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When you think of mermaids you often think of the sweet nature red headed mermaid princess who longs to be a part of the human word.
This hasn’t always been the case throughout history. Mermaid lore is full dark, mysterious, sad and sometimes dangerous tales.
Artagatis: The first Mermaid
The first recorded tale of a mermaid came from Syria around 1000BC. It was the story of Assyrian goddess Atargatis.
- Learn more about the legend of Atragatis.
Mermaids around the world
After the story of Atargais began to take root, mermaid lore spread all around the world.
In Greek mythology Mermaids are said to be the 3000 daughters of Triton, the son of the Greek gods Poseidon and Amphitrite.
- Together with your group create a Sea Gods Family Tree according to Greek mythology.
Scotland, Ireland and Mainland Europe had tales of the Ceasg, the Merrow, the Selkies, and the Ben-varrey.
- Divide in to small groups. Have each group create their own version of a ceasg, merrow, selkie, or ben-varrey legend.
The lore of the Rusalka of Russia is dark and tragic. They are said to be the spirits of young women who were murdered before marriage and are then cursed to live in a lake in the form of a mermaid.
- Unlike fishtailed mermaids, rusalka have legs and can walk on land. What other differences are there between mermaids and rusalka?
Finfolk from Finland are called the shapeshifters of the sea. They are said to abduct humans to make them servants.
- It is said that there is only one way to escape abduction by finfolk. What is their one weakness?
Vastly different than the Western version of a beautiful mermaid, the Japanese Ningyo is described as a giant fish with a human face and a monkey's mouth, it is sometimes depicted to have horns and fangs
There is also a type of ningyo known as the amabiko, which is said to have the beak of a bird and is covered with scales from the neck down.
- The Ningyo is said to have great magical powers. Name those magical powers and find a few tales relating to them.
The Melusine is a creature with origins in France. She is a said to have a double serpent’s tail (like the mermaid depicted on the Starbucks logo) and often wings.
- According to European folklore The Royal House of Lusignan of France are descendants of the Melusine. Learn more about the Lusignan family.
The Little Mermaid
Stories of the Melusine inspired the Undine myth and story. The Undine are said to have inspired the fairy tale The Little Mermaid written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836.
- While the movie is a wonderful tale of love and magic the original fairly tale has a much different ending. Compare and contrast the two stories.
The mythology of Sirens began over 3000 years ago.
One thing that sets mermaids apart from sirens is that mermaids are often mentioned in the stories and folklore of different cultures and civilizations, stories of sirens is limited to Greek mythology.
- Name 3 other major differences between sirens and mermaids.
Mermaids have played a significant role in art history since the classical period. Often in representative ways.
- Have each person in your group find and share 3 examples of mermaid art (paintings, architecture, sculpture, drawing) from around the world.
During the Medieval times tales of mermaids were so wide spread that Christopher Columbus himself is said to have had a mermaid sighting. Of his sighting he said, “three female forms which rose high out of the sea” He also is quoted as saying. The mermaids were “not half as beautiful as they are painted” but they did “have a human appearance”
- It is believed that Christopher Columbus saw a very real creature on his journey. What creature do historians now believe he encountered?
Although in some cultures, mermaids are seen as a bad omen, or a sign of bad luck and are best avoided by sailors and fishermen, Pirates often had huge elaborate carvings of mermaids on the masts of their ships.
- Why were mermaids common decoration on pirate ships?
- Share your new found knowledge of mermaid lore with your family.Tell them which creature or legend was your most favorite and your least favorite and why.