Seewyvkessturm / Mermaid Monsoon

Dår eyn meyr en meyr volksvortellingen least, wurdet eyn såk swår düdlik: wy bünt neet allennig in de wearld. Et givt en heyle rits an weasens dee höär disse aerde med us deylen. Vansülv givt et de bisten, beident wild en tam, en oft is de grüp tüsken beident neet good up to holden. En hund is tam, en düt us nikswat (meynsttyds din): wy nöömt hunden sülvs menskdum höär beste vreend. De wulv is de hund syn antitesis. Al bünt wulven meynsttyds neet gevårlik vöär lüde, wy doot as of see dat doch seakers bünt. See bünt to glyk an hunden, dat wår as see ofwyket, see swår gevårlik bünt. En hund is tam, en eyn weytst ho as disse bisten reageard. By wulven weytstu dat nimmer: see lyket villicht een bült up hunden, mor bünt wild. Dår see süksen bült up unse vreenden likt, bünt see ekstra gevårlik: see künt us sklim bedrygen. Huuntys bünt tam, enkultureard; wulven bünt wild, noch altyd underdeyl van de natüür. Glyk as en soud andre såken is dat wat menselik of döär menskenkultuur pacificeard is veilig, neet gevårlik, weil dat wat likt up et mensklike of et enkulturearde, mor et neet is, swår gevårlik is. In al val, dat is ho as wy meynsttyds denken.

Andre weasens dår wy disse aerde med deylen bünt et supernatüürlike: dee weasens dee as anomalyen van de normålityt töt us kummen. See breaket ho as wy normål um wearld denken med höär vrümde maneyren, höär vrümde reagels, höär snaakske uutskeyding: höär vrümdheid in et algemeyn. Oft kümt disse snaakskheyd döär ho as see en menging bünt van meyrere kategorys an fenomenen. Dit is en insicht uut kognityve teory, dee stellet dat et vrümde, et gevårlike, van supernatüürlike weasens kümt uut et breaken med natüürlike kategorys. En bült supernatüürlike weasens bünt höär en misking tüsken en mensk en wat anders, süks as en bist, plant, natüürlik vöärwarp, en produseard vöärwarp (Boyer, The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion (1994)).

Ditmål haren wy us et plan, naerer når seewyvkes to kyken, en misking tüsken mensken en visken. Noch beater: et gav en kollektsioon van volksvortellingen up sassisk uut Meklenburg-Vörpommeren um disse seewyvkes. Now künt wy endlik wat meyr vortellingen van düütske kant benütsen. Et givt een digitål arkyv van de samling van Richard Vosslo (Wossidlo), en vornåme volkskündige. Med syn kollektsioon to arbeiden is sou as et torüchgån in de tyd. De webstea van de kollektsioon warket as en olden arkyvkaste. Et is neet eenfach, wat to söken, dår söökfunktsionen ouk neet sou good warket. Eyn kinst ouk neet skyr döärklikken by en vundst, dår et olde systeem swår good nåmaked is: eyn holdet eyn kårt deruut, meyrere kin neet, dår anders volgorde vorward kümt. Wårum is disse ervåring sou in en digitål arkyv? Düvel moget et weyten.

De gode leaser hev leasen, dat ik skryv dat et süksen kollektsioon gav. Der is wat vrümds med Vosslo syn kolletsioon. Kurt segged: et likt as of disse kolletstioon med langsåme passen offline geit. Ik kan my vortellingen um seewyvkes neet länger vinden, en by et söken givt et een bült techniske flaters. Med wat houp kümt disse kollektsioon up een låter momint vannys online, villicht up ISEBEL, een europeiske vortellingendatabase. Vöär now moot ik et doon med wat ik my noch altyd erinner um disse vortellingen, mor kin ik neet länger in detail derum vortellen. Glüklik givt et en bült meyr seewyvkes in de sassiske umråden, et geit sülvs wyd torüch tyd in. In de kronyken van Johan Rengers uut Ten Post, en politykus uut 16. eyw up et Grönnegerland, vindet wy disse vortelling:

“In dit jar [15]58 … hefft Onno Leeuwe up den woert mit Jan Hacker und anderen bij Amelant [een nedderlansk eiland] een meerwijff geseen, schier upt droege sijnde binnen schoets, hebben mit een roer darna gescoten so dat se kreeth, dan quam weder in de diepte, und als Lewe voertfoer, so kumt dat meerwijff ant scip upscheten, lecht beide handen upt boert van den scip bij lichten dage und sach hoer allen grijselich an, alse van hem [Onno Leeuwe] und sijn soenen Lubbert Leeuwe gehort is.”

Werken van den Ommelander Edelman Johan Rengers van Ten Post (1853), s. 254-255.

Wat upvalt, is dat de wårneaming kennlik sünderlik genug is dit in een anders swår polityk orientearde kronyk to vormelden. Lüde up et skip waren höär swår bangig, en skuten glyk up et seewyvke (of mearwyv) dår see höär up et drogue land seen. Villicht bünt seewyvkes sünt dee tyd swår skyterig vöär mensken. In de vortellingen uut Meklenburg-Vörpommeren waren see oft seen vanaf wyd vurd; do lüde stuver by kummen wulden, någelden see vlut see wyder in.

Mor wårdöär givt et disse angst by mensken? Bünt lüde höär gewoanlik bangig vöär alles wat vrümd is? Tja, dat souwysou, mor der speylen andre faktoren in disse såk. De seewyvkes stån neet soumor vöär siksülv, mor see bünt en metafoor. Dee stån vöär menskdum höär vorbindnis med de see. De angst vöär seewyvkes geit eyglyks um de see.

Vöär küstsassen, lykas vöär de oldfreesken, is de see gevårlik. De see is nöydig vöär leavensunderhold, vöär de viskery. Mor wat de see givt, kin et vansülv ouk wyder nimmen. Et givt, döär geskydnis hin, en soud vloden dee et land teysteret. Glyk as de see gevårlik is, so is elk weasen deruut ouk gevårlik. Vöär de Oldfreesken was de see med de vikings vorbunden, dår disse lüde höär oft et freeske land binnenvülden. De oldfreeske sege wilda witzinges (sees) flod wyst dårnår, dår ik my en mål up een ander stea um skreaven har (doch up et nedderlansk). Vöär sassen wurdet disse bangigheyd ouk up andre wysen uutdrükked, byvübbeld döär seewyvkes. Dat blikt ouk uut disse vortelling. Dissen is meynst up hougdüütsk, mor med een skyre sassiske rymery én en sege derin:

“Vor den nordöstlichen Spitze des Jeverlandes liegt in der Jade eine Sandbank, die zur Flutzeit oft von den Wogen überdeckt wird. Sie heißt das Minser Ollôg, weil dort das alte Kirchdorf (Lôg) Minsen gelegen habe. Einst hatten die Minser ein Seeweibchen gefangen, plagten es sehr und wollten von ihm Mittel gegen allerlei Gebrechen wissen, aber das Seeweibchen hatte nur einen unverständlichen Reim zur Antwort:

“Kölln oder Dill

Ick segg jo nich, wo’t got för is,

Un wenn ji mi ok fillt.”

“Endlich ersah es einen günstigen Augenblick, entwischte und stürzte sich schnell in die Fluten. Dann wandte es sich nochmals um, spritzte mit den Händen Salzwasser über den Deich, tauchte unter und verschwand. Am anderen Tage, als die Leute gerade in der Kirche waren, erhob sich ein großer Sturm, und eben als der Prediger den Segen sprach, durchbrachen die Wogen den Deich un verschlangen das Dorf mit allen Ländereien. Davon hat man noch bis auf diesen Tag das Sprichwort:

“Dat geit ut as dat Bäen to Minsen.”

“Die wenigen Leute, die sich gerettet hatten, erbauten das jetzige Dorf; die kahle Sandbank im Meere aber, wo das alte Misen gelegen [hatte], ist noch zu sehen.”

Hermann Lübbing, Friesische Sagen von Texel bis Sylt (1928), s. 246-247.

Natüür is gevårlik; disse lüde uut Minsen, dee höär en seewyvke marteld hebt, kint et ju neet länger nåvortellen. Med en ard magy hev dit dearntyn höär water up dyk gooid, én en tyd låter givt et en wårlike oaverströming! Natüür en de höären bünt machtig.

Mor is et villicht de lüde höär eigen sküld? See hebt et seewyvke marteld, düs is dit to seen as een krigsvorklåring van natüür höärsülv? Is al et natüürgewald van leste jåren döär mensken höär eigen doon in wearld brocht? Villicht wurdet et tyd, wat beater med unse wearld um to gån. As et al neet to låt is …

As one reads more and more folktales, one thing becomes apparent: we are not alone in this world. There are tons of creatures that share this planet with us. Of course we have animals, both wild and tame, and it can be hard to distinguish between them at times. A dog is tame and doesn’t harm us (most of the time): we even call them humankind’s best friend. The wolf is the antithesis of dogs. Even if wolves are most of the times not dangerous to humans, we act as if they most definitely are. They are too much alike dogs, that at the points at which they diverge they become really dangerous. A dog is tame, and one knows how these creatures respond. With wolves one never knows: they might look a lot like dogs, but they are wild. Since they look a lot like our friends, they are extra dangerous: they can easily trick us. Dogs are tame, encultured; wolves are wild, still part of nature. Just like a bunch of other things: that which is human or pacified by human culture is safe, not dangerous, while that which looks human or encultured but isn’t is really dangerous. At least, that is how we often reason.

Other creatures we share this world with are supernatural: those creatures that appear to us as anomalies of normality. They break how we normally think about the world with their strange behaviour, their strange rules, their odd appearance: their strangeness in general. Their oddness is caused by being a mix of multiple categories of phenomena. This is an insight gained from cognitive theory, which states that the weird, the dangerous, aspect of supernatural creatures is caused by breaking with natural categories. A bunch of supernatural creatures are a mix between a human and something else, like an animal, plant, natural object, and artifact (Boyer, The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion (1994)).

This time we decided to consider mermaid more closely, a mix between humans and fish. Even better: there was a collection of Saxon folklore from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern about mermaids. Now we would be finally able to utilize more stories from the German side. There is a digital archive of the collection by Richard Wossidlo, a prominent folklorist. Working with his collection is like stepping back into the past. The website of the collection functions like an old archive filing cabinet. It ain’t easy to look for anything, since the search function doesn’t function properly. It’s also not possible to easily browse through what you find, since the system has been authentically recreated: one takes out one index card, not more, since otherwise the order of cards will be messed up. Why is this experience replicated digitally? The Devil may know.

The good reader has read, that this collection was there. Something odd has happened to Wossidlo’s collection. Bluntly put: it appears as if this collection is slowly disappearing from the internet. I am no longer able to locate the stories about mermaids, and using the search functionality returns a lot of errors. Hopefully this collection will appear online again later, perhaps on ISEBEL, a European folktale search engine. For now, I need to work with what I can still remember from these stories, but I won’t be able to delve into the details. Luckily there are many more mermaids in the Saxon territories, they even appear way back in time. In the chronicles of Johan Rengers from Ten Post, a politician from the 16th-century Groningen area, we find this story:

“In this year [15]58 … Onno Leeuwe saw with Jan Hacker and others on the eyot at Ameland [a Dutch island] a mermaid, far upon the dry land and within shooting range. They shot at it with a blowgun, causing her to cry out. She swam out into sea, and when Leeuwe sailed further she accelerated towards the ship, places both hands aboard the ship by clear daylight, and looked at them horribly. This was heard from him [Onno Leeuwe] and his son Lubbert Leeuwe.”

Werken van den Ommelander Edelman Johan Rengers van Ten Post (1853), p. 254-255.

What is striking is that the sighting was apparently special enough to be included in an otherwise heavily politically-oriented chronicle. People on the ship were really scared, and immediately started shooting the mermaid when they see her upon dry land. Perhaps mermaids have been scared for humans since then. In the stories from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern they were often seen from far away; when people wanted to come closer, they would flee quickly back into the sea.

But why are people so afraid? Are people normally afraid for everything that is strange? Well, that in any case, but there are other factors at play here. The mermaids are not merely a symbol for themselves, but they are a metaphor. They are a stand-in for humanity’s relation with the sea. The fear for mermaids is actually fear for the sea.

For coastal Saxons, just like for the old Frisians, the sea is dangerous. The sea is required for livelihood, for fishing. But what the see gives it can also take away. Throughout history a lot of floods coursed over the land. Just like the sea is dangerous, so is every creature that comes out of it. For the old Frisians the sea was connected with the Vikings, who often raided the Frisian lands. The old Frisian saying the (sea)tide of the wild Vikings points to that, about which I wrote a piece at another place (unfortunately in Dutch). For Saxons this fear it expressed in a different way, for example in the figure of the mermaid. That becomes apparent in the next story. This one is mainly written in High German, but with a fun little Saxon poem and a saying included:

“In front of the north-eastern point of Jeverland there is a sandbar in the river Jade, which is often submerged by the waves around high tide. The sandbar is called the Old Minser Town, since the old churchtown Minsen used to be there. Once upon a time, the people from Minsen caught a mermaid, tortured it, and wanted to gain knowledge from it about all kinds of remedies for any assortment of ails, but the mermaid only answered with an incomprehensible rhyme:

“Chamomile or dill,

I won’t say to you, what it is used for,

In whatever way you may skin me.”

“At last the mermaid saw a auspicious moment, got away, and dropped itself quickly down into the waters. She turned around one last time, sprayed salt water with her hands over the dyke, dove under, and disappeared. The other day, when the people were gathered in church, a great storm arose, and, exactly at the moment the preacher blessed the congregation, the waves broke through the dyke and devoured the town with all its estates. Up to this day the people have this saying inspired by those events:

“That burns out like the prayer at Minsen.”

“The few people who were able to save themselves built up the current town: the bare sandbar in the sea, however, where the old Minsen used to be, can still be seen.”

Hermann Lübbing, Friesische Sagen von Texel bis Sylt (1928), p. 246-247.

Nature is dangerous; these people from Minsen, having tortured a mermaid, are no longer able to tell you this story. Using some kind of magic by throwing some water on the dyke, this girl caused a flooding some time later. Nature, and those belonging to her, are powerful.

Are the people here perhaps to blame? They tortured a mermaid, and could that be seen as a declaration of war against nature? Is all the natural violence of the last years brought into the world by humanity’s own behaviour? Perhaps it is the time that we treat the world we live in better. If it’s not too late …

Sy hat een meerwijff geseen, schier upt droege sijnde binnen schoets / They saw a mermaid, far upon the dry land and within shooting range. Model: Margriet

Spookplåtkepråt

Um et maken van de foto

Spooky Spectral Speculations

About creating the picture

Ameland is en eiland in Waddensee, dee up de lyst UNESCO World Heritage steit. Seewyvkes werden höär oftmål seen up dit sünderlike natuurreservåt. Nowdestyds vulg ik en kurs up Futurelearn med de nåm Concepts in Sustainable Development döär University of Leicester anboded. Lestweeks haren wy pråt um “de tragedy van de meant” en how viskeryen höär de kumpleksität dårvan uutbealded. How kinnen wy en spårsame wearld beholden of krygen, en dårby ouk de belangens van et individu, de groop, en de lüde in de tokumst achter in kop? Watvöär köyses dürven wy maken so dat unse behöyvdes vorvuld werden en, up etsülve momint, how neamen wy behöyvdes van tokumstlüde dårin med? Al disse såken sluten perfekt an up Arjan syn konklusioon!

Do gung ik med my favoryte model Margriet når Waddensee to vöär dit plåtke. Skane, mor et drouge land gungen höär döär lyk so wyd as unse ougen et dragen kunden, döär dröygde. See was höär stuur to seen! As de vortelling geit sat seewyvke ‘schier upt droege‘. Wyder tohuus bruukte ik my en heyle soud lågen van en foto van en makreyl um et seewyvke in Margriet når buten to brengen.

Ameland is an island in the Wadden Sea. The Wadden Sea is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Mermaids were seen several times at this special nature reserve. Currently I am taking a course on Futurelearn called Concepts in Sustainable Development by the University of Leicester. Last week the subject was “the tragedy of commons” and on how fisheries illustrates the complexity of it. How can we maintain or create a sustainable world, and keep the interest of the individual, the group, and people of the future in mind? What choices can we make so that our needs are met and, at the same time, how do we take into account the needs of future people? All of this suits Arjan’s conclusion perfectly!

So for this picture I went with my favorite model Margriet to the Wadden Sea. Unfortunatly the dry floodplains were almost as far as our eyes could see because of the long draught. We could barely see the sea! As the story goes, the mermaid sat “far upon the dry land”. Later, at home, I used lots of layers of a picture of a mackerel to reveal the true mermaid in Margriet.

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