A Mermaid, 1900 by John William Waterhouse
The first mermaid legend came from Assyria. Sea goddess Atargatis was made half-human for accidentally killing her human lover. Sirens, undines, malevolent waves and crests, selkies stories are ancient. As old as lamia or Lilith or were-creatures. Each story built on themes of sex and and death and the desire to possess abilities and beauty without consequence.
Why? There are enough earthbound mythic monstrosities roaming the haunted forests and windy moors. Witches and bogeymen aplenty lurking in caves and closets. Fear of our demise through the supernatural has been around since our common grunting ancestors heard something in the dark that was not familiar. And then there is the sea. It’s no coincidence that historically, biblically and geographically that Mesopotamia (the cradle of civilization) is nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates. Water is life. But even greater, water is bacteria!
The Fiji Mermaid – Image courtesy of Jeff Carlson.
On January 30, 2017, Sam Russell published this article:
It’s a mind-blowing read. It’s the prequel to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Eschewing the primate loop, abandoning the man with one less rib in a pefect garden. It postulates that the stuff that makes us the creature we are today, was basically a primordial kombucha batch from 540 million years ago. And we were NOT attractive in the least.
A Saccorhytus. Our ancestors?
So what is it we fear with mermaids?
Drowning? Losing our life by the pressure and glory of taking in all that salt, all that bacteria, all that magick to become fish food. To give our corporeal selves over to desire, drift in the siren song until our breath is not enough to sustain us. To attach ourselves in a haze to beauty until it murders us. To willingly love a creature whose world we cannot inhabit.
Mermaid carved in a bench Zennor Church, Cornwall UK.
Or is it simply to give in to the call of what we once were? To reconnect with ancestors in a way far deeper than anything that can be mapped through genealogy. What do we lose in ourselves when we blindly believe a theory? What do we regain in ourselves when we allow a story to take root in us?
Are you a dreamer or an independent thinker? Are you driven by love or fear?
Egyptian cave drawings depicting merfolk.
If mermaids are us, then they are that part of us that stubbornly refused to leave the ancient waters. They are the part of us that builds unseen, ornate kingdoms where only the imagination can visit without dying. They are the part of us that wants revenge on ourselves for buying into the idea that life is so much better on land. Mermaids want to prove that they were right all along to stay in the briny, prehistoric depths where technology, money, fashion, celebrity and all modern human trappings mean nothing.
Remember what you where before you became what you are? Mermaids do. That is what their siren songs are about. There is a beauty beyond all this earthly treasure, there is an authenticity to your being for which evolution provides no escape.
In my poem below, the mermaids have surrounded a drowning man. He is no more to them than a toy, an air-filled thing that has come untethered, an amusement.
You spring from the green
sea, a bloated
baby half-airborne, pink
fat nude bald sentient,
wheezing like some beached orca. Earth bleached salt
and scales from
You vanish; only your
sunburntscalp, salmon pink breaks the milky
Hairs on your back
prickle, clinging beads of ocean water.
Your hand, stripped of
its webbing clamors to your
sky-god. He does
You evolved from
You bob against the waves like
some grotesque purple
Your skin colored with madness.
You receive our briny kiss.
Lungs fail. Machines stop with hollow,
empty roaring like the inside
of a spiral shell.
We mermaids embrace you.
We wrap you in seaweed, pickle you in
brine, place green bronze coins
over your pale
dead eyes, and breathe into
your gaping futile
It’s an old joke, still