Today the most popular image of a mermaid probably comes from Disney’s version of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairytale, ‘The Little Mermaid’. A friendly creature with the head and torso of a beautiful young girl and the lower body of a fish. These harmless, possibly magical, creatures are drawn towards humans, often wishing to be like them and be able to walk on dry land. Sometimes they are cursed by witches. Princesses who were once the most desirable female of a landlocked kingdom, doomed to spend the rest of her life as a freak in the ocean. At worse they are mischievous and usually turn out to have a heart of gold. They are rarely if ever portrayed as mean spirited or dangerous.
Boy did Mr Anderson get it wrong!
Next to Davy Jones, Sea Serpents and the Kraken, mermaids are about the most feared mythical sea creatures of all time. They have been blamed for the drowning of countless able seamen and possess about as much kindness and good nature as a piranha fish. If they’re spotted on a rock simply combing their long locks and singing it means there is a storm coming. These girls are at one with the forces of nature… and not in a good way. Even if you accept that they have some humanity, they still have no soul and can only obtain one by marrying a mortal.
They are most commonly associated with the Greek mythological creatures known as sirens that were notorious for luring sailors to their deaths by singing sweetly. Indeed later book illustrations of sirens often depicted them with fish tales. Mostly mermaids are described as being beautiful but often they turn hideous when they have captured their human prey.
In ‘Propietabus Rerum’, written by 13th Century author Bartholomew Angelicus he says this of mermaids '…the truth is that they are strong whores,' who lead men 'to poverty and to mischief.' He claimed a mermaid would sing a lullaby to send a ship’s crew to sleep, then kidnapped a sailor, take him to 'a dry place' for sex and if he knocked her back, 'she slayeth him and eateth his flesh.'
Even if you disregard the demonic mermaids many sources tell of these beautiful creatures that are both vain and naïve. They fall in love with handsome sailors luring them to the water for romantic reasons. They do not understand that humans cannot breath underwater and the poor mariners are drowned in their desperation for lust and beauty. Or worse still, because she is unaware that humans are far weaker creatures than she, the unfortunate object of her desire is crushed to death by the mermaid when she first embraces him passionately.
It’s simply a no win no win with mermaids. So all you young testosterone fuelled yachtsmen out there don’t believe the big screen hype. Just remember if you see a drop dead gorgeous girl with a fish tale combing her hear on a rock, change tack, head for the horizon, head for shore, get out of there fast! Daryl Hannah she ain’t!