History & Background information.
Mermaid Folklore throughout the Different Parts of the World
Tales of mermaids have been spread since around 1000 BC, when the
ancient Assyrians believed the goddess Atargatis fell in love with a
mortal man but accidentally killed him. As penance, she dived into a
lake and took the form of a fish, but her divine beauty could not be
hidden and the story spread of a beautiful half woman, half fish
creature haunting waterways throughout the Near East and Ancient
However, this myth evolved to say Alexander the Great’s beloved
sister Thessalonike was transformed into a mermaid after her death.
Legends say that she would approach ships and ask sailors one
question – “Is King Alexander alive?”. The correct answer, of
course, was that “He lives and reigns and conquers the world”. This
answer would please Thessalonike and she would calm the waters for a
safe voyage; any other answer would cause her to fly into a rage and
stir up a terrible storm – thus, the beginnings of the “wrathful
mermaid” stories were born.
Travelling west to the British Isles, fear of mermaids is a common
theme in ancient folklore as they are seen as bad omens which both
foretell and cause terrible tragedies. However, on the Isle of Man,
mermaids were known as ben-varrey and were considered to be both
bountiful and kind. One of the most popular tales of the ben-varrey
saw a baby mermaid steal a doll from a human child, yet after the
mermaid’s mother learned of this she insisted the doll should be
sent back with a gift of a pearl necklace to atone for this sin.
Another, more sinister, story comes from Japan, where the mermaid
comes in the form of a ningyo – a fishlike creature where, rather
than receiving or bestowing gifts, humans must consume the flesh in
order to gain amazing longevity.
: Symbolism :