Siren / Mermaid
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Siren / Mermaid

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 tides.


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