The Creature Files – Episode Two: "Ogopogo and the Mermaid"
Sightings Desk: Ogopogo
Creature Feature: Mermaids
Special Guest: Abby Oliver
Learn more about Abby on the Best Mermaid Channel Ever
One of the most famous of all creatures of folklore is the mermaid, a half-fish half-human female that has been portrayed throughout history in art, books, television, and film… But what is the true origin of this beguiling creature? The answer to that question is a little complicated. Fact is, there are variations of these types of creatures in folklore from every part of the world. In The Selkie of San Francisco, book two of the Sam London adventure series, the story involves a selkie, mermaid, and creatures known as the finfolk from the Orkney islands. All variations of what we would consider the quintessential “mermaid.”
One of the earliest stories of these creatures can be traced back to Assyria in 1000 B.C., and relates to the goddess Atargatis who leapt into a lake after mistakenly killing her one true love and took the form of a fish…It is suggested that this is perhaps why the creatures are often associated with calamity.
Mermaids feature prominently in Greek mythology, although the Greek variations were called Naiads and Nerieds. Pliny the Elder wrote about these creatures in his Natural History, claiming they sat upon dolphins. Similar half-fish creatures also made an appearance in Chinese mythology. It would take a lot more than a few paragraphs to list all of the occurrences of half-fish/half-human creatures in the folklore of various cultures…So we’ll just focus on the traditional mermaid for now.
The term “mermaid” is derived from Middle English circa the 13th century – “mere” meaning the sea or lake, and “maid” referring to a young woman. Chaucer would later refer to them as “Mermaydes” in “The Canterbury Tales,” in the 14thcentury. In the 13th century, there was a book written called the King’s Mirror that described the creatures off the coast of Greenland. “Like a woman as far down as her waist, long hands, and soft hair, the neck and head in all respects like those of a human being. The hands seem to be long, and the fingers not to be pointed, but united into a web like that on the feet of water birds. From the waist downwards this monster resembles a fish, with scales, tail, and fins.”
According to the Department of Mythical Wildlife, mermaids do not fall under the magic of the gryphon’s claw, which might explain the human sightings of mermaids over the years. And there have been many…
Several famous explorers swore they had seen mermaids, including Columbus, Henry Hudson, and Captain John Smith – the John Smith of Pocahontas fame. According to Smith, when he was sailing off an island in the West Indies he saw a woman “swimming with all possible grace” that “below the stomach the woman gave way to the fish.”
Of course, there have been more contemporary sightings, some particularly intriguing, including one by a Japanese soldier in 1943, another in 1967 in British Columbia, several in Africa, the list goes on and on.