8.05.2013

The Enchanted Ones

Mermaids are essentially shapeshifters: one of those ancient shamanic beings who turn up in fairy tales and myths all over the world. Like the swan maidens and the selkie, mermaids sometimes stay on shore in the form of whole women, becoming fish wives eventually, often tricked by fishermen who have stolen their discarded tails.

It never ends well. The mermaids are never happy, and the husbands are often haunted. And the children—well, their children eventually lose their mothers to the sea and their fathers to the drink. 

The Gaelic merrow can be enticed to permanent shore life if her magical red cap is lost or stolen. Without it, she cannot safely return to the sea. Without it, she is at the mercy of the person who took it. In my book The Fish Wife, Sara O’Broin’s life is nearly destroyed when Cormac MacDougal steals her red cap. She should have never let it out of her sight, but what can one do when the Wind decides to step in to change fate—or to hurry it along?

Mermaids and sea women of all sorts usually live happily in beautiful palaces beneath the waves. It’s often a puzzle why they ever come to shore or why humans interest them at all. Something about looking for love in all the wrong places?

In Brazilian myth, a kind of fairyland exists beneath the surface of the mighty Amazon River where the Encantados reside. (Encantado literally means “enchanted one;” in this case, we’re referring to the Encantados who are the Botos, the pink dolphins of the Amazon River.) The Encantados live in the Encante much like the people do who live above the surface of the water, only the Encantados are happy, healthy, and very rich. 


The Encantados leave their amazing lives in the river to party and make love with humans, shapeshifting from human-like Encantados to pink dolphins to humans and then back again. They dress very well when they leave the waters, often wearing white suits, and they are either white-skinned or very pale. Once ashore, they will mate with humans—that’s often their goal—and children can result from these trysts.

These powerful beings can also enchant and kidnap humans and take them down below to Encante. Even today, some Amazonians don’t go near the water at dawn and dusk—those in-between times when faeries the world over make mischief or magic. Humans can spot the Encantados by their blowholes. When they come ashore all decked out in their stylish suits, they most often wear a hat to cover the Boto blowhole. Trick the hat off an Encantado and you’ll be able to see whether he or she is fully human or not. 

In many of the European stories of mermaids, the mer women are virtually stripped of power—except the power to lure men to their deaths. They’ve become sirens of horror rather than maintaining their stature as powerful life- and death-giving fish goddesses. The shapeshifting Encantados have remained powerful. Maybe they were never gods and goddesses, so they didn’t need to fall from grace. After all, they’re almost like us ordinary people, only healthier, better dressed, better looking, and richer. 

I love the stories of the Encantados and the Encante. The Boto Encantados inspired my story Seeing Pink. I like imagining Amazonian faeries. I can see them dressed up all in white—or maybe all in pink—dancing on a 
houseboat, looking for (and finding) love in all the wrong worlds.

("The Encante," by Ray Troll. Used with permission; all rights belong to Mr. Troll. Click on painting to see it bigger.) 

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