"Despite decades of oppression,

she still persists. She is tossed by

the waves, but she does not sink."

 

Mermaid Iconography

 

Swimming through the Seven Seas and charming men with their siren songs, mermaids have long been a subject of myth, legend, and beauty. Ranging across cultures, there is plenty of symbolism and meaning found within the mermaid's body, and they're much more than just a pretty face.

 

In fact, some cultures didn't even believe them to have pretty faces at all. Often representing danger, temptation, sensuality and duality, the history and meanings behind the aquatic folk are as deep as the oceans themselves.

 


Mermaids are the admired descendants of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of both love and beauty. In this context, mermaids can be a celebration of inner and outer beauty.

The iconography of the mermaid has sensual power. Bare-breasted curves and long flowing hair are often symbols of feminine beauty. During the Victorian era when women were deemed to be covered up and wear their hair secured into conservative styles, mermaids let their wavy tresses down, tossed the rules aside, and playfully enticed men at sea. Adding to their loveliness, mermaids aren't shy about baring their bodies. Although we now accept the idea they would cover their breasts with shells, that wasn't always the thought.

 

Symbolically, mermaid images are meant to reflect seduction, allure, and flirtation. Like the ancient Greek Sirens, mermaids are beautiful, charming, and provocative.  They are magical and spell-binding.

 

 

Ancient sailors were enticed by these beautiful mistresses of the sea. They quickly fell in love with their charms and beauty. Mermaids were renowned for their feminine essence and epitome of female beauty. In form and feature, mermaids radiated sensual energy.

 

They were shape-shifting, seafaring temptresses who were truly provocative and irresistible yet unattainable and untouchable. The fact that they were unable to be conquered or tamed made them even more desirable.

 

Mermaids, then, are loved and feared at the same time. Naturally mysterious and mystical, mermaids are from a different world. To be with her you must give up everything you know of your world and trust her completely. Once you give into her allure and seductive power, there is no looking back.

 

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Mermaid Folktales

 

A mermaid is a fabled marine creature with the head and upper body of a human being and the tail of a fish. Similar divine or semidivine beings appear in ancient mythologies. In European folklore, mermaids (sometimes called sirens) were natural beings who, like fairies, had magical and prophetic powers. They loved music and often sang. Though very long-lived, they were mortal and had no souls.
 

 

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall, England.

Aquatic mammals, such as the dugong and manatee, that suckle their young in human fashion above water are considered by some to underlie these legends.

 

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Mermaids is Art and Legend

 

Mermaids like to sit on rocks and use either  their enchanting siren songs, or the tried-and-true tactic of looking in a mirror and combing their green hair while they display their huge tits in order to lure human men (and especially sailors and pirates and stuff) to make love to them.

 

In art and legend, mermaids are typically represented in a highly sexual manner. They are the symbol of raw sexuality, the embodiment of pure sensuousness.

 
Mermaids are described as either mortal (with or without a soul) or fairies, so they may or may not command powerful magic. Some can see the future, turn their tails into long sleek legs, call up storms, sink ships with tidal waves, and do other cool stuff.

 

 

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Negative Nomenclature

 

According to the Urban Dictionary, a "mermaid" is a hot babe from head to waist, and a scaly fish from the waist to the tip of her tail.

 

In the on-line dating world, the term "mermaid" tends to have a negative connotation. "Mermaid," in that venue, is slang for a girl who will let you do anything with her above the waist but goes into lockdown if you try messing with anything south of the belly button.

"Mermaid sex" describes a girl who only engages in fellatio but does not want to have vaginal sex.


"Mermaid lesbian" is a term for a female, mainly a straight female, who is attracted to other women, but only from the waist up. They can either be sexually or sensually attracted to women, but don't like the sexual parts below the waist. This term was coined to describe a woman who is attracted to women, but didn't like vaginas.

 

 

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Ecstasy and Allure

 

Mermaids for the most part have always been a symbol of feminine sensuality. They represent beauty, mystery and fantasy. They are untamed spirits, elusive, wild, carefree, and adventurous. They symbolize ferocious independence. They inspire visions of carnal abandon and feelings of passion and desire. Akin to sirens, with their sexual allure and promise of unbridled ecstasy, they tempt men and women alike.

 

Mermaids have long been a symbol of women to woman romance. In their dedication to loving and adoring other women, lesbians may find mermaids to be the perfect feminine icon to embody the spirit of girl on girl frolicking.

 

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The image of mermaids gracefully weaving and elegantly slithering in their watery dance emulates the flirtatious interplay of two women waltzing while sultry music cavorts in the air.

 

For feminist lesbians, the mermaid is a symbol of pride for those who celebrate feminine power, an adventurous attitude, a rebellious spirit, and ferocious independence. She is strong, bold, confident, and aggressive. Despite decades of oppression, she still persists. She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink.

 

 

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History of Sirens and Mermaids

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Mermaid Sightings

 

Mermaid sightings have been reported by many sailors and pirates throughout history. The theory is that they actually were mistaking a manatee for a mermaid, but who knows? Here are a few historical accounts of mermaid sightings.

Christopher Columbus - Christopher Columbus was the first documented account of seeing a mermaid. He wrote that the mermaid was not as beautiful as legend, and had a masculine face. It is believed that it was really a dugong that he saw.

John Smith - There is a story that John Smith, of Jamestown, sighted a mermaid. He said she was graceful and “by no means unattractive.” It is debatable whether it is historically accurate or just the story of a writer.

Edward Teach – Edward Teach was an English pirate who sailed around the West Indies. He was famously known as Blackbeard. He was a huge man and one of the most dangerous pirates around. In a log book it is recorded that Blackbeard made an order to steer clear of a certain area that he believed was inhabited by merfolk.

 

 

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"Come on down to the mermaid café.

And I will buy you a bottle of wine.

And we'll laugh and toast to nothing.

And smash our empty glasses down."
-Joni Mitchell

 

Behind the Mermaid Myth
 

Mermaids have become a popular trend recently, from companies selling mermaid floats, mermaid-tail swimsuits, or mermaid-themed makeup.

 

Nowadays, they are considered an ideal of femininity, as sensual, beautiful, and strong creatures. But it wasn’t always the case.

 

The figure of the mermaid has undergone many shifts through time, from its origin story to today’s pop culture icon. Our constant fascination with this fictional character seems to mirror our own ideas on gender, specifically what it means to be a “real” woman.

 


 

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Watch Real Mermaids Swimming

Sailor Superstitions
Water Beings

History of Sirens and Mermaids

Mermaid Melissa: Swimming With Dolphins

Mermaids are Officially Cooler Than Vampires

Stella the Siren: Do You Believe in Mermaids?

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Mermaids first appeared as sirens in Homer’s poem The Odyssey. They were half bird half woman, and perceived as a threat to men, and more specifically sailors, because of their powers. Indeed, a siren’s singing voice was greatly feared by men at sea. Legends said that anyone who heard a siren’s melodious voice was sure to meet their end.

 

Overcome with lust and desire, sailors would throw themselves overboard in a vain effort to reach the enchanting sea creatures. Ships would sink to their destruction while the sirens kept on singing mercilessly. Their voice was therefore the source of their power; it was not yet their physical beauty.

Yet, when we talk about mermaids, the most iconic remains Christian Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid fairytale that inspired Ariel, the Disney animation film. It is very interesting to point out that in both these tales, the mermaid figure becomes an attractive water creature, who chooses to give up her voice. In these stories, the mermaid lives underwater and falls in love with a human prince. Desperately yearning to join him on land, the mermaid chooses to willingly trade her compelling voice for human legs. She gets walk on land but is unable to speak.

 

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We must not underestimate the symbolic weight in this trade. The mermaid, by giving up her voice, renounces to what was previously the source of her powers, what made her superior to men. She renders herself powerless in front of a male figure of authority: her prince. The mermaid myth was rewritten from being a dangerous predator to men to becoming a harmless and beautiful object of contemplation for men. She no longer lures them underwater to their death but is the one lured out of her natural habitat. In literature and in films, the mermaid figure shifts from being a predator to becoming a prey.
 

            

 

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Underwater Dance

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Fantasy Mermaids: Lake Michigan

 

This evolution is very problematic, as it seems to tell readers and audiences that girls can only find love, and be loved when they are beautiful but silent, obedient, and submissive.

 

These fairytales do not showcase strong, independent female characters, but characters whose personality is rendered less important than their looks, and whose sole goal is to be in a relationship.

 

However, the recent film The Shape of Water shows a more modern take on the mermaid myth. Elisa can be interpreted as a mermaid figure, since she is found as a child by a river, unable to speak. Like the traditional mermaid tale, she had given up her voice for a human form. At the end of the movie, when she finally returns to her natural habitat in the water, the scars on her neck open up as gills. Through out the movie, Elisa follows her heart and rebels against authority: she does not let herself be intimidated or controlled by patriarchy.

Numerous contemporary TV shows have also participated in giving new meaning to the image of the mermaid: making mermaids positive and inspiring mythical female creatures. Without a doubt, mermaids remain fascinating popular icons, whose perception through time reveals our own changing views on femininity, gender, and sexuality.

[Source: Inès Huet, Paulette News, Oct 2019]

 

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I've Heard the Mermaids Singing

 

"I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" is a 1987 comedy-drama film directed by Patricia Rozema and starring Sheila McCarthy, Paule Baillargeon, and Ann-Marie MacDonald. The title is taken from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot.

The film stars Sheila McCarthy as Polly, a worker for a temporary secretarial agency. Polly serves as the narrator for the film, and there are frequent sequences portraying her whimsical fantasies. Polly lives alone, seems to have no friends and enjoys solitary bicycle rides to undertake her hobby of photography.

 

Despite her clumsiness, lack of education, social awkwardness and inclination to take others' statements literally, all of which have resulted in scarce employment opportunities, Polly is placed as a secretary in a private art gallery owned by Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon).

 

Ann-Marie MacDonald plays Mary, who is Gabrielle's former young lover, and also a painter. Mary returns after an absence, and she and Gabrielle rekindle their former relationship despite Gabrielle's misgivings that she is too old and Mary too young. Polly, who's fallen a little bit in love with Gabrielle, is inspired to submit some of her own photographs anonymously to the gallery.

 

She is crushed when Gabrielle dismisses her photos out of hand and calls them "simpleminded." Polly temporarily quits the gallery, and goes into a depression. She returns to the gallery, and revives a little when Mary notices one of her photos.

 

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All the while, Mary and Gabrielle have been perpetrating a fraud. Gabrielle has been passing off Mary's work as her own. When Polly finds out, she becomes livid and tosses a cup of tea at Gabrielle. Believing she has done something unforgivable, Polly retreats to her flat in anguish.

Mary and Gabrielle later visit Polly at her flat, and realize that the discarded photographs were by Polly. As the film ends, Gabrielle and Mary look at more of Polly's photographs and in a short fantasy sequence the three are transported together to an idyllic wooded glen, a metaphor for the beautiful world that supposedly plain and unnoticed people like Polly inhabit.

 

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Aquarium of Paris: Mermaid Show

Stella the Siren: Do You Believe in Mermaids?

Underwater Dance

Mermaid Fun Facts

Fantasy Mermaids: Lake Michigan

 

Aquatic Cousins


Sirens - Sirens were popularized by Homer’s Odyssey. In the epic poem, sirens are vicious creatures who lure sailors to their death. They sing a bewitching melody that causes sailors to jump to their death. They are often depicted as spooky looking creatures, such as the mermaids in the show Siren, who resemble wild creatures with spikes and sharp, jagged teeth.

Selkies - Selkies are similar to mermaids. They are shapeshifters who change from seal to human. Selkies are popular in Celtic and Norse mythology.

 

Morgens - Morgens are the most dangerous of Irish folklore. These are water spirits that are notorious for drowning unsuspecting sailors and fishermen. They are the Irish equivalent to the Greek siren and show up in the form of a beautiful woman. You can spot a Morgan by her comb. She loves sitting by the water combing her long hair and singing a seductive tune to helpless victims.

Finfolk - From the Orkney Islands, northeast of Scotland, comes the tail of mysterious water-dwelling shapeshifters called finfolk, or finnfolk. You may recognize the name from the tail making company Finfolk Productions. Finfolkaheem is the name of the underwater home of finfolk. Female finfolk are born as mermaids and remain that way into their maidenhood.

 

 

Mermaid Tavern

Mermaid Symbolism

Mermaids and Lesbians

Mermaid Fantasy

 

Pincoy/Pincoya - In Chiloean mythology, Pincoya is a female water spirit, and her husband is Pincoy. Pincoya represents fertility and is portrayed as a naked woman. She is the daughter of a sea king named Millalobo. Her sister is a mermaid named Sirena Chilota. Pincoy is a handsome merman who resembles a large lionfish.

Ceasg - This creature is a mermaid in Scottish folklore. She is known to be beautiful and possess the tail of a salmon. She lives in the sea, but also can live in streams and rivers. She is said to grant three wishes to whoever captures her. In some stories she is more monstrous.

 

Kelpies - The Blue Men of the Minch is a popular mythological creature in Scottish folklore. They are storm kelpies, shape-shifting spirits that inhabit lakes. Transceltic described them as “creatures that are the size and shape of humans, are very strong, and can be seen swimming and diving”. The Blue Men challenged ship captains to rhyming and singing contests. If the captains win, he and the crew would be left alone in their journey.

Nereids - Nereids are good-spirited sea nymphs who are the fifty daughters of a sea god named Nereus. They often came to the aid of those in distress and were protectors of sailors and fishermen.

 

Undines - Undines are also known as Ondine who dwell in lakes, rivers, forest pools, waterfalls, and even fountains. These maidens are very beautiful with gold hair, green eyes, long tails, and lush lashes. However, she is missing one important thing, a soul.

Rusalka - Slavic stories of this aquatic entity date back to the eighth century. Rusalki are water nymphs who were once human women that died. They were not always considered malevolent, but the myths changed through the years to portray the Rusalka as a sinister creature.


MERMAID TAVERN  Creative Project of the Queer Cafe | Q 2020