Mermen: Old Legends and Real Mermen Sightings
Mermen Presence in Mythology
When you hear the term mermaid, what do you think of? Most of us have the image of a red-head teenage girl wearing a shell-bikini top and having a fins instead of legs. Many of us think mermaids are beautiful half-fish-half-woman beings who are only imaginary characters in storybooks and on the movie screens. But to only focus our attention on the mermaids would be a dishonor to the other merpeople - the mermen. Sometimes we forget that in addition to the legends of mermaids, there were just as many legends of mermen.
Some stories claim they were ugly and mean, while others claim them neutral. In certain countries, mermen were thought to be benevolent. We will explore the fascinating and sometimes frightening legends of the merman and just this time we will be leaving the mermaid out. Hasn't she been in the limelight enough?
Male Merrows and the Finmen
The legend of merpeople is one that penetrates cultural barriers; however, we can see that particularly in Western Europe the legend of the merman was quite strong in centuries past. In Ireland the merrows were merpeople who were thought to be both bad and good, depending on the orator or writer of the tale. Recurrently stories were told throughout the Dark Ages and onward that the male merrows were hideous, nasty creatures while the female merrows could be quite attractive. The female merrows would go to land looking for a human lover and sometimes a human husband because of the fact that their own male kind were so unappealing. Male merrows were always seen to be wearing red caps on their heads, which was said to give them the magical ability to breathe underwater and on land. If their cap was stolen, they would not be able to return to their home in the sea.
Finfolk were vicious creatures, coming to shore in Orkney at certain times of the year to hunt out their next victim for a spouse. No, the finmen were not nice about it...there was no wining and dining before the wedding. They would simply kidnap a human woman and carry her away to sea forever...marrying her without her consent and then enslaving her for eternity. The finfolk lived in a place under the sea known as Finfolkaheem. Silver is said to be a weakness of theirs, so to prevent from being captured by a finman one can cast silver in all directions to distract the finman (this reminds me of how one might cast needles to distract the looming vampire). Finmen are tall and skinny and have magical powers...they can transform themselves into something completely invisible so that they are able to sneak up on their prey.
It wasn't just the finmen and male merrows present in Western European lore, there were also male selkies (seal-men), the Bluemen of the Muir, Nixes, and the Dinny Mara. Each of these mermen or underwater creatures have their own folklore, some of them showing us that mermen are nice to humans while others warning us to stay away from mermen altogether.
Ancient Mermen Gods
While the legend of the merman dominated Western European folklore throughout the Dark Ages and beyond, we can look back to ancient times...to ancient civilizations and see that the idea or belief in mermen was prevalent. If we take a trip back in time to ancient lands, we will find a myriad of gods that are half-man-half-fish.
King Triton was the father of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, but his name pre-dates Disney by a long-shot. Triton was an ancient Greek god of the sea. He was the son of gods Poseidon and Amphitrite. It was said that he caused great storms on the sea, and also was a very erotic spirit. Some myths say that he was a vicious lover. He carried a conch shell used as a horn and often accompanied his father, Poseidon. He is depicted as a merman - half-man-half-fish with long hair. He is said to also be able to shapeshift into whatever form he chooses.
Glaucus was another merman and god of the sea according to ancient greek mythology. His story was a bit different than Triton's. Glaucus was said to have consumed a magical herb that inevitably led to his transformation into a sea god. He had fish-like features, and he was said to have been an advisor and protector of sailors.
Enki was a Sumerian god of war and wisdom, but was also thought to have been a creator god. Other names for Enki include Lord of the Water and Ea. Sumerian mythology says that Enki saved the Earth from the Great Flood. It is said that he may manifest in the form of a merman.
To the Nigerians, Olokun was the King of the Sea and could manifest in the form of a merman or sea serpent. Olokun is also said to be a psychopomp, leading lost souls to the other side. This is a common conception of mermen and mermaids, that they help to lead drowned sailors' souls to the other realm (at least some of the nice ones did). As a ruler of the sea, Olokun has also said to have dominion over rivers and streams.
These are just a few of the ancient mermen gods that can be found across the world in almost every ancient civilization. In the Middle East, archaeologists have found bronze statues and carvings of mermen predating written history. This just gives us an idea as to how ancient the merman idea might be.
Mermen: Are They Good or Evil?
Just as with their counterparts the mermaids, there are conflicting accounts of the merman's temperament towards human beings. Some legends tell us tales of mermen who help drowning sailors by bringing them to shore or by guiding ships away from jagged rocks. While other legends depict the merman as being nothing but a vampire, a human-eater or kidnapper of young women.
There is one particular legend that can be found in various countries in Europe about the merman. The merman was said to have the ability to lead souls to the other realm, but often the merman would take pleasure in capturing the souls of drowned sailors and keeping them in pots or cages at the bottom of the sea. Never to be freed to cross on to the other side. In one Irish story recorded by W.B. Yeats, an Irish man was friends with a male merrow (merman). They would drink together and carry on as old buddies would, until one day when the merrow asked the man to join him for a drink at the bottom of the sea. The man agreed and found that the merrow had been keeping sailors' souls in pots within his underwater home. The man knew the right thing to do was to free these souls and was able to get his merrow-friend so intoxicated that he stole his red cap, swam to the bottom of the ocean, and freed all of the captured souls. This type of legend gives the reader the idea that mermen were in fact mostly malevolent towards humans...or at least towards sailors. Perhaps this is because sailors were infringing upon the mermen's territory?
Male selkies of the island of Shetney were said to be attractive and could be taken to bed as lovers for human women. The woman was to just cry seven tears into the ocean and a male selkie would appear to her. In this light, we can see that mermen (or selkies) could have been more benevolent to human beings (or perhaps they were just looking out for their own satisfactions?) Also, there are tales of mermen saving drowned people and taking them to shore. We have only to read the stories of Glaucus (above) and see that he was a guide to humans and therefore a good merman to our species.
So what do you think...were/are mermen good or evil? Are they nice or mean to humans? Or perhaps it just depends on the kind of merman...or the individual merman. Maybe in this regard they are similar to human beings in that they are all different in temperament and personality.
Test your mermen knowledge.
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A Rather Convincing Video of a "Real" Sighting
"Real" Mermen Sightings
In recent years, thanks to Hollywood, there has been a resurgence of interest in the merpeople. Animal Planet made a "documentary" called Mermaid: A Body Found a year ago. Since then people have been wondering more and more whether merpeople are real. We not only want to know about mermaids, but we also want to know about mermen. Are they really human-like creatures or just an unidentified sea creature that could be mistaken as a human-fish? There have been some real mermen sightings (or what was perceived as real) in recent times, as recent as five years ago but many of these sightings date back to the 1800s and before.
There are dozens of videos on Youtube showing viewers what the videographers' claim to be "real mermen sightings". Some are rather convincing, while others are obviously humans dressed in mermen costume. Unfortunately, even the most convincing videos turn out to be fakes, due to modern technology and the ability for almost anyone to use a computer in order to fake a real merman sighting.
Perhaps my favorite story of a real merman sighting dates back to the 1800s, possibly the late 1700s (I can't remember the exact year). I've told this story in previous articles, but I will tell it again as it is my favorite.
A man in Ireland went to the shore one day and found two young mermen lying there, injured and in pain. One was dead and the other was in the process of dying. He believed they had been washed to shore during a major storm on the water. The man decided to help the dying creature and took it home. He placed it in a tub of water and nursed it back to health by feeding it only shellfish and milk. The man claimed this is all the merman would eat and drink. It did not talk to him, and its appearance was rather appalling. The young merman was only about three-four feet in length with the torso and head of a human boy and the bottom that of a fish. It's skin was green in color, with webbed fingers and seaweed-like hair. This story was published in the local newspaper, and the man had returned the young merman to the sea never to be seen by human eyes again.
There have been stories of sailors seeing mermaids and merman in past centuries, but not as many of these tales surface today. Is it because we've lost the belief in "super" natural things or is it because these beings have gone into complete hiding? Maybe mermen are in fact extinct? We may never know the truth...
What do you think?
Are mermen real or not?
© 2014 Nicole Canfield