Thursday, May 24, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Mermaids and Mermen Are Just Fish Stories, Right?

Mermaids and even mermen, are legendary beings of the sea, the upper part human, the lower half from the waist down, a fish’s tail.  In the book, Arabian Nights, mermaids are described as having "moon faces and hair like a woman's, but their hands and feet were in their bellies and they had tails like fishes." Currently, a TV show on Freeform, Siren, is a paranormal with mermaids. Season One just finished. A movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year, The Shape of Water, obviously inspired by a movie from the 50s, The Creature of the Black Lagoon (another merman), shows these beings of the sea are not slowing down.

Creatures half-human and half-fish in form have been in stories for thousands of years. The Babylonian deity, Era or Oannes, the Fish-god is depicted as having a bearded head with a crown and a body like a man, but from the waist downwards he has the shape of a fish." Greek mythology contains stories of the god Triton, the merman messenger of the sea. Several modern religions including Hinduism and Candomble (an Afro-Brazilian belief) worship mermaid goddesses to this day. There is the 1836 tale by Hans Christian Anderson, “The Little Mermaid, which became a Disney movie and one of its princesses. You can read the original story HERE. It is not sweet and lovely fairytale, but can be scary, most of all, she kills herself.

Mermaids can wander on land, as told in many tales. But they must be very careful not to lose their fish tail while wandering about on land, because without it they would be unable to return to their underwater realm. Same goes for selkies—only it is their sealskin. 
In folklore, mermaids became associated with misfortune and death, luring errant sailors off course and even onto rocky shoals. This happened in Greek myths, with the sirens. Some say it was their siren songs that these creatures could lure the men in. 

Mermen also have a frightening reputation for summoning storms, sinking ships and drowning sailors. Such as the Blue Men of the Minch, whom are said to dwell in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. They look like ordinary men (from the waist up anyway) except for their blue-tinted skin and gray beards. Local lore claims that before laying siege to a ship, the Blue Men will challenge its captain to a rhyming contest. Now if the captain is quick enough of wit and agile enough of tongue, he can outsmart the Blue Men and save his sailors from a watery grave. Another merman-like male being is the sorcerous Finman. it is said the Finwife began life as a mermaid. Their myth comes from the Orkney Islands. The story goes that they are mistrusted by mortals and have magic. That they have unparallel boating skills, as well power over storm and sea. These beings are also noted shapeshiftersThe Finfolk were truly amphibious. The Finfolk led a nomadic lifestyle, but spent long Orkney winters in the luxury of Finfolkaheem, a majestic city of unknown location, supposed to be at the bottom of the sea. The tales of storytellers tell that this fantastic undersea kingdom has massive crystal halls and ornate gardens of multi-colored seaweed. Lit by the phosphorescent glow of the sea, Finfolkaheem was decorated with swathes of draped curtains whose colors shifted like the ever-changing shades of the "Merry Dancers" - the Aurora Borealis. Towers of glistening white coral spiraled upwards, encrusted with pearls and precious gemstones. The kingdom was so rich that giant pearls were littered everywhere, often ground up by the merfolk to provide the powder that was scattered over the mermaids' tails to give them their sparkling sheen. In the waters surrounding Finfolkaheem, the Finfolk raised sea-cattle and magical sea-horses. Like the true gentry of their underwater world, they herded whales - from which they extracted milk - and, mounted on their aquatic steeds, would often hunt the animals of the sea using otters in place of dogs.

During summertime, the Finfolk returned to Orkney. It is there that they took up residence on their magical island home, Hildaland - one of Orkney's magical vanishing islands. it has been said that Hildaland was later taken from the Finfolk and renamed Eynhallow. 
Two distinct of these kinds of fairy folk are within the ranks of the Finfolk - the Finman and the Finwife. Though tales of the Finmen make up most of the bulk of the folklore and are standard in their descriptions of the gloomy creatures. 

Like fairies of the land on the Orkney Islands, they also steal away mortals. Once caught, they spirit away their captives and transport them to their hidden island homes. It in these places that the unfortunate mortals are forced to remain for the rest of their days, usually as wife or husband of one of the Finfolk. It is no doubt, how the people of Orkney Island explained drowning deaths.

Japanese legends have a version of merfolk called kappa. Said to reside in Japanese lakes, coasts and rivers, these child-size water spirits appear more animal than human, with simian faces and tortoise shells on their backs. Like the Blue Men, the kappa sometimes interacts with humans and challenge them to games of skill in which the penalty for losing is death. Kappa are said to have an appetite for children and those foolish enough to swim alone in remote places — but they especially prize fresh cucumbers. 

P.T. Barnum displayed the Feejee Mermaid in the 1840s, becoming one of his most popular attractions. People paid 50 cents, hoping to see a long-limbed, fish-tailed beauty combing her hair. Instead, they saw a grotesque fake corpse a few feet long, with the torso, head and limbs of a monkey and the bottom part of a fish. To modern eyes it was an obvious fake, but it fooled and intrigued many at the time.

Today, it is said manatees and even dugongs may have been the animals mistaken for being mermaids and mermen. Dugongs are enormous vegetarians can be found in warm coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, including the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific. Dugongs are related to manatees and are similar in appearance and behavior— though the dugong's tail is fluked like a whale's. There are three species of manatee, distinguished primarily by where they live. The West Indian manatee ranges along the North American east coast from Florida to Brazil. The Amazonian manatee species inhabit the Amazon River and the African manatee swims along the west coast and rivers of Africa. Manatees are large, slow-moving animals that frequent coastal waters and rivers. These attributes make them vulnerable to hunters seeking their hides, oil, and bones. Manatee numbers declined throughout the last century, mostly because of hunting pressure. Today, manatees are at-risk. Though protected by laws, they still face threats. The gentle beasts are often accidentally hit by motorboats in ever more crowded waters, and sometimes become entangled in fishing nets. Both the dugong and the manatee are related to the elephant, although the giant land animal is not at all similar in appearance or behavior.

Whether real or not, Mermaids and mermen still fascinate us  from all the books, TV shows, movies, and more that have and will continue to come out.

No comments: