Sunday, August 16, 2009

Princess Ariel is Alive and Well and Living in Israel


Mermaids have been seen off the coast of Israel. There have been so many recent sightings that the town of Kiryat Yam is offering a $1 million reward to the first person who produces a good photograph of one. The earliest encounter occurred when several people saw a woman lying in the sand. As they approached, she leaped into the water and disappeared, flashing her dolphin-like tail in the sunset.

Mermaids have held great fascination for many societies since at least 1000 BC, when the Assyrian goddess Atargatis fell in love with a mortal shepherd but accidentally killed him. (Tails are clumsy.) She jumped into a lake to drown herself but instead, her form changed to that of a human above the waist and a fish below. According to Greek legend, Alexander the Great's sister, Thassalonike, also turned into a mermaid when she died and patrolled the Aegean Sea, terrorizing sailors as she demanded to know if Alexander was still alive. If the unfortunate mortal responded with anything other than "He lives and still rules," she transformed herself into a Gorgon and destroyed the ship and everyone aboard. Mermaids appear in The Arabian Nights and in the folklore of many cultures, often as lethal seductresses luring men to their deaths in the deep.

In 1608, the English navigator Henry Hudson was skirting the polar ice off the arctic coast of Russia while attempting to find a northeast route to the spice markets of China. Near the coast of Nova Zembla, Hudson's entire crew saw a mermaid next to their ship, and his log entry of that June day described her in detail as having the back and breasts of a woman and the tail of a porpoise. Six years later, another English sea captain, John Smith, spotted a mermaid in the Caribbean, "swimming about with all possible grace." At first he thought it was a woman until she flipped over and he saw that below the waist she was a fish. She had long green hair which he remarked was not unattractive.

Christian missionaries in Africa were distressed when they discovered in 1700 that native Angolans were catching mermaids and eating them. The discovery raised a nagging theological question: Since mermaids are at least half-human, should acts of cannibalism against them be punishable by the Church? The desire to find an authentic mermaid extended into the "Age of Reason" and numerous European publications featured accounts of sightings and contact with them. In 1739, a Scottish magazine carried a report that the crew of the ship Halifax, short on rations in the East Indies, had captured and eaten several mermaids which moaned "with great sensibility." Undeterred and ravenous, they ate them anyway and later stated that the flesh tasted like veal. (Not chicken.)


In 1830, a woman in the Outer Hebrides saw the fish-like form of "a woman in miniature" turning somersaults a few feet away from her at the shoreline. The creature splashed away as people attempted to catch her, but a boy struck her in the back with a rock. Days later, the mermaid's dead body washed ashore. The dainty corpse attracted a large crowd. A careful examination was performed and documented by local officials. Everyone agreed that it was a mermaid and therefore partly human, so she was buried in a shroud and coffin.

I have always been enchanted with mermaids, and see no logical reason why they would not exist. Many of the creatures with which we share the earth are unusual by human standards, but no less real than we are. If one believes that there is life in other galaxies, it seems perfectly reasonable that they would not necessarily follow the form we consider human. It is also true that we have not explored every inch of our own planet, especially the fathomless oceans, and we can only assume that there are still unresolved mysteries which will continue to enthrall us for as long as our own species endures.

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light,
He slept with a mermaid one fine night
From this union there came three
A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me.

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for a life on the rolling sea!

One night as I was a-trimming the glim
Singing a verse from the evening hymn
A voice on the starboard shouted "Ahoy!"
And there was my mother, a-sitting on a buoy.

(chorus)

"Oh, what has become of my children three?"
My mother then she asked of me.
One was exhibited as a talking fish and
The other was served in a chafing dish.

(chorus)

Then the phosphorous flashed in her seaweed hair.
I looked again, and me mother wasn't there
A voice came a-echoing out through the night
"To Hell with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!"

33 comments:

On a limb with Claudia said...

wow, mermaids! Who knew? It never occurred to me that they might be real or even possibly be real.

Thanks for sharing this enchanted possibility.

Jo said...

Oh, how wonderful. I would love to think they are real.

nick said...

I always assumed mermaids were mythological. Can there really have been genuine sightings? Aren't they a bit like the Loch Ness Monster? And if mermaids do exist, how come nobody's ever seen a merman? All a bit fishy....

mrwriteon said...

Delightful. One thing I've often wondered, for fear of seeming salacious, is how they 'do it'. You know, anatomically. I have also read that early sailors mistook manatees for mermaids.

Liam said...

I love the idea of mermaids. I wish they'd make a movie about mermaids

meno said...

I was wondering the same thing. as mr writeon. I have a dirty mind.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Claudia,

I would love to believe they are real. I can't imagine how they reproduce, though.

Jo,

I thought of you when I found the Waterhouse painting. I really love it.

Nick,

I've always assumed they were mythological, too, but I am ready to suspend disbelief for something so magical. I think there have been merman sightings, but they are probably less interesting to sailors at sea for months at a time.

There have also been paintings of mermen, including one by John William Waterhouse who did the mermaid painting in my post.

Ian,

I wonder, too. See above. Perhaps they do it mentally, or in some other way we haven't considered. The male seahorse, for example, is the only creature known in which the male delivers live offspring from his mouth. I've always thought that Mother Nature was onto something there, but sadly, she dropped the ball. So to speak.

Liam,

You mean besides the animated Disney one? Well, there was Splash with Daryl Hanna, but I can't think of another. (And I've seen her in person -- she has legs.:) I'd like to see a documentary on this subject.

Meno,

Don't we all?

EsLocura said...

oh so magical, I do believe and will be singing that song all day, of course I have no idea what the tune is but I'll make up my own,

thailandchani said...

A lao friend told me there have been mermaids seen there, too. Wouldn't it be amazing if there are real mermaids?

My mind is open. :)



~*

Michelle said...

Oh I want to be a mermaid...

secret agent woman said...

My father used sing Eddystone Light to us (Navy man that he was). Only he always sang, "He married a mermad one fine night. For propriety's sake, I guess.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Eslocura,

I'm happy to see you here again.

The song was recorded by Burl Ives, Peter, Paul and Mary and The Weavers, among others. I would sing it for you if I could.

Chani,

It seems like having an open mind should be the default position when the world is full of mysteries.

Michelle,

Me, too!!!

Thank you for your visit and welcome to the blogosphere.

Agent,

I've heard it sung that way, too, but for me the definitive version has always been Burl Ives', who sang it on an album I had as a child called "Folk Songs for Children" (I think.) Now that you mention it, that is a bit lacking in propriety for children. Or maybe not anymore.

yinyang said...

I think it would be really cool if there were mermaids, but I was born in the Show-Me state, so I'd have to see it to believe it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Yinyang,

That's a tall order since your state is landlocked.

the walking man said...

Why not? Why not believe in them? What harm can come of it? No one ascribed Godhood status on these creatures and if you feel better knowing there is yet mysteries and creatures unimagined in the world how can that make it a worse place?

Once I get done puzzling out 60 ton whales that feed on plankton I will try my mind on mermaids. Why not?

Meggie said...

I think I believe in Mermaids.
I have never been able to believe that Dugongs were mistaken for Mermaids!!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Mark,

That's right, I'm not hurting anyone. It's not as if I still believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy - or world peace. Now THAT would be silly. :)

Meggie,

Dugongs and manatees are delightful creatures, but they do not look like mermaids.

TechnoBabe said...

You sparked a lot of interest in this post. Fiction? Folklore? Myth? Legend? We are all interested and under the delightful spell.

Jocelyn said...

Strange thing. I'm back at my first day of the new semester, feeling weighed down by the drudge of mundane things, and you've just reminded me to believe in greater possibilities and to let fancy rule.

Maria said...

I choose to believe. I also believe that there are fairies and leprechauns living in my back yard.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Babe,

We all need some magic in our lives, probably more than we know.

Jocelyn,

The mundane is straw waiting for you to spin it into gold.

Maria,

I have never doubted that there are fairies and leprechauns.

DUTA said...

I like it when someone mentions Israel in a positive context, and I like the mermaid pictures in your post.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Duta,

I think that Israel's existence is a miracle, a ness, and you will never find negative commentary about her here.

Thank you for your visit!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I love mermaids.

I have a family of them, and I am an honorary mermaid (and no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Cher). It's strictly artistic and all bound up in love and sisterhood.

Mermaid kisses and hugs to you!

XOXO
Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

When I was 19, I was a "mermaid" in Miami, one of several girls who swam in a glass pool two stories deep so people could watch us from the hotel lounge. To breathe, we passed an air hose back and forth, and our bikinis were trimmed with fishing weights to help us stay under.

I'm not sure it was my oddest job ever, but it's in the running.

Rhubarb Whine said...

I beleive they are real, right here in the ocen by my house. I am positive!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Rhubarb,

Of course they are. Where else would they be? How can I best angle for an invitation?

Nancy Dancehall said...

My husband's family is from Ireland. We used to go and visit BC (before children) and on one visit, one of his great aunts told us about her sister who went by (smallish) ship to America back in the Twenties.

One clear day people gathered on the deck to play music and sing and dance. All of a sudden, she said, a merMAN jumped up out of the water, grabbed the side and swung onto the deck. She believed he was drawn by the music.

She said he was the 'ugliest thing she'd ever seen lying there', half man, half fish. Everyone stopped playing of course.

Then the sailors rushed forward and clubbed him, and threw him back into the sea. Their explanation was that he would 'bring bad weather' otherwise. She, 'didn't like that one bit. She thought it was very wrong.'

I have a story of my own, too. But I don't tell that one.

So. I choose to believe.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Nancy,

That's an amazing but sad story, and I would love to hear the one you don't tell, too.

Our species is the cruelest of all. We seem to have closed minds to anything we don't readily understand and when confronted with beings who should be considered miraculous, we often respond with violence.

I'm so very glad you visited and shared some true magic. Thank you!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

WOW. That is so incredibly cool!

You should do a post on odd jobs.

I love that you are in the mermaid family! YAY!!!


Scarlett & Viagggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

I could do a post on odd jobs as I have had a number of them. I suspect you have, too, and I'm still waiting to do upside down loops in your private plane.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

*grin!*

Let's do the odd jobs post AND the fancy flying!

HUGS

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

You've got yourself a deal, Amelia.