Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Mermaid’s Tale

Mermaid statue at Laem SamilaImage via Wikipedia

Among the rampant myths and tall tales that have entertained humankind for millennia, mermaids occupy a unique position in the lineup because of the way they are depicted in different cultures. Some see them as a magical and benevolent creature, while others warn that they are the harbinger of disaster. Although they are widely regarded as fictional characters, people have claimed sightings of mermaids throughout time, which begs the question: are mermaids real?

The first known mermaid tales came from Assyria, which is now northern Iraq, around 1,000 BC. This story explains the mermaid’s inception through the goddess Atargatis falling in love with a human shepherd, who she ends up killing unintentionally. She was so ashamed that she threw herself into a lake, intending to become a fish for all eternity, but her beauty could not be concealed by the lake; thus, she assumed the tail of a fish and the upper body of a human. In Greece, it is told that the sister of Alexander the Great was turned into a mermaid upon her death, and she resides in the Aegean Sea. When a ship came upon the mermaid one day, she asked, “Is King Alexander alive?” The response was that indeed he was, and conquering the world, which brought so much joy to her that she made the sea calm for the sailors to safely navigate their way.

In Asian cultures, the mermaid is a thing of wonder. Chinese folklore describes a mermaid as being capable of shedding tears that turn into pearls, and knitting a valuable material that is lightweight and translucent. For these reasons, mermaids were sought after by fishermen, but there was a slight catch to this catch — the mermaid sang a song so beautiful that it would lure the men into a trance, causing them to make foolish decisions that could result in death. A fisherman who wishes to catch a mermaid is a symbol of negative character in China, as they look upon the mermaid as a creature of grace and beauty. Japanese legend tells of gaining immortality by consuming the flesh of a mermaid. However, catching one was thought to bring about storms and bad luck, so any catch was thrown back to sea. If one were to wash up on shore, it was an omen for impending warfare or catastrophe.

The British are less enamored with the mermaid, believing her to be the creator of misfortune at sea. While some stories claim that mermaids aren’t aware or forget that humans cannot breathe underwater, it is more often told that the mermaid is a mischievous creature, with every intent of seducing and confusing sailors to their inevitable demise. A mermaid sighting is a sure sign of bad luck. A mermaid on dry land will grow legs, but her longevity is at risk due to becoming dried out. Many people have claimed to have seen the creature, in places ranging from Canada to Java. A town in Israel offered a $1 million dollar reward to any person who could prove the existence of a mermaid after dozens of people reported seeing one leaping like a dolphin off its coast. This was in 2009, and the monies have yet to be awarded.

While there have been many fraudulent attempts at proving their existence, none have surfaced that can be scientifically authenticated. But the stories must come from somewhere….

Thanks to Aqua News and Leisure Pro

Kathy Dowsett

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