Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sirens and Mermaids - Beautiful but Deadly

Posted by: Dani Harper, Author
Sea Goddess mural in Monteray, California
A new TV series, SIREN, premiered in March of this year and by May it was signed for a second season. With it comes renewed interest in sirens and mermaids, two legendary sea creatures who have merged into one over the centuries. 

In modern times we think of sirens as glamorous women who captivate men with their beauty, or deliberately lure and seduce them into forgetting their own better judgement. The term "siren" comes to us from Greek mythology and literature, in which the Sirens were once handmaidens to Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter. When Persephone was kidnapped and taken to the underworld to marry the dark god Hades, Demeter blamed her handmaidens for allowing this to happen to their mistress.

As punishment, Demeter marooned the hapless women on a beautiful green island surrounded by treacherous rocks. Any ship that ventured too close to the island would be wrecked so that rescue was impossible. However, merely banishing the women wasn't enough for the vengeful goddess. The women were changed into strange half-human creatures. Still alluringly beautiful, they are sometimes portrayed with bird wings and feet. However, in many versions of the story, they became the first mermaids. While we usually picture them as possessing the head and upper body of a lovely woman and the lower body of a fish or a dolphin, there are some legends where mermaids have legs and appear human.

Demeter gave these unfortunate women unearthly voices and commanded them to sing without ceasing. Sailors in passing ships would hear the sirens' song, and either steer the vessel onto the rocks, or dive from the deck into the sea and drown. Any man that managed to survive the ocean and the rocks would make his way to the island, but find it far from a paradise. So enchanted was he by the siren's songs that he would follow the women wherever they went, forgetting everything else in the world. The hapless sailor would even forget to eat and eventually starve to death. The island became covered with bleached bones.

The Sirenuse Islands in the Mediterranean Sea
Embittered by their unfair fate, the Sirens eventually took great pleasure in their cruel task of luring men to their doom. Stories tell that they would often sing passing sailors into a deep sleep. The sirens would then board the ship and kill all the men as they slept, feasting on them for days afterward and tossing their gnawed bones into the oceanor making musical instruments from them!

The only man to hear the song of the Sirens and live to tell about it was Odysseus (also known as Ulysses). He filled the ears of his men with wax and bound their heads with cloth, so that they would be able to row directly past the deadly island, unaffected by the alluring music. Odysseus himself, however, had not plugged his ears. Instead, he commanded his men to tie him to the mast, so he could hear the Sirens' songs, but not be able to jump overboard or steer the ship into danger.

Demeter's magic had condemned the Sirens to live foreverbut only until the day came that a mortal was finally able to resist them. After Odysseus's successful plan, the Sirens were said to have flung themselves into the sea which turned against them and drowned them.

Ever since, maritime superstition claimed that hearing the song of a mermaid is a sign of a particularly ferocious storm approaching, or even spelled certain disaster for the ship.

Mermaids are found in the mythology of many countries, including China, Cambodia, Thailand, Africa, the Phillipines, the Caribbean, Brazil and Japan. They are called merrows in Ireland, and rusalkas in eastern Europe. Undines are freshwater mermaids from Celtic legends, which live in the faery realms of my Grim Series novels. In some myths, the mermaids are kind, even benevolent. In a few stories, a mermaid even falls in love with a human (Hans Christian Anderson’s 1837 tale, “The Little Mermaid, was based on such folklore). Unfortunately, most of these sea creatures behave like the Greek sirens, luring men to their doom, drowning them, and even eating them!
Female figureheads ensured fair weather

Christopher Columbus wrote of sighting mermaids on three occasions, noting that they weren't as beautiful as the legends claimed. It's generally accepted that what he actually saw were manatees. However, the infamous pirate Blackbeard also noted in his ship's log several times that he had witnessed mer-folk, and instructed his crew to steer clear of the areas they frequented. And in more modern times, from 1870 to 1967, both sailors and ship's passengers have reported seeing mermaids in the waters off British Columbia, Canada!

Strangely, despite all the ancient tales of dangerous sirens and mermaids (and later, the notion that women on board were just plain bad luck), there was a prevailing belief for at least two thousand years that the sight of a woman's bosom could settle an angry ocean.

By the 1800s, most sailing ships featured an amply-endowed female figurehead on the bow, often with breasts exposed to the salt sea air. And the most popular of all? A mermaid!


THE GRIM SERIES by Dani Harper

The fae are cunning, powerful and often cruel. The most beautiful among them are often the most deadly. Hidden far beneath the mortal world, the timeless faery realm plays by its own rules—and those rules can change on a whim. Now and again, the unpredictable residents of that mystical land cross the supernatural threshold…

In this enchanting romance series from Dani Harper, the ancient fae come face-to-face with modern-day humans and discover something far more potent than their strongest magic: love.

See ALL Dani's novels on her Amazon Author Page

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting post. Dani, I loved the Changeling series. Thanks for sharing about the Mermaids.
    Carol Luciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com


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