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Nature Spirits

46 47 WaTer SPiriTS mysteries of shore and wave Nymphs and mermaids, merrows, selkies and nixiesspirits of the water invoke longing and wonder. Glimmering beneath the moon, their mistress, they serve the tides, currents and the gods of the sea, Lir, Mananan and Poseidon. The relationship between humans and water spirits is deeply entwined with the tales of lonely fishermen, and sailors washed up upon foreign shores. However, water spirits are also known to befriend whole families and communities, intermarrying and raising children who belong in both worlds. There are tales of Scottish fisherman taking selkie seal maiden brides by stealing their sealskins and binding them by ancient magical laws. Such marriages are said to be loving, but always end with the beautiful selkie returning to the ocean, leaving behind children gifted in sailing and storytelling, and husbands silent and alone, looking endlessly out to sea. W. B. Yeats relates how a burial ground in Ballyheigh in Ireland was drowned by the merrow king, to reclaim the bodies of his half merrow family. He also tells how a crofter called Dogherty was great friends with a sea spirit called Coomara, who collected the souls of drowned sailors in lobster pots in his home beneath the waves, thinking he was doing them a kindness. As strange and treacherous as the sea, the spirits of water are kind and dangerous by turns according to rhythms no mortals can fathom. Above Central to the magic between humans and sea spirits is the shoreline, a boundary where the realms of earth and water endlessly struggle back and forth. According to Celtic lore, the power of earth recedes entirely at the ninth wave, beyond which the rules of earthly kingdoms are relinquished to those of the watery depths.
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