As children, we may have read The Little Mermaid, the tale of the Sea King’s daughter Ariel, who falls in love with a human prince. She trades her beautiful tail fin for human legs so that she can marry her prince and turn into an immortal soul. However, in the end, when the prince marries another girl, she loses her life, turning into foam in the ocean.
The story, while heartbreaking, presents to us a magical possibility of a whole other world underwater. It makes us wonder if there are supernatural creatures living in the depths of the oceans: magical beings who are half human and half fish. If truth be told, it isn’t just children who wish to someday spot a mermaid in the seas. In the past, lonesome sailors who spent months together at sea sought–even claimed to have seen–this fascinating creature.
Indeed, so strong is the allure of mermaids that they are a common feature in mythology from around the world. In this article, Soulveda explores the various forms these creatures take in myths and what they represent.
Mermaids are often imagined as beings of incredible beauty. However, according to mythology and pop culture, not all kinds of mermaids are easy on the eyes. Those of us who have read the Harry Potter novels may recall that in the Great Lake of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry lives a colony of merpeople. They are described as having grey skin, yellow eyes, and wild, dark green hair. The author J K Rowling writes in one of her more recent books Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: “The oldest recorded merpeople were known as sirens (Greece) and it is in warmer waters that we find the beautiful mermaids more frequently depicted in Muggle (of the non-magical world) literature and painting. The selkies of Scotland and the merrows of Ireland are less beautiful, but they share that love of music which is common to all merpeople.”
In some stories, merfolk are far from the beautiful, docile beings they are commonly believed to be. They are considered rulers of the sea who can summon storms and destroy ships when angered.
Even Christopher Columbus claimed to have seen a mermaid as he sailed around the world.