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Water Elementals and Mermaids: Fact or Fiction

Thirty years ago, my uncle saw a mermaid. It wasn’t the sort of spectacle reserved for a Hollywood movie, like, say "Splash" ... but it was something life changing and mind-altering at the same time. He would come from that experience with the knowledge that ‘Yes!’, mermaids do exist and they sure are ugly.

Yes ... mermaids are ugly.

They aren’t drop dead gorgeous sirens of the deep with long hair and colorful tails and eyes sparkling in the moonlight. (Mind you, if ever a shipmate did fall for such a creature, throwing himself off a ship in the middle of nowhere, he was either wearing his beer goggles, or he never really knew the difference between a woman and a porpoise. But I digress.)

The tale (no pun intended) of the Mermaid is an old one. And for all it’s ancient sources, you’d be hard pressed to find any sound information about them. The internet is replete with hoaxes, however. The most famous is the Feejee (Fiji) Mermaid.

The story goes that in 1842, PT Barnum, of the infamous Barnum & Bailey circus, came into possession of a mummified corpse of a mermaid. (Some stories speculated it was the remains of a person who had suffered from Sirenomelia, a rare congenital deformity in which the legs are fused together much like a fish tail.)

The Feejee mermaid was later popularized in an episode of the X-Files, and today ‘gaffs’ composed of animal parts are displayed across the globe. What intrigues me however is the actual description of the so-called faux mermaid thatBarnum had on display. It was said to be half ape and half fish and most certainly created in the manner used by old Japanese fishermen, of stitching the two animals together to create a mythical hybrid.

PT Barnum was a showman, and so it is hardly impressive to note that he was in on the hoax and relished in the publicity. But does Barnum’s little foray into the uncanny, via lies and deception make the Mermaid any less intriguing?

For every hoax there is a story that can never be proven, nor dis-proven. One in particular is "The Mermaid of Edam", most notably described by Charles Dickens in "All the Year Round". The tale comes by way of Holland and describes a flood that forced two maidens to take a boat into pasture to milk their cows. While doing so they caught sight of a mermaid stuck in the mud and in good conscience, took her home and attempted to domesticate her.

It was said that Alexander the Great's sister was a mermaid who’s temper was mighty. She was known to question wayward travelers on the exploits of her brother asking, “Is Alexander the King alive?” And should the answer prove wrong, pity the young man she sent to his death in the murky depths.

A Malesian Philosopher once proposed that humanity came forth from the oceans, and thus had it’s origins in the sea...from mer-folk to land-folk. If one ventured to find corroboration for such a theory, maybe it wouldn’t be so strange to conclude that while most of us graduated to land-lubbing, a part of us remained oceanic in nature. This smacks entirely of the "Aquatic Ape Theory".

Mermaid tales are mostly told either via relics (mostly, if not all, hoaxes) and sightings. Although history is replete with sightings, most of them go as far back as the 1500's and are always relegated to the realm of mistaken identity. But honestly, could a man in the 1500's be any different than a man today, in 2007, when it comes to describing a woman? Is it possible to confuse a woman with a fish tail...with a dugong?

Across the globe, every culture has their version of the mermaid. In Germany, it is the "Meerfrau". In Britain, the "Morgan". In Ireland, the "Mereduac". For all the tales that have been written or passed on orally, the only one that resonates to this day is Hans Christen Anderson's ‘The Little Mermaid.’

It is a story that references much older tales of marriages between Mermaids and human men. The stories characters may change, but the essential, core elements are always the same: Mermaid lives among humans, and falls in love with a human male.

Although the popularity of the Mermaid stems mostly from contemporary accounts, the legend of the Mermaid extends well into antiquity. For example the tales of the Gods Oannes, Poseidon, and Dagon, or Semaramis, Cybele, and Tiamat. It is because of the apparent mermaid-like classification of certain gods that the idea of the mermaid crosses over from mere creature of the sea to spirit or elemental.

Water Fairies or Water sprites (spirits) are of a category that rarely if ever gets any mention. There is the tale of the "Lady of the Lake" who bestows King Arthur with his Excalibur. I have to mention that the Mermaid is also know as the Morgan and Morgan Le Fay figures heavily in Arthurian Legend and that perhaps the "Lady of the Lake" and Morgan Le Fay are one and the same.

Sir Lancelot was raised by a Water Faerie. Thetis the sea Nymph was charged with the duty of raising Warriors, and so it is uncanny that a Water Fay raised the young Lancelot and also bestowed the Legendary Arthur with his infamous sword.

The parallels abound when you look a little deeper in the mythology of Water Elementals and the roles they have played in shaping the history of famous historical figures.

The Merovingians were said to have believed their bloodline sprung from the sea. Apparently a merman copulated with a Merovingian Queen.

Ancient philosophers believed that Syrians did not eat Fish because they believed it to be a sacred representation of a god. Most notably, to honor Derketo, the mother of Semiramis.

I am reminded of a story a co-worker told me some time ago. He lives in Cambridge, and behind his house is a pond. One day he went to the pond to remove a garbage pail, blown in by the wind, and sailing across its placid surface. As he got to the edge of the pond, a fog appeared seemingly from nowhere and covered the surface. He hesitated before venturing in.

He saw the garbage pail disappear into the fog and ventured in to the deepest point, which came to his mid-thigh. From the corner of his eye he caught movement. He reached into the depths, by this time his heart was pounding in his ears. He felt something bump his leg. It was the Garbage pail. He rose slowly, relieved to have found it.

As he straightened up the fog suddenly parted and standing at the farther end was a woman. She was facing away from him; her hair and gown were snow white. She seemed to float on the waters surface. He was frozen to his place...staring.

Just as quickly as the fog had parted it soon came together to form one great cloud which lifted off the surface and quickly evaporated and he found that he was the only one in the pond and the woman in white was gone.

He referred this story to me in the hopes that I might help him to find some explanation, and the myth of the Water Elemental came to mind. Are there really spirits of the elements who can take on human form? Better still are mermaids and Water Elementals one and the same?

This brings me back the description of the ever infamous Mermaid. Depending on the region, mermaid descriptions differ, but Christopher Columbus and countless others never described the beautiful sirens of Greek mythology. In fact the only reason the dugong explanation persists is because Mermaids are often described as black-eyed, noseless...with fish-lips, no ears and seaweed for hair. Their teeth are like that of a sharks and their nails like talons...and they are said to bark.

But what if we are talking about two different beings? What if there is the beautiful Siren, and the ugly mermaid? If people can accept that visitors from the stars or other dimensions are here, than how hard is it to accept that perhaps our oceans...as of yet, not totally explored, are not replete with beings we can only imagine, but cannot corroborate?

I for one look forward to what new and engaging sighting may surface and this topic is far from closed. As far as I have been able to surmise, it’s far easier (and cheaper), to delve into our oceans looking for signs of life than it is to take to the skies.

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