Mermaids in legend and myth
Everyone knows what a mermaid looks like. They are the half-woman and half-fish mythological beings of folklore and fairy tales but people have believed that mermaids are real. It seems likely that the appeal a mermaid has is due to their great beauty and other-worldliness Mermaids have often been the subjects for artists and painters.
Author William Bond has a theory that explains what mermaids really are and how the legends about them got started but more about William and his idea later on. First of all let us look at one conventional explanation.
Manatees, Dugongs and Sea Cows
It has often been suggested that mermaids were actually the marine mammals known as Dugongs and Manatees or Sea Cows. These creatures are somewhat similar to seals but uglier and it is hard to believe that such an animal could ever be mistaken for a beautiful woman from the sea but that is the idea put forward. It is said that sailors at sea, deprived of real women, could have seen these creatures and their minds played tricks on them and converted the marine animal into a human woman but with the tail of a fish.
If you look at a photo of a dugong or manatee though, it is very hard to accept this explanation unless the sailors were hallucinating at the time. These animals are very fat and have flippers in place of hands and broad faces and mouths they use for grazing on seaweeds. They do not look anything like the beautiful women with long hair we see in traditional pictures of mermaids.
Dugongs are in a family of animals known to scientists as the Sirenia, and Sirens are also mythical women who were said to lure sailors to their doom. They are written about in Greek mythology and were said to entice foolish mariners with their singing and enchanting music. The sailors lured by the Sirens would shipwreck their boats by crashing into rocks they saw and heard these femme fatales singing from.
So when and where have there been reported sightings of mermaids?
Wikipedia tells us that way back “In 1493 while sailing off the coast ofHispaniola, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three "female forms" which "rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented".
And also the site reports that ‘The logbook of Blackbeard, an English pirate, records that he instructed his crew on several voyages to steer away from charted waters which he called "enchanted" for fear of merfolk or mermaids...”’
There are far more recent mermaid sightings too though. In August 2009, following reports that very many people had said they had seen a mermaid jumping out of the water and doing various tricks, the Israeli coastal town of Kiryat Yam put up a $1,000,000 award for evidence that this had really happened.
Then in February 2012, work on two reservoirsin Zimbabwe had to be stopped because workers there wouldn’t carry on with the job they were doing because they claimed that mermaids had hounded them away from where they had been working..
Mermaids in films
Mermaids make great subjects for screenwriters and film-makers. Splash was a 1984 American comedy and fantasy movie about a mermaid played by Daryl Hannah. A beautiful actress playing the part of a mermaid was sure to be a winner as a movie.
Mermaids have also been the subject of a recent television documentary on Animal Planet.
Mermaids are real!
Mermaids in heraldry
Mermaids have even been included in heraldic images such as the Coat-of-Arms of Warsaw in Poland that features one.
The mermaid depicted in the Polish shield is brandishing a sword and carrying a shield. This is no soft and feminine mermaid but more like a warrior.
Perhaps this is not that surprising though because other legendary creatures from myth and folklore often appear in heraldry too. Dragons and unicorns are not real as far as we know but you will find them in coats-of-arms and on shields.
William Bond's theory
William Bond, who is also known for writing about and advocating matriarchy, thinks that the origin of the beliefs in mermaids was started by very real breath-holding skin divers, such as the Ana of Japan. Most of these divers are women and they wear only a loin-cloth when they dive down searching for pearls shellfish and seaweeds. This practice dates back at least 2,000 years.
Bond believes that breath-holding diving was once far more common around the world but had been stamped out by the rise of patriarchal culture that did not want to show that women were good at doing anything better than men. It is believed by the Japanese that women are better equipped at staying longer in cold water due to the distribution of fat on their bodies.
He also writes about Elaine Morgan's controversial 'Aquatic Ape' theory which puts forward the idea that humans evolved from apes that became amphibious and spent a lot of their time in the sea. This is why their bodies are not covered in hair because it would make it more difficult for them to swim. Also it is known that marine animals can shed tears. Because humans can is given as another link with the sea and as evidence of their evolution that was prompted by a marine environment.
William’s explanation for mermaids being women divers is a good one and certainly makes a lot more sense than the idea that mermaids were dugongs and manatees that sailors had mistakenly thought were these women from the sea. What do you think? Do you believe in mermaids?
Peter Kvint on August 26, 2013:
Should the male artists say no to an opportunity to draw / shaping women's breasts? Particularly dangerous seductive women who drown men in love?
Mermaids are real, but in the reality they have two legs, to trick men.
Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on March 14, 2013:
Thank you for commenting!
Ausseye on March 14, 2013:
The mystery is but a(mmm no the next one )---ripple in time!! So much happens at sea and one can but imagine the mind, full of possibilities. Mind you your story of strong Japanese women rings true, damn they can’t be better than us imagining males….holding you breath for some time can be as good as any drug impact), sending the brain in all sorts of directions. Love the rage of possibilities, a universal mystery that may one day come true with the right DNA. I live for the day beauty has its limits for us men!!! Hey great hub full of treacherous water and rock bottom when it comes to equality, women get the upper hand and make us wrecks in our time. We’ve done it to them for ages, that’s why it’s a ageless tale. An avid reader.
Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on February 05, 2013:
CarNoobz from USA on February 04, 2013:
"Why do people want to believe in mermaids?"
Cuz they're HOT, dude! hahaha.
Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on January 26, 2013:
Thanks for your feedback, Sparkster!
Marc Hubs from United Kingdom on January 26, 2013:
Interesting, I saw something in the news yesterday about somewhere where they are offering something like a million dollar/pound reward for anyone who finds evidence of a mermaid which had supposedly been seen by many witnesses in that area.