As far back as any seaman can remember, there have been tales of Mermaids. From the crow’s nests of the Spanish Fleet to the fireside stories of the liar’s den, Mermaids have been a part of nautical history since before Davie Jones was just a whelp. This origin of the Mermaid has been pieced together from the sea stories of many men over centuries, and compiled here so that you too can look out at the sea as the tides come in and wonder… is there be a lovely lass looking back at me?
The legends telling of half human, half fish creatures can be traced back thousands of years. It would be a difficult task for any man to find a port in the world where the stories of such wondrous beings were never told. There have been sightings of Mermaids by Arab Sailors of old as well as the Greek Elder, Pliny, back in 586 A.D.
Sightings have continued throughout the centuries, coloring the taverns of old with legends and drunken liar’s tales. Many medieval sailors have claimed to see them, and these reports have noted in the Captain’s personal logs well into the 20th century.
Most of the sightings by seaman of old were likely creatures of the sea, such as dugongs, manatees or maybe the sea-cows of yesterday. At times these creatures would be seen cradling their young just as a woman would carry her child. When a sea-worn Midshipman looked into the dark lonely night, it might appear that such creatures bear the resemblance of a lovely lass in the black waves…
When Christopher Columbus told the tale of his Mermaids, they were very likely manatees of the cost of Haiti. His logs told of three mermaids spotted from the gunnels or his flagship Santa Maria early in the year of our Lord, 1493. They were described in detail as rising high in the waves and having the likeness of homely men.
As you can imagine, this report is quite unlike the stories usually told of these beautiful, dainty creatures who call out to the lonely hearts of men traveling the seven seas of old.
Many of these more favorable legends most likely arose from the mesmerizing tales of the Sirens of the Aegean Sea. These Sirens were nymphs of the sea, who would use their songs to charm all who heard them, making the unhappy mariners enchanted by their song throw themselves into the sea and to their deaths.
The Sirens of the Aegean Sea were first mentioned in the Odyssey of Homer. This may be what shaped the Mermaids back as far as the medieval times. Further influencing the view of Mermaids is the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, which was written in 1836.
Over the centuries, sea lore has told us stories of mermaids being both good and bad, depending on which sea story you listened too. But based on the evidence over the years, you had best be careful whenever you crossed paths with one.
If you’re warming a bar stool in Scotland, you might hear of mermaids bringing bad fortune, causing terrible storms and killing people. Some legends tell of mermaids talking to sailors and telling them their ships are doomed, then enchanting seamen and causing great shipwrecks.
Spotting a mermaid is a sure sign of a raging storm, and sometimes they have been accused of taking hold of a sailor and dragging him down in the black water, crushing the life out of them. There are also tales of men beings taken down to their underwater kingdoms.
Tales from other lands portray mermaids as bearers of good fortune, curing the ailments of humans and granting them wishes. Some stories have even told of mermaids who married humans and live with them today, like the Merrow of Ireland and Scotland.
According to the Scots of old, the Merrow are gentle, modest, kind and quite beautiful. They could be seen wearing a red cap, and if this cap is taken and hidden from them, they would shed their skin and stay on land until they found their cap and could return to the sea. They would also lure young men to follow them to the depths and live with them in an enchanted state.
If you stand on the shores of the scattered isles in the United Kingdom and listen carefully at sunset, you can hear the sweet music of the Merrow rising up between the waves.