Sunday, 10 February 2013

Mermaids


Painting is by Isobel Lilian Gloag (1868-1917) and is called; The Kiss Of The Enchantress.  This  is probably Melusine and shows her as a magical and mythological  creature that somehow is able to come on land with an impossible   long serpent's tail.  

Melusine, in some of her stories, also lived on the Isle of Avalon (The kingdom of King Arthur). There is a story of Melusine’s mother, Pressyne which follows a similar theme. When out hunting, Elynas, King of Albany, (Scotland) meets Pressyne in the forests. He found her so beautiful that he tried to persuade her to marry him. She agreed on one condition: that he must never enter her chamber when she gave birth or bathed her children. She later gives birth to three girls: Melusine, Melior and Paltyne. Then the king breaks his promise and discovers she is a mermaid, so Pressyne takes her children to the Isle of Avalon. Later on Melusine grows up and learns of her father’s broken promise and in revenge, with her two sisters, captures their father and locks him up in a mountain. (Which is what Morgan le Fay or Nimue did to Merlin).

In Estonian folklore there is another story of Melusine, though this time the handsome youth lives with her in her house beneath the sea. She demands privacy every Thursday, but he finally spies on her and sees her in her true form as a mermaid. The next day she says farewell to him and he finds himself back on the seashore and changed into an old man. Soon after, he dies.

In some stories Melusine turns into a dragon instead of a mermaid. In fact, female dragons and mermaids seem to get mixed up in many mermaid stories. This is interesting because as previously mentioned; Chinese mermaids were also referred to as “dragon wives”.

There are both Chinese and African Myths that are very similar to the story of Melusine: In the Chinese myth; a handsome youth was seated by the side of a well when a sea-woman called ‘Abundant Pearl Princess’, fell in love with him. (This name is significant because before pearl farms, the only way pearls could be obtained was by diving for oysters.) She cast a spell over the youth, who became enchanted by her beauty and she took him off to live in her underwater palace, where they got married.

After three years, the youth began to have a longing to return to his former life. The princess pleaded with him to stay but finally gave up and decided to go with him. Together they travelled back to land and the youth built his princess a house by the sea. Then she became pregnant and she exacted a promise from him not to look upon her until the child was born. He gave the promise, but one day, curiosity got the better of him. He peeked into his wife’s bedroom and found her in the form of a dragon. She was furious at him for doing this and left him after the child was born, he was never to see her again.

An African story comes from a Tshi folk tale about a 14th century king of Benin. It seemed he married a woman from Chama who was by nature a fish, who made her husband promise never to reveal his wife’s origins. Then some time after their marriage, the woman wished to return to her former home and the king decided to come with her. Unfortunately, in her watery world he was wounded by a fisherman’s spear, forcing him to return home and the true nature of his wife’s nature was revealed. At first this did not seem to be a problem until he took a new wife, who taunted the fish-woman about her origins. This upset her so much that she returned to her water home, permanently. Two of her children stayed with her husband and her descendants bear the fish-woman’s name. This story in Africa again shows the conflict between the sea people and the landlubbers, it seems that in Africa, mermaids were called, “river witches”. This conflict was commonplace throughout the world, in ancient times.

All these stories have a Romeo and Juliet type theme where their love was doomed because they come from two different types of people. Melusine was seen as a powerful person, and used on many German and Scandinavian Coat of Arms, where she is shown having two fish tails. Mermaids appear on many Coats of Arms throughout Europe, suggesting some became very rich and powerful women.

There is a similar theme in a Native America legend from the Passamoquoddy tribe called, “He Hwas, the Mermaid”.

A man and his wife had two daughters and they lived by a great lake, (or sea, depending on the version of the legend used). The parents warned their daughters never to swim in the water, but this only intrigued the girls who swam in the lake or sea in secret.

One day their father found their clothes on the beach and saw them swimming far out in the water. He called them back to shore, and they obeyed, but when they tried to climb onto the beach they found they could not do so. It seems that in the water they became covered in slime and had become snakes from the waist down.

Their parents became distressed over this, but their daughters sang to them telling them not to worry. Telling them that when they are in their canoe they will no longer need to paddle, as they will push them along.

Later, some other men found their clothes on the shore and looked up and saw the two daughters swimming in the water. The men got in a canoe and tried to capture them and managed to grab one of them. In the struggle one of the men cut off the hair of the girl that had been caught. The daughters then threaten the men, saying they would overturn the canoe and drown the men if they did not return the hair and leave them alone. The men quickly agreed to do this and left. This legend gives us an insight to what the relationship between the Mermaid people and the Native Americans who lived inland. If we take out the magic bits of the story of them suddenly growing a snake’s tail, we gain an insight to the meaning of the real story.

The parents in this story disapproved of their daughters becoming friendly with a nearby community of mermaids, but the girls did make friends in secret and grew to like the life of a mermaid so much so, that they yearned to become mermaids themselves. The references to them becoming slimy, is that swimmers in cold water tend to cover themselves in grease or fat to help protect them from the cold. English Channel swimmers do this, as did the Yamana women of Tierra Del Fuego. (Which I will discuss in a later chapter). The attempt by the men to kidnap the two daughters demonstrated hostility between the land based Indians and the Mermaid people. The reference that the parents ‘no longer need to paddle their canoe’ might mean that the parents had to become part of the mermaid community, if they wanted to continue to be with their daughters. The hostility between the two communities may not have allowed them to be part of both of them, and they had to choose which community they could live in.

[Painting by Jean Francis Auburtin, (1866-1930)]

The conflict between mermaids and land-based people can also be seen in Homer’s Odyssey. On his long journey home, Ulysses has to pass the siren’s island. He is warned that the voices of the sirens are so wonderful that sailors are compelled to sail towards the sirens and wreck themselves on the island’s rocks. So Ulysses blocks up the ears of his crew with wax and had himself tied to the mast. Why he himself did not also block up his ears with wax is never made clear, but it allowed for a dramatic story, as Ulysses became so intoxicated by the sirens singing he struggled to set himself loose from his bonds, but his crew following his previous orders bound him even more tightly. Because of this, he and his crew pass the island safely in spite of the efforts of the sirens.

 Traditionally in ancient Greece, sirens were supposed to be half woman and half bird and sometimes artist paint and draw them like this. But we can find similar stories in many mermaid stories. For instance; we also find comparable stories in more modern times: In Guernsey Folklore by Sir Edgar Macculloch there are stories of sirens that lived on the island of Sark. Guernsey fishermen claimed they were old women, yet their singing was so wonderful that they would still draw sailors in to sail too near to the dangerous coast around Sark. Then a fierce storm would suddenly arise, driving the vessel onto the rocks. To drive the point home, of how dangerous these sirens are. The fishermen also claimed that the sirens would carry the sailors to the bottom of the sea and devour them.
Yet not all stories tell of the death of sailors when hearing or seeing mermaids or sirens, and not all claim their singing is irresistible. In another story, knights setting out on the Second Crusade of 1147 passed a group of sirens in the Bay of Biscay. The Crusaders claimed the sirens made horrible noises like wailing, laughing and jeering like insolent men.


This at first annoyed the knights, but then they became frightened of the magic powers of these women. This suggests that the Crusaders and the sea people were not on good terms with each other, as the sea-women were jeering and perhaps making fun of the Crusaders. There is a similar story in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts. They also had to pass the siren’s island, but they escaped by having a flute player, Orpheus, on board, who drowned out the siren’s song. He wasn't completely successful, though, as one crewmember, Butes, threw himself madly into the sea to be with the sirens.

Jason also encountered nymphs. At Mysia they went ashore to find food and water, and Hylas, Hercules male lover, met some nymphs who dragged him into a stream. Hercules was greatly upset by this and stayed behind looking for his lost lover, which he never finds, while Jason sailed on is his quest for the Golden Fleece.

Jason had other encounters with nymphs but this time they helped him. The Argonauts were once stranded on a beach without water, and in danger of dying of thirst. Hesperides, a nymph, found them and led them to a spring. Then at the Straits of Messina, they encountered a very heavy current, but they were helped by sea nymphs who guided them safely through the straits. This was probably the strait between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, which has a very powerful current. (At that time, interestingly the Black Sea was then known as the Amazon Sea).


This painting is called "Diana and her Nymphs". Diana was the Goddess of the Nymphs or Sea People.

There is another famous story of nymphs; Actaeon is a son of a king and a great hunter. One day while hunting in the woods, on his own, he accidentally see the Goddess Diana or Artemis bathing naked in a large pool with her nymphs. She sees him and becomes so angry at his intrusion that she turns him into a stag. He is then hunted down and torn apart by his own hunting dogs, because they have been trained to hunt stags. In another version of the same story she turns him into a stag because he boasts of being a greater hunter than her. This story gives an insight into the nature of nymphs, suggesting they will not put up with interference from people who do not share their way of life.

The stories of sirens do not only come from the ancient Greeks but from the Romans as well: For instance; there are folk-tales of a small island near Cape Pelorus in Sicily where sirens were believed to live. It was claimed that sailors passing the island would be so entranced by the sirens’ singing, they would allow their ships to be dashed to pieces upon the rocks.

Both sirens and mermaids are known for their wonderful singing voices. Both haenyo and ama divers practise deep breathing before they go into the water to allow them to stay underwater longer. Similarly, opera singers also practise breathing exercises to develop powerful and controlled singing. Because of the deep breathing exercises they do, it would not be surprising that sirens or mermaids also have equally powerful and controlled voices when they sang. The beauty of their singing is mentioned many times in mermaid stories.

In some traditional cultures, women working together in groups do tend to sing together. The same would be true for women divers, who probably sang together resting between dives. This leads to another mermaid stereotype, of a mermaid sitting on a rock playing a harp or flute or other musical instruments.

What is interesting about this is that modern freedivers do exactly the same breathing exercises as opera singers. They both do diaphragm training as this controls how much air a person can get into their lungs. They both need to practice holding their breaths; the reason opera singers need to do this, is when they need to hold a long note, letting the air out slowly.

Pearl divers in the Pacific used to sing between dives as it is claimed that doing this makes it far less likely for them to have the bends. Perhaps continuing to work the lungs by singing after a dive makes it easier for the body to rid itself of any pressurized air in the blood stream. Ama and haenyo divers of Japan and Korea do not have a tradition of singing but they whistle instead, during their pre-dive breathing exercises. It is claimed that whistling is better than singing in warming up the breathing muscles for diving, because it helps oxygenates the blood better and faster, than singing.

Mermaids have been known to play musical instruments as well. If mermaids sung together before a dive then it would make sense for some women to bring along musical instrument to accompany the singing. But also it seems that learning to play a wind instrument properly you need to do the same breathing exercises as do opera singers. So mermaids who do not have very nice voices might be encouraged to play wind instruments instead.

This all suggests that many mermaids had operatic voices and there voices must have carried far out to sea, so this would be the origins of the, ‘siren call’. Where sailors claimed they were lured inshore and wrecked themselves on rocks because they were enchanted by the mermaids beautiful singing. Though it has to be said not in all reports of mermaids and sirens do they have such wonderful voices, some claim their singing was awful, as in the report from the crusaders. Perhaps not all mermaid groups sang in tune, also not all people like opera, so it could be a case of either bad singing or a different taste in music.

Stories of sirens or mermaids luring sailors on to the rocks are similar to European stories that claim that bad-luck and shipwreck will happen to any sailor seeing a mermaid. We can see this in the following sea-shanty. –

Friday morn when we set sail. Not very far from land. We there did espy a fair pretty maid. With a comb and a glass in her hand, her hand, her hand, with a comb and a glass in her hand.

Chorus: While the raging seas, the raging sea did roar. And the stormy winds did blow. While we jolly sailor-boys were up into the top. And the landlubbers lying down below, below, below, and the landlubbers lying down below.

Then up starts the captain of our gallant ship. And a brave young man was he: ‘I’ve a wife and a child in fair Bristol town. But a widow I fear she will be. She will be, but widow I fear she will be’

Chorus:
Then up starts the mate of our gallant ship. And a bold young man was he: ‘Oh! I have a wife in fair Portsmouth town, but a widow I fear she will be. She will be, but widow I fear she will be.

Chorus:
Then up starts the cook of our gallant ship, and a gruff old soul was he: ‘Oh! I have a wife in fair Plymouth town, but a widow I fear she will be. She will be, but widow I fear she will be.

Chorus:
And then up spoke the little cabin boy. And a pretty little boy was he; ‘Oh! I am more grievd for my daddy and my mammy. Than you for your wives all three. All three, than you for your wives all three.

Chorus:
          Then three times round went our gallant ship. And three times round went she; for the want of a lifeboat they all went down. And she sank to the bottom of the sea. The sea, the sea, and she sank to the bottom of the sea.
          Chorus:

It is of interest that in this version of the sea-shanty the mermaid is simply called a “fair pretty maid”. It is only in later versions of this song that she is called a mermaid.

The ama and haenyo divers sometimes use boats or rafts. In many cases they simply jump off rocks into to the sea, then clamber back with whatever they have caught. This could be true of sirens in ancient Greece and mermaids in Europe. Unfortunately being too close to shore is the most dangerous situation for any sail-boat. The problem would be that passing boats of young male sailors would typically want to gawk at the naked women they see lying on rocks, resting between dives. They even might be lured by the sound of their singing, knowing that the people singing would be nude women.


 "The Sirens." George Owen Wynne Apperley

They would bring their boats close inshore to have a closer look, and some of them would wreck themselves, on hidden rocks. Or get caught on a lee shore by a change of wind blowing towards the land or 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.

The stories of the dangers of sirens and mermaids might have been originally warnings to sailors not to venture in too close inshore to gawk at nude women divers. But over time, it was turned into an attack on mermaids, claiming the women divers lured the sailors to their doom on purpose. Which suggests that stories of sirens that lured sailors close inshore to weak their ships is an attack on the sea-people. There use to be “Wreakers” who would deliberately wreak ships. These wreakers would stand on the shore and light a lantern and swing it backwards and forwards. This swinging motion would imitate the swinging motion of a lantern on a ship. A ship’s crew out to sea on a dark night were they cannot see the shore, seeing this light will assume that they can see the light of a ship in anchor in a harbour or inlet.The ship would sail in only to find out too late it was sailing towards rocks and would be wreaked. Then the wreakers would loot the cargo that came ashore.

It would then be easy for these wreakers to blame mermaids for this misfortune, giving the sea people a bad name, and being a despised minority, people would believe these stories. This then would become a justification to wipe out the coastal villages of the sea-people or force them to convert to the life-style of the majority land people. This means that, stories of sirens who deliberately wreak ships are not just fanciful stories but were probably, deadly propaganda, justifying attacks on sea people. The Church had done the same to the witches claiming they were evil and in league with the Devil before they set about slaughtering millions of women. Witches and mermaids were the same people and so mermaids were being wiped out in the witch-hunts.

As I will show in a later chapter, women divers like the Native Tasmanians, the Yamana people of Tierra Del Fuego and the people of Cheju Island in Korea, and Bijago people of West Africa have all been subjected to genocide in recent times. While the sea-people of South East Asia are under pressure to change their ways.

Up until the stirrings of feminism in the 20th century, women throughout the world were referred to as the “weaker sex”. Men claimed that they were not only bigger and stronger than women, but more intelligent, and more capable of doing everything better than women, (except, of course, childbirth). Women divers were a big blow to men’s fragile egos because it was one job that women could do better than men. It also seems that being able to outperform men, gave women a strong ego boost, because throughout the world, women divers seem to have been very confident and assertive women. As mentioned before, the Chinese referred to mermaids as dragon wives, while in Africa they were called river-witches. It seems the only reason why women divers survived in Korea into modern times is because they lived on remote islands and diving for food was vital for the islanders’ survival.

The same thing must have happened in Europe. We get a strong hint of this when in 1723 a Danish Royal commission was given the job of investigating a number of local sightings of mermaids. It was also decided that if the commission found that mermaids did not exist, it would be against the law even to mention them.This amounts to censorship on the subject of mermaids. As it turned out, the commission did not completely go along with this because although at first they decided that mermaids did not exist, they backtracked when they themselves claimed to have seen a merman. Perhaps there was a hidden message here, with the commission saying that mermen were acceptable because they were male, but mermaids were not because they were female. The problem would be that in the time before wet suits, few men could endure the cold of the Baltic Sea to make a living as a diver. While those who could do this probably ended up being incapable of fathering children, because of the damaging effects on testicles from swimming in cold water for long periods. The more likely purpose of the commission was to put pressure on mermaid communities to conform to the standards and behaviour of the wider community.

Even after the witch-hunts, people in remote villages on the coast, sometimes living on the edge of starvation could not afford to ignore an important food resource like shellfish and edible seaweed, so they continued this ancient tradition, in secret. The problem would be that outsiders, who were unaware of what was going on, would occasionally see the divers working, as in the case of the schoolmaster William Munro in Caithness. In an age when women were supposed to be physically weak, modest and submissive, these outsiders would be shocked to see naked, athletic and assertive women confidently diving for marine food. It would be unlikely that the women would be clothed because wet clothing would be too much of a drag in water, and swimming costumes were not introduced until the Victorian times.

It is true that many ama divers today do wear clothing, which is similar to the claim from the Orkney Islands of mermaids wearing petticoats. Even though the petticoats would cause a lot of drag in the water while swimming, and also be dangerous if caught in rocks, while underwater. Some ama divers when diving deep, tie a rope around their waist, and are pulled up by men in a boat. Unfortunately, some divers have been drowned when this rope has been caught in rocks. So a trailing petticoat would be even more likely to be caught in rocks than a rope and so would be even more dangerous.
Reports from the Shetland Islands of mermaids wearing seal skins make sense, as this would be an early form of wet suit. Even wet suits have been known to be dangerous to ama divers. The rubbery material can get jammed in the rough rock surface when divers slide their arms into narrow caves and underneath rocks searching for shellfish. It must be remembered that for a breath-holding diver, even if she was to struggle to free herself for a minute, the struggle will quickly use up all the air she has in her lungs. Putting her in a very dangerous situation.

Photo taken by Aquaxel of Female Freediver using a monofin from. -http://flickr.com/photos/20079415@N00/135521110/

The picture above, is of a modern diver using a mono fin. What is noticeable about modern divers who use mono fins his how much they look like traditional mermaids. So could it be that the mermaid people might have used mono fins in the past?

       Swimming aids like flippers or fins are not new. Leonardo Da Vinci made a sketch of them while Benjamin Franklin made a pair of swimfins as a boy, from two thin pieces of wood, shaped like artists palettes. He swam with them in the Charles River in Boston Massachusetts. The Polynesians and other ancient cultures also made flippers or fins out of palm leaves.

It is true that the ama divers do not use flippers, because they are no help to them, but that might be to do with how they traditionally work. When ama divers forage in very deep waters, they tie a rope around their waist and dive down carrying a net. They fill the net with marine food and men on the boat above pull them to the surface using the rope around their waist. Perhaps mermaids in Europe used a different method in foraging for food at great depths.

Modern freedivers claim that the mono fin gives them power without too much effort which is very important for breath holding divers. For working divers carrying any weight to the surface, such as a net full of shellfish, uses up a lot of energy. So the diver could be forced to drop the net, if it is too heavy, so she can get to the surface before she runs out of breath. So a large mono fin would be a great help in making it possible to lift larger weights to the surface, by using it to swim to the surface.
It is true modern fins are made of rubber or plastic which wasn’t available hundreds of years ago. But in the past a mono fin could have been made of thin wood, like Benjamin Franklin had done, or made up with a frame of thin tree branches with cloth or leather stretched between. Many modern mono fins are made of fibreglass or carbon fibre and are very stiff, and not liable to bend like flippers made of rubber. These would be as stiff as a mono fin made of wood.

Any outsider seeing a women diver with a mono fin could therefore think that she does have a fish tail. We also have to remember that in some mermaid stories there are mermaids with two tails. Like today with modern divers, some divers prefer to have two fins on each leg while others like the mono fin. The same could have been true of mermaids in the past.

It can be seen that the use of mono fins might have been the origin of the belief that mermaids had fish tails. Then as the mermaid communities were wiped out their knowledge of flippers and mono fins died with them, only to be reinvented in the 20th century.

         Some freedivers also have extra long flippers, again they claim this helps them to swim powerfully without too much effort. Flippers like this could have been made in the past using thin wood, perhaps split from sapling and then adzed to the required shape and thickness. Thin wood can be remarkably flexible though not as bendy as rubber. (split wood is stronger than wood ripped down by a power saw, because the split will follow the grain of the wood. While wood cut down the grain with a saw, can cut across the grain, causing a weakness in the wood). In some mermaid legends it is claimed that mermaids have serpent tails. If ancient divers discovered what modern freedivers know today that long flippers give them more power. Again an outsider observing a mermaid with extremely long flippers may think she has a serpent’s tail.


Photo taken by Aquaxel of a underwater swimmer using very long flippers which Freedivers uses from. -http://www.flickr.com/photos/20079415@N00/136539966/

Part Three of my seven part mermaid series




DeeperBlue.com Gallery - Jitka's mono

Click on the above link for another picture of a freediver using a monofin. Picture taken by Jon and taken from - http://www.deeperblue.com/



4 comments:

piet said...

Animal Planet Mermaids US Navy Cover Up of Intelligent Life
Found in Ocean
william ross = youtube.com/antson102

animal planet program w chinese subtitles and 400thou views since early
last august
footage of real beachings to give their 'evil navy scientist' the spin of
incredulity by associating it with mermaids????

http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=wbWVDk68BOI
commenters claim all the names are fictitious
snopes.com/photos/supernatural­/mermaids.asp

1287 comments yet no mention of wabond
i don't like this typically american hype hoax history mix, all drama confuses
and obfuscates. Look at the sociology of marginal, difficult to chart and
police territories (lowlands) and find both the most despicable
shalloWIFIcation of conscience, ethics, morals, esthetics, mixfitting folks
for the multumult mold admixture, dopage, megalomaniac displacement to
'grow' stuff like communism and capitalism ... AANNDD on the other hand ..
matriarchy. Check the wabond account (here at yt); Bill Bond.

that entire account is really shitty; these are all from within the last
month:

..... Amazing real mermaids of mako island found exposed 351x
2:44 Hitlers nazi mermaids of the past. 121x
1:29 Loch ness monster filmed by prof mandelhoff 454x
9:32 Real mermaids from atlantis found and filmed by... 204x
15:29 UNDERGROUND BUNKERS of Cavers by Steven D Kelley

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMxRFIinK2k

Add this to your list

chris cook said...

is it really hard to believe that the government would cover up something new or something they have known about for years and just doesn't want the "normal " people to find out about? they have been doing this for years, what is sad, people are sometimes so closed minded to finding or learning about something new that they cannot accept the facts they are given. I am a normal non important person in this world but I believe in a lot more then just mermaids, we are finding more and more previously unknown species of animals/sea creatures all the time in places we very rarely explore. We know more about the moon then we do about our own oceans, and with all the pictures found throughout history of mermaids how can this not have some merit. Different times , different places but all the same creature? It all comes down to greed, a lot of government agencies will not accept this due too the fact they would or could lose billions of dollars in what they want to look for, over protecting or finding a way to communicate with these creatures. Evolution happens a lot , creatures overcome obstacles to evolve into a more efficient subtype of the same creature.. something to make them hunt better or to have a higher survivability rate. If you find it hard to believe that the government would hide something from the public I suggest watching some old videos of Jesse Ventura's conspiracy theory, there is a lot the government doesn't want us to know. In conclusion, I have absolutely no doubt of this type of creature being real, just too many different cultures, too many sightings, and different spins on the same thing...open your minds and believe.

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