The Mermaid (1896), by Edvard Munch
Most of you know me as the one who left behind her fish tail, her voice, and the sea. The tale goes that I so longed for a man that I traded my voice to a sea witch in exchange for legs and the chance to gain a man’s love. There are other tales told of my people—tales of shedding our pelts—usually for the love of the landfolk.
The errors in my story never bothered me before. They are your stories to tell and say more about what matters to you. I suppose now, at the end of my life, I wish to share something of myself with the folk among whom I’ve lived for so many years. I’ve grown fond of you, my legged cousins.
It is true that when I was young I longed for the love of a man. I saw him on his ship, and one glance was all I needed. He was fine to look upon, strong like the rocks where my sisters and I would perch amid a wind-tossed sea. I was desperate to feel the harbor of his arms. I left the sea for him. And for a while we did share something special. Then he broke my heart, or perhaps I broke my own.
But I have not yet told you of how I made my first journey out of the sea, and that is what I wish to explain. I write this now on my last trip to land. I am relishing the feel of dirt between my toes, the jolt of land reverberating through my body as I walk, the warmth of the fire. These are fine things, but they are nothing like riding an ocean current as deep and dark as the night sky.
I remember once, during one of my land adventures, swimming in the sweet water of a mountain lake and suddenly feeling homesick, beginning to cry. The salt of my tears eased the ache. I asked my friend if her tears tasted like the lake or like the sea. When I learned that she too had salty tears, I felt a wash of pity learning of this small remnant of the sea you carry behind your eyes, released only during moments of sadness.
I see the way some of you gaze at the sea and long for something without understanding what you wish for or why. When the ebb of the tide beckons and the stormy cauldron summons, when a briny mist fills your lungs and you almost remember how to breathe water, I see the way you carry the ocean with you even now, how the moon pulls on the waters of your body—a tiny tide within your every cell, an ebb and flow that moves you along with the ocean. To me, it’s so clear both what you have lost and what you have kept. It helps me see why, when telling my story, you gave all my power away to a
I do not know all the creatures that dwell in the deep, nor what bargains they make, but I needed no one else to gain my legs. Like all my people, I was born knowing how to shed my sea-skin. In the dark, early morn of the newest sliver of the moon, I found a tidepool. My sisters gathered around me to lend their support and witness my change. Into the rippling surface of the pool, I whispered words to the water. I spoke of who I believed myself to be and who I wished to become. In that way, I gave my voice to the sea.
My people know that water carries the memory of sound—from the calls of whales to the screams of the shipwrecked. When we swim, we feel the vibrations in our bodies. This is how we know our ancestors’ thoughts and dreams. The ocean is our history book.
You on land have not forgotten this altogether. I don’t just mean the healers or the wise ones. I mean you who give toasts to celebrate your loved ones. You speak your wishes and your voice is captured by the wine. You drink from your glass and take the wishes into your body to hold them close. You know this spell.
How I performed the rest of my transformation is a secret of my people. What I want you to know is that many years later, when I came stumbling back to the shore, the ocean sang my song and I followed the refrain back into her inky depths. She remembered me and knew me as hers.
There are different endings of my story: That I died, dissolved into the sea because I failed to win a man’s love. That I won the love and lived happily ever after. Or that after many years, I rediscovered my skin and returned to the sea. All and none are true.
When I lay down this pen and return to the water, I will be done with this life. I will become the foam of the tide—the same way you become soil. I do not trouble myself with where my spirit will go, because where else would I rather be than part of the beautiful ocean I call home? In gratitude for my many wondrous years on land, my parting gift to you is this bit of sea magic:
Remember who plays the sea witch in your story. Your voice, your singing spirit, your skin—it is all yours to keep or change. Own your becoming and the sea will help you. The ocean, in her relentless, tumultuous, nurturing way, is nothing if not honest. She knows well how to remember and reflect.
No matter where you live, all water eventually returns to the sea—every river, every creek, every storm drain, every tear. Speak your truth to the water and it will find the ocean. It will find me. I will listen for your song and I will sing it back to you.
A SEA SPELL FOR BECOMING
• A journal
• A bowl of water
• Sea salt
• Any other sea-related objects you wish—shells, sand, driftwood—to help focus your attention
First, be clear about who you are and what you wish to change or manifest. Think or journal about this. Ask yourself: Is this change coming from within to fulfill my true self?
When you’re ready, arrange any sea-inspiring elements nearby or on an altar. Sprinkle a small bit of sea salt into a bowl of water. As you do so, share your hopes and dreams for yourself with the water. You may speak words, sing a song, hum—whatever feels right for you. Ask the water to hold and remember your dream and to take it back to the sea. When you are done, you can pour the water into the ground or down a drain. Think of your words traveling to the sea where they will be held and cherished, and you will always be known.