Chapter One – The Mermaid Mystery

[This picture is taken from a Victorian book illustration and seems to be about getting past the censorship at the time, by drawing a nude woman then claim she is a mermaid. We can see this by the fact she has legs and her ‘tail’ doesn’t seem to be attached to her body. But there could be another explanation for this curious drawing, the illustrator knows the Mermaid code and is attempting to tell the reader the true nature of mermaids.]

As previously pointed out 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 Zemlya 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 naïve 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 and the Russians called them Rusalkas, 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 20thcentury.This means mermaid reports continue through, “the age of reason” where no one believes in mythical beasts anymore.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

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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.]

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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.
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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 ).


[Photo by Fosco Maraini from the book, Hekara, The Diving Girl’s Island of Japanese ama diver foraging for shellfish and editable seaweed.]
In the 20th century several studies have been done on haenyo divers by scientists who have dubbed them; “the hardiest women of the world”. In a study by the scientists Suk Ki Hong and Herman Rahn in the late 60s, they found that they could dive to a depth of 20 feet unaided apart from a wet-suit and goggles and remain underwater for as long as 3 minutes. Modern aids like wet suits and goggles are a great help, as in the past haenyo divers would suffer blindness from their eyes being constantly exposed to seawater. Wet-suits makes it less likely they suffer from hypothermia, though in Japan, where they also have ama divers, modern aids are banned, including wet suits in some areas. The word ama comes from; Amaterasu the Japanese Sun Goddess but today it simply means, ‘sea woman’. In other words, the Japanese word ama, and the English word mermaid, (sea-woman), both mean the same thing.
Female divers are a very controversial subject in Korea, because these women have become the main ‘breadwinners’. This means that while the women are out working, the men have to look after the home and children. In a male-dominated society like Korea this is shocking and an embarrassment, to the degree that these women are referred to as Amazons and their husbands are looked down upon for being too “feeble”. The women’s economic and social independence from male control sharply contrasts with the enforced dependency on men observed in mainland Korean women. The Amas in Japan have a similar reputation. To quote D.P. Martinez in her paper, “Naked Divers: A case of Identity and dress in Japan.”
The women were seen to be totally different from the ideal of modern womanhood: they were often described to me as loud, big, brash and bossy women.
Koreans in the past become so embarrassed by the status of the haenyo divers that all knowledge of them was strictly censored and their activities banned.This was enforced on the mainland but not on the remote islands of Mara, Udo and Cheju. To quote Prof Ko: “The Central Government forbade the women from diving, but the women just gave them some abalone to look away”. (Abalone are a marine mollusc that is considered a great delicacy by a number of Asian cultures. Because of this; high prices are paid for abalone meat).
This has changed since the 1960s, when Western tourists discovered women divers in Korea and Japan. Since then, haenyo divers have become a popular tourist attraction, and this has allowed women divers to, “Come out of the closet”.
Now it is of interest, that although both Korean and Western scholars accept that Hamel’s journal was accurate, we still have a mystery. Why did he make the mistake of thinking haenyo divers were mermaids? The assumption made by some commentators is that he was just an ignorant seaman, but the accuracy of his journal disproves this. The explanation could be that the way mermaids were seen back in the 17th century, might be different to what we know about mermaids today. We now assume that a mermaid is a woman with the tail of a fish, but this might not always have been true. The concept of a creature that was half fish and half women was an embellishment during the middle ages. As previously pointed out, the Koreans found that haenyo divers to be such an embarrassment that all knowledge of them was heavily censored. So if the profession of female divers had died out in Korea, back in the 19th century, we today, would not know anything about them, except the report from Hamel that there were mermaids on the island.
The fact of women divers being an embarrassment in Korea may also be true of other parts of the world.Male chauvinism is not unique to Korea.It is claimed that the ban and censorship of women divers in Korea came through the influence of Confucianism, which is a Chinese doctrine.In China mermaids were called ‘dragon wives’ which presumably is because they were as assertive as the Amazon like women divers in Korea.So it does suggest there was once a similar ban in China of women divers and through censorship we now know nothing about them.
Female divers could also be an embarrassment in Europe. Hamel might have been fully aware that mermaids were female divers because he had seen them working in European waters. And he might have assumed that the 17th century readers of his book would also be aware of this fact. It could be that women divers were as commonplace in Europe as they were in Korea and Japan in the 17th century. Then because of male chauvinism, the hostility of the Christian Church and changing economic conditions the work of female divers disappeared. In the 19th century, food became more plentiful because of the beginnings of industrial farming, so the demand for shellfish and editable seaweed would not be so great. Therefore female divers wouldn’t be getting the same pay as before, and found it no longer worth risking the hostility of the authorities to continue to be mermaids.
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The profession died out in European countries and if they had censored the facts about women divers in the same way the Korea authorities had done, then the only knowledge that would survive about women divers would be mermaid legends. In Korea the practice of women diving was completely banned on the mainland. This is true in many Pacific islands today where there is a custom of banning women from fishing and diving. So this also could have happened in Europe.
This is confirmed by Captain John Saris who sailed to Japan in three ships, the Cloue, the Hector and the Thomas, in 1611. He witnessed ama divers working and later wrote:
Women divers, that lived with their household and family upon the water, as in Holland they do the like.
Suggesting that women divers where once commonplace in Holland in the 17th century, the references about living on the water is what sea gypsies still do in South East Asia. They live on boats or on long stilt houses on the water. Could it be that people once did the same in Holland?
The concept that ama divers are mermaids is not a new idea. Francis Haar made the same point, in his book, Mermaids Of Japan, a book about ama divers. (Francis Haar wrote a number of books on Japanese life). If we assume that mermaids are in fact women divers, it means that the many sightings of mermaids indicate an earlier tradition of women divers throughout Europe, (as well as America and Africa before it was conquered by Europeans). Furthermore, this tradition must have continued into the 19th century judging by the sightings of mermaids. Yet this fact was censored and we can see the hostility of chauvinistic men towards women divers, or mermaids, in reports of their relationship with the Church in medieval times.
In those times, there were bizarre stories of priests who, encountering mermaids on the seashore, would curse them as devils and threaten them with eternal damnation. The mermaids’ usual response was to burst into tears! (Which sounds like the response of ordinary women to verbal abuse). They also report that a mermaid from the Isle of Iona become so upset by these condemnations that she visited one priest daily to plead for her soul. So we see very aggressive attempts by priests to convert diver women into ordinary submissive women, and in some cases this succeeded.
In the 6th century off the northwest coast of Ireland a mermaid was caught, baptised and educated and was called Saint Murgen. In 1403 a Carmelite monk, John Gerbrandus wrote, “a wyld woman” was washed through a broken dike in the Netherlands and was found by some milkmaids. Clothed and fed, she was taught to spin wool and eventually taken to Haarlem. She then learnt “to worship the cross” and remained in speechless piety for fifteen years.
In the book, De Propietatibus Rerum, by Bartholomew Angelicus, he warned that mermaids charmed seamen through sweet music. “But the truth is that they are strong whores,” who will lead men “to poverty and to mischief.” He also claimed that a mermaid will lull a sailor to sleep, and kidnap him, and take him to a dry place for sex, and if he refuses, “then she slayeth him and eateth his flesh.” In other words, in calling mermaids, “strong whores” he is saying they are assertive women, like Amazon haenyo divers.
These stories only sound weird if we take the traditional view of a mermaid. If we assume that mermaids are women divers, then it gives an insight into the Christian Church’s hostility to these workingwomen. This is because Christianity in the past wanted to keep “women in their place”. So they must have seen the confidence and assertive diver women as a threat. The Church tried to convert these women divers into being ‘ordinary’ submissive women, and would curse and verbally attack them if they refused. It also seems that mermaids were associated with witches and we know what the Christian Church did to witches. The infamous witch hunts of the Middle Ages completely wiped out the profession of women healers and herbalists, allowing this vocation to be taken over by male doctors. It must also be remembered that up until the 20th century women were only allowed to do the lowest menial jobs. The experience from Japan and Korea shows that divers were well paid and this may be true of divers in Europe. Then the coming of anti-female religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Confucianism brought about a change in attitude towards this ancient tradition. It is of interest that one of the foods banned by Judaism is shellfish. Was this because it was women who traditionally harvested this food? Another reason could be that shellfish was probably available through the Philistines, the enemies of the Jews in the Bible. The Philistines were part of the sea-peoples, which I will discuss, in a later chapter.
On the Orkneys there are the stories of the Finwives as reported on the web-site.- http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/finfolk/finwife.htm
The lore surrounding the Orkney Finwife has a distinctly disjointed feel. So much so that I believe the surviving tales are a mish-mash of various traditions and myth.
On first glance, the Finwife stories appear to be a combination of tales involving Orkney’s “spae” wives – wise women or witches, huldrefolk and mermaid lore.
All these are conveniently merged with the tales of the Finmen.
But while the Finman actively shunned contact with mortals – unless absolutely necessary to his purpose – the Finwife was more involved with her human neighbours.
As a child of the Finfolk, the Finwife was said to begin her life as a mermaid – stereotypically beautiful with long, glistening fish tail.
If, however, the young mermaid married a Finman – a fate that awaited her if she did not acquire a mortal huband – she was doomed to become progressively uglier, eventually becoming a haggard Finwife.
Tradition dictates that these Finwives were often sent to shore to use her magic to earn precious silver for her husband. Once settled on land, she would often tell her neighbours she was of Caithness origin – in other words not Orcadian – and then “pretend to earn a living” by spinning and knitting.
The Finwife was renowned for her skill in curing diseases in men and cattle. Because of this is usually did not take long to become an invaluable member of the community. Once accepted she would begin to practice her “infernal arts”, all the while sending the silver coins she earned back to her avaricious husband beneath the waves.
If the supply of “white metal” came sparingly or was delayed at any time, the unfortunate Finwife could expect a visit from her Finman husband, who, upon his arrival, would administer a sound beating that usually resulted in the witch being confined to bed for days.
A curious parallel to witch tales from other cultures is that the Finwife was said to keep a black cat.
The similarity ends here, however, as the Finwife’s cat had the ability to transform into a fish so it could carry messages between its mistress and her relatives in Finfolkaheem.
(Finfolkaheem is mythical island which was the finfolk’s ancestral home.)
If we were to look at this story from the point of view of a mermaid, with a fish’s tail and who lives in the sea, it seems a wildly fanciful story. But if we see mermaids as women divers, it makes perfect sense.
The fishwife starts off being a mermaid; in other words a women diver. Then she gets married. The report says that after this she becomes ugly and haggard; but this would be true of all women, as they get older. Tradition dictates that Finwives use their magic to earn money. So she is still a career woman, and if she can no longer earn a living diving, she does so as an herbalist, spinner or knitting. In this way she is very similar to gypsy women and witches. The report then says that when she begins to earn money the finman husband would demand it from her and beat her up if she refused. This again is not that unusual; pimps do the same to prostitutes all the time. It seems that finmen are basically ‘kept men’, with the finwife as the breadwinner. This would make it unlikely that he would beat up his wife as she had the power to stop keeping him. So this could be something added to disguise the fact of finmen being kept men. It could be that the finmen were at home looking after the children while the finwifes went to work.
It is of interest, that in Elizabethan times, prostitutes were referred to as mermaids. This would make sense, as during the winter months when the water was too cold for diving, women divers being the main breadwinner of the family would need an alternative form of income. So any women divers, not skilled enough to be a spinner, or know enough to be a competent herbalist, might have to resort to prostitution to feed her family. It also could be the reflection on the sexual behaviour of mermaid communities that had a more free and easy attitude to sexuality than ordinary people at that time. Nymphs, the Greek word for mermaids had reputation of sexual license and freedom, as I will later discuss in other chapters these mermaid communities may have had a good reason to be like this.
The Finfolk also shunned contact with ordinary people. The same is true for the ama divers in Japan. The ama divers and their families live a life distinct from ordinary Japanese, who refer to them as sea-gypsies.
The connection between herbalists and women divers is also shown in another mermaid story. In this story an herbalist from Galloway tried to cure a beautiful girl named May of illness. He was also very much in love with her and hoped to marry her. But whatever he tried did not work and the girl remained ill. Then one evening as he sat in despondency on the sea-shore, a mermaid raised her head from the sea nearby and sang:
Would you let bonnie May die in your hand. And let mugwort flowering in the land?
The herbalist took the hint and gathered the flowers of mugwort and made up a medicine and gave it to May, which restored her to health. In Wales there is the story of the lady of Llyn y Fan Fach, who imparted her herbal lore to her three sons, the Physicians of Mydfai. The Mermaid Dragon-wives of China were also famed for their knowledge of herbs and their skill in curing diseases.
These are positive mermaid stories and if we take away the magical mermaid myth and see the mermaid as an ordinary woman, we can see in the story from Galloway that the mermaid is part of the community, because she knows about May, her illness and the unsuccessful efforts of the herbalist to heal her. So she advises the herbalist when he is alone, on the seashore. We also cannot assume that the mermaid is young and inexperienced. In Japan and Korea women divers continue their trade into their 70s. So this mermaid could also have been an experienced middle-aged herbalist as well.
In the 12th century there was a story from Wales that was also about a mermaid herbalist: A farmer’s son in Blaensawdc, near Llandcusant was with his cattle near the lake of Llyn y Fan Fach when he met a beautiful women combing her hair and using the clear water as a mirror. The youth fell instantly in love with her and after talking to her, proposed marriage. She accepted, but on the precondition that if he struck her three blows without cause, she would leave him. He willingly agreed to her terms.
After their marriage, the lady brought many cattle out of the lake, suggesting she was wealthy. They then lived on a farm, had three sons and were happy and prosperous. Yet three times, the husband did tap his wife: the first when she was reluctant to go to a christening; the second when she cried at a wedding; and the third when she laughed during a funeral. When she received the last blow or tap she cried to the husband: “The last blow has been struck, our marriage contract is broken, and at an end. Farewell!” She then left, taking her cattle with her. (It might seem strange having cattle in a lake, but the cattle might be a breed used to living in wetlands where there were lakes.)
The husband it seems was completely bewildered by this and claimed that they were hardly blows but just taps and did not think they were without cause. This story gives us an insight into the different status of women compared with the sea-people and land-people. It seems in those days; husbands hitting wives was ‘normal’ but certainly not tolerated in the sea people communities. This is probably why she made the proviso about being hit.
The story continued that one-day, when one of the sons, Rhiwallon, grew up, he was disconsolately wandering by the lake, mournful of the loss of his mother when she appeared out of the waters. She told him that she wanted him to be a benefactor, by healing people of their diseases. She gave him a bag containing herbs and instructions on how to use them.
Their meeting place is still known as Lmiady Madygon which means “The Physician’s Gate”. Her two other sons also met their mother at the lakeside and she gave them the same instructions, teaching them how to use many plants and herbs. Under her training, her three sons became celebrated physicians. She also instructed them so that their skill and knowledge was to be available to the very poor as well as the rich, and so they gave free treatment to people who would not normally be able to afford a physician. This also gives us another insight into the differences between the sea-people and ordinary people. In the past and even in places like the USA today, it was normal for doctors to refuse to treat people who could not afford their services. But the sea-people had different values, and never refused treatment for those unable to pay.
The caring nature of mermaids is also shown in the following report: In July 1881 The Richmond Dispatch reported a story of a woman in Cuba who, running for her life from attackers, jumped into the sea. She was rescued by mermaids, and then later on, they put on a ship headed for New Orleans. This story sounds really crazy if it was about sea-creatures, but if the mermaids were women divers, then being working women, they would be able to generously pay for the women’s passage to America.
Before the Caribbean was invaded by the Spanish, the original people, the Neo-Taino, called mermaids Aycayia who were renowned for their beautiful singing voices. They worshipped a Goddess called Jagua who was also a mermaid. In West Africa, mermaids were called Mami Wata, and in Cameroon they were called Jengu.
Many mermaid stories are about a mermaid who marries a fisherman and has children, but still has a yearning to return to the sea. In some tales she does this and leaves both her husband and children behind. This resembles the plight of modern day women who try to juggle a job while looking after a husband and children. A woman working as a diver full time would not have the time or energy to look after a husband and children as well. In Korea the man looking after the home and children solves this problem, but because of pressure by the Church, this after awhile, may not have been allowed in European countries. These mermaid stories may be about the dilemma faced by women divers concerning society’s rules that women should look after the home and children as her primary responsibility. So perhaps many women divers in Europe in the 18th and 19thcenturies had to choose between working as a diver or becoming a wife and mother.

Female wool spinners before the industrial revolution had the same problem. Spinning wool by hand was a highly skilled job and women on average were far better at it than men. This gave these women a well-paying job and the more highly skilled even became very wealthy. So it is of interest that the word spinster comes from the word spinner. This indicates that even hundreds of years ago many women preferred the independence of a well paying job like wool spinning, rather than becoming a wife. Another point is that in some fairy stories, the wicked witch has a spinning wheel and uses it to perform magic. So we find a connection in witchcraft to both spinners and divers.
What comes across in all these stories is a form of discrimination against women similar to that suffered by black people in the southern states of the USA after slavery was made illegal. Successful or educated blacks were attacked and murdered by the Ku-Klu-Klan. Likewise, witch hunters probably threatened successful women healers, herbalists, spinners and divers. The only reason wool spinners escaped persecution was that they were unable to replace these skilled women with men, until the industrial revolution. There is evidence that woman divers were persecuted in the same way female herbalists were. As there are many mermaid stories where these women divers find themselves in conflict with Christian priests.
In the infamous witch-hunts witch-finders discovered a method to determine if a women was a witch. They did this by binding her hands and feet and throwing her into a pond or river. If she floated she was a witch, but if she drowned, she was not! This cruel logic can only make sense if witches and mermaids were the same people. An experience women diver, even if she was tied up, could probably save herself from drowning in the water. This would be very unlikely for a woman who had never swam before. This suggests that witch-finders saw all women divers as witches.
Mermaids have been discredited from the days of early Christianity in Britain. In the Arthurian legends, a legacy from the ancient Celts, it is Arthur’s sister, Morgan le Fay is made the main villain. In the Christianised versions of the King Arthur stories, she steals Excalibur, the sword that makes Arthur invincible. She then tricks him into having an incestuous relationship with her. This results in their son Mordred, who in the end leads an army to overthrow Arthur’s kingdom and mortally wounds Arthur. She also tricks and overcomes Merlin and places him in bondage, so he can no longer help Arthur. (Though in some versions it is Nimue who defeats Merlin). In some stories she sows the seeds of discontentment between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. She also tricks and tries to seduce Sir Gawaine in his battle with the Green Knight.
It is remarkable that in the ancient Breton language, Morgens are called sea-women, water spirits or mermaids, and along with Vivienne and Nimue, she is also one of the Ladies of the Lake. These three women are also associated with the ancient Triple Goddesses, of Mother, Maid and Crone. It was the ladies of the lake who gave Arthur the Excalibur sword in the first place and took Arthur away when he was mortally wounded. Fay also means fairy, so she is also called a sea-fairy. She was also called, “The Great Queen”. In Scotland, the treacherous whirlpool in the Inner Hebrides, commonly known as the Corryveckan, was once known as “Morrigan’s Cauldron”. Some healing wells are also sacred to her in Britain – known as Morgan’s wells.
In the ancient Celtic stories, Morgens were clearly held in high regard, and were probably the leaders and shamwomen of the community. Then when the patriarchal Christians took over, they set about discrediting Morgens because they saw them as rivals in their quest to gain power over the people. This is why Morgan le Fay becomes a villain in the Christian Arthurian stories.
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.
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).
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:
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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 sailboat. 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.
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. The ship would be wreaked and 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 sealskins 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/

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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/

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/


{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 witchhunts.
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. ]
[<!––>The 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 the Mermaid code 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 swamplands, 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.]

[Photograph of ama divers resting on rocks from. –
http://www.fundoshi-bikini.net/nihon-fundoshi/amafun/amafundoshi.html

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 –
http://www.fundoshi-bikini.net/nihon-fundoshi/amafun/amafundoshi.html]
[<!—->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.
http://www.iwase-photo.com/ama1.html

Like the mermaid painting by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy on the last page 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 blessèd 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.

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One Response to Chapter One – The Mermaid Mystery

  1. James says:

    Not sure how one would mistake a manatee for a female! Must have needed glasses. Here’s a funny manatee joke:
    http://bofadeez.blogspot.com/2010/11/gentle-sea-cow.html

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