Mermaids, mythical creatures that have fascinated the minds of women and men alike. From Disney’s “The little Mermaid” an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story, to urban legends about mermaid corpses recovered after the tsunami in Indonesia some 5 years ago, everyone has encountered a mermaid once upon in their lives. For me, it was Ariel, Disney’s Little Mermaid, of whom I was a devoted little fan at the tender age of five. I remember my mother recording the movie from a VHS into a BETA tape for me, a feat which never quite worked successfully. After showering, sometimes I would run into my parents’ bedroom and sit in front of my mother’s vanity set waiting for her as she digged a round brush and a hair dryer out of her closett. Our ritual was simple yet significant, for it transformed me into none other than Princess Ariel. The ritual was as simple as puffing my bangs to resemble Ariel’s and off I was into my own little world, a mermaid reborn. This was a ritual that I remember was performed maybe for another four or five years.
On one of our last family vacations to the beach came my second encounter with what to this day I believe to have been a real mermaid. My parents had gone out on their usual morning walk along the beach and returned with a small shell that had something resembling an antenna poking out of it. This shell, they assured me, would be my communication link with Ariel. I enthusiastically put the shell to my ears expecting to hear Ariel’s voice, and there it was, out of the shell came the voice of a woman speaking in English to me. Whether it was my parents who were playing a trick on me, or whether I really heard the voice of a mermaid, I will never know. But I would rather believe in my childhood’s innocence, and believe it was really Aeriel who spoke to me. After the antenna broke from excessive handling, I never heard the mermaid’s calling again. That is until a few days ago.
I have decided to include the story of a sailor and a mermaid in Amantes de Sumpa for no reason in particular. It just occurred to me that it would be a good idea to write a short essay about this traditional coupling and include it as part of a dream had by my male main character. In such a way I am responding to the call of a mermaid once again.
According to Vincent Carlucci, mermaids are like a double edged sword. They posses the kind of beauty that is also dangerous and even deadly. Folk tales depict mermaids apparitions in land to “search for lovers. Lovers they will destroy when they are finished with them. If the local population gives them trouble they will call down on them monsters and foul weather” (2006).
One of the factors in deciding to employ the symbolic meaning of a mermaid in a short story comes from their well known “irresistibility, [...]perverse sexuality, and… danger to both the man’s body and soul” (Feinkl, 2003). Sounds a lot like the kind of unconscious and powerful lure woman seems to have over man, a lure that I possess but am sometimes completely unaware of. Other additional interesting fact about mermaids from this same source include:
- Mermaids were seen by medieval alchemists as “Siren of the Philosophers, crowned and lactating the milk of enlightenment”.
- “The shape of the genitalia in [the Shei-la-nagig]… is also symbolic of the vesica piscis, the “vessel of the fish,” which is also associated with Christ”. The Shei-la-nagig are associated with two-tailed sirens and are “a general reference to female figures that prominently display their genitalia to signify the power of female sexuality and fertility” — this includes many references to the Goddess and her creative power.
- “Traditional mermaids are said to seduce sailors with the sound of their beautiful singing, luring them into shipwreck and death in order to consume their souls (because they, themselves lack a soul)”.
- “The mermaid ultimately signifies the fundamental mystery of female sexuality, particularly for men who, because they cannot comprehend it, are simultaneously drawn to it and terrified by it”.
However, I did find another essay on the internet relating the idea of mermaids as temptresses to the Christian religion view of women in which the religion emphasizes “the supposed faithlessness and inconstancy of women, the danger of their attraction, and the unlikelihood of their gaining humanity” (DeMason). Thus mermaid, “beautiful, helpful and compellingly attractive… has been stripped of all her spiritual qualities”.
Now it all depends on which direction I want to go with mermaid as a symbol in this story. The devious temptress or the beautiful goddess and her power of creation.
Thank you for reading. All quoted material belongs to its respective authors.
Carlucci, V. (2003). Mermaid Mythology – Origins. Retrieved from http://searchwarp.com/swa111381.htm on 10 March, 2010.
DeMason, S. (2007). The Mermaid. Retrieved from http://www.whiterosesgarden.com/Enchanted_Waters/mermaid_article.htm on 10 March, 2010.
Feinkl, H. I., 2003. The Mermaid. Retrieved from http://www.endicott-studio.com/jMA03Summer/theMermaid.html on 10 March, 2010.