Many civilizations have believed that life
began in the sea, and so water has been identified as female.
Associated with the female spirit of water are legends of women
half human, and half fish, mermaids, sirens, undines, ladies
of the lake, nixies, or water nymphs. Mermaids are associated
with Goddesses around the world, among them, Aphrodite, the
Greek Goddess of love, and Yemeya, African Ocean Goddess.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were sea nymphs who lived on
an island surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Approaching sailors
were drawn to them by their enchanting singing, causing them
to sail on the cliffs and drown. Odysseus escaped the Sirens
by having all his sailors plug their ears with wax and tie
him to the mast. He was curious as to what the Sirens sounded
like. When he heard their beautiful music, he ordered the
sailors to untie him but they ignored him. When they had
passed out of earshot, Odysseus stopped thrashing about and
calmed down, and was released.
In early art, the Sirens were represented as birds with the
heads of women. Later, they were represented as female figures
with the legs of birds, with or without wings. Birds were chosen
because of their characteristic beautiful voice. However, later
in history Sirens were sometimes also depicted as beautiful
women (whose bodies, not only their voices, are seductive),
or even as mermaids (half woman, half fish). The fact that
in some languages (such as French) the word for mermaid is
Siren adds to this confusion.
A mermaid is a legendary creature with a female human head
and torso (if it's male, it's called a merman) and the tail
of a fish, which inhabits the water. A freshwater mermaid-like
creature having two tails is a melusine, or a Nixie. In heraldry,
the charge of a mermaid is commonly represented with a comb
and a mirror, and blazoned as a 'mermaid in her vanity. For
many years the comic book hero Superman had a romantic love
interest with a mermaid woman called Lori Lemaris The name
Lori Lemaris was probably drawn from Lorelei rock in the Rhine
added to maris from the Latin mare meaning ocean.
Mermaids first appeared historically in Assyria, ca. 1000
BCE. Atargatis, the mother of legendary Assyrian queen Semiramis,
was a goddess who loved a mortal shepherd and in the process
killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take the form
of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine nature.
Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid - human above the
waist, fish below, though the earliest representations of Atargatis
showed her as being a fish with a human head and legs, similar
to the Babylonian Ea, precursor of the Biblical Noah. The Greeks
recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo, where she was
often associated with Aphrodite.
Yemaya is the great mother goddess of Santeria, and she is
often shown as a mermaid. Yemeya is said to be the mother of
many other Orishas, and lives in the ocean. In Brazil her devotees
set up elaborate beach front altars each New Year's Eve, setting
out food and candles to be washed away by Yemaya with the morning
From WIKIPEDIA, http://en.wikipedia.org
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