Did you know Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids on
his first voyage to the Americas? In his log, he reports that the mermaids he observed were "not as beautiful"
as they have been represented.
Now, we may wonder, was dear old Chris sipping the sea water? Or, was
his mind conditioned by medieval illustrations, astrological prophecies about what would be found beyond Europe's familiar
coastlines, and of course the accounts of other traveler's? Or, could it be that he actually did see these three
Throughout history, mermaid sightings and actual interactions with these creatures have been recorded.
Every culture has its own interpretation and lore about the Mer-folk. In the 13th century, the sightings were so prolific,
Christian monks had to address the issue, condemning them as sorceresses, demons, and-whores. Yes, whores. After
all, wasn't it true that these vixens of the sea spent their time searching out and seducing sailors and entranced them
to have sex with them? And, if the sailor's refused the mermaid's advances, he would be killed and his flesh
eaten. Classic. And, yes, the mermaids were also topless.
Of course, they said, the mermaids
could be taught civility and in so doing could be redeemed in the eyes of God. This contradicts the popular belief that
the Mer-folk are creatures born without souls. It is reported that in 1560, off the coast of Ceylon (an island in the
Indian Ocean off the Southeastern Coast of India) a group of Jesuits, along with the physician Bosquez (aide to the
Viceroy of Goa) autopsied seven mermaids who had been found deceased earlier, and reported the mermaids were anatomically
and spiritually identical to humans (minus the fishtail, I'm sure).
Well, we can't blame the
monks and clerics for wanting to focus on the humanity of the mermaid. It is a horrible thought that such intelligent
creatures would not possess a soul. And, we must remember if it wasn't for the missionaries in Africa in 1700, it
would have never been discovered that some native Angolans were catching mermaids and eating them! What a dilemma!
Were these Angolans now to be considered cannibals and their acts punishable by the church?
The worst story
I've read thus far about mermaid sightings is the one reported by Alexander Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica, an encyclopedia
of Hymns & Incantations. It is the story of the Mermaid of Benecula.
He reports of a mermaid who
at first seemed like a small human-like creature splashing in the sea a few feet away from shore. The people who spotted
her had been harvesting seaweed at Sgeir na Duchadh on the Outer Hebridean island of Benecula in 1830. Some of the boys
began to throw stones at the poor little thing and apparently hit it because no more than a few days later, the little body
of the mermaid washed ashore not two miles away.
He reports: "The upper portion of the creature
was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed breast. The hair
was long, dark, and glossy, while the skin was white, soft, and tender. The lower part of the body was like a salmon,
but without scales."
It is reported the local sheriff ordered a coffin and shroud, and the body was
buried above the shore where it was found. The tale of the mermaid of Benecula may be the truest account of mermaids
there is. If you go to the isle of Benecula (so the locals tell) at the gloaming, you will see a gathering of mermaids.
They are all weeping and many bring seaweed and shells in honor of the lost little mermaid who was killed long ago.
Why such sorrow over this unknown mermaid? Well, rumor has it, in the Nether; it is believed this little mermaid of
Benecula was actually the granddaughter of King Triton. This is why the ocean is in such turmoil, more often than not,
off the shores of this island.
Not all mermaids are sweet and kind and beautiful. There are plenty
who are evil and quite ugly. But, of course, the fact remains, many of these mermaids, good and bad, male and female,
adult and child, have fallen prey to the larger creatures of the ocean, and also, to the nets of man.
seen many mermaids on my ventures to the sea. Someday I will tell you the stories. Until then, may your sightings
of mermaids be plentiful-and from a safe distance.
by Corbin Silverthorn