Saturday, 19 January 2008


[Photograph of ama divers resting on rocks from. -

This scene is probably exactly the same as mermaids resting on rocks in Europe. The problem of boats coming too close inshore to see naked women did not happen in Japan, simply because up until the late 20th century public nudity was acceptable in Japanese society.

       The problems of public nudity could only be an issue where you have two societies living side by side with very different social values. In mermaid communities public nudity would be perfectly acceptable as they lived a lifestyle where clothing was impracticable. Whereas, in the wider community, because of the influence of the Christian Church, public nakedness was seen as shameful and later became unlawful. So young men in fishing boats and coastal traders who would have never seen unashamed naked women before, would want to gawk at unclothed mermaids sitting on rocks. Putting themselves and their ships in danger. ]

The ama divers seem to be in meditation or prayer. There are reports of both ama and haenyo doing this before they dive in the sea. As modern freedivers have discovered, meditation and relaxation are very important for learning to hold their breath underwater for a long time. This is because the heart slows down when a person is relaxed, which allows the body to use up less oxygen while underwater. Perhaps the origins of mediation came from women divers and only later did Yogis and spiritual people discovered other benefits to people of doing meditation.

For women to do prayer and meditation naked wouldn’t be a problem in Japan as Shinto is the state religion, but it seems the Christian Church do not like nudity in religious ceremonies. One of the Church’s accusations against the witches was that they performed religious ceremonies naked, which the Church condemned as ‘immoral’. So it suggests that mermaids has similar practices and prayed and meditated before they began diving. This then is another connection between witches and mermaids.

It is of interest that in the Chinese web-site –

They write about the different rituals some ama women used before jumping into the sea. They even refer to some of these rituals as witchcraft spells. The ama women also ask for protection at the Goddess of Mercy Temples. In Japan witchcraft and spells were seen as quaint rural customs, but in Europe in the past, witchcraft and the worship of goddesses was punished by torture and death.

The ban on nudity by the Christian Church might have been a reaction against witches and mermaids. As I will explain in a later chapter to get their bodies assimilated to cold water the mermaids have to get used to the cold most of the time. So putting on warm clothing and living in warm houses would be counterproductive in their effort to get their bodies use to the cold water. For this reason mermaid not only swam naked but probably wore very little clothing while living on land as well. So clothing became an issue because the farmers and hunter/gathers had a different attitude about clothing. The farming people had clothing to keep themselves warm, while the mermaids or witches hardly wore anything, and this was the most noticeable difference between the two communities. 

When the two communities came into conflict over the use of land, after the farming people began to drain the wetlands. The farmers may of justified their actions of destroying the mermaid people’s way of life, by condemning them as, pagans and ‘naked savages’. This attitude continued when Europeans invaded Africa, America and Australia where again they were to condemn the natives as ‘naked savages’. So the conflict between the mermaids and farming people may be the origins of the hang-up people of the Western world have about nudity. Clearly Christian missionaries saw the open nudity of other cultures as very offensive and worked hard at clothing them.]

[This painting by Julius Caesar Ibbetson, (1759 - 1817) is called, "The Mermaids' Haunt”. Again we find these mermaids are ordinary women and even though most of them are naked, they have clothing with them, and seem to be getting dressed after swimming and diving for food. Some of them seem to be washing salt of their bodies in a stream.

This painting only makes sense if the artist knew that mermaids were women who worked in the sea like today’s ama divers. This painting is not a fanciful and mythical scene of the imagination but a real event witnessed by the artist, because Ibbetson is famous for painting real life scenes. Mermaid reports have continued right up to the 19th century and they still may of existed in the artist’s lifetime. Though by this time these women would be practising their trade in secret. This is supported by the fact that the artist calls the place where the mermaids are, a haunt. Which suggests a secret place. 

This is also suggested in the picture, which shows in the background a dark forest growing up the side of a cliff, which may be difficult to find for anyone not familiar with the area. What is surprising about this painting, and other paintings shown in this book, is that the artist is explicitly showing us that mermaids are ordinary women, as he calls them mermaids, and yet does not paint women with fish tails. The artist cannot be more unambiguous in what he is attempting to say through his painting.

Yet because people are so firmly convince that mermaids are women with fish’s tails and therefore a mythical or magical creature, they cannot see the message that the artist is so plainly telling them. Because of censorship, writers could not record what happened in these mermaid communities before they died out, but a few artists did managed to paint them. They probably got away with this, because pictures of naked mermaids would be a popular subject matter for many of the rich and politically powerful clients of these artists.]

[Picture of Ama divers washing salt of their bodies like in Julius Caesar Ibbetson's painting "The Mermaids' Haunt”. From web-site -]

[This painting by Claude Joseph Vernet, (1714 - 1789) is called "Nymphs Bathing In The Morning". The problem with this painting is that it has a contemporary 18th century ship in the background so clearly this is not a picture of nymphs in ancient Greece. Again the artist is not known for painting from the imagination but only paints real life scene. This then is a real life picture of sea people women getting dressed after collecting seafood from the sea floor.]

Ama divers publicly getting dress or undressed, like the nymphs in Claude Joseph Vernet’s painting, or the mermaids in Julius Caesar Ibbetson's painting. 

Taken from Japanese web-site. –

Painting called, “Mermaids”, by Russian artist, Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, 1871.

From a conventional point of view this would be a very mysterious picture because although it is called “Mermaids”, the women in it do not have fish tails, are fully clothed and it doesn’t seem to be on a sea-shore. But a closer look at this picture gives a few clues to what the artist is trying to to tell us. (You will see the picture in more detail if you click on it and it will come to a larger size). Some of the women seem to be combing their long hair. Now, this is a normal action of people who have had their hair wet. Although it doesn’t show a seashore on the bottom left hand corner it seems to show a stream and even a small, crude jetty going out into it.

Most of the women in this picture are fully clothed but we see one in the distant does seem to be getting dressed. While on the left is a woman coming out of a reed bed. The reeds are covering her body but it is unlikely she would be in the water fully clothed so she is more likely nude.
As I have pointed out before there were mermaids in Russia whom they called Rusalkas. Being so far North, the water in any stream in Russia would be cold so it would be sensible for Rusalkas or mermaids to cloth themselves the moment they got out of the water.

We can see a similar scene of the following photograph of ama divers.

Photograph by Iwase Yoshiyuki called “Around The Fire 1931”
from website.

Like the mermaid painting by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy it shows ama divers clothing themselves to keep themselves warm.

["At Low Tide", a painting by Sir Edward John Poynter. This is a curious painting, because although it is a idealize picture of a mermaid. In the real world this is exactly what sea-women would be doing at low tide, collecting shells, crabs, seaweed and other marine foods on the beach before the tide comes in again.]


[This is a curious painting, by Peter Paul Rubens, (1577-1640). It is called, “The Debarkation at Marseilles” of Marie-de’-Medici, (The wife of Henri IV). As other commentators have pointed out; what is strange about this painting is that it is dominated by the three naked women at the bottom of the picture, who are suppose to be Naiads or sirens. Naiads come from Ancient Greece, and were its original inhabitants and are similar to nymphs. Rubens painted the bottom of their legs depicting them as serpent tails, suggesting they are also mermaids. While the old man alongside them is suppose to be the god Neptune. Which is also strange, as he seems to be a small, insignificant figure for a god.

The normal interpretation for this painting is that Rubens has surrounded Merie de’-Rubens with mythical creatures like the Angel blowing her horn. But another interpretation could be that that the naked people at the bottom of the picture were not mythical creatures but real people. If knowledge of mermaids and the sea people were being censored at the time, Rubens may have taken the opportunity of painting mermaids, he himself had seen, and put them in a commissioned painting of a very important person. He even had the cheek to put the mermaids in the foreground and so made the mermaids larger figures than the V.I.Ps he was commissioned to paint. Suggesting that he was more interested in the mermaids than them.]

Not only painters hinted at the true nature of Mermaids but poets did as well as we can see in the following poem by Matthew Arnold.

The Forsaken Merman by Matthew Arnold. 1822–1888

COME, dear children, let us away;
Down and away below.
Now my brothers call from the bay;
Now the great winds shoreward blow;
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
Children dear, let us away.
This way, this way!
Call her once before you go.
Call once yet.
In a voice that she will know:
'Margaret! Margaret!'
Children's voices should be dear

(Call once more) to a mother's ear;
Children's voices, wild with pain.
Surely she will come again.
Call her once and come away.
This way, this way!
'Mother dear, we cannot stay.'
The wild white horses foam and fret.
Margaret! Margaret!
Come, dear children, come away down.
Call no more.

One last look at the white-wall'd town,
And the little grey church on the windy shore.
Then come down.
She will not come though you call all day.
Come away, come away.
Children dear, was it yesterday
We heard the sweet bells over the bay?
In the caverns where we lay,
Through the surf and through the swell,
The far-off sound of a silver bell?
Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep,
Where the winds are all asleep;
Where the spent lights quiver and gleam;
Where the salt weed sways in the stream;
Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round,
Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground;
Where the sea-snakes coil and twine,
Dry their mail, and bask in the brine;
Where great whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
Round the world for ever and aye?
When did music come this way?
Children dear, was it yesterday?
Children dear, was it yesterday
(Call yet once) that she went away?
Once she sate with you and me,
On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,
And the youngest sate on her knee.
She comb'd its bright hair, and she tended it well,
When down swung the sound of the far-off bell.
She sigh'd, she look'd up through the clear green sea.
She said, 'I must go, for my kinsfolk pray
In the little grey church on the shore to-day.
'Twill be Easter-time in the world—ah me!
And I lose my poor soul, Merman, here with thee.'
I said, 'Go up, dear heart, through the waves.
Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves.'
She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay.
Children dear, was it yesterday?
Children dear, were we long alone?
'The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan.
Long prayers,' I said, 'in the world they say.
Come,' I said, and we rose through the surf in the bay.
We went up the beach, by the sandy down
Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the white-wall'd town.
Through the narrow paved streets, where all was still,
To the little grey church on the windy hill.
From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers,
But we stood without in the cold-blowing airs.
We climb'd on the graves, on the stones worn with rains,
And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes.
She sate by the pillar; we saw her dear:
'Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here.
Dear heart,' I said, 'we are long alone.
The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan.'
But, ah! she gave me never a look,
For her eyes were seal'd to the holy book.
Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door.
Came away, children, call no more.
Come away, come down, call no more.
Down, down, down;
Down to the depths of the sea.
She sits at her wheel in the humming town,
Singing most joyfully.
Hark what she sings: 'O joy, O joy,
For the humming street, and the child with its toy.
For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well.
For the wheel where I spun,
And the bless├Ęd light of the sun.'
And so she sings her fill,
Singing most joyfully,
Till the shuttle falls from her hand,
And the whizzing wheel stands still.
She steals to the window, and looks at the sand;
And over the sand at the sea;
And her eyes are set in a stare;
And anon there breaks a sigh,
And anon there drops a tear,
From a sorrow-clouded eye,
And a heart sorrow-laden,
A long, long sigh
For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden,
And the gleam of her golden hair.
Come away, away, children.
Come children, come down.
The hoarse wind blows colder;
Lights shine in the town.
She will start from her slumber
When gusts shake the door;
She will hear the winds howling,
Will hear the waves roar.
We shall see, while above us
The waves roar and whirl,
A ceiling of amber,
A pavement of pearl.
Singing, 'Here came a mortal,
But faithless was she:
And alone dwell for ever
The kings of the sea.'
But, children, at midnight,
When soft the winds blow;
When clear falls the moonlight;
When spring-tides are low:
When sweet airs come seaward
From heaths starr'd with broom;
And high rocks throw mildly
On the blanch'd sands a gloom:
Up the still, glistening beaches,

Up the creeks we will hie;
Over banks of bright seaweed
The ebb-tide leaves dry.
We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
At the white, sleeping town;
At the church on the hill-side—
And then come back down.
Singing, 'There dwells a loved one,
But cruel is she.
She left lonely for ever
The kings of the sea.'

Now what is made very clear in this poem is that no one can be a mermaid or merman and at the same time be a Christian. Suggesting that the Sea People remained pagans right up to the 19th century, when this poem was written. Again there is no mention of mermaids or mermen having fish’s tails, and in the poem, and the merman and his children walked up to the Church to in an attempt to bring the children’s mother back. Something that would have been impossible if they had fish tails.

Also of interest is the hold the Church had over the people, although Margaret did go to live with the sea-people, she was still indoctrinated as a child into believing she would lose her soul if she did this. And it was the fear of losing her soul that forced her leave her husband and children and return to the religion of her childhood. The poet at that end of the poem called her cruel for leaving her family and referred to Sea People, “kings of the sea”, suggesting where his sympathies lay. Though the real cruel people are the Church, who brainwashed children to have such fearful beliefs. In 19th century Britain the poet probably felt inhibited to make such open criticism of the Church, by pointing this out.