Sunday, February 04, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Fear the Sea

You heard of mermaids and mermen. You heard of selkies. Have you ever heard of the sorcerous finmen? Few people have. But yet, they are beings of the sea as are mermaids, mermen and selkies. In fact, in stories told, it is said the Finwike began life as a mermaid.

Their myth comes from the Orkney Islands. The story goes that they are mistrusted by mortals and have magic. That they have unparallel boating skills, as well power over storm and sea. These beings are also noted shapeshifters. 

Unlike the selkies (as in some tales), there were times they could come ashore. The Finfolk were truly amphibious. The Finfolk led a nomadic lifestyle, but spent long Orkney winters in the luxury of Finfolkaheem, a majestic city of unknown location, spposed to be at the bottom of the sea. The tales of storytellers tell that this fantastic undersea kingdom has  massive crystal halls and ornate gardens of multi-coloured seaweed. Lit by the phosphorescent glow of the sea, Finfolkaheem was decorated with swathes of draped curtains whose colours shifted like the ever-changing shades of the "Merry Dancers" - the Aurora Borealis. Towers of glistening white coral spiralled upwards, encrusted with pearls and precious gemstones. The kingdom was so rich that giant pearls were littered everywhere, often ground up by the merfolk to provide the powder that was scattered over the mermaids' tails to give them their sparkling sheen. In the waters surrounding Finfolkaheem, the Finfolk raised sea-cattle and magical sea-horses. Like the true gentry of their underwater world, they herded whales - from which they extracted milk - and, mounted on their aquatic steeds, would often hunt the animals of the sea using otters in place of dogs.
During summertime, the Finfolk returned to Orkney. It is there that they took up residence on their magical island home, Hildaland - one of Orkney's magical vanishing islands. it has been said that Hildaland was later taken from the Finfolk and renamed Eynhallow. 

Two distinct pf these kind of fairyfolk are within the ranks of the Finfolk - the Finman and the Finwife. Though tales of the Finmen  make up most of the bulk of the folklore and are fairly standard in their descriptions of the gloomy creatures. 
Like fairies of the land on the Orkney Islands, they also steral away mortals. Once caught, they spirit away their captives and transport them to their hidden island homes. It in these places that the unfortunate mortals are forced to remain for the rest of their days, usually as wife or husband of one of the Finfolk. 

While the Finman actively shunns contact with mortals - unless needs to for his purpose - the Finwife was more involved with her human neighbours. As a child of the Finfolk, the Finwife begins life as a mermaid -  beautiful with long, glistening fish tail. If the young mermaid marries a Finman - a fate that awaited her if she did not acquire a mortal huband - she became uglier an d uglier, eventually becoming a haggard Finwife. 

Tradition dictates that these Finwives went to shore and used her magic to earn precious silver for her husband. Once settled on land, she told her neighbours she was of Caithness origin - in other words not Orcadian. She pretended to earn a living by spinning and knitting. Also the Finwife was renowned for her skill in curing diseases in men and cattle, so it did not take long for her to become an invaluable member of the community. After that happened,  she began to practice her "infernal arts.",Meanwhile, she sent the silver coins she earned back to her avaricious husband beneath the waves. If the supply of "white metal" came sparingly or was delayed at any time, the unfortunate Finwife could expect a visit from her Finman husband. She did not want this, for when he came he would beat her so bad that the witch became confined to bed for days. A curious parallel to witch tales from other cultures is that the Finwife was said to keep a black cat, but there the similarity ends, as the Finwife's cat had the ability to transform into a fish so it could carry messages between its mistress and her relatives in Finfolkaheem.


All Orkney Finmen carried the appearance of a well-made man, tall, dark, thin and sinewy, but with a stern, gloomy face. His rowing skills were unparalleled, making it easy for him to cross from Orkney to Norway, or Iceland, in seven "warts", or strokes, of the oar. 

They were often seen rowing in a small boat, without  a sail. The Finmen didn't need one, for they used their powerful magic to propel their boats. This magic also allowed the Finman to turn his vessel invisible, or even surround it with a fleet of phantom boats. 

Very territorial, the Finfolk took great exception to humans trespassing, or fishing, in their waters. Whenever a mortal fisherman dared enter their domain, the Finmen seized the man's line and kept hold of it until the line broke. Without a hook and sinker, the fisherman couldn't earn a living until new tackle was acquired. Other times, the Finmen waited until the fisherman had returned home and had put his boat to anchor. They slip off the anchor stone, and the vessel drifted free to the perils of tide and current. 
 In the dead of night, marauding Finmen wreaked extreme vengeance on fishermen, too. They either smashed the oars of the fisherman's boat or made a hole in the vessel's bottom.  These would cost the impertinent fisherman his life at a later date. What the firshermen did was cut a cross into the line sinker and marked with chalk or tar on the hull of the boat, ensuring that no Finman would come within half a mile.Another way to shake a pursuing Finman would be by throwing a silver coin in his general direction. Because of their passion for silver, the pursuer gave up the chase so he could retrieve the precious coin. This silver obsession meant that the Finmen were often seen to enter the service of a human, but more often they were the ones who hired the mortals.No doubt, the Finfolk's malevolent influence could have been used to explain away the many disappearances and deaths at sea. Christianity is blamed for the disappearance of Finfolk stories. Though the influence of the Finman and his kin was feared right through until at least the end of the nineteenth century.

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