Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Chapter One, Pictures

{Note. Some of the following pictures will come up to a larger size if you double click on them.}

This painting by Arthur Hacker, (1858 - 1919) is called “The Sea Maiden” which as I have previously pointed out is another name for mermaid. She is of course naked, as clothing would be a hindrance for her in her job as a diver. The obvious explanation could be that she is receiving a gift from the young shepherd. Perhaps it is an engagement ring, which would make sense of why he is kneeling before her. So it could be a “Romeo and Juliet” type story of two lovers from two different communities of people, a sea-maiden and a landlubber falling in love. 

The problem is that what she is holding looks like a bottle, perhaps with herbal medicine in it, and it looks more like she is giving it to him. So perhaps it has another explanation. She is also an herbalist, which means that he is kneeling before her because of her high status. As an herbalist and witch she wouldn’t be someone you treated with any form of disrespect. Could it mean that Arthur Hacker was aware that mermaids, witches and herbalists were the same people and was trying to convey this fact in this picture?

Mermaids also still lived a life of hunter/gathers and this is why they had a far greater knowledge of herbs than farming people. So ordinary people would go to them for help when they became ill. This must have given them high status and great influence among the common people. Clearly the Church didn’t like this and therefore started a propaganda campaign against them before slaughtering millions of witches and mermaids in the infamous witch-hunt.

As I will show, other artists seem to be aware of the mermaid code and attempt to show in their pictures what mermaids really were. 

[This painting by Alessandro Allori, (1535-1607) is called, "The Pearl Fishers". What is mysterious about this picture is that some of the women in the water have mermaid tails. Does this mean that the artist knows what mermaids really are and is trying to hint that Pearl Fishers and mermaids are the same people? It could be that the artist may have painted a scene not out of his imagination but from real life, only adding the fish or serpent tail to some of the people, to give the impression he was painting a mythical scene. 

Thereby ensuring his picture will not be censored and destroyed. Pearl Fishers would have been breath-holding divers in his day and probably dived nude. (As Greek Sponge divers had done up until the 19th century). They may have used both male and female divers. Though even in the warm Mediterranean Sea modern professional scuba divers still wear wet suits as they can suffer hypothermia if they stay in the water too long. So even in these waters women divers would still have the advantage.] 

[In the dramatic picture above; by Herbert James Draper, (1863 - 1920) called “Ulysses and the Sirens". Draper seems to have taken many liberties with the story: sirens, in Greek mythology, were supposed to be half bird and half women and in no part of the story did they come aboard Ulysses’s boat. There is another problem with the picture; we see one siren looking like a traditional mermaid, with a fish’s tail; the other two are simply ordinary women.The conventional explanation for this would be that mermaids magically obtain legs when they come out the water, and anyway painting sirens is another excuse to paint nude women, so painting a women who is half a bird wouldn’t be so exciting. Also Draper had to have the sirens come aboard the boat so he could have Ulysses, his crew and the sirens, all in the same picture. So it is just another case of “artistic license” to create a dramatic picture. But there could be another explanation for this picture.

Like the painting “The Pearl Fishers” by Alessandro Allori or the Victorian Book illustration at the beginning of the chapter, Draper could be hinting that mermaids and sirens were simply women divers, because he has a mythical mermaid, and normal women in the same picture, suggesting that the mythical mermaids were just ordinary women. (Though in the case of the Victorian book illustration the same thing is suggested by detaching the Mermaid tail from her body, which suggests that mermaids did not really have fishes tails.) So it could be saying in his picture that sirens, mermaids and women divers are all the same people. Draper and Allori are not the only artists to hint at this, we can see other similar themes in many other pictures by artists.]

[The Painting by Leon-Auguste-Adolphe Belly, (1827 - 1904) is also called "Ulysses and the sirens", yet he doesn’t portray the sirens as either women with fish’s tails or as half bird and half women. He just shows them as normal women swimming in the sea. Again, he is showing us the true nature of mermaid, sirens and nymphs. Even though the conventional explanation for this picture would be that artists probably painted mermaids as an excuse to paint nude women.

Unlike Draper he doesn’t even bother to have at least one Siren with fish’s tail or turned their lower legs into fish’s tails like the “Little Mermaid” statue. He simply shows the ordinary women swimming in the sea. So he was again is he saying the same thing as other artists? What we think of as sirens that are half bird and half women or mermaids, which are half fish and half women, are in truth not mythical or magical creatures but ordinary women who dive for a living.]

[The above painting by John William Waterhouse, (1849-1917) is called "Hylas And  The Nymphs". What is portrayed in this painting was probably very true to life in ancient times, water lilies have large editable seeds, so the nymphs were probably foraging in the water for these seeds.

To quote the book Facing The Ocean by Barry Cunliffe, where he writes about archaeological findings of the Mesolithic age, around the many estuaries along the coast of Europe. -
These aquatic and maritime environments were immensely productive of readily available food. The swamps and marshes could produce grasses like Glyceria fluitans (A kind of wild rice) and the club rush (Scirpus Lacustris) with its highly nutritious seed, stems, and tubers, as well as a range of other floating water plants such as the cresses, water chestnuts, and water lilies. In the more exposed littoral zone edible plants included sea parsnip, sea fennel, sea rocket, and sea kale as well, of course, as a range of delicious edible seaweeds rich in health-giving minerals. To these plant resources may be added the huge range of bird inhabiting the marshes and the estuaries, the shellfish and crustaceans, and a wide variety of fish, as well as sea mammals notable seals and stranded whales.

       There were far more water habitats in ancient times in Europe than today. There were salt-water marshes along the coastal regions, and many large fresh water mashes inland. For instance the area around Glastonbury, (where the Isle of Avalon is suppose to be), was once swamp lands, until it was drained in the 17th century and a sea wall was constructed to keep back the sea. The same is true of the Iceni lands in the Fens of Norfolk, when Queen Boudica led her bloody revolt against Rome. After her final defeat, the Romans tried to drain the fens but were unsuccessful, other attempts were also made during the middle ages, but this wasn’t finally accomplished until 19th century. Though what happened to the people living in the Fens is never talked about. It seems this happened throughout Europe where the mermaid people were  driven from these wetlands, to allow farmers to come in and constructed dykes and drained the marshes.]

[The painting by Henrietta Rae (1859 - 1928) is again called; “Hylas and the Water nymphs”, What is interesting about this story is that it is the nymphs who take the initiative, in going after a man, which would be the opposite roles of men and women at the time when this picture was painted. This painting shows the nymphs as more aggressive than in the previous picture, as they seem to be dragging and pushing Hylas into the river. It is they, who seeing a beautiful man, lust after him, and are not afraid to take the initiative. This aggressive behaviour by nymphs has been written about in other Ancient Greek myths, suggesting a more dominant role for women in mermaid communities.

Again we see the nymphs among the water lilies, which they were probably harvesting. You can read more about the foods our ancestors gathered in the book, Wild Food by Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman. Where they demonstrate the huge variety of indigenous foods that can found on seashores, rivers, lakes and swamps.

These wetlands would have been increased, in the past, by the actions of beavers that would have dammed rivers and flooded forests. So they would benefit mermaid people giving them a wider area in which to forage for food. But farmers do not like beavers for the same reason as these beaver dams caused their crops to be flooded and persecuted them to extinction in Britain. Even today in USA there is still conflict between farmers and beavers where farmers will blow up beaver dams with dynamite if beavers construct a dam on a river running through the farmer’s land. Fortunately today there are now conservation laws to protect the beaver or farmers would hunted them to extinction like they once done in Britain. The European beaver still survives though they did once become close to extinction.]

[The above painting by Julius Olssen, (1848 – 1942) called, “The Coast of Sirens”, shows two vessels, (which looks a bit like Viking ships) coming dangerously close to shore, because of the naked women divers they want to look at, sitting on the rocks. The young sailors would typically want to gawk at the naked women they see, resting between dives. They even might be lured by the sound of their singing, knowing that the people singing would be nude women. 

They would bring their boats close inshore to have a closer look. To be too close to a rocky shore is a most dangerous position for any sailboat. Some of them could wreck themselves, on hidden rocks or sandbars just below the surface. Or get caught on a lee shore by a change of wind blowing towards the land or get caught a strong gust of wind making their ship temporary uncontrollable, with little room to manoeuvre. Typically, these sailors would blame the women divers, and not their own foolishness, for their misfortune. It seems that some went as far as claiming that the mermaids deliberately lured them to come close inshore through their singing and open nudity.]

[This painting by Sir Edward John Poynter, (1836 – 1919) is called; “The Cave of the Storm nymphs”, showing nymphs enjoying wreaking a ship, (which can be seen sinking in the background). This painting is clearly claiming that the mermaids are also wreakers as they have with them valuable items they looted from the ship. Nymphs were from ancient Greece, while the sinking ship is from the 18th century. Which does suggest that people were calling women divers nymphs as well as mermaids at that time.

The painting is probably a part of The Christian propaganda. Portraying the sea-people in much the same way as condemned witches. Claiming them to be very evil and malevolence women. Because witches, mermaids, sirens and nymphs were all at one time the same peoples. It suggests many of the mermaids were caught up in the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages, and were hung or burn to death for no other reason than being breadwinners of their community.]
Painting by Edward Armitage called “The Siren”, 1888. Again the artist paints a siren or mermaid like an ordinary woman but she is depicted as enjoying luring the crew of ships to their doom. Which is so unlikely  that it is laughable.

[Dramatic painting by Evariste-Vital Luminais (1822-1896), showing King Grallon fleeing as the sea floods the city of Ker Is. In the story a holy man strikes down his daughter Dahut who supposed to have opened the gates of the dyke, and later became a mermaid. This is Christian propaganda against the Sea-People. In the same way the Church depicted Witches as evil women, justifying their slaughter.]