I would probably be more afraid of a mermaid than bigfoot or extra-terrestrials. I know, it doesn't make sense, but it doesn't have to.
A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Africa and Asia. The first stories appeared in ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are sometimes associated with perilous events such as floods, storms, shipwrecks and drownings. In other folk traditions (or sometimes within the same tradition), they can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans.
Mermaids are associated with the mythological Greek sirens as well as with sirenia, a biological order comprising dugongs and manatees. Some of the historical sightings by sailors may have been misunderstood encounters with these aquatic mammals. Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids while exploring the Caribbean, and sightings have been reported in the 20th and 21st centuries in Canada, Israel and Zimbabwe. The U.S. National Ocean Service stated in 2012 that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found.
Mermaids have been a popular subject of art and literature in recent centuries, such as in Hans Christian Andersen's well-known fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" (1836). They have subsequently been depicted in operas, paintings, books, films and comics.
The word mermaid is a compound of the Old English mere (sea), and maid (a girl or young woman). The equivalent term in Old English was merewif. They are conventionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair. As cited above, they are sometimes equated with the sirens of Greek mythology (especially the Odyssey), half-bird femme fatales whose enchanting voices would lure soon-to-be-shipwrecked sailors to nearby rocks, sandbars or shoals.
Sirenomelia, also called "mermaid syndrome", is a rare congenital disorder in which a child is born with his or her legs fused together and small genitalia. This condition is about as rare as conjoined twins, affecting one out of every 100,000 live births and is usually fatal within a day or two of birth because of kidney and bladder complications. Four survivors were known as of July 2003.
The first known mermaid stories appeared in Assyria c. 1000 BC. The goddess Atargatis, mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, loved a mortal (a shepherd) and unintentionally killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake and took the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid - human above the waist, fish below - although the earliest representations of Atargatis showed her as a fish with a human head and arm, similar to the Babylonian god Ea. The Greeks recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo. Sometime before 546 BC, Milesian philosopher Anaximander postulated that mankind had sprung from an aquatic animal species. He thought that humans, who begin life with prolonged infancy, could not have survived otherwise.
The One Thousand and One Nights collection includes several tales featuring "sea people", such as "Djullanar the Sea-girl". Unlike depictions of mermaids in other mythologies, these are anatomically identical to land-bound humans, differing only in their ability to breathe and live underwater. They can (and do) interbreed with land humans, and the children of such unions have the ability to live underwater. In the tale "Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman", the protagonist Abdullah the Fisherman gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land. The underwater society follows a form of primitive communism where concepts like money and clothing do not exist. In "The Adventures of Bulukiya", the protagonist Bulukiya's quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, where he encounters societies of mermaids.
The Norman chapel in Durham Castle, built around 1078 by Saxon stonemasons, has what is probably the earliest artistic depiction of a mermaid in England. It can be seen on a south-facing capital above one of the original Norman stone pillars.
Mermaids appear in British folklore as unlucky omens, both foretelling disaster and provoking it. Several variants of the ballad Sir Patrick Spens depict a mermaid speaking to the doomed ships. In some versions, she tells them they will never see land again; in others, she claims they are near shore, which they are wise enough to know means the same thing. Mermaids can also be a sign of approaching rough weather, and some have been described as monstrous in size, up to 2,000 feet.
Mermaids have also been described as able to swim up rivers to freshwater lakes. In one story, the Laird of Lorntie went to aid a woman he thought was drowning in a lake near his house; a servant of his pulled him back, warning that it was a mermaid, and the mermaid screamed at them that she would have killed him if it were not for his servant. But mermaids could occasionally be more beneficent; e.g., teaching humans cures for certain diseases. Mermen have been described as wilder and uglier than mermaids, with little interest in humans.
According to legend, a mermaid came to the Cornish village of Zennor where she used to listen to the singing of a chorister, Matthew Trewhella. The two fell in love, and Matthew went with the mermaid to her home at Pendour Cove. On summer nights, the lovers can be heard singing together. At the Church of Saint Senara in Zennor, there is a famous chair decorated by a mermaid carving which is probably six hundred years old.
Some tales raised the question of whether mermaids had immortal souls, answering in the negative. The figure of Lí Ban appears as a sanctified mermaid, but she was a human being transformed into a mermaid. After three centuries, when Christianity had come to Ireland, she was baptized. In Scottish mythology, there is a mermaid called the ceasg or "maid of the wave", as well as the Merrow of Ireland and Scotland.
Mermaids from the Isle of Man, known as ben-varrey, are considered more favorable toward humans than those of other regions, with various accounts of assistance, gifts and rewards. One story tells of a fisherman who carried a stranded mermaid back into the sea and was rewarded with the location of treasure. Another recounts the tale of a baby mermaid who stole a doll from a human little girl, but was rebuked by her mother and sent back to the girl with a gift of a pearl necklace to atone for the theft. A third story tells of a fishing family that made regular gifts of apples to a mermaid and was rewarded with prosperity.
A freshwater mermaid-like creature from European folklore is Melusine. She is sometimes depicted with two fish tails, or with the lower body of a serpent.
Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" was published in 1837. The story was adapted into a Disney film with a bowdlerized plot. In the original version, The Little Mermaid is the youngest daughter of a sea king who lives at the bottom of the sea. To pursue a prince with whom she has fallen in love, the mermaid gets a sea witch to give her legs and agrees to give up her tongue in return. Though she is found on the beach by the prince, he marries another. Told she must stab the prince in the heart to return to her sisters, she can't do it out of love for him. She then rises from the ocean and sees ethereal beings around her who explain that mermaids who do good deeds become daughters of the air, and after 300 years of good service they can earn a human soul.
A world-famous statue of the Little Mermaid, based on Andersen's fairy tale, has been in Copenhagen, Denmark since August 1913, with copies in 13 other locations around the world - almost half of them in North America.
The Neo-Taíno nations of the Caribbean identify a mermaid called Aycayia with attributes of the goddess Jagua and the hibiscus flower of the majagua tree Hibiscus tiliaceus. In modern Caribbean culture, there is a mermaid recognized as a Haitian vodou loa called La Sirene (lit. "the mermaid"), representing wealth, beauty and the orisha Yemaya.
While mermaids are often times depicted as beautiful female faces and or handsome men, let's face it, being in the water all the time couldn't be good for the complexion. I'm sure their entire body would be more to that of scales than human skin. And let us not forget the stench one could expect.
In 1493, sailing off the coast of Hispaniola, Columbus reported seeing three "female forms" which "rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented". The logbook of Blackbeard, an English pirate, records that he instructed his crew on several voyages to steer away from charted waters which he called "enchanted" for fear of merfolk or mermaids, which Blackbeard himself and members of his crew reported seeing. These sighting were often recounted and shared by sailors and pirates who believed that mermaids brought bad luck and would bewitch them into giving up their gold and dragging them to the bottom of the sea. Two sightings were reported in Canada near Vancouver and Victoria, one from sometime between 1870 and 1890, the other from 1967.
During World War II in 1943, Japanese soldiers saw several mermaids on the shores of the Kei Islands. They reported seeing creatures swimming in the water - and one on a beach - with pink skin and spikes along their heads, estimated to be about 150 centimeters tall, with limbs and faces similar to that of a human but a mouth like a carp. The locals called them Orang Ikan, or "fish man" in Malay. Several of these sightings occurred and were reported to Sgt. Taro Horiba, who asked the locals about it and learned that they sometimes got caught in their fishing nets. The locals promised to send word to the sergeant the next time one was caught. One was eventually found dead on the shore, and he was allowed to examine it. This convinced him; he returned to Japan and tried to convince scientists to go and study them, but was never believed.
According to Dorothy Dinnerstein’s book The Mermaid and the Minotaur, human-animal hybrids such as mermaids and minotaurs convey the emergent understanding of the ancients that human beings were both one with and different from animals.
Sculptures and statues of mermaids can be found in many countries and cultures, with over 130 public art mermaid statues across the world. Countries with public art mermaid sculptures include Russia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Denmark, Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, India, China, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Guam, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Mexico, the United States (including Hawaii and Virgin Islands) and Canada. Some of these mermaid statues have become icons of their city or country, and have become major tourist attractions in themselves. The Little Mermaid (statue) in Copenhagen is an icon of that city as well as of Denmark. The Havis Amanda statue symbolizes the rebirth of the city of Helsinki, capital of Finland. The Syrenka (mermaid) is part of the Coat of Arms of Warsaw, and is considered a protector of Warsaw, capital of Poland, which publicly displays statues of their mermaid.
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