One particularly frightening and prevalent legend of the merrow tells the tale of male merrows who capture the drowned souls of sailors and put them into pots. These pots stay at the bottom of the sea, never to release the poor sailors’ souls…unless a willing human being were to release them. The male merrows were said to be downright malevolent and awfully ugly. Perhaps this is why we have stories of female merrows seducing human men. The females would seduce sailors and other young men by singing to them (similar to the Greek sirens), and then drag them under the waves to the bottom of the sea. No one knows what happened to these men, though some believed they stayed alive in a state of enchantment. Others believed they were drowned and killed. One particularly interesting aspect of these Gaelic legends is that the merrows were only able to swim underwater with the aid of magic – a magical red “cap” to be exact. If a person was to steal this cap and not return it to the merrow, the merrow would then be unable to return to his/her home under water. In one legend, an Irish man is granted use of the red cap so that he can visit a male merrow’s home under the sea.
the idea of the selkie seems universal to me. even kafka eluded to the creature living out of it element and comfort zone withing the story of gregor samsa in “metamorphosis”. and my new favorite comparison to that image of samsa writhing on his bed after becoming a cockroach as he struggled to recognize who he had become is beautifully rendered in the film “12 years a slave” with a scene of the main character chained to a cellar floor, stripped of the physical connections to his identity, pulling and writhing in the dark, almost blindly trying to figure out where he was and who he had been before now. david byrne (and talking heads) wrote “where is that beautiful house, where is my beautiful wife, how did i get here?”
it has been part of my journey to find myself feeling captured and/or washed ashore. weak from the effects of the foreign elements around me, i have struggled trying to remember just who i am and where i came from and more importantly where i am going. i felt fearful of almost everything. fearful of the current routines, fearful of the stories i hear, fearful of my own instincts, because my sense of grounding is so obliterated.
as ernie larsen discusses so eloquently in his writings about emotional sobriety, it is a wondrous and often mesmerizing task to unveil the truth about who we are and how we are. i am humbled during this process. i never imagined that my agenda could be so self-involved. yet it is. i am embarrassed at my own immaturity as well as the magnitude of my ego.
my buddhist readings teach me to lean into these uncomfortable positions in life. so damn hard to do when every fiber in my being wants to fill the void with my ego and my fear. so i continue to find myself writhing around trying to remember who i am and where i am. thank heaven it is called spirtual practice. that’s exactly what i need more of- practice.
But what fascinated me most were the stories of selkies — seals who could shed their skins and take human form. “The seas around Orkney and Shetland harbor the shy Selkies or Seal-Faeries (known as the Roane in Ireland). A female Selkie is able to discard her seal skin and come ashore as a beautiful maiden. If a human can capture His skin, the selkie can be forced to become a fine, if wistful, wife. However, should she ever find her skin she immediately returns to the sea, leaving the husband to pine and die. The males raise storms and upturn boats to avenge the indicriminate slaughter of the seals.” — Brian Froud and Alan Lee, “Faeries”