Sure, they’re beautiful, seductive, and alluring, but as far as cryptids go, they’re all up to no good. Cryptozoology stories show us time and again how these sirens of the waters are out to kill men who wander into their grasp. So why do we find them so fascinating? CryptoVille investigates!
In an entertaining article by Matt Simon for Wired.com, he relates some facts and anecdotes about mermaids that leave us all wondering, why the heck do we love mermaids so much?!
Here are a few of his major points:
- The first sea-person was actually a male named Ea and he was the Babylonian god of the sea. He was known to battle evil while also introducing his people to the arts and sciences.
- After that the Greeks and Romans adopted him and renamed him. He became Poseidon in Greece and Neptune in the Roman world.
- Ancient Syrians believed in a goddess named Atargatis and she was actually the first mermaid. She was human on top and fish below and they believed she safeguarded the fertility of her people.
So up to this point, the merfolk were pretty much benevolent and nurturing. Then for some reason, they start to turn toward the dark side.
If anyone has been through any classical history courses, then they’ll be familiar with Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and writer. One of his topics included the Nereids whom he described as half human, half fish. However in this case, the upper, human part was still covered with scales so their appearance was rather rough, and by implication, unattractive. (Artwork of a mer-couple above left 16th Century Italian by Ulisse Aldrovandi.)
Pliny mentioned that these Nereids would climb aboard ships at night and sink them. Definitely not nice.
In Greek mythology the sirens were evil creatures who lured sailors to their doom by enchanting them with their exquisite singing. Their appearance and their songs were supposedly irresistible.
And so these conflicting views of mermaids entered the minds of Medieval Europe spawning a mix of tales about these creatures, from the sublime to the deadly. Overall the message was that mermaids should be avoided if you know what’s good for you!
Matt mentions an interesting point in his article, writing, “[…] it was a pervasive ancient belief that every land animal must have a counterpart in the sea, and humans were no exception.” I hadn’t heard that before and I find it interesting because it would explain the large amount of stories and legends about these watery people across all of Europe. (Photo right of Atagartis holding an egg on an ancient Syrian coin. Courtesy of Wiki.)
There’s another salient point to this, I think, that I’d like to share with you. I was reading a book review on Amazon and the reviewer, “Ashtar” wrote, “We are used to a modern, scientific view of nature and animals. The Middle Ages saw things differently. Animals weren’t seen as random products of blind, natural forces. They were created by God for the edification of the human race. Indeed, Adam named all animals in the Garden of Eden, each name reflecting their true character. Animals were not just brute beasts. They carried a moral message, directed to sinful humanity. They also carried a hidden, mystical meaning, which somehow paralleled the message of the Bible itself! All the world was seen as an enchanted, magical place, with each thing a symbol for deeper, moral or spiritual, realities.”
So for example, in a Medieval bestiary, you’d see a brief description of a pig followed by a dissertation on sinful gluttony and heretics. Don’t we still say, “S/he eats like a pig?”
Knowing how the Medieval world thought about creatures gives us a clue as to how they’ve developed such a bad reputation. Since the Medieval world set-up and spawned most stories about mermaids, we have to consider how these people would have viewed sexy sirens, sensual creatures, and tempters/temptresses. (Photo left of a mermaid in the Clonfert Cathedral, Ireland.)
I believe they’d have seen them as immoral and decadent beings looking to lure men (and in some cases women) into sin. So the horrific crimes these merfolk are accused of in the legends are told as cautionary tales indicating people of sound moral stature should avoid them or suffer the consequences.
Better Days Ahead
Nowadays, though, we can relax a bit about mermaids because they’ve gotten quite friendly and amiable as in the Disney cartoon, The Little Mermaid. There are even some romance novels starring mermaids that are pleasant enough to keep their readers buying the stories.
Even more fantastical, there are women around the world running businesses as mermaids! They star in aquarium shows, appear at private parties, work in movies – all on the up and up.
I can understand how the merfolk got the bad rap in the old days – it was simply a part of the culture back then. But nowadays things are dramatically different, and these stories and legends about these alluring creatures are seen for what they are – beautiful art, entertainment, and mysterious stories.
As for whether they really exist, well, so far there is absolutely no scientific proof that they do. So if you love mermaids and want the world to believe in them, keep a sharp eye on the water and have your camera charged and ready to shoot!
If you’d like to read more stories about mermaids, see my Mermaid Mondays feature. Go to the top right of the screen and you’ll see “Articles by Topic.” That’s a drop down menu. Select Mermaid Mondays and it’ll bring you to those reports.
Til the next time!
If you’d like to read the rest of the article by Matt Simon, here’s the link. It’s very amusing as well as informative: