Here’s a wild story for these wild times in which we find ourselves; I’ve been working with this tale since an eventful trip to Cornwall in 2010, which now reveals itself as an unexpected and significant pilgrimage. The version below was first told at Brighton Storytellers in September 2015. I hope you enjoy it, please share and do read it aloud, perhaps to the raging Storm, and the prayer at the end is my offering to Her, so be sure and say that part with feeling or I can’t guarantee your dreams tonight! Art work by the magical Jessie Glover-Gillian.
With love x Imogen
(Dedicated to all the mermaid-daughters I have met; we know who we are.)
Once upon a time, on the south coast of Ireland, there was a young woman called Senara, and she carried a great secret; as her mother had been made love to by a man from the sea, she herself was only half mortal, being the product of their moonlit union;
As it happens, her mother’s husband knew nothing of this, and so Senara kept her secret, each Saturday whilst bathing in the well-spring, she would transform into her watery-self, her full tail shining like a great salmon beneath her best dress; but she must not let another mortal see her, least she be called a monster.
Unfortunately, as these things do happen, she was spied upon by some village boys, and so for the sake of her life, she jumped out into the bay, and swam all night until she reached the coast of Cornwall.
And as the dawn broke, she surfaced to see grey cliffs surrounding a little bay; there wild flowers grew on the hillside and all was calm.
Senara climbed out of the tide, her tailed disappeared as her legs returned at the touch of land and air. Her dress hung heavy and wet around her body.
She was exhausted, and so slept where she fell…
Her sleep was deep and heavy, but somewhere in her dreaming body, she felt the shimmer of a song, she could hear music and bells far away.
Gently she awoke, and yes, there was the sound of singing on the wind, it was utterly beautiful and it touched her heart.
“What a sound!” and she knew then she must find the source.
So, still soaked she climbed the cliff side, it was just steep enough to be hard going, yet inclined enough to offer some help in the form of old roots to cling to and ancient twisted trees to hold fast, all shaped by the North-West winds off the sea.
As she reached the level of the hillside, she could see across the rough moorland a little stone chapel in the distance, made from the same grey stones and the bell was ringing, catching the setting sunlight like a mirror with each peel and chime.
As Senara headed toward this place, the wind bought her snatches of sweet song and melody, growing closer and clearer with each step.
As she reached the chapel, she saw people leaving to go home, the bells had stopped and all was becoming still for the night. Her heart dropped, she hid in the shadows of the graves, and waited.
A little while went past, and she was about to leave, not sure where to go or what to do, when she heard a pure note swell and break from within the chapel, the sound poured out of the door and straight into her heart.
Senara went to the door and looked inside;
There was a young man, kneeling in prayer at a carved wooden alter.
He looked to be in some kind of ecstatic agony, he was singing for his very soul.
Senara sat on the very last pew and watched him, listening, enraptured.
It felt like hours had past, or a month, perhaps a lifetime. Senara had never felt so peaceful. So alive.
When suddenly, the singing stopped. The kneeling man was looking to the floor around him, where a small pool of salty sea-water had encircled him. He looked up to the ceiling, fearing the roof had broken with rain, but all was dry. Perhaps it was some kind of biblical flood bought on by his hymn, though, he’d of expected more water from the Lord, surely?
He twisted to look a little behind him, and saw a small river had been flowing down the aisle, and this he followed with his eyes, until he saw the source of the river was a waterfall, gently dripping from the soaking hem of a young woman.
He stood up, embarrassed because he had thought he was alone.
As he grew closer, he realised this was a stranger, he had never seen her before. Her red hair was not from this village, and in any case, the fishwives would never let her near the dairy with hair that colour!
She was pale, strangely beautiful with big dark eyes like a wild seal. She was completely and utterly waterlogged; if she had been dragged up in a net, he would not have been surprised.
As freely as he had been singing, now he found he could not find any words of greeting. But it mattered not, Senara stood and reached out her hand to him, and he took it. The looks they gave each other said more than any words, spoken or sung.
These lovers walked out of the chapel, wedded by a greater power than is written in any holy book or spoken by any mortal mouth.
No one from the village ever saw that young man, Matthew Trewella, every again.
Though the village rumour- mill of the fishwives speaks of a scarlet maiden, a merrow no less, stole him away, and drowned him for want of his love.
Though the fishermen, as they wait out in the bay, tell of a different story; they tell of songs rising up from the water, a mans voice singing; fair and sweet for good weather, low and bass for a boiling sea or a brewing storm. This voice keeps them safe and they are thankful.
So many years after this event, the villages decided to record the Legend of The Mermaid and Matthew in the following way;
They carved the last oak pew in the chapel in her image as a mermaid, and they say this prayer on holy days;
“May your spirit always recognise the kindred in another,
And embrace the gifts of grace each has to offer.
May you hear the song within even the most humble sea shell.
May the tide carry you to the shores of imagination,
In a boat made of your most precious dreams.
May all your prayers be answers, as you write them in the sand.”
And so my tale is told, and now it belongs to you