Mermaids are one of the worlds most mysterious mythelogical, mystical and magical aquatic creatures. The fact that no one has ever actually seen them or at least have proof of their existance make their mysteriousness more appealing in literature and film. Their non specific image has allowed them to shape shift through history and allow each culture have its own image of what a mermaid is by using their imagination.
Unlike modern day mermaids that we see in children’s book or movies, mermaids haven’t always had a positive image. The first stories of mermaids first appeared in ancient Assyria, where the goddess Artagatis turned herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. In more modern times, mermaids have also been associated with trecherous water related events such as floods, shipwrecks, storms and drownings (Alexander: 2012;15)”.
In Greek mythology, mermaids have a more marine biology association because in Greek mythology, creatures such as the dugong and the manatee are considered mermaids – a far cry from the beautiful image we ‘see’ today. There is popular belief amongst historians that the historical sightings by sailors such as Christopher Columbuis were misunderstood sightings that were actually dugongs and manatee’s (Gods-and-monsters.com, 2011).
In literature and art, mermaids began to transform into beautiful majestical creatures thanks to fairytales such as “The Little Mermaid”, which was created in 1836 byDanish author Hans Christian Andersen. Mermaids as we know them now were also featured in paintings, books, films, comics and operas. Unlike the first version of the mermaid in accient Assyria, mermaids were reinvented in the newer version of “The Little Mermaid” by Disney – mermaids with a little bit of magic could revert back to being full humans (Realmermaids.net, 2015).
Like Santa Clause, mermaids too differ from region to region, country to country. In British folklore, mermaids were perceived to be unlucky for they could foretell disasters and rough weather and could be as big as 2,000 feet. In European folklore some of their fresh water mermaid like creatures are depicted as having two fish tails or a lower body of a serpant, like in the movie “The Golden Child”. In Eastern Europe, the mermaid is perceived in a more morbid way. Mermaids are the spirits of young women who died during a murder or suicide before their wedding. . “Some researchers theorize that we’re drawn to the dichotomy of light and dark that mermaids embody. These lovely ladies are simultaniously desirable and dangerous. They can bring good luck or disaster. (Alexander: 2012;7)”
Due to the various versions of mermaids, humans have been able to essentially turn mermaids into the perfect character for fantasy’s and fairytales because of their morphing, undefined characteristics from different cultures. The fact that there is no concrete proof that the modern day version of a mermaid has ever existed helps us run amuck in our imagination as to what each of us think a mermaid should look like. Is a mermaid something beautiful and mesmerizing or is a mermaid a bad force to be reckoned with?