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Mermaids: Legend or Reality?

Whether you believe in them or not, mermaids have been part of our folklore for centuries. Depicted as beautiful creatures with the top half of a woman and the bottom half of a fish, these sea-dwelling beings have been the subject of paintings, movies, and even statues.

Let us have a look at mermaids in an historical context, the archetypes associated with mermaids and examples of mermaids in film, books and art.

The Origins of Mermaid Mythology

A Mermaid by John William Waterhouse

Mermaid mythology originated with ancient tales of female water spirits. The first recorded mention of a mermaid-like creature comes from Assyria, in a cuneiform tablet dating back to 1000 BC. In Greek mythology water spirits included nereids, the daughters of Nereus, oceanids, the daughters of Oceanus, and sirens, bird-women who lured sailors to their doom.

These mythical creatures had long flowing hair, and some were even able to transform themselves into other animals. In many cultures, they were considered dangerous beings who could lure sailors to their watery graves.

There have been several reported sightings of mermaids throughout history.

In the 6th century BC, Herodotus, a Greek historian, wrote about a group of Libyan nomads who claimed to have seen two mermaids sunbathing on the beach.

In the 10th century, an Arab historian named Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Masudi wrote about an ethnic group in Somalia who claimed to have seen mermaids swimming in the Indian Ocean.

In medieval Europe, mermaid sightings were relatively common, with many people believing that these creatures were real. Christopher Columbus even wrote about seeing three mermaids while on his journey to the New World in 1493. Columbus reported seeing three mermaids while sailing near the Dominican Republic in 1493. He described them as “female forms” with long hair, but he did not see their lower halves.

In recent years, there have been several sightings of creatures that could possibly be mermaids. In 2009, an amateur filmmaker claimed to have footage of a real-life mermaid swimming off the coast of Hawaii. In recent years fishermen in Indonesia claimed to have caught a mermaid trapped in their net.

Those who are sceptical about mermaids believe that sightings are merely animals such as manatees or dugongs, which are large aquatic mammals with human-like characteristics. Of course, there is no concrete evidence that any of the sightings above are legitimate, but it certainly makes you wonder.

The Mermaid Archetype

Mermaids have lived not only in the sea but in pools under waterfalls, lakes, rivers, creeks and tributaries in the myths and legends of times gone by. Mermaids in legend are elemental beings connected to the element of water. Most humans cannot “see” them, but often, clairvoyants can.

Playful and mischievous, mermaids have represented the feminine power of sex, sensuality, and song across cultures. Often depicted as wild, seductive, and rebellious, pleasure-seeking, alluring, and tempestuous.

Portrayed as shapeshifters, independent, fierce, and represent a seriously potent elemental force due to their association with wild waters. They are seen as magical beings with the ability to control the weather and the behaviour of the sea. There are stories of mermaids acting as helpful sea beings, benevolent and kind, and willing to assist travellers. Mermaids are symbols of origin, fertility, healing, birth and rebirth, creation, and power. This elemental healing force is connected to the generative powers of the ocean.

In many creation myths that the earth was originally a water planet where water elementals and other beings lived in the etheric water on a higher dimension.

The massively potent power of the ocean, currents, storms, and water itself is inherent in the mermaid’s power.

Mermaids in Film, Books and Art

Mermaids have long held a place in the human imagination, appearing in film, theatre, art, and literature.

The best-known mermaid tale is that of The Little Mermaid, who sacrifices her voice to win the love of a prince. In recent years, mermaids have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, appearing in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and television shows such as Once Upon a Time. Whatever their form, mermaids continue to capture the human imagination and spark our sense of wonder.

Examples of Mermaids in books:

-Mermaids in The Odyssey by Homer

-The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

-The Tempest by William Shakespeare

-Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

-20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

-The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

-Moby Dick

Ariel Disney

Examples of paintings of mermaids:

-The Nix by John William Waterhouse

-A Mermaid by Henrietta Rae

-Undine by John Everett Millais

Examples of mermaids in film:

-Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

-Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


-The Little Mermaid


-The Shape of Water

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