The Mermaid - is a mythological aquatic creature with a female human head, arms, and torso and the tail of a fish. A
male versionof a mermaid is known as a "merman" and in general both males and
females are known as "merfolk". Mermaids are represented in the folklore, literature and popular culture of many
The mermaid and merman legends begin with the
worship of gods. The earliest representations and descriptions of these now well known creatures can be traced back
as far as the eighth century BC. Babylonians were known to worship a sea-god called Oannes,
or Ea. Oannes was reputed to have risen from the Erythrean Sea and taught to man the arts and sciences. In the
Louvre today can be seen an eighth century wall-scene depicting Oannes as a merman, with the fish-like tail and the
upper body of a man.
Philistines were also known to have worshipped a Semitic mermaid moon-goddess. The Syrians called
her Atargatis while the Philistines knew her as Derceto. It is not unusual
or surprising that this moon-goddess was depicted as a mermaid as the tides ebbed and flowed with
the moon and this was incorporated into the god-like personifications that we find in their art and the
ancient literature. Atargatis is one of the first recorded mermaids and the legend says that her child
Semiramis was a normal human and, because of this, Atargatis was ashamed and killed her
lover. Abandoning the infant, she became wholly a fish.
In Japanese and
Chinese legends there were not only mermaids but also sea-dragons and the
Because they are very similar, Greek and Roman mermaid
mythologies are often placed together, and it is in the literature from these cultures that one finds the
first literary description of the mermaid, and indeed the mermen. Poseidon and
Neptune (the respective Gods of the sea) were often depicted as half-man and half-fish
but the most popular mermen depictions of the ancient world were the representations of the
Tritons, Triton being the son of the powerful
The British Isles too had
their fair share of merfolk mythology. The Cornish knew mermaids as Merry maids.
According to the Cornish legend a mermaid called Moveren had made appearance in the village of Zennor and due to
her interest in music she had fallen in love with one of the singers - Matthew - of the choir of the church. Now
when this man found out about the mermaid, he too fell in love with her and together they went to live in the sea.
The people of Zennor still say that they can hear Matthew sing to the mermaid and to them the whispers of waves
still make sense. The Irish knew merfolks as Merrows or Muirruhgach and some
sources write that they lived on dry land below the sea and had enchanted caps that allowed them to pass
through the water without drowning; while the women were very beautiful the men had red noses, were piggy
eyed, with green hair and teeth.
Russian mermaid mythology
includes the daughters of the water-king who live beneath the sea; the water-nymph that drowns swimmers and the
male water-spirit who followed sailors and fishermen. Some Africans believed the tales of a fish-wife and
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Mermaid sightings from
October 29, 1811: John
M'isaac, a farmer, made a sworn statement to the Sheriff-substitute and the parish minister that he had 'met a
mermaid in Campbell town'. The description he gave ran for more than five hundred words and was so convincing that
Rev. Dr George Robertson, Rev. Norman MacLeod, and James Maxwell, Esq., Chamberlain of Mull wrote that they were,
‘satisfied that he was impressed with a perfect belief, that the appearance of the animal he has described was such
as he has represented it to be.'
In the Outer Hebrides, about 1830, women cutting seaweed reported they had met a
creature of female form playing happily off the shore. A few days later her dead body was found two miles from
where she had first been seen. The description of the creature was recorded thus, ‘the upper part of the
creature was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed
breast. The hair was long, dark and glossy while the skin was white, soft and tender. The lower part of the
body was like a salmon, but without scales.
Off the Isle of Yell, 1833, six fishermen reported that their fishing line had
become entangled with a mermaid. They said they had kept her on board their boat for three hours, and said
that she was about three feet long. She ‘offered no resistance nor attempted to bite,' but she moaned
piteously. ‘A few stiff bristles were on top of the head, extending down to the shoulder, and these she could
erect and depress at pleasure, something like a crest.' She had neither gill nor fins and there were no scales
on her body. The fishermen who were very superstitious threw her overboard eventually and said that she dived
‘in a perpendicular direction.'
The story was heard from the skipper by a Mr
Edmondson who in turn told the Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh:
"Not one of the six men dreamed of a doubt of its being a
mermaid, and it could not be suggested that they were influenced by their fears, for the mermaid is not an object
of terror to fishermen, it is rather a welcome guest, and danger is apprehended from its experiencing bad
treatment... The usual resources of skepticism that the seals and other sea-animals appearing under certain
circumstances operating upon an excited imagination and so producing ocular illusion, cannot avail here. It is
quite impossible that six Shetland fishermen could commit such a mistake."
June 4, 1857: Publication the Shipping Gazette, reported that
a Scottish seaman off the coast of Britain had spotted a creature, ‘in the shape of a woman with
dark complexion, and comely face.'
...................and there are lots more stories, myths and legends of Mermaids in and around
Scotland: believe them as you will - or not, as the case may be...
...but WE know they are
there, for we see their careless leavings on our beaches and shores...
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