Mermaids have a bit of a new-age rep these days. Doreen Virtue has had her hands on them, and now they are like Angels of the Sea, here to help Humanity evolve into greater, more lovely beings, to have fulfilling romantic relationships, all that jazz.
That’s a nice idea.
But by only focusing on the good, we are ignoring something important.
My take on mermaids is a little different. I think of mermaids more like a wild, watery archetypal force. They are a facet of the untamed Divine Feminine, and their stories are full of darkness, sorrow and bloodthirstiness.
Through the centuries we have tales of mermaids representing the wild danger of the natural world – mermaids who drown sailors in stormy oceans, and lure ships towards pointed rocks with their seductive singing. These mermaids are the true embodiment of the oceans they lived in – the stormy atlantic, the unforgiving north sea.
We have stories of inland mermaids, who lurk in forest pools waiting for a man to drown.
We have stories of scorned mermaids exacting punishing revenge on men who wronged or hurt them, often with scenarios where they drown a whole village or make war against them.
We have stories of mermaids trapped, imprisioned, or otherwise crippled for love – being punished for choosing their own lover, or punishing themselves in order to be worthy enough of a man’s love.
In fact, we have tonnes of stories about mermaids being cruel, capricious or untrustworthy – and tonnes more where mermaids are on the end of a horrible situation that just sucks for them.
Why is this?
How can a mythological being with such a dark murdery past be so powerful in the new age today?
How can we spiritually work with such dark, devious beings?
Well, most mermaid stories actually mirror the patriarchal attitude to women of the time in which they were written.
Write a mermaid story in the 13th Century, when Catholic Repression is all the rage, you get a story of a ravenous Daughter of Eve, whose purpose is to corrupt all christendom with her sinful nature and her lusty cleavage.
Write a mermaid story in the 19th century, you get a story where the mermaid is just dying to be purged of her sinful nature and be purified… through love with a man, of course.
The history of patriarchy has been about the control of women, because if you control the people who propagate the human race, you control humanity. If you control the beings with the power of life, you control life itself.
So many mermaid stories are about frustration with women that the patriarchy can’t control – and how horrible and dangerous out of control women are.
They take core feminine traits – like flexibility, intuition, love, sexuality – and through mermaid stories show them as something terrifying and dangerous to men. (I can’t actually think of many mermaid stories where the mermaids are punishing women at all. Can you?)
So we get these delicious, bloodthirsty, insatiable watery succubi who are capricious as the sea and want nothing more than to drown a man in her watery world of sex and feeling.
I love it when stories are all dark and messed up like this.
It means there is something powerful there someone is trying to hide – some shadowy truth someone is scared of.
It’s a clue.
Mermaid stories portray the power of Women, the seductive power women have over men, and how terrified the men are of it. In a society where women’s sexuality was to be tightly controlled, the idea of a free, sexually liberated, independent woman was too much.
They HAD to demonise her.
She became a symbol for why powerful women were evil and dangerous….
… and at the same time, looking back, a symbol of feminist uprising against an unfair and outrageously repressive regime.
That’s why I love mermaids.
It’s not about the love-and-light. Their stories, their connections with the ocean are too real, too visceral, too dangerously powerful for them to just be love and light.
I don’t believe that you can just say “Oh it’s just slander! None of it is true!” about this kind of stuff either. There are hundreds of stories of mermaids that tell of their sexy danger. Why would we ignore that – just so we can create a fabricated, unattainable image of female spiritual perfection in our minds?
(…and how exactly has that helped us in any other area of our lives?)
This darkness is a part of them.
This dangerous reclaiming of power is ALL of them.
They were the woman aligned with the feminine powers of water, of the tides, of love and emotion, who refused to let anyone take their power – who laughed at those who tried, and drowned them anyway.
Resistance in the face of insidious control.
And yeah, it got a bit dark and messed up – but the world is dark and messed up, and since we are dealing with elemental beings – beings who by their very nature are tied to the physicality of this world – it makes sense that mermaids would be beings of shadow and light, rather than of holy untainted perfection.
Being a powerful, sexual female being in the mythological world of the last 2000 years WOULD make you a devilish she-beast.
So mermaids/watery female natures were demonised through story, their natural feminine traits declared too dangerous and too sexy for the common good, and the idea of women needing to be controlled because they are too messed up not to be was enmeshed in the mythology of western culture…
… and because we all learn through stories, I am sure it helped out with the whole mysogynist propaganda thing as well.
Mermaid stories are dark and disturbing because they reflect the dark and disturbing beliefs of the storytellers of the time – and we can’t just erase out what that means for the Mermaids. Why would we? If we erase out all the stories about fear of female power, we erase out the intense potency of that power that had everyone terrified.
(… of course, there are shadow aspects to the power of the mermaids themselves: their feminine natures gone wild can lead to exciting shadowy experiences like jealousy, selfishness, vanity and codependency, as illustrated in many exciting mermaid stories of the past few thousand years, and they are fascinating to delve into – I’ll be exploring this in my next article, so don’t forget to sign up to the list to make sure you get it in your inbox!)