The ancient mariner's encounter with the supernatural begins soon after he, for no discernible reason, kills the albatross that helped his crew free themselves from entrapment in the ice.
The sailors believe that the winds that send the ship into equatorial waters are under the control of spirits bent on punishing them for the killing of the bird. The ship is becalmed, and the men die torturous deaths from thirst as they watch two spirits on a ghost ship gamble for their souls. The mariner's punishment is to outlive them and be trapped with their corpses for a time, knowing that he has caused their suffering.
Eventually, the mariner sees the beauty and purpose of nature. When he experiences this epiphany, the dead sailors are reanimated and sail the ship close to the mariner's home. His troubles, however, do not end there; he nearly loses his life in a whirlpool that claims the remnants of the ship. The mariner faces a protracted punishment: he must confess his sin over and over to anyone he meets to communicate what he has learned:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
uses supernatural elements of animated winds, spirits, and corpses to explore themes of sin, punishment, atonement, and redemption.