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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Water - Part 2 - People of the water (Mythological Species of Humanoids #25 - Merpeople)

As one travels from the forests through marshes, dunes and the shore line to the ocean, the land changes dramatically until it is not land at all. This dramatic shift in life forms and even the earth' composition is  mysterious and emotionally moving. The sea itself is unearthly; its creatures foreign and strange. To stand at the edge of the sea stirs the soul and the imagination. It opens us up to emotions we don't feel in other places. Is it any wonder that mythologies from around the world have peopled it with so much variety?

Mermaids (Merpeople) – whether the legends started with homesick sailors imaging seals, manatees, dugongs or dolphins as lovely woman or with people actually seeing things they just couldn't explain, Mer people are ubiquitous. They are usually described as having the tail of a fish and the top half of a woman or man. Though sometimes they are pictured with finned legs and webbed fingers, instead.

Every culture has it's water tribes meandering the oceans (and rivers) ready to drown the unwary and disrespectful. Sometimes these people groups or individuals are friendly and helpful, but more often they are dangerous and harbingers of misfortune such as a flood, drowning, storm or shipwreck.

There are many names for merpeople. For the record, Undines, a name often used interchangeably with mermaids, are really water elementals that may just look like a mermaid.
 In Greek mythology and ancient Greek literature Merpeople were called sea nymphs. Specifically there were nereids, 50 Mediterranean nymphs that helped rescue drowning sailors. They had legs and rode dolphins or hippocampi. There were also oceanids, 3000 fresh water nymphs including Nephelai (clouds), Aurai (breezes),  naiads (springs and fountains), leimonides (pastures) and Anthousai (flowers). There were also Tritones, male sea people that were patterned after Triton the herald of Posideon.

In German, English and Scandinavian mythologies there were shape shifting water spirits called nixies, necks, nicor or knuckers. As shapeshifters some times they are described as dragon or wyrm like creatures, but at other times they are considered people. Often they would sing or play instruments to lure victims, but sometimes they were helpful.

In interesting tidbit and question for Tolkein fans, in Scandanavian water lilies are called nix's roses. Tom Bombadil gathered water lilies for Goldberry, the river woman's daughter. Was Goldberry a nixie?

There are also many other names for water people: Lorelei (river maidens), rusalka and vila (Slavic mermaids), merrows (Scottish mermaids),

In Scottish and Icelandic mythologies there were selkies, seal people who shed their skins to walk on land as people. Similar to these are Swan Maidens who did the same.

Have you ever stood alone at the edge of the water, on the beach at high tide or in a boat, and felt like there were beings out there in the water just below the surface, perhaps watching you or going about their business, but who are very human like? I love to hear about it if you have.

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