Of all the mythical ocean creatures, perhaps the beautiful mermaid intrigues us the most. Said to be half human, and half fish, mermaids have appeared to people all over the world in different forms. The first use of the word “mermaid” appeared in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale by Chaucer in the 1300s, but belief in such creatures is much older and is attested to in lore from places like Ireland, Syria, and Greece.
Reputed to be immaculately beautiful, and willing to become lovers with human beings, not all mermaids were friendly. Some would drag sailors to their deaths, and others sought to destroy the very ancient gods themselves.
While modern science has not been able to prove mermaids are real beyond a shadow of a doubt, science does tell us that over 70% of the earth is covered by water, and there is no telling what creatures remain undiscovered. Is it possible that beings like Irish Selkies and the dangerous Sirens of Greek lore have always existed, and we just don’t have evidence?
Some people say the lore is a source of trustworthy eyewitness accounts, and plenty of modern-day Loch Ness Monster sightings keep us wondering if these creatures are real. What is the lore, and what are some possible explanations for sightings of beings like mermaids, Sirens, and the Loch Ness monster? This article will discuss:
- Real Mermaid Sightings
- The Legend of the Loch Ness Monster
- Siren Mythology
- What is a Selkie?
- The Jormungandr
Are mermaids real? Well, the best place to start is by looking at the history of real mermaid sightings. On January 9, 1493, Christopher Columbus wrote a diary entry that was rewritten by somebody else who preserved the diaries. The writer had this to say about what Columbus reported “On the previous day, when the Admiral (Christopher Columbus) had gone to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids, that came very high up out of the sea; but they were not so beautiful as they are depicted for only after a fashion had human form in their faces. He said that he had seen some on other occasion in Guinea, on the coast of Malagueta.”
While there was no photographic evidence from the sighting all those years ago, some experts at Save the Manatee, a non-profit group, believe that what Columbus saw were creatures called manatees. They say manatees, or any other creature, could arouse the desire of lonely men who were at sea for long periods of time and craved the company of a lady.
In 1737, near Exeter in England, several fishermen hauled in a net that was full of a very strange being. They said it looked like a human with two legs, and that it jumped free from the net, and ran off. Later, they found it, near death, and “groaning like a human.” They said it had webbed feet, like a duck’s, but the eyes, nose, and general face like those of a man’s. It was about four feet long, with a tail like a salmon’s. In Exeter, again, in 1823 there were various sightings of a creature said to have two legs and animal like features. It had a tail like a salmon’s, however, and it ran from the witnesses, but was caught and killed. There is no account of what became of the beast after its death.
Other accounts come from when people lived on the Island of Eynhallow. The island had a population of 26 people in 1841, but ten years later, everybody was sent away. It is known for the ruins of a twelfth century church that can be visited on organized tours. Don’t drink any water the island may have available, however, because it is speculated that contaminated water made the last inhabitants ill, and that’s why everybody evacuated. The locals claimed they had fin folk who lived among them, and that fin folk had become more human after generations of having children with people.
It was believed these fin folk came from a place called Finfolkhaheen, which was a city underwater, and they spent their winters there, emerging from the waters in the warmer months to live among humans. The city had become visible to humanity due to magic spells, and there is no telling how long the site has been in existence. The fin folk were said to have long fins that disguised their tails, and they had a terrible habit of kidnapping humans, unfortunately. It was said that female fin folk would take human spouses to avoid growing old.
In 1990, a group of 88 people went on a tour to the island, and two of them disappeared and were never heard from again. Some people believe these two were fin folk returning to their homes under the waves.
The town of Kiryat Yam in Israel hosted mermaid sightings starting in 2009. Tourists as well as people who live in the town said they saw the mermaid sunbathing on the rocks and doing “tricks” at sunset before jumping back into the water and swimming away. The first resident of Kiryat Yam who saw her said he and his friends approached when she was lying on the sand, and she moved away from them quickly and swam off. They realized it was no mere woman sunbathing, but a creature who looked human, but had a tail like a fish. Hundreds of individuals came forward, saying they saw the mermaid, and the town has offered a million dollars to anybody who can provide evidence that the claims are real.
Yet another sighting was reported in New Zealand in 2014. Some fishermen found a body they thought was human, but upon closer examination, not all parts of the body were human. Some looked like what something living in the water would have, but other parts looked completely human. The body was reported to the Coast Guard, and they contacted the University of Auckland. All of this has been reported by multiple sites on the internet, but no word can be found on the verdict of the so-called human-fish remains from the University. Was it all a scam, or has the body of a real mermaid been concealed? We might never know.
Of all the monsters of the deep, perhaps the Loch Ness Monster is the one most people believe exists. A Loch is a lake, or sea inlet, and Loch Ness is the second largest one in all of Scotland. It contains more water than all of Wales and England put together, and its murky waters plunge an impressive 788 feet down at the deepest point. Loch Ness covers 700 square miles and includes multiple rivers. Its waters are dark due to high peat content in them, and we may never know all that lies beneath her waters.
The water rises and falls drastically, and it is said that this creates an inhospitable environment for many species to survive. However, plenty of creatures call the Loch home and among the living organisms to reside in Loch Ness are sturgeons, eels, salmon, and trout. Around the Loch, red-tailed deer, ospreys, herons, and cormorants as well as robins thrive. Regarding plant life, alder trees, Scots pine, Norway Spruce and sliver birch include some of the kinds of trees that bedeck the land. The Loch and her surrounding land attract many nature enthusiasts who love spending the day in her natural beauty.
So how did this Loch become known for a “monster?” It all started back in the sixth century with an account from The Life of St. Columba, written by Adomnan. He wrote that St. Columba was told that a man had been mauled to death by a creature in the water. St. Columba ordered one of his to swim in the river, and they watched to see what would happen. The account states that the creature approached the man as he swam, but St. Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded the beast to depart, which it did immediately, and they did not see it again.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1871 or 1872 when D. Mackenzie saw a creature that was shaped like a log and was moving slowly at first but then swam away quickly. Then in 1888, Alexander Macdonald saw a large creature with stubby legs he said resembled a salamander swim toward shore. In 1933, Aldie Mackay reported seeing a very large, whale-like creature that created waves as large as a big ship would have. Later that year came two more reports of sightings.
One report was given by George Spicer and his wife, who had a more detailed description. They said the creature was about 25 feet long with a long, slender neck with no arms or legs visible. This creature was spotted moving across land to get to the Loch, and it had an animal in its mouth. The next sighting that same year was reported by Hugh Grey, and he submitted the first known photograph of the so-called Loch Ness monster.
Countless other reports have been made over the years, with multiple photographs being submitted as evidence of the creature who is affectionately called “Nessie”. There have been countless professional studies, combing the Loch for answers. Sonar studies have been done, and expeditions of groups of photographers have been unleashed at the Loch to search for the elusive Nessie.
No inconclusive evidence has been presented. Explanations for what this creature could be range from saying Nessie is a plesiosaur who somehow escaped extinction, and others say Nessie might just be a very large sturgeon. Some people don’t believe she exists at all, but nobody can prove that either. If you decide to go and see if you can find out for yourself, make sure to book a Loch Ness tour by boat.
When it comes to Sirens, mythology tells us about them. Siren mythology claims that sirens were companions of the young goddess Persephone, and when she disappeared into the Underworld, her grieving mother, Demeter, gave them wings, so they could search for her. In the Odyssey, King Odysseus knew he would throw himself into the water to try to go to the Sirens, so he had his men seal their ears closed with beeswax, and they tied him to the mast, so he could hear their songs which tempted men to cast themselves overboard to them.
The Sirens threw themselves to their deaths in the waters after they could not succeed in luring Odysseus and his men to them. Lore states that Sirens were fated to live for as long as it took for human beings to pass safely by their songs. The hero Jason was able to play his lyre and sing more beautifully than the Sirens, drowning out their singing and save all the men aboard his ship except for one, who leapt into the waves to his death when he heard the Siren’s singing.
Siren mythology also tells us that Sirens were originally depicted as having the bodies of birds and the head, and sometimes breasts, of human women. Some earlier statues showed them with human female bodies and immense wings but the feet and tails of birds. Later depictions showed them as having the upper bodies of human women and the lower bodies of fish, like a mermaid.
They were said to live on sharp rocks called Sirenum scopuli, at a beautiful place called Anthemoessa and various experts have placed their location in places such as the Isle of Capri or at Pelero Cape in Sicily. They laid in wait for sailors to go by and sang their sweet songs, luring them to their deaths. The odyssey by Homer reported rotting corpses were scattered about their abode. These are certainly not the welcoming, pleasant merfolk you would want to meet!
What are selkies? Are they people? Are they seals? They are a blend of both, but neither creature entirely, and we may never know what a selkie truly is. Again, we turn to the lore to tell us about them. Basically, according to stories from Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia, selkies are creatures who shed their seal skins and sit on rocks at shore, and can be trapped against their will to stay with a human companion if their skin is kept from them.
Many a folktale tells of a lonely man stealing a selkie’s skin and locking the skin away for years to keep the selkie as his bride. The men have many children and are happily married to the selkie. However, a day always comes when the selkie finds her skin, and both she and the children slip away to their true home in the water.
It is said there is some truth in the lore. Settlers of Scotland married Sami and Finnish folk who traditionally wore furs, but this does not explain the lore that talks about involuntary marriage. Some lore says that selkies are unable to stay in the presence of humans for very long, and a selkie will immediately leave a human being’s side if the person tries to trap them.
Some male selkies are said to be summoned to lonely women who have cast seven tears into the sea. An account from the Faroe Islands says that once a selkie returns to the sea, it cannot return to the life it built with humans on land ever again. We will never know if selkies are real or not, but if the lore is to be believed, they certainly are.
The thirteenth century Old Norse text, the Gylfaginning, tells a story of the birth of a great serpent called the Jormungandr. He was the child of trickster god Loki and a giantess named Angrboda. Jormungandr had a sister named Hela, who was half beautiful girl and half rotted corpse, and a brother named Fenrir who was a wolf that was so large, when he opened his mouth, it touched the sky.
The omens foretold the Aseir, or the main gods would suffer terrible tragedies at the hands of Loki’s children, so the gods hatched a plan to protect themselves. The father god, Odin, cast Hela into the underworld, and he gave her rulership over it, and he took Fenrir to bind where he could watch him, but Jormungandr got a different fate.
He was thrown into the sea, where he wrapped himself around the waters of the world, placing his tail in his mouth. It has been foretold that when he takes his tail out of his mouth, then Ragnarök, or the end of the lives of the gods, will begin. Some stories tell of Thor fighting with the serpent and killing him one day, but at Ragnarök, Jormungandr is said to engage Thor in a final battle in which they kill one another. Some people take the lore to have said that Ragnarök has already happened, and the gods have perished, and we have their stories, but others believe these events are yet to come.
This is not the whole story about Jormungandr, though. Once, Thor went fishing with the giant Hymer. Thor asked Hymer for some bait, and the giant refused, leaving Thor to come up with bait on his own. He slew Hymer’s ox, and flung its head into the sea as bait, and after an early day of disappointing fishing, they finally caught two whales and some nice big fish. Hymer was ready to leave at that point, satisfied with what they had caught, but Thor revealed that he had been planning something else all along. He wanted to catch Jormangandr. Hymer flat out refused Thor’s request, and he tried to steer the boat home, but Thor commandeered the boat himself and dragged them farther out to sea.
Jormungander may have been lying in wait, because he did not wait long to take Thor’s bait, and he rose up so powerfully, fighting Thor fearsomely, the boat was almost smashed to bits. They fought long and hard, with Thor swinging his mighty hammer, and Jormungander spitting poison at Thor. Hymer knew he had to intervene if he wanted to live, so while Thor was busy wrestling with the serpent, Hymer simply cut Thor’s fishing line, allowing the Jormungandr to escape. Different accounts share different endings. Some say Thor was so mad, he killed Hymer, others said he got mad and threw Hymer over the side of the boat into the water and rowed to shore without him. Thor did not get to kill the serpent that day, and if the lore is right, he awaits Ragnarök when he will get his chance.
What all these myths explain, are the forces of nature. The wild, thrashing sea near rocks where winds howl through their crevices could seem like supernatural forces that were terrifying and deadly. Indeed, after days, weeks, and months away from land, seeing exotic creatures they had never encountered before, young sailors could concoct wild tales about fantastical beasts that were nothing more than another species. Some think the faces of some animals look somewhat human, and indeed the sensitive eyes of creatures like manatees and seals could lead people to believe they were blends of humans and supernatural beings.
Then again, we were not there for the eyewitness accounts the news and ancient lore share, so we can’t prove that the stories of Sirens, mermaids, and things like the Jormungandr were misunderstandings of real beings we cannot understand. New species are discovered all the time, and there is no evidence that the general public will be made aware of them before one individual whose testimony everybody doubts is.
So, are mermaids real? They exist in lore and have for centuries. Is it possible that beautiful crosses of fish and people exist, and they take human lovers sometimes? Anything is possible. So, if you are ever sailing through the waters of Sicily and you see some strange looking birds who seem to sing more beautifully than anything you have ever heard, seal your ears with beeswax or anything else you have handy to keep you from hearing their song, just to be safe.
If you are on the beach, and you see the skins of seals and see happy people running around, leave the skins, so they can retain their freedom. If you are ever at Loch Ness and see something strange surface from beneath the water before it disappears before your eyes, consider yourself lucky because you just may have seen the Loch Ness Monster!
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