Advent: December 12th

Today’s mythical creature is the mermaid. The Soundcloud clip is here.

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Mermaids – maids of the sea – are hybrid creatures with the top half being a female human and the bottom half of a fish. They are rooted deep in the myths of many cultures for thousands of years. The first known mermaid story appears to have been in Ancient Syria and based around the fertility goddess Atargatis. In another of her alter-egos she is said to have flung herself into the sea for shame having bourn an illegitimate child by her lover and there she was turned half into a fish. In Roman times, Atagatis was worshipped by eunuch priests who would would ritually emasculate themselves and wear feminine clothing from then on. There seems to be an awful lot of castration in the stories around Atargatis – quite a scary sounding creature to be around really!

In other sea-faring legends, mermaids are sometimes associated with disasters of a more marine kind; shipwrecks and storms. In others, they are associated with more gentle and kindly attributes.

Even before the misandrist Atargatis was created – some 7 millennia before – there was a legend of a kind of merman. Oannes was an amphibious creature in Mesopotamian mythology with the head and feet of a man under his fishy ones. He taught wisdom to mankind; writing, the arts and sciences. Altogether more my kettle of fish..

The gemstone Aquamarine was said to have been formed from mermaid’s tears. On the whole, I prefer the fishy tale that the egg cases of skates and sharks are the purses of mermaids – and even now I still love collecting them along the shoreline when they wash in once the young fish have hatched out and the empty eggcases have broken free from the kelp forest in sea storms…

 

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