In this post i am going to be looking into the different types of water elemental’s and their roles throughout history. I will also dig up some eyewitness testimony that may show us that there is possibly more to these fables and myths than meets the eye. Water covers an estimated 71% of the earth so it is no surprise that there are some fascinating accounts of otherworldly beings inhabiting these watery worlds. Written about extensively in myths and folklore we have all become accustomed to images of a few of these such as mermaids, Kelpie and or the Russalka from the Slavonic peoples of central and eastern Europe. So we start with one we are all familiar with from the ancient days of seafaring to being a modern day fashion trend;
Mermaid; When mentally conjuring up a image of the stereotypical mermaid or merman we may be inclined to picture a half human half fish being with long flowing locks and enviable beauty but this has not always been how they have been described. Throughout history seafarers have warned about the deadly powers of the merpeople and their deadly tendencies. These tales stem from the ancient mythological beings of the sea with their deadly tempers and vengeful ways ( think Posiedon) they were regarded with much respect out of fear of accidentally conjuring a dangerous storm which would drag sailors down to the murky depths and drown them. Such maliciousness is echoed in the sirens of Greek mythology pictured as half woman half bird and sometimes even closer to mermaids, they would lure sailors to the shallows with their beautiful hypnotic sea song and the ships would be dashed upon the rocks, sailors would even plug their ears with wax when passing one of these fabled islands of the sirens to avoid being lured by their music. It was from the middle ages on wards that they really concreted themselves and gained a place in the western worlds mythology, and it was said by sailors that if you were to accidentally reel one in you should let it go immediately that “such a cruel tempest will arise, and such a horrid lamentation of that sort of men comes with it, and of some other monsters joining them, that you would think the sky should fall.”
There is a fascinating tale from Cornwall about the mermaid of Zennor and her image is still carved into a old wooden chair at St Senara’s Church which is dated to 1400-1500. This is an excerpt from wikipedia.
Long ago, a beautiful and richly dressed woman occasionally attended services at St. Senara’s Church in Zennor, and sometimes at Morvah. The parishioners were enchanted by her beauty and her voice, for her singing was sweeter than all the rest. She appeared infrequently for scores of years, but never seemed to age, and nobody knew whence she came, although they watched her from the summit of Tregarthen Hill. After many years, the mysterious woman became interested in a young man named Mathey Trewella,[i] “the best singer in the parish.” One day he followed her home, and disappeared; neither was ever seen again in Zennor Church.
The villagers wondered what had become of the two, until one Sunday a ship cast anchor about a mile from Pendour Cove. Soon after, a mermaid appeared, and asked that the anchor be raised, as one of its flukes was resting on her door, and she was unable to reach her children.[ii] The sailors obliged, and quickly set sail, believing the mermaid to be an ill omen. But when the villagers heard of this, they concluded that the mermaid was the same lady who had long visited their church, and that she had enticed Mathey Trewella to come and live with her.[iii]
The parishioners at St. Senara’s commemorated the story by having one end of a bench carved in the shape of a mermaid. A shorter account of the legend was related to Bottrell on a subsequent visit to Cornwall. The mermaid had come to church every Sunday to hear the choir sing, and her own voice was so sweet that she enticed Mathey Trewella, son of the churchwarden, to come away with her; neither was seen again on dry land. The famed “mermaid chair” was the same bench on which the mermaid had sat and sung, opposite Trewella in the singing loft.
There are some modern day accounts of people seeing mermaids near the sea shore and here is an intriguing one and is notable as this mermaid was supposedly witness by many local people.
In 2009, mermaid fever swept through the Israeli town of Kiryat Yam as a mermaid was making appearances at dusk, often performing tricks for locals and tourists alike. People in the town were claiming to see a being that was part young woman and part fish. The first local to have seen the mermaid claims that she was sunbathing, and as he and his friends approached her, she bounded from the sand and disappeared into the waves. They were all shocked to discover that the sunbathing woman had no legs, but a tail instead.
This one sighting was not an isolated event; as word spread about the mermaid, hundreds of people came forward claiming they had seen the Kiryat Yam mermaid. The Kiryat Yam mermaid has become so popular, that the town council has offered a one million dollar reward for any evidence that this mysterious creature exists. So far, only passing glances have been noted, and no one is a million dollars richer.
Water Nix; These elemental’s are common in German folklore and were mentioned in a tale by the Brothers Grimm some say these elemental’s are similar in appearance to the mermaids and mermen of western mythology but rather than singing unwary sailor’s to their doom they play instruments like a pipe or violin some say they can shape shift into animal forms. In other accounts i have read that they are often said to rise with the mists off the lakes and rivers and it is here you will see their small wispy humanoid forms dancing across the surface. It is said that if you see these they are an ominous warning of danger ahead for sailors and travellers alike who have to traverse near these sometimes formidable bodies of water. There are some really interesting geographical versions of the Nix amongst the Scandinavian and Balkan countries which are listed on Wikipedia here is a link if you want to check it out for yourself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neck_(water_spirit)
Kelpie; The kelpie of Scotland have long held a place in the annals of fearsome creatures among the indigenous and rightly so if the tales are to be believed. They are shape shifters that most frequently appear in the form of a horse. Acording to local lore it is wise to keep away from them because if a human climbs onto the backs of one of these creatures they will be dragged down into the lake and drowned. However if a human gains control of its bridle it can be put to work in the fields. They say the kelpie has the strength of ten horses but does not like to be enslaved so it will try every trick in the book to escape. It is primarily a Celtic legend but it has equally terrifying counterparts, Icelandic ninnir, the Australian Bunyip and the Scandinavian Backahast are also similar in nature.
Some say these tall tales are nothing more than scary stories to keep children away from the shorelines and potential danger. Some genuinely believe they have seen or sensed such creatures, yet other believe there is a link between this entity and the mystery that is the Loch Ness.
The blue men of Minch; This is a peculiar tale from folklore i came across whilst researching this topic and thought it would make an interesting end note for this post.
Here is an excerpt from the Scotsman.com ;
The strait between the Island of Lewis and the Shiant Isles was known in the 19th century as ‘the stream of the Blue Men’ because it was said to be inhabited by a strange group of creatures.
The Blue Men of the Minch, also known as Storm Kelpies, are said to occasionally prey on sailors making the crossing.
Those who are unlucky enough to come across the Blue Men note the distinctive green beards and hair they have, as well as their exceptionally-strong physique.
Other historical recordings of the creatures say that they lived in underwater caves in a clan system, while generations of folklore say they can only be beaten by making sure the last word is achieved in a rhyming duel.
It is said many a captain has escaped disaster on the seas with the sharpness of his tongue, while those less fortunate are left to perish in the cold and raging waters common to the region.
While the Blue Men slept the weather would remain fine, but they could conjure storms when they wished.
However, innocent fishermen who have done nothing to enrage the Sea Kelpies will be allowed safe passage through the area.
This was just a select few of the creatures and elemental’s that allegedly live within our waters, a good portion of them serve as omens and it would make sense as the seas and dark murky lakes can be treacherous. Some seem to display a more gentle nature, but there are many more out there that i haven’t mentioned in this post. Out of all the elements i would say water seems to have the most of these mysterious creatures and beings. It is truly fascinating to look at accounts and the wide range of diversity and ponder… just what other secrets are hidden far below our surface.
Photo by Joe Pregadio on Unsplash