Monday, January 9, 2012

The back history of Mermaids

A mermaid is a mythological aquatic creature with a female human head, arms, and torso and the tail of a fish. A male version of a mermaid is known as a "merman" and in general both males and females are known as "merfolk". Mermaids are represented in the folklore, literature and popular culture of many countries worldwide.

Overview and etymology

"Mermaid" is a compound of mer, the French word for "sea", and maid, a girl or young woman. The male equivalent is a merman.

Much like sirens, mermaids will sing to people or to gods to enchant them, distracting them from their work and causing people to walk off a ship's deck or to run their ship aground. Other stories depict mermaids squeezing the life out of drowning men while attempting to rescue them. They are also said to carry humans down to their underwater kingdoms. In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, it is said that mermaids forget that humans cannot breathe underwater, while other stories say they drown men out of spite, while still other fables portray mermaids as benevolent toward men. This singing chant is probably a curse to the mermaid as well.[citation needed]

The sirens of Greek mythology are sometimes portrayed in later folklore as mermaid-like; in fact, some languages use the same word for both bird and fish creatures, such as the Maltese word 'sirena'. Other related types of mythical or legendary creatures are water fairies (e.g., various water nymphs) and selkies, animals that can transform themselves from seals to humans.[citation needed]

In modern times, the mermaid is used as an official animal/mascot of many mythical stories involving pirates and the sea. It is also associated with "sea cows" that are called manatees. Sailors would see the animals and categorize them as mythical mermaids.

Traditionally, mermaids have been depicted unclothed. When censorship is an issue, most prominent in movies, effort is made to have the mermaids’ long hair cover their breasts. In areas with strong censorship, notably in some U.S. family movies, mermaids have been wearing different variants of tops or swimsuits.
[edit] History
[edit] Ancient Near East

The first known mermaid stories appeared in Assyria, ca. 1000 BC. The goddess Atargatis, mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, loved a mortal shepherd and unintentionally killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take 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—though the earliest representations of Atargatis showed her as a fish with a human head and legs, similar to the Babylonian Ea. The Greeks recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo. Prior to 546 BC, the Milesian philosopher Anaximander proposed that mankind had sprung from an aquatic species of animal. He thought that humans, with their extended infancy, could not have survived otherwise.

A popular Greek legend turns Alexander the Great's sister, Thessalonike, into a mermaid after she died.[1] She lived, it was said, in the Aegean and when she encountered a ship, she asked its sailors only one question: "Is King Alexander alive?" (Greek: "Ζει ο Βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος;"), to which the correct answer was: "He lives and reigns and conquers the world" (Greek: "Ζει και βασιλεύει και τον κόσμο κυριεύει"). This answer pleased her so she calmed the waters and wished the ship farewell. Any other answer would spur her into a rage. She would raise a terrible storm, with certain doom for the ship and every sailor on board.[2][3]

Lucian of Samosata in Syria (2nd century AD) in De Dea Syria ("Concerning the Syrian Goddess") wrote of the Syrian temples he had visited:

"Among them - Now that is the traditional story among them concerning the temple. But other men swear that Semiramis of Babylonia, whose deeds are many in Asia, also founded this site, and not for Hera Atargatis but for her own Mother, whose name was Derketo"
"I saw the likeness of Derketo in Phoenicia, a strange marvel. It is woman for half its length, but the other half, from thighs to feet, stretched out in a fish's tail. But the image in the Holy City is entirely a woman, and the grounds for their account are not very clear. They consider fish to be sacred, and they never eat them; and though they eat all other fowls, they do not eat the dove, for she is holy so they believe. And these things are done, they believe, because of Derketo and Semiramis, the first because Derketo has the shape of a fish, and the other because ultimately Semiramis turned into a dove. Well, I may grant that the temple was a work of Semiramis perhaps; but that it belongs to Derketo I do not believe in any way. For among the Egyptians, some people do not eat fish, and that is not done to honor Derketo."[4]

The Land Baby, by John Collier (1899)
[edit] Arabian Nights

The One Thousand and One Nights includes several tales featuring "Sea People", such as Djullanar the Sea-girl. Unlike the depiction 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, the children of such unions sharing in the ability to live underwater.

In another Arabian Nights tale,r "Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman", the protagonist Abdullah the Fisherman gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater submarine society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land, in that the underwater society follows a form of primitive communism where concepts like money and clothing do not exist. Other Arabian Nights tales deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them.[5]

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.[6] "Julnar the Sea-Born and Her Son King Badr Basim of Persia" is yet another Arabian Nights tale about mermaids.

When sailors come the mermaids sing, and some men are led straight to their doom. If they follow the mermaids' lovely and beautiful voices, they do not know what they are doing or where they're going.
The Fisherman and the Syren, by Frederic Leighton, c. 1856–1858
[edit] British Isles

The Norman Chapel in Durham Castle, built around 1078 by Saxon stonemasons has what is reputed to be one of the earliest artistic depictions of a Mermaid in England. It can be seen on a south-facing capital above one of the original Norman stone pillars. [7]

Mermaids were noted in British folklore as unlucky omens – both foretelling disaster and provoking it.[8] Several variants of the ballad Sir Patrick Spens depict a mermaid speaking to the doomed ships; in some, she tells them they will never see land again, and 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.[9]

Some mermaids were described as monstrous in size, up to 2,000 feet (610 m).[8]

Mermaids have also been described as being able to swim up rivers to freshwater lakes. One day, in a lake near his house, the Laird of Lorntie went to aid a woman he thought drowning; a servant of his pulled him back, warning that it was a mermaid, and the mermaid screamed after that she would have killed him if it were not for his servant.[10]

On occasion, mermaids could be more beneficent, teaching humans cures for disease.[11]

Some tales raised the question of whether mermaids had immortal souls, answering in the negative.[12] 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.[13]

Mermen were noted as wilder and uglier than mermaids, and they were described as having little interest in humans.[14]

In Scottish mythology, there is a mermaid called the ceasg or "maid of the wave".[15]
[edit] China

In some ancient fairy tales of China, the mermaid was a special creature whose tears could turn into priceless pearls. Mermaids could also weave an extremely valuable material, translucent and beautiful. Because of this, fishermen longed to catch them, but the mermaids' splendid singing could simply drag them down into a coma.

In other Chinese legends, the mermaid is wondrous, but brainless and easy to trap. The legend said that mermaids were born with purple tails that smelled of happiness, but if sadness or death occurred during the mermaids' lifetimes their tails would turn red, and smell like sadness. So fishermen longed to catch mermaids in order to sniff their purple or red tails.
1659, Coat of arms of Old Warsaw on the cover of an accounting book of the city.
[edit] Warsaw mermaid

The mermaid, or syrenka, is the symbol of Warsaw.[16] Images of a mermaid symbolized Warsaw on its crest since the middle of the 14th century.[17] Several legends associate Triton of mythology with the city, which may have been the mermaid association's origin.[18]
[edit] Other

Among the Neo-Taíno nations of the Caribbean the mermaid is called Aycayia.[19][20] Her attributes relate to the goddess Jagua, and the hibiscus flower of the majagua tree Hibiscus tiliaceus.[21] In modern Caribbean culture, the mermaid is found as Haitian Vodou Lwa La Sirene (literally, 'the mermaid') who is lwa of wealth and beauty and the orisha Yemaya.

Examples from other cultures are the Mami Wata of West and Central Africa, the Jengu of Cameroon, the Merrow of Ireland and Scotland, the Rusalkas of Russia and Ukraine, the Iara from Brazil and the Greek Oceanids, Nereids, and Naiads. One freshwater mermaid-like creature from European folklore is Melusine, who is sometimes depicted with two fish tails, and other times with the lower body of a serpent. It is said in Japan that eating the flesh of a ningyo can grant unaging immortality. In some European legends mermaids are said to be unlucky.[citation needed]

Mermaids and mermen are also characters of Philippine folklore, where they are locally known as sirena and siyokoy, respectively.[22] The Javanese people believe that the southern beach in Java is a home of Javanese mermaid queen Nyi Roro Kidul.[citation needed]

In "Sadko" (Russian: Садко), a Russian medieval epic, the title character - an adventurer, merchant and gusli musician from Novgorod - lives for some time in the underwater court of the "Sea Tsar" and marries his daughter before finally returning home. The tale inspired such works as the poem "Sadko"[23] by Alexei Tolstoy (1871–1872), the opera Sadko composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and the painting by Ilya Repin.
Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom by Ilya Repin
[edit] Claimed sightings

Claimed sightings of dead or living mermaids have come from places as diverse as Java and British Columbia. There are two Canadian reports from the area of Vancouver and Victoria, one from sometime between 1870 and 1890, the other from 1967.[24][25]. In some of the earliest accounts of Blackbeard's sail logs in the BBC documentary Pirates, 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 and many members of the crew reported seeing and documenting.[26] These sighting were often recounted and shared by many sailors and pirates who believed the mermaids were bad luck and would bewitch them into giving up their gold and dragging them to the bottom of the seas.

In August 2009, the town of Kiryat Yam in Israel offered a prize of $1 million for anyone who could prove the existence of a mermaid off its coast, after dozens of people reported seeing a mermaid leaping out of the water like a dolphin and doing aerial tricks before returning to the depths.[27] The prize has not yet been awarded.
[edit] Symbolism

According to Dorothy Dinnerstein’s book, The Mermaid and the Minotaur, human-animal hybrids such as the minotaur and the mermaid convey the emergent understanding of the ancients that human beings were both one with and different from animals:

"[Human] nature is internally inconsistent, that our continuities with, and our differences from, the earth's other animals are mysterious and profound; and in these continuities, and these differences, lie both a sense of strangeness on earth and the possible key to a way of feeling at home here."[28]

[edit] Human divers

For centuries, in Japan and other Pacific island countries, female Ama divers would swim nude searching for shellfish. These divers slowly developed the ability to hold their breath for long periods of time and to survive in cold water that would kill most people from hypothermia. Women make better divers than men because of their physiological advantages in tolerating cold. After surfacing they would hyperventilate to restore their oxygen levels which would make a loud sighing sound referred to as the isobue or "sea whistle" or in Japanese as the "song of the sea". They needed to rest periodically and so after diving, as aid to maintaining lung capacity, these women frequently would sing loud songs and this may have been the origin of the Siren myth.

It is plausable that ancient sailors might have encountered these divers and assumed they were not human because of their ability to withstand the cold water and to submerge for several minutes at a time. There were laws restricting poaching in the sea so local village people would have had an interest in propagating and reinforcing the Siren and Mermaid myths to protect the divers and their wealth.

The tradition of women divers has been documented in many other countries outside of Asia. In fact, many of the early artistic depictions of mermaids showed normal human women with legs rather than the typical fish-tail of the modern mythical image.[29][self-published source?]
16th century Zennor mermaid chair
[edit] Art and literature
See also: Mermaids in popular culture

One influential image was created by John William Waterhouse, from 1895 to 1905, entitled A Mermaid, (see the top of this article). An example of late British Academy style artwork, the piece debuted to considerable acclaim (and secured Waterhouse's place as a member of the Royal Academy), but disappeared into a private collection and did not resurface until the 1970s. It is currently once again in the collection of the Royal Academy.[30]

Famous in more recent centuries is Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Little Mermaid (1836), which has been translated into many languages. Andersen's portrayal, immortalized with a famous bronze sculpture in Copenhagen harbour, has arguably become the standard and has influenced most modern Western depictions of mermaids since it was published. The mermaid, as conceived by Andersen, appears to represent the Undines of Paracelsus, which also could only obtain an immortal soul by marrying a human being.[citation needed]

The best known musical depictions of mermaids are those by Felix Mendelssohn in his Fair Melusina overture and the three "Rhine daughters" in Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Lorelei, the name of one of the Rhine mermaids, has become a synonym for a siren. A more recent depiction in contemporary concert music is The Weeping Mermaid by Taiwanese composer Fan-Long Ko.[citation needed]

Sue Monk Kidd has written a book called The Mermaid Chair. The title comes from a mermaid who becomes a (fictional) saint.

Saint James Comics published an 8-page comic in which the mermaid queen Atargatis captures two adventurers and attempts to imprison them forever.

Movie depictions include the comedy Splash (1984) and "Aquamarine"(2006). A 1963 episode, The Cruelest Sea, of the television series Route 66, featured a real mermaid working at Weeki Wachee aquatic park. Mermaids also appeared in the popular supernatural drama television series Charmed, and were the basis of its spin-off series Mermaid. In Mermaid Chronicles Part 1: She Creature (2001), two carnival workers abduct a mermaid in Ireland, circa 1900, and attempt to transport her to America.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides old and new myths about mermaids are mixed. Mermaids are said to sing to sailors to entice them and enchant them into the water. Once in the water, they take the sailor down to the depths of the sea where the sailor drowns, and the mermaids eat them. Mermaids that are taken onto dry land change and have legs, but they will dry up and die if out of water too long. The kiss of a mermaid will physically heal a human, and her tears have magical properties, needed to activate the true power of the Fountain of Youth.

Animated films include Disney's popular musical version of Andersen's tale, The Little Mermaid, and Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo.
Coat of arms of Warsaw
[edit] Heraldry

In heraldry, the charge of a mermaid is commonly represented with a comb and a mirror, and blazoned as a 'mermaid in her vanity'. Merfolk were used to symbolize eloquence in speech.[citation needed]

A shield and sword-wielding mermaid (Syrenka) is on the official Coat of arms of Warsaw. The city of Norfolk, Virginia also uses a mermaid as a symbol. The capital city of Hamilton, Bermuda has the mermaid in its coat of arms.[citation needed]

The personal coat of arms of Michaëlle Jean, a former Governor General of Canada, features two mermaids as supporters.[31]
[edit] Hoaxes

During the Renaissance and Baroque eras, dugongs, frauds and victims of sirenomelia were exhibited in wunderkammers as mermaids.[citation needed]

In the 19th century, P. T. Barnum displayed in his museum a taxidermal hoax called the Fiji mermaid. Others have perpetrated similar hoaxes, which are usually papier-mâché fabrications or parts of deceased creatures, usually monkeys and fish, stitched together for the appearance of a grotesque mermaid. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, pictures of Fiji "mermaids" circulated on the Internet as supposed examples of items that had washed up amid the devastation, though they were no more real than Barnum's exhibit.[32]
[edit] Sirenia

Sirenia is an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters, swamps, and marine wetlands. Sirenians, including manatees and the dugong, have major aquatic adaptations: arms used for steering, a paddle used for propulsion, hind limbs (legs) are two small bones floating deep in the muscle. They appear fat, but are fusiform, hydrodynamic, and highly muscular. Prior to the mid 19th century, mariners referred to these animals as mermaids.[33]
[edit] Sirenomelia

Sirenomelia, also called "mermaid syndrome", is a rare congenital disorder in which a child is born with his or her legs fused together and reduced genitalia. This condition is about as rare as conjoined twins, affecting one out of every 100,000 live births[34] and is usually fatal within a day or two of birth because of kidney and bladder complications. Four survivors were known to be alive as of July 2003.[35] Source: Wikipedia Mermaid

History Of Mermaids


The official explanation of the mermaid myth goes like this: Sailors see manatees, walruses or seals, and mistake them for women with a fish’s tail. Which suggests these sailors were either drunk, idiots or very ignorant. It is claimed that even famous explorers like Christopher Columbus and Henry Hudson have made this error because they also reported seeing these creatures. As did John Smith, who became the Governor of the Virginia Colony in the early 17th century. So are we to believe that even Columbus, Hudson and Smith were so stupid as to mistake a sea cow or walrus for a mermaid? These men were experienced sailors and very well acquainted with marine life in the ocean. Either they were half-bind and credulous, or is there some other explanation for the mermaid myth?

To explain the apparent confusion some people have pointed out that the vagina of female sea-cows is very similar to that of a human female. So it could be that sailors may have had sex with manatees, and to cover up this act of bestiality they claimed they had intercourse with a mermaid. The problem is that there are thousands of stories about shepherds who have sex with sheep and they certainly don’t invent a mythical creature to hide this act. They simply keep quiet about it. Another explanation supposes that sailors on long sea voyages without the company of women, become so sex-starved that anything remotely resembling a woman in the sea becomes a ‘mermaid’. The problem with this explanation is that most mermaid stories come from Europe, spread by local fishermen who don’t spend months or years at sea.

Mermaids are reported all over Europe. In Ireland they are called Merrows or Murirruhgachs, in Cornwall, Merrymaids, in the Shetland islands, Sea-trows, while the Germans on the Rhine called them Meerfraus. The Scandanavians called them Navmands and the Russians, Rusalkas. Reports of mermaids go right back to the ancient Greeks and continued right up to the end of the 19th century. There have even been a few in the 20th century. So what are we to make of this?

Topless mermaid, voluptuous amd alluring, seducing a young man at  the bottom of the sea.

Pearls for Kisses
Fred Appleyard

Perhaps we need to look at the mermaid story from a different perspective. In most stories of mermaids, a female is sighted, though there are a few reports of mermen. Whereas logic would say there should be as many reports of merman as there are of mermaids. In many mermaid stories we are told they come out of the sea and even marry fishermen. Which is a very clever trick for someone with a fish’s tail, except that in some reports a fish tail is not always mentioned. The ancient Greeks called mermaids ‘sea nymphs’ or ‘nereids’ and describe them as simply nude women who swam in the sea, similar to a reported sighing in the 19th century.

On September 8 1809 and school master in England wrote to “The Times” stating that twelve years previous he was on the shore of Sandside Bay when he saw a naked woman sitting on a rock. He then only concluded she was a mermaid because, he then realised that the rock she was sitting on was too dangerous for swimmers. She then dropped in the sea and swam away, and other people also witnessed the same incident.

The School Master clearly states at first, that what he saw was a naked women, he made no mention of a fish’s tail. It seems he only changed his mind when he realised that where she sat was dangerous for swimmers. Another question he may have asked himself was, what was a naked women doing swimming in the sea in 19th century Britain? Such behaviour may not be so unusual in the 21st century, but women in those times didn’t go in for athletic sports like swimming in dangerous waters, or parade themselves completely nude in public.

Reports of mermaids having legs are not that unusual. In Ireland old tales claim that the mermaids lived on dry land below the sea. (Which sounds like a very Irish story). In the Shetland islands they say that mermaids wear animal skins to swim in the water and then take them off to walk on land. (A early form of wet-suit?). These islanders also report that they themselves are descendants of mermaids. The Orkney Islanders claim that mermaids don’t have fish’s tails, but instead wear long petticoats that resemble a fish’s tail when they swim in the sea. There are also many reports of mermaids having two tails. Could they be two legs instead, ending in an early type of flipper? (In 1500 Leonardo da Vinci invented flippers for divers, so this is not a new idea).

The key to making sense of all these tales comes through the story of a Dutch seaman called Hamel. He was on a Dutch ship, ‘Sperwer’ that was wrecked near the Korean island of Cheju in 1653. Where he and the other survivors of the wreck spent ten months on the island. On returning to Holland, he wrote a book about his experiences and claimed that there were mermaids on the island. What’s interesting is that even today women from the island dive for shellfish and edible seaweed. Does this mean that what we refer to as mermaids are simply women divers?

There have been reports of women divers working of the coasts and islands of Japan going back 1500 years. They dive for shellfish, seaweed, starfish, octopuses and pearls and do this all year round, even in the winter were the water temperature is down to 50°F. They have been known to dive as deep as 30M and stay underwater for over 3 minutes. The food they gather, they place in a net around their waists and many keep on diving to up to 60 years of age or more. In the past they only dived in a loincloth but in more recent times they use modern flippers, face masks and snorkels. Scuba gear was banned by the authorities as they feared that the use of modern equipment would over fish the area. In Korea they allow wet suits but they are banned in Japan. There are a few male divers as well but women are able to work far longer in cold water than the average man.

In the 1960’s western journalists discovered these divers and topless photos of some of the more attractive women appeared in magazines and books. Yet it seems these women were not just half-naked bimbos, swimming in the warm shallow waters of a tropical sea. They are tough working women. A clue to how tough they are comes from the fact that both the Chinese and Japanese call mermaids, ‘dragon-wives’. The Cheju-do women are referred to by some Korean commentators as amazons, because they are far more assertive than ordinary Korean women. It seems that while the women are out diving, the men stay at home and look after the children and house. In the extremely “macho” society of Korea, these “tough” women and their “weak” husbands are an embarrassment. For this reason at one time no documents exist about the women divers in Korea, because historically records concerning them were forbidden.

It suggests that because of the embarrassment of women doing a tough job better than they could, patriarchal institutions have kept silence about women divers. If this was true in Korea, could it also have been true in Europe and the Americas?

Now the waters around Japan and Korea are fairly cold but north of Japan in the Ussuri Territory, there was also once a local tradition of using professional women-divers. Even in these freezing waters women divers would continue diving even in the cold autumn months. Then in the 1920’s the Russian authorities began to use modern diving gear and motorboats equipped with dredges. Needless to say, when they adopted modern equipment the area in time became over fished until shell fishing was banned in 1960. Demonstrating the wisdom of the Korean and Japanese authorities in banning modern equipment for shell fishing.

According to the late Jacques Cousteau there was once women who dived completely naked for clams and crabs in Tierra del Fuego. These islands are at the most southern point of South America in waters of 42°F. So how is it that women divers were able to dive in very cold waters near the Arctic and Antarctic circles? Conditions that would kill a normal man within twenty minutes. It seems that women possess a higher percentage of subcutaneous fat all around their bodies that protect them from the cold in the water. In much the same way, marine animals like dolphins and seals have a layer of blubber to keep them warm. The fact that women can survive in these waters was proven by Lynne Cox. In 1987 this American women swam across the Bering Strait, from the U.S. to the Soviet Union with water temperatures down to 38°F. She achieved this without a wet-suit, wearing only a normal swim suit, cap and goggles.

Painted depiction of mermaid, seductively topless, combing her hair  on the beach

A Mermaid
John William Waterhouse

In the sporting world we are used to men outperforming women, yet there is one sport where women now outperform men, the sport of marathon open water swimming. The first woman to swim 21 miles across the English Channel, was Gertrude Caroline Ederle of USA. In 1926 she broke the record held by the fastest man by one hour and fifty-nine minutes, in spite of having to battle through heavy seas in the second half of her swim. Since then the record for the fastest channel swim has been held at different times by both men and women. It seems that the longer the marathon swim, the easier it is for women to beat men.

Another sport where women can out-perform men is the very modern sport of “free-diving”, that is to say, diving without the use of air tanks. This sport has surprised scientists who have found that in deep dives the bodies of trained free-divers reacts exactly like that of a marine mammal. Where the human heart beat goes right down until it is barely beating. The water pressure crushes the lungs until they are the size of a drink can, without ill effects to the diver. Then what little oxygen is left in the body is used to keep the heart and brain just ticking over. This is exactly what happens to the bodies of whales and dolphins when they deep dive. This makes the human body more than capable of dealing with the problems of deep diving. As we can see from the following information.

On August 17, 2002- A new Freediving World Record was set by Tanya Streeter, at a depth of 160m/525ft in a total dive time of 3 minutes and 26 seconds. This dive shattered the previous women's No Limits World Record held by Canadian, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank (136m/446ft) and even surpasses the men's No Limits World Record of 154m/505ft held by Frenchman, Loic LeFerme.

If we assume that mermaids are in fact women divers, then it means that the many sightings of mermaids indicate a past tradition of women divers throughout Europe, (as well as America before it was conquered by Europeans). What is more, judging by the sightings of mermaids, this tradition must have continued into the 19th century. However this leads us to another mystery. If this was the case, why do we not read about it in our history books? Why was it kept secret? We can get a clue to the reason from historical accounts dating back to Medieval times. Where there were bizarre stories of priests who encountering mermaids on the sea shore, would curse them as devils and threaten them with eternal damnation. The mermaids’ usual response was to burst into tears. These stories only sounds weird if we take the traditional view of a mermaid. If we assume that mermaids are women divers then it makes a lot of sense and gives an insight into the Christian Churches’ hostility to these working women. It seems that mermaids were associated with witches as being evil women and we know what the Christian Church did to witches. The infamous witch hunts of the Middle Ages completely wiped out the profession of women healers and herbalists, allowing this vocation to be taken over by male doctors. It must also be remembered that up until the 20th century women were discouraged from doing any work except the lowest paid menial jobs. Or work with no pay as a housewife. The experience from Japan and Korea shows that divers were well paid and this may be true of divers in Europe. Then the coming of anti-female religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Confucianism brought about a change in attitude towards this ancient tradition. It is of interest that one of the foods banned by Judaism is shell-fish. Was this because it was women who traditionally harvest this food? Likewise in the 19th century pearl industry, western traders were horrified to learn that the locals used women pearl divers and even banned them in the Torres Strait islands.

Many mermaid stories are about a mermaid marries a fishermen and has children, but still has a yearning to return to the sea. In some tales she does do this and leaves both her husband and children behind. This resembles the plight of modern day women who try to juggle a job, husband and children at the same time. A woman working as a diver full time wouldn’t have the time or energy to look after a husband and children as well. So these mermaid stories may be about the dilemma faced by women divers concerning society’s rules that women should look after the home and children as her primary responsibility. Female wool spinners before the industrial revolution had the same problem. Spinning wool by hand was a high skilled job and women on average were far better at it than men. This gave these women a well paying job and the more highly skilled, even become very wealthy. So it is of interest that the word spinster comes from the word spinner. This indicates that even hundreds of years ago many women preferred the independence a well paying job like wool spinning, than becoming a wife and mother. Another point is that in some fairy stories, the wicked witch has a spinning wheel and use it to perform magic. So we find a connection of witchcraft to both spinners and divers.

What comes across is a form of discrimination against women similar to black people in the southern state of USA, after slavery was make illegal. Where successful or educated blacks were attacked and murdered by the Ku-Klu-Klan. Likewise successful women healers, herbalists, spinners and divers were probably threatened by witch hunters. The only reason wool spinners and divers escaped persecution was that they were unable to replace them with men.

Painting by Herbert Draper of sirens and mermaids  seductively  overtaking a ship of rowing men.

It seems that women divers completely undermine patriarchal stereotypes of men and women. Up until the stirrings of feminism in the 20th century, women throughout the world were referred to as the “weaker sex”. Men claimed that they were not only bigger and stronger than women, but more intelligent and more capable doing everything better than women, (except of-course childbirth). Women divers were a big blow to men’s fragile egos because it was one job that women could do better than they could. It also seems that being able to out perform men, gave women a strong ego boost. Because throughout the world, women divers seem to have been very confident and assertive women. As mentioned before the Chinese and Japanese referred to mermaids as dragon wives while in Africa they were called river-witches. It seems the only reason why women divers survived in Korea into modern times is because they lived on remote islands and diving for food was vital for the islander’s survival.

The same thing must have happened in Europe. Male hostility would have discouraged the use of women divers, but in remote fishing villages along the coast, people living on the edge of starvation couldn’t afford to ignore an important food resource like shell fish and edible seaweed. So they continued this ancient tradition, in secret. The problem would be that outsiders, who are unaware of what is going on, would occasionally see the divers working. In an age when women were supposed to be physically weak, modest and submissive, these outsiders would be shocked to see, naked, athletic and assertive women confidently diving for marine food. It would be unlikely that the women would be clothed because wet clothing would be too much of a drag in water, and swimming costumes were not introduced until the Victorian times. Though reports from Shetland islands of mermaids wearing animal skins make sense providing they are from marine mammals. But the claim from the Orkney islands of mermaids wearing petticoats sounds incredible as not only would they give too much drag in the water but would be dangerous if caught in rocks, while underwater.

It means that it was sightings from outsiders that created the mermaid legend. Fishing villages that used women divers would greatly encourage this legend and embellish it even more, to divert attention away from the fact, it was village women who were the mermaids. Because they didn’t want their women to be accused of witch-craft. The Church may even have gone along with this, preferring to have stories of mythical mermaids rather than accounts of diving women who could a job better than men. So everyone involved had a reason to keep it secret.

This then is why mermaid stories are really a secret chapter of women’s history.

Notes from the Museum's Mermaid Tank

Mermaid collecting has had a rather difficult and controversial history. Mermaid collectors are often beguiled by artists' depictions of full-size, curvaceous, fish-women, but the actual specimens that show up in collections tend to be much shorter and not really all that human-looking. Some species seem to be a primate-fish mixture, with the type specimen generally regarded to be P.T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid, exhibited at his American Museum. Modern versions can be seen here.

The Zymoglyphic Museum's new curiosity cabinet acquisition, shown above, belongs to a family of mermaids that has been referred to throughout history by the common name "Jenny Haniver".

This related species appears in Ulisse Aldrovandi's posthumously published 1642 work, Monstrorum historia

This sighting of a somewhat more primitive species is from Ambroise Pare's 1573 work, On Monsters and Marvels

This one appears in Mary Thompson's 1960 natural art classic, The Driftwood Book

This specimen is from the 1975 catalog of the Wonders of the World Museum.

The Zymoglyphic museum's new acquisition joins two existing specimens in its natural history department. This one, referred to as the Zymoglyphic Mermaid, is endemic to the Zymoglyphic region. Also native to the region is a primitive flying species known as the Leatherwing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mermaid Israel

Mermaid Appears In Israel, It Happened And Become News Current Opportunities In Israel