Sunday, 13 October 2013

Chapter One - The Mermaid Mystery

[This 19th century picture of a mermaid has legs, and her ‘tail’ doesn't seem to be attached to her body. Perhaps, the illustrator knows what Mermaid really are and is attempting to tell the reader the true nature of mermaids.]

The official explanation of mermaids is that sailors have mistaken the manatee for mermaids. Looking at a manatee or sea cow I have to say that a sailor would have to be very stupid, shortsighted or drunk to make a mistake like this. It also seems that even famous explorers like Christopher Columbus and Henry Hudson made this mistake because they also reported seeing mermaids.

The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they looked like men. He said that he saw some in Guinea on the coast of Manegueta.

And to quote from the logbook of Henry Hudson on 15 June, 1608 near the Novaya Zemlya islands.

This morning one of our companie looking over boord saw a mermaid, and called up some of the companie to see her, one come up, and by that time shee was close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly upon the men: a little after, a Sea came and overturned her: From Navill upwards, her back and breasts were like a woman’s her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long haire hanging downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse and speckled like a Macrel.

The Novaya Zemyal islands are off the north coast of Russia in the Arctic ocean, so in no way could a sea-cow live in such waters. To explain this, it is assumed that Hudson and his crew only saw a walrus, in spite of the fact his crew saw it close to the side of the ship. If it were reported they saw a merman with a very bushy mustache, then this might make some sense, but it is incredible that experienced seamen should mistake a walrus for a mermaid. Are we to believe then, that even Columbus and Hudson and their crews were so foolish as to mistake a sea cow or walrus for a women with the tail of a fish? 

These men were experienced sailors and would be very well acquainted with marine life in the area. Other famous men have also claimed to have seen mermaids, like Captain John Smith who became the Governor of the Virginia Colony in the early 17th century. Like Columbus he also complained they did not look as pretty as depicted in pictures of mermaids. We are asked to believe these experienced sailors were incredibly naive or foolish; there is no other explanation for the mermaid myth.

To make sense of mermaid sightings some people have pointed out that the vagina of female sea cows is very similar to that of a human female. The suggestion is that sailors may have had sex with manatees, and perhaps to cover up this act of bestiality, they may have claimed they had intercourse with a mermaid. The difficulty with this explanation is that there are many more stories of shepherds who have sex with sheep who do seem to have the need to invent a mythical creature to cover up this act; they simply keep quiet about it.

Some reports of mermaids are definitely those of sea cows. In 1739, The Scots Magazine carried a report that the crew of the ship Halifax, in the East Indies, had caught and eaten several mermaids, because they were short on rations. When they returned to London, the sailors described how the creatures moaned "with great sensibility when caught". The flesh, they claimed, tasted like veal.

This sounds horrendous if they were real mermaids, but in their description they say they are large fish, weighing two to three hundredweight and with large heads, which sounds very much like a dugong; and other people have claimed that dugongs do taste like veal. It seems very unlikely that the crew of the Halifax would have thought these animals were mermaids. It is more likely the spin put on by the newspaper reporter or the papers editor, who followed the old newspaper adage: “you don’t allow facts to get in the way of a good story”. A story about the crew of the Halifax killing and eating dugongs would be so boring, that it would not be worth reporting, but the crew also reported that these dugongs had breasts like women. This would probably be the excuse the editor needed to claim they were mermaids. Thus creating a very sensational story that has survived until the present day.

Another explanation is that sailors on long sea voyages, without the company of women, become so sex-starved that anything that remotely resembles a woman in the sea becomes a mermaid to them. This does not explain why most mermaid stories come from European seas where there are no manatees or dugongs. Also many mermaid stories come from local fishermen who do not spend months or years at sea.

Mermaids are reported all over Europe. In Ireland they were known as Merrows or Murirruhgachs, in Cornwall they were called Merrymaids, in the Shetland Islands they were known as Sea-trows, while the Germans on the Rhine called them Meerfraus. The Scandinavians called them Navmands, while the Icelanders called them Marmennills.

One suggested explanation has been that sailors and fishermen in Europe have mistaken seals for mermaids. The seal is a fairly common sea mammal, so it would be absurd if experienced fishermen, who have been fishing all their lives, would mistake a seal for a mermaid. For instance if modern people were to spot a seal and claim it was a mermaid, we would think they were incredibly ignorant. Reports of mermaids have continued right up to the 19th century and even a few in the 20th century. This means mermaid reports continue through, “the age of reason” where no one believes in mythical beasts any more. So it seems we have to believe that people who report seeing mermaids are either drunk, mentally deficient, or liars. Or is there another explanation?

As we can see from the folk-tales about unicorns and dragons, they were names of real animals. People have attempted to explain the mermaid legends by looking for an animal similar to the description of them. This is why it has been assumed that the mermaid was either a manatee or dugong. Perhaps we need to look at the mermaid story from a different perspective. For instance, it seems that they are mostly women, while there are very few reports of mermen. Oddly, there are a number of reports of mermaids having two tails! Mermaids are also known for their wonderful singing voices and their ability to dance! Yet if we take these reports seriously, we may get an understanding of what is really going on. In many mermaid stories we find they come out of the sea and even marry. Which is a very clever trick, if you have a fish’s tail. Like this story from Zennor in Cornwall.

The people of Zennor had long wondered at the beauty of a richly dressed lady who attended divine service at the church. None knew whence she came, but when she fell in love with Matthew Trewella and lured him away, tongues began to wag. Neither was seen again for many years, until one Sunday morning the sailors on a ship anchored near Pendower Cove were surprised to see a mermaid rising from the water, and recognised her as none other than the mysterious visitor to Zennor Church. She asked the captain to raise his anchor, as it was barring the entrance to her house. Her likeness can be seen to this day carved on a pew-end in Zennor Church.

         If we take away the magical element of her living in a house below the sea, this story is very much like the French story of Melusine. Like Melusine she is a rich woman, and it is she who takes the initiative in pursuing Matthew Trewella, and they end up living in her house. This is the opposite of the conventions of the time, when women were supposed to be submissive, and everything she had, was owned either by her father or husband. Yet again we also have a mermaid that can magically create legs when she walks on land.

Let’s look at the famous statue of The Little mermaid, (above) sitting at Langelinie in Copenhagen, which is one of Denmark's biggest tourist attractions. The sculptor Edvard Eriksen created the sculpture in 1913. Yet if we look at it closely, we do not find a woman with a fishtail; she has legs. In fact, it is just a sculpture of a nude woman sitting on a rock, with only her calves and feet looking fishlike. So why did the sculptor make her like this? Why did he not make her the same as mermaid myths and put a fish’s tail on her? Could it be, that he knew the reality of what mermaids really were? Many mermaid reports are simply of nude women, which we can see from the following report. –

From The Times newspaper, 8th September 1809.

Dear Sir. About twelve years ago when I was Parochial Schoolmaster at Reay, in the course of my walking on the shore of Sandside Bay, being a fine warm day in summer, I was induced to extend my walk towards Sandside Head, when my attention was arrested by the appearance of a figure resembling an unclothed human female, sitting upon a rock extending into the sea, and apparently in the action of combing its hair, which flowed around its shoulders, and of a light brown colour. The resemblance which the figure bore to its prototype in all its visible parts was so striking, that had not the rock on which it was sitting been dangerous for bathing, I would have been constrained to have regarded it as really an human form, and to an eye unaccustomed to the situation, it must have undoubtedly appeared as such. The head was covered with hair of the colour above mentioned and shaded on the crown, the forehead round, the face plump. The cheeks ruddy, the eyes blue, the mouth and lips of a natural form, resembling those of a man; the teeth I could not discover, as the mouth was shut; the breasts and abdomen, the arms and fingers of the size in which the hands were employed, did not appear to be webbed, but as to this I am not positive. It remained on the rock three or four minutes after I observed it, and was exercised during that period in combing its hair, which was long and thick, and of which it appeared proud, and then dropped into the sea, which was level with the abdomen, from whence it did not reappear to me, I had a distinct view of its features, being at no great distance on an eminence above the rock on which it was sitting, and the sun brightly shining.

Immediately before its getting into its natural element it seemed to have observed me, as the eyes were directed towards the eminence on which I stood. It may be necessary to remark, that previous to the period I beheld the object, I had heard it frequently reported by several persons, and some of them person whose veracity I never heard disputed, that they had seen such a phenomenon as I have described, though then, like many others, I was not disposed to credit their testimony on this subject.I can say of a truth, that it was only by seeing the phenomenon, I was perfectly convinced of its existence.

If the above narrative can in any degree be subservient towards establishing the existence of a phenomenon hitherto almost incredible to naturalists, or to remove the scepticism of others, who are ready to dispute everything which they cannot fully comprehend, you are welcome to it from,
Your most obliged, and most humble servant,


William Munro was not the first to sight mermaids in Caithness, Scotland. In 1804 two girls also reported seeing mermaids in the same area, while Munro himself also claimed that mermaid sightings were commonplace in the area.

Now the School Master clearly states at first, that what he saw was a naked women and made no mention of a fishtail. It seems he only assumed she was a mermaid until he realized that the sea near where she sat was dangerous for swimmers. Another question he may have asked himself: what was a naked woman doing swimming in the sea, this was after all, 19th century Scotland. Such behaviour may not be so unusual in the 21st century on a nudist beach. But women in those times did not go in for athletic sports like swimming in dangerous waters, or parade themselves completely nude. He also claimed to see the mermaid combing her hair, (which is a common theme in many mermaid’s reports). Yet, looking after her hair would be the action of an ordinary woman, not a sea-creature.

Another mermaid sighting was reported in the Aberdeen Chronicle in 1688, which claimed that mermaids can be seen and heard singing hymns at the mouth of Scotland’s River Dee on May 1st, 13th and 29th. At first sight this seems very strange because, how was it that mermaids know the words and music of hymns?That wouldn't make any sense if mermaids were sea dwellers, but it would make a lot of sense if they were ordinary women.

[Two medieval pictures of mermaids with two tails.]

Also there are many reports of mermaids having two tails, as we can see from the medieval images above. In French, the mermaid is called "la luxure", which means double-tailed. Also it is claimed that Melusine had two tails, which is a very strange concept but not so strange when we realize that the two tails could be two legs.

Reports of mermaids having legs are not that unusual. In Ireland they report that the mermaids lived on dry land below the sea. (Which sounds like a very Irish story.) In the Shetland Islands they report that mermaids wear animal skins to swim in the water and then take them off to walk on land. These islanders also report that they are descendants from mermaids. In the Orkney Islands they claim that mermaids don’t have fish’s tails, but instead they wear long petticoats that look like a fish’s tail when they swim in the sea. In fact, in many of the earlier reports of mermaids in the British Isles, a fish tail is not mentioned at all; the concept of a fish tail is a later invention, in this part of the world.
Mermaid reports go right back to the Ancient Greeks who called them Nereids, sea-nymphs or sirens. (nymphs in Greek simply means, ‘young women’.). But in these reports they are not women with a fish’s tail, they are simply nude women swimming in the sea or lying on rocks, beaches or riverbanks. In Greek myths, sirens are supposed to be half woman and half bird, because of their amazing singing voices.But in Spain, sirens are just another name for mermaids.

In many mermaid stories they are seen playing musical instruments or using a hand mirror and combs.  In no way could a sea-creature make something like this; they would have to be made on land. As previously pointed out; looking after their hair, and playing musical instruments, is the behaviour of ordinary women.

A famous mermaid sighting was in Newark Bay in Deerness, Orkney. This mermaid was seen hundreds of times, by visitors, over a few summers in the 1890s. From documented reports, it appears that the mermaid stayed some distance from the shore, so exact details are vague.

To quote one account of this sighting. -

It is about six to seven feet in length, has a little black head, with neck, a snow-white body and two arms, and in swimming it just appears like a human being. At times it will appear to be siding on a sunken rock, and will wave and work its hands.

Again everyone assumed what they saw was a traditional mermaid that is half fish and half woman. But the description is of a normal woman swimming in the sea.

If that is the case, are we then looking for women with a fish’s tail? Or are mermaids simply ordinary women? This then begs the question: why would these women want to swim in the sea? After all, and as far as we know, in the past it was very unusual for people to swim in the sea in European waters. This practice only began in the 19th century when bathing became fashionable, and wealthy women would go into the water, with the help of outlandish bathing machines.

There is also the problem of the temperature of the water. Stories of naked women swimming in the sea on the south coast of England or in the Mediterranean Sea are fairly reasonable. But we get reports of mermaids on islands north of Scotland like the Shetlands and Orkney Islands, and there are even reports from Finland, Iceland and Russia! In these Arctic waters a man in the sea would freeze to death within 20 minutes. So why would any woman in her right mind want to swim in these freezing seas? We can find an explanation for this in the following story:

Hendrik Hamel was a member of the crew of the Dutch ship Sperwer, with sixty-four men on board, which left Batavia on June 18th, 1653. Then in the area between Japan and Korea the Sperwer sank in a storm and twenty-eight men perished. The remaining thirty-six survivors were extremely lucky and were driven ashore on the southern coast of the Korean island of Cheju.

This island’s name means in Korean “the district over there”. It was so isolated that, for hundreds of years, the Korean government sent criminals to the island, and out-of-favour officials banished from the mainland by the government usually ruled it.

The Sperwer survivors were all interned for ten months on the island before they were transported to Seoul. Then they were employed as bodyguards to a general for about three years. All the men desperately wanted to get home, but the Korean authorities refused to allow this. Korea at that time was unknown by the Europeans and feared conquest by them. If these men returned home and revealed their knowledge of Korea, they might return with a European navy. So most of the Sperwer survivors spent the rest of their lives living in Korea, but eight men managed to escape to China. Hendrick Hamel was one of them and he finally made it from China back to Holland. He then wrote down his experiences in a book called Hamel's Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea 1653 - 1666.

This book is very important to scholars, because it was the first description of Korea by a European, and it is known to be a very accurate journal as Korean scholars support everything Hamel describes; but in one area, he seems to have let himself down, and that was by claiming that in Cheju, there were mermaids on the island. Yet scholars know that what he referred to as mermaids, were in fact, haenyo divers.

Haenyo in Korean means woman diver. It is known that divers have harvested the seabed off southern Korea and Japan for over 1,500 years. Male divers still exist in Japan and once were used in Korea, but the overwhelming majority are women. This is because the water temperature goes down to 8 degrees Celsius and women can withstand this very cold temperature because they have a higher percentage of subcutaneous fat than men, which insulates them from the cold water. (Some men, who are very fat, are also able to withstand these cold-water temperatures, but they are the exception. Women store a lot of their fat in their large breasts, big ass, fleshy hips and thighs, which men don't normally have ).

Haenyo Diver

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