Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Legends of the Deep - Merpeople through the Ages

The Ocean has long been a source of mystery and legend. In times past the farthest reaches of the Seas were marked only with “Here Be Dragons.” Their sheer magnitude and depth made these giant bodies of waters places no man could fully explore or fully understand. This left the Seas wide open for the influence of human imagination.

Black Dragonfish
Even today, the Oceans are some of the most difficult places to explore on the planet. There are deep sea crevaces where the pressure is great enough squash a person to jelly. Strange and exotic creatures exist in these only recently explored areas. But it is not just these far off, unexplored aspects of the sea that continually intrigue humanity.

Water is necessary for life. In many cultures it is a symbol for fertility. Water grows food, keeps people healthy and is even the root of many Fountain of Youth legends. However, water is also associated with death and battle and the unknown in many cultures. It is necessary to live but can also kill with the smallest effort. There are many creation myths in which water represents the great chaos. It is in the taming of this chaos through the defeating of the primordial sea monster that creation occurred.

Thus it makes sense that humanity would try to understand the life giving and life taking beings that inhabit the great vistas of the Oceans. One of the most popular creatures through the ages has been the Mermaid or Merman.

Artargatis, Syrian Goddess
The first Mermaid myths began as early as the eigth century BC. The earliest references to Mer-people see them as Gods and Goddesses of the Sea, or even the Moon. One of the earliest recorded “Mermaids” was a Semitic Moon-Goddess, worshipped by the Syrians and the Philistines, named Artargatis. It was in the form of a mermaid that she controlled the ebbing and flowing of the tides. Eventually, after giving birth to a fully human child, she became so ashamed she killed her lover and reverted to a wholly fishy state.

Many cultures in the ancient world contained legends of Merpeople including the Asparas of Indian culture; the Ningyo of Japanese culture; the Vatea of Polynesian culture; the Merrymaids of Cornish culture; the Muirruhgach of Irish culture; and many more. In these earlier manifestations of the legends Mer-people would take on a variety of roles: helper, seducer, enchanter, trickster, and many more.

Medieval Christian Mermaid
However, when Christianity began to spread, the legends began to shift. As much as it might surprise you, the medieval church supported the belief in Mer-people, particularly Mermaids. Whereas before, Mer-People took up any number of roles within mythology, during Christendom they came to serve as a moral emblem of sin, the femme fatale. They were typically portrayed with a mirror and a comb to symbolize their vanity and beauty. These represented the beauty which could lead men to their destruction. Thus it served the church’s purpose of subjugating women and teaching a strict sexual morality. This is also when earlier depictions of Mermaids with split tails (for all the easier sexin’) became less popular.  

Modern Mermaid
After the advent of the Enlightenment, the Mer-person began to represent a dichotomy between a person’s animalistic insticts and the human intellect. This is when stories of Mer-people wanting a human soul and lusting after human men became popular (Think Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid). This is also when positive images of beauty began to return to prominence in mermaid legends.

Even today, the Mermaid/Merman holds a special place in people’s hearts. They are found in movies as varied as The Little Mermaid, Splash, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Carribbean. People still report sightings and are die hard believers of this mythological phenomenon. Who knows what could exist in the unexplored deep dark places of the Earth? Whether you believe Mer-people actually exist or that they are symbols of something inherent to humanity, you have to admit, they are facinating creatures.


*Thanks to marinebio.org for some of the earlier mermaid legends.


  1. Boop, this is a nice entry. =D There's something innately charming about the myth and mysticism surrounding mermaids, even if they are inherently creepy to me. XD

  2. Ooh love your post. It is coherent and well versed! :)

  3. This is not a myth in March 6th of 2013 a deepsea vessel investigating underwater oil drilling off the coast of Greenland by Dr. Thorstan Shmidt and his crew with 2 onboard cameras enountered a creature on the crews video servalance cameras deep in the ocean off the coast of the Greeland Nature Reserve around King Frederic VIII Land"s Coastal Preserve. They could not show what they had captured on film to the Icelandic Authorities because they were told if they persued this they would be threatened with legal actions.So the crew went to the Danish Authorities insted, after the Danish Authorities published the artical the Greenland Authorities signed a moritorium to halt all oil and gas drilling in March2013 due to new discovery of evidene establishing the exsitance of merpeople. This video was ripped apart by many scientic experts and was established to be real and authentic.It was then delivered to the network of Animal Planet for public viewing.This is a must see experience.