19 April 2021- Otherworld Folklore Creatures Associated with Water

By | May 9, 2021

The session looked at mermaids and church bells and then other creatures.

1/.  Legends Concerning Mermaids & Church Bells:-


  • Llyn Cerig Bach, Anglesey:- around 140 Iron Age metal objects discovered in the lake in 1943
  • Llyn Fawr, Rhondda Valley:- Bronze & Iron Age metal objects found in the lake in 1911.
  • Bosham, Sussex:- church bell said to have been looted by the Vikings and then lost in the harbour.

These legends were common and may have had their origins in the old folklore of water spirits, goddesses.  They hark back to pagan beliefs and old religions.  The legends concerning church bells obviously come about with Christianity and are perhaps related to the struggles to get Christianity accepted.  Metal is linked to the old beliefs and church bells may be dim memories of offerings in the past.  Several the stories pick up on the theme of virtue and sin.  Although it is set within a Christian context a number of the stories involve wise men and pagan like rituals which must be strictly adhered to or they will fail.

2/. Sea-Living Mermaids:-

There are a lot of these stories.  They probably started as water spirits and had the mermaid label attached later, with Celtic mythology roots.  Water being the portal between this world and the other world.  They often had long blonde hair.  The sea living mermaids had a range of supernatural powers, some could shape change shift, if they married a human they became a human.  If the mermaid was treated well you would have good luck, if treated badly you would be cursed.  Human husbands would live with them for all eternity.  Some mermaids lived in the sea and also had farms on land.

We looked at a number of examples

  • Orkney Fin Folk:- human form but covered in scales instead of skin.
  • Lizzard Point, Cornwall:- in return for his kindness to her, a mermaid taught an old man from Cury the art of charming. She also offered to make him young again if he would go with her, but he declined.
  • Conwy, North Wales:- the town was cursed by a mermaid after the townspeople refused to help her.
  • Padstow, Cornwall:- a sandbank that blocked the harbour was the result of a mermaid’s curse.
  • Isle of Man:- the thick mists that often descended on the island where the result of a mermaid’s curse.
  • The Black Rock, Mersey Estuary:- a mermaid lured sailors to their doom.
  • Mermaid’s Rock, Lamorna, Cornwall:- a mermaid lured fishermen to their doom.
  • Zennor, Cornwall:- a mermaid lured a local man away to be her husband.

3/. Water Fairies:-

Some mermaids were called water fairies and there is a blurred line in their definition.  The water fairies also have their origins in water spirits, Celtic mythology and appear a lot in Welsh folklore.  These would have towns on the beds of lakes, involve magic, time passing at a different rate, aversion to iron.

We looked in detail at

The Fairies of the Mountain Lake:-

“The people who lived near to Beddgelert in Snowdonia used to watch the Fairies dancing in the moonlight on the shores of a certain mountain lake. One night a young man fell in love with one of the Fairy women and he took her off and locked her in his house. She agreed to act as his servant, and then she married him. They had two children and lived together happily for some years. Then one day, when she was helping her husband to catch a horse, an iron bit struck her on the shoulder, iron being anathema to all Fairy Folk, and in an instant she vanished. However, on the Fairies’ mountain lake there was a floating island that was blown about by the wind, and from time to time, the Fairy wife would appear in this island and she would talk to her husband while he stood on the shore.”  Janet & Colin Bord, “Atlas of Magical Britain”, 1990.

and at

The Lake Island in Llyn Cwm Llwych:-

“At the foot of Corn Du in the Brecon Beacons is the tiny lake of Llyn Cwm Llwych which is reputed to be bottomless. In ancient times, it was believed that there was a door in a rock which gave access to an island in the centre of the lake, which was invisible to those who stood on the shore. People who went to the island were hospitably received by the Fairies who lived there, but one day the Fairies were angry with a guest who took away a flower. They closed the door and for hundreds of years it could not be found.

One day some local people decided to drain the lake to see if the Fairies had left any treasure behind. They dug a deep trench and just when they had got to the point where another blow with the pick would have broken the bank and let out the water, there was a flash of lighting and a peal of thunder. From the lake rose a gigantic man, who warned them that if they disturbed his peace he would drown the valley of the River Usk, starting with Brecon town.”


The Poet Southey on the Subject of the Fairies’ Enchanted Island:-

“Of these islands or green spots of the floods, there are some singular superstitions. They are the abode of the Tylwth Teg, or the Fair Family….They love to visit the earth, and seizing a man enquire whether he will travel above wind, mid-wind, or below wind: above wind is a giddy and terrible passage, below wind is through brush and brake, the middle is a safe course…In their better moods they come and carry the Welsh in their boats. He who visits these islands imagines on his return that he has been absent only for a few hours, when in truth whole centuries have passed away.  If you take turf from St David’s churchyard and stand upon it on the sea shore, you behold these islands. A man once who thus obtained sight of them immediately put to sea to find them, but his search was in vain. He returned, looked at them again from the enchanted turf, again set sail and failed again. The third time he took the turf into his vessel and stood upon it until he reached them.”  Chris Barber, “Mysterious Wales”, 2000.


Wirt Sykes, “Goblins”, 1880:-

“Sailors on the coasts of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire still talk of green meadows of enchantment which are visible sometimes to the eyes of mortals, but only for a brief space of time. In former years, some sailors went ashore on the Fairy islands, not knowing they were such, until they returned to their boats and were filled with awe at seeing the islands disappear from their sight, neither sinking into the sea, nor floating away upon the waters but simply vanishing.”  Chris Barber, “Mysterious Wales, 2000.


Next time we shall continue with Seal People (Selkies) could shed their seal skins and assume human form, and Water Cattle/Kelpies


Last Updated on May 9, 2021