even in the ocean’s depths, Matthew still sings his love and devotion to the Mermaid of Zennor, Morveren.

The Mermaid Chair and Alter at St. Senara’s Church in Zennor

But our story, doesn’t end there.

Inside, St. Senara’s Church at Zennor, there is a 15th century, medieval seat carved with a mermaid. The Mermaid Chair as it’s called, depicts a mermaid holding a mirror and comb. It is said, that the mermaid in the carving is the Mermaid of Zennor and that this was the very seat, that she would listen to Matthew sing at the parish.

 

 

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Myths and Legends Pop Culture

The Legend of Moana-Nui-Ka-Lehua

Official Disney Moana movie still

Did you know that Disney’s 2016 film Moana is based on a Polynesian legend?

Moana-Nui-Ka-Lehua was a Polynesian water goddess/mermaid, who resided in the ocean between the two islands Hawaiian islands of K’aui and O’ahu. It was Moana’s duty to guard the Ka’ie’ie Channel with the help of two two shark gods named Kuna and Kahole-a-Kane.

According to some legends, Moana appeared as a fish, while in others she was as a half-human half-fish hybrid (mermaid). Moana had the power to summon storms whenever she wanted.

Official Disney Moana movie still

Moana according to legend, wasn’t always the well-mannered goddess as depicted in Disney’s film version of Moana. Like many other deity’s and goddesses, Moana was mischievous and playful.

Moana prevented the volcano/fire goddess Pele from being with her human Lohiau by brewing a storm, so that the couple couldn’t go beyond the reef to be married.

However, there was one god, who could match Moana and that was Maui. Moana met the fisherman god, Maui (the island of Maui is named after him), when she found him fishing in her waters. She snatched his fishhook from the rock it was sitting on.

Maui, was known for being a trickster god and wasn’t going to take Mauna stealing his fishhook lightly. So, he pursued Moana, until he was able to capture her. Maui, then brought Moana to shore, where she passed away. Maui, paid his respects to the mermaid goddess by burying her body and built a shrine in her honor. Moana’s spirit was metamorphosed into a oli’a lehua, which is one of Hawaii’s most sacred trees.

 

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Myths and Legends

The Mikladular Selkie Legend and Statue

The village of Mikladalur on the island of Faroe Island of Kalsoy, a territory of Denmark

On the Faroe Island of Kalsoy, a territory of Denmark, there is a small village, called Mikladalur. In Mikladalur, there is a legend about a young farmer who falls for a Kópakonan or selkie and how he tricks her to be his wife.

Legend has it, that a young farmer grew up listening to stories about the selkies, so he decided to wait for them to come to land, to see if the stories were true.

Every year, on the 13th night of the year, the selkies are permitted one night on land, where are permitted to go to land and have fun.

The young man watched in astonishment, as the selkies swam in a large group towards the rocks in a great magnitude. They shed their skin (sealskin/pelts) on the rocks, and they appeared to be normal human beings. The selkies frolicked and danced on the shore and the young farmer was mesmerized, by what he was seeing. The selkies, did in fact exist, and they were enchanting.

For a selkie, their sealskin or pelt, was what made them what they were. It was apart of them, as much as the ocean was. Steal or possess their skin and you possessed them.

One beautiful selkie, in particular, caught the young farmer’s attention, so he snuck up, and stole her sealskin.

Statue of Kópakonan or Selkie in Mikladalur, on the Faroe Island of Kalsoy was raised in August 2014

As the sun, began to rise, the selkies began to gather their sealskins and retreated back to the sea. That is, all for one. The selkie, whose skin was stolen by the young farmer, couldn’t find hers and she panicked, since she could smell it, but couldn’t find it. It was then, that the young farmer, came out from where he was hiding, holding her skin. She begged and pleaded for him to give her her sealskin back, but he refused and made her return to his farm with him.

He married the selkie and she had several children with him. To guarantee that the selkie would be his forever, he locked away her sealskin in a chest, so she couldn’t return to the sea. The chest was locked with a key, which he kept on him at all times, on his belt.

One day, the man forgot his key, when he went on a fishing trip with his friends. He was devastated, at the realization, that his selkie wife would return to the sea. He cried to his fellow fishermen, “Today my wife shall lose my wife!”-the man explained  the story to the men, and they took him back to shore. He was distraught to see that his children were abandoned and that his wife was gone.

Statue of Kópakonan or Selkie in Mikladalur, on the Faroe Island of Kalsoy was raised in August 2014

His wife went to the shore, with her sealskin and dove into the water. In the water, waiting for her, was a bull seal, who had waited many years for her return, for he had loved her very much.  The children, she had with the Mikladalur man, went to the shore and a seal prevented them from entering the water. It is believed that the seal who stopped them, was their mother.

Many years had passed, since the Mikladalur man had seen his selkie wife. He was planning to go with the other Mikladalur men on a seal hunting excursion in the caverns. One night, his selkie wife, came to him, in his dreams. She warned him, not to kill the large bull seal for he was her husband and not to kill two seal pups for they were her sons. She described their skins to the man, so he would know, what they looked like and know not to harm them. The man woke up, not taking the warnings in the dream seriously and went to the caverns with his friends to hunt seals. They killed the bull seal and the two seal pups and divided the bounty amongst themselves.

Statue of Kópakonan or Selkie in Mikladalur, on the Faroe Island of Kalsoy was raised in August 2014

That evening, as the man cooked head of the bull seal and the flippers of the seal pups over a large fire, the seal woman appeared in the form of a terrifying troll. She was mortified when she saw the head of her husband and limbs of her children. She yelled and cursed to the farmer in her grief, “Here lie the head of my husband with his broad nostrils, the hand of Hárek and the foot of Fredrik! Now there shall be revenge, revenge on the men of Mikladalur, and some will die at sea and others fall from the mountain tops, until there be as many dead as can link hands all round the shores of the isle of Kalsoy!”

Shortly after placing her petrifying curse, she vanished, and there was thunder. She was never seen again. The eerie part though, is that every once in a while, men of Mikladalur are drowned at sea or fall of the cliffs. It is unknown, if this is related to the curse of the selkie, but its an eerie coincidence to say the least.

In August 2014, a statue of Kópakonan or Selkie was raised in Mikladalur, on the Faroe Island of Kalsoy, in honor of the legend. The statue can withstand 13 meters of waves.

Remarkably, in 2015, there was a terrible storm and the statue was able to withstand a 11.5 meter wave. The statue remained firm and there was no damage whatsoever.

The statue of Kópakonan is as strong as the Kópakonan herself.

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Hans Christian Andersen Myths and Legends

The Myth of Ondine

Undine illustration by Arthur Rackham. The illustration is featured in Baro Friedrich De La Motte Fouque romance novella “Undine” that was published in 1811.

The myth of Ondine or Undine has been around for centuries, as far back as the Ancient Greece. Unda is Latin for “wave” or “water”.

The story of Ondine has been adapted and changed throughout the centuries, yet, astonishingly, key elements of the story has remained the same.

The story is of a young water nymph named Ondine who is beautiful and has an enchanting singing voice. Ondine is immortal, but doesn’t have a soul. The only way for Ondine to obtain one, is to marry a human, which would  then shorten her life, but she would gain a human soul.

Ondine falls in love with a human, and becomes human to be with him. If Ondine’s husband was to be unfaithful to her, he will die. She soon marries him, and bears him a mixed-breed child. Her child is born with a soul and has many aquatic attributes.

Ondine finds her husband with another woman and he soon dies.

This legendary story, would later inspire French author Baron Friedrich De La Motte Fouque and his novella of  Undine that was published in 1811. Years later, his version of the story,  would inspire the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and his story, Den Lille Havfrue or The Little Mermaid and was published in 1837.

It’s truly incredible, that these mermaid myths and legends, never die. They adapt and change with the times. They are immortal and live on forever in our hearts and our minds.