Most of us think of mermaids as sexy sirens of the sea. There seems to be a new mermaid fad with gals and guys both living mer-folk fantasy lifestyles. There are mermaid performers, mermaid weddings, mermaid blankies, and all sorts of other mermaid related stuff. But guess what mermaids are really about? Murder and mayhem, folks, murder and mayhem. Hate to spoil it for all you romantic mer-folk but your fantasy heroes were really mean in the mythos of old. And I mean REALLY mean!
The animated Little Mermaid movie by Disney, that inspires little girls to be sweet and hopeful and determined, is based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale from the 19th century. But the original story was far from a child-appropriate fairy tale.
Yes, there was a mermaid princess and a drowning prince. But there was also romantic rejection and an ensuing plot for a blood bath. Once the prince turns the little mermaid princess down, she begins to die of a broken heart. But mermaid’s have no souls so they don’t go to heaven. Instead, they are transformed into the sea foam that tips raging waves and breakers.
But the transformation takes awhile. It’s a process. So, for awhile, there’s a chance to save the little mermaid from this terrible destiny. In the early stages, while she is tail-less and mute, she places her hope in someone, anyone, to take action to save her.
Seeing this horrible fate come upon their sister, the little mermaid’s faithful sisters do not disappoint. They become enraged. They swear vengeance. They negotiate a deal with a sea hag.
She demands their mermaid hair in exchange for a poisoned, cursed dagger that can only be used while the human prince sleeps. His blood must be collected and washed over the little mermaid’s feet which will cause her tail to grow back. The sisters return with the blade and tell their sister what must be done.
With the dagger in hand, the little mermaid stands over the unsuspecting prince who jilted her while he sleeps. She struggles silently with her conscience. Much time passes. In the end, the little mermaid can’t go through with it. But is she still destined to become lonely sea foam? Not so fast.
It seems that there are still heavenly rewards for soul-less mer-folk who opt out of murder. Angels suddenly appear and give her an option. Instead of becoming meaningless sea foam, she can remain human. It will just cost her a few centuries of good deeds. Then, she will have earned an immortal soul.
Now, that doesn’t seem like too mean of a mermaid, does it. Well, on the flip side, there are tales of much meaner sirens of the sea.
Like Japan’s sea-vampiress Nure Onna who’s mer-body resembles a sea snake more than a fish. She also has fangs amid the human teeth in her lovely smile. She likes to sit on the shore pretending to hold a baby as she cries in distress. What sympathetic human wouldn’t offer assistance?
She asks them to hold her baby which becomes a weight pinning them down so she can drain their blood at her leisure. And if death by exsanguination isn’t bad enough, if you happen to have long hair she might just strangle you with it. Bad, bad mermaid.
And don’t forget about mer-men. Those are some bad boys, too. The Scots tell of the Blue Men who make friends with sailors. When ships get close enough to recognize the un-natural blue skin, it’s too late. The Blue Men attack, drag the sailors into the water and eat them. Great Scott! Cannibal Mer-men! Who knew?!
The Odyssey, of course, shares the most familiar mean mermaid story of sexy sea sirens who lure sailors to their deaths. They sing songs that hypnotize them, drawing them ever closer to the source of the song… Mermaids sitting atop rocks, rocks that will wreck their ships. Then, BOOM, you’re dead.
But where did the first mermaid come from? Who is the Eve of the seas? Ancient Syrians tell of Atargatis, a goddes who fell in love with a human. This story again?
While loving him she lost control of her super-human goddess strength and killed her lover. Overcome with guilt and grief, surprise, she drowns herself in the sea.
But didn’t she know she was a goddess? Like, immortal? Well, it seems that immortality is not the only rule gods and goddesses live by. It seems that there is a rule that when they jump into the ocean they automatically turn into fish. But the magic works out strangely on those who are incredibly beautiful, like Atargatis. She kept her human beauty and only became half-fish. The first mermaid.
Russians have their own lore about the mer-people, rusalki. They believe them to be the reincarnated souls of vengeful women who have died tragically, like from pregnancy, suicide or murder. So you can imagine that these kind of mermaids would be really, really mean.
They lure you near with their gorgeousness. They put you at ease with soothing words. Then, WHAM! They grab you and drown you. But a few have an even more demented way of killing their victims. They tickle them so that their victims drown by laughter. Sick. Very, very sick.
The Irish have their selkies seal-women and the French have their mermaid dragons called the melusine, as well as fat mer-monk creatures. There are also tales of mer-zombies. The Arabian Nights includes a story featuring a terrifying mermaid kingdom.
It seems that the entire ancient world has been fascinated with the prospect of beautiful but deadly mer-people. It seems that sweet, adorable, kindly little mermaid princesses are only a modern creation. Does that mean that, as a race, humanity is taking a turn for the better instead of a turn for the worst? Could be. The gringa remains hopeful yet firmly a land-lubber. Just in case.