Dragons & Mermaids - Spirits or Goddesses?From: UfoAndromeda@aol.com
Dragons & Mermaids - Spirits or Goddesses?
For thousands of years, we have told tales of beautiful and dangerous
creatures that inhabit the waters of the world. But what do we really know about
them? Are Mermaids goddesses or spirits? In European folklore, Mermaids (and more
rarely, Mermen) were natural beings that, like fairies, had magical and
prophetic powers. Although very long-lived, they were mortal and had no souls. There’
s more to the story than this, though. So many creation myths concern female
sea dragons and/or serpents that I feel that there could be a connection in
these beliefs and myths to the Mermaid legends. It was later, in the Old
Testament, that serpents and dragons became associated with the Devil and Satan -
dragons are potent symbols of good fortune in Eastern religions. The fish is a
covert Christian symbol 'ichthys', the initials of Jesus Christ, the Fisher of
Men, and the ritual food - the Christian canon draws connections between Mary
Magdalene and the ocean. Throughout, we see a pattern of sexual tension and
mystery. So who are the Mermaids?
In ‘particularistic’ religions there are no gods but a range of spirits,
from sojourning ghosts and mortal witches to perennial beings, whose natures and
dispositions to man are attributed by categories. For example, Mermaids and
leprechauns are both usually pictured as irresponsible. Many folktales record
marriages between men and Mermaids who might assume human form. In most the man
steals the Mermaid’s cap, belt, comb, or mirror – some object which
represents both her magic and her sexuality. If she finds the stolen item, she returns
at once to the sea; but whilst the object remains hidden, she lives with him.
In some variants, the marriage lasts while certain agreed-upon conditions are
fulfilled and it ends when the conditions are broken. Thus the Mermaid’s fishy
attributes represent her dual nature, neither wholly magical nor wholly
Though sometimes kindly, Mermaids were often dangerous to man. Some legends
say that, if offended, they caused floods or other disasters; their gifts
brought misfortune. To see one on a voyage meant an omen of shipwreck. Sometimes,
like Lorelei of the Rhine, they lured mortals to death by drowning or enticed
young people to live with them underwater, as did the "Merrymaid" whose image
is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor in Cornwall. The Sirens of Greek
mythology were half-bird rather than half-fish, but they sang with such
unearthly sweetness that sailors wrecked their ships on the rocks while listening;
this likely gave rise to the popular motif of Mermaids singing men to their doom
or otherwise enchanting them.
Similar divine or semi-divine beings appear in other ancient mythologies,
such as the Chaldean sea-god Ea, or Oannes, a Merman; sea monsters also occur in
panels of Maori ancestral carvings, and they are occasionally female with fish
tails and long hair. Of course there are many other legends of mythological
hybrid creatures that frighten and fascinate, such as Echidna (snake-woman),
Sphinx (woman-lion-bird), Chimera
(lion-goat-serpent), Faun/Satyr (goat-man), Minotaur (bull-man), Centaur
(horse-man), Pegasus (horse-bird), Hippocampus (fish-horse), Empusa
(lion-eagle), Barnacle Goose (mollusc-bird), Basilisk/Cockatrice
(cock-serpent) and Mandrake (plant-man).
The Evolution of the Mermaid
From the earliest creation myths of Babylon and Mesopotamia about Tiamat,
Great Mother goddesses have understandably been associated with water, fertility,
and the moon and its cycles. Tiamat, the Dragon Queen of Creation, was the s
alt-water dragon or serpent goddess of chaos whose death gave rise to the
creation of the world. Associated with Leviathan, Rabat and Tehom, Adam’s first
wife Lilith was her handmaiden. In Greece, the similar figure of Thalassa was the
daughter of Aetha (upper sky) and Hemera (day). On the other hand, the Hindu
creator goddess Ganga had no form, being half light in the Milky Way and half
water in the Ganges. Actually, the River Seine means breast, and on the other
side of the world Polynesian women still express their breast milk into the
ocean as an offering of thanks.
In Voodoo, a mixture of Roman Catholicism and West African tribal religions,
practitioners worship Erzulie/Oshun,a goddess/Orisha whose avatar or totem is
a water snake. She is a representation of the Virgin Mary, the Black Virgin,
or Earth Goddess.
(The Black Virgin is worshipped by French Gypsies as Sara-Kali at the Gypsy
Festival of the Black Madonna at Saintes Maries de la Mer - the black goddess
Kali, and Durga, are the Indian Great Mothers, and Sarah the Egyptian was the
black servant of Mary Magdalene. Sophia (Wisdom) is also black.) Another aspect
of the water goddess from Afro-Caribbean tradition is Yemaya/Yemonja, often
depicted as a Mermaid with twin fishtails in place of legs, similar to the
Germanic Melusine, or two snakes like Typhon.Yemaya is the Orisha of saltwater,
and Oshun is the goddess of freshwater. Well, Serpent Goddesses aren’t Mermaids
yet, but we are getting there!
Similar to Tiamat is the Australian Aboriginal creative spirit of the
Dreamtime, the female Rainbow Serpent Ngaljod of fertility, water, rain, and thunder.
This is perhaps an even older story. Aborigines also believe that songs
created all living things. They still sing to encourage plant and animal life, and
their rock paintings show the powerful sexuality of women in explicit detail.
Nu-Wa the Creator Goddess in China, was a Rainbow Dragon, double serpent
(ida/igala) or woman and Naga are serpent gods/devata in India.
To the Egyptians the serpent was an emblem of royalty, the uraeus or third
Eye of Ra, and many religions feature the snake representing healing and wisdom,
relating to Eve for example, as their supreme goddess. Also consider the
double snake as seen in Hermes’/Mercury’s winged serpent staff of medicine
Caduceus, in Hieros Gamos, the sacred marriage/cosmic union. The Aztec goddess
Coatlicue is depicted wearing a serpent skirt, or as a double serpent, and her son
is Feathered Serpent. Similar double serpent deities appear in Canada and the
Mississippi areas of North America, and in China. Thus the supreme god/dess is
often androgynous or hermaphroditic and capable of creation without a male
partner. For example Gaia (Earth) in Greece gave birth alone to Chronos (Time)
and Uranus (Space), and in Mali and Sudan the creator Nommo was a fish.
Still, Creator Serpents are nothing to do with Mermaids – or are they?
We’ll see how these myths became inextricably linked, and evolved across the
world over time. The Great Mother Matronit/Shekinah in Syria, Atar Gatis, was
in fact a Mermaid, as was Derceto, mother of Queen Semiramis; – and so was
Roman moon goddess Diktynna - a Mermaid or snake. In Hinduism the god Vishnu was
reincarnated in many forms including that of a fish, depicted as a Merman with
a fish tail, Matsya; and the Greek god Triton, son of Poseidon (once the
chief Greek god) and a Nymph, was also a Merman. Other sea dragons or crocodiles
are the Kraken, Midgard the Germanic serpent of the primordial sea, and Apophis
the Egyptian serpent of darkness. Probably one of the best-known Mermaids of
popular legend is Lorelei, who lured sailors on the Rhine; her statue seated
on a rock is a well-known landmark in Copenhagen. One common thought holds that
Mermaid legends arose from fishermen’s stories of Sirenians, the dugong and
manatee sea cows that suckle their young with only two pectoral teats.
Actually, the Mermaid legends are combined with those of the Sirens who lured sailors
to their deaths with beautiful singing, while combing their luxurious long
hair. The images of Mermaids often decorated boats for protection, as with ship’s
figureheads. Greek myths generally described the Sirens as having the heads
of women and the bodies of birds, but a few referred to them as having the
bodies of fish.
Sirens were in fact Nymphs, which is Greek for "young girl." Also, "nymphae"
is another name for the labia minori, hence "nymphomania" – more sexual
references. Nymphs were lesser divinities in Greece and Rome, and like Mermaids and
fairies of other European folklore, they could be harmful as well as life
enhancing. Some other Sea Nymphs included Oceanids (such as Calypso and Electra)
and Nereids/Dorids (such as Galatea and Amphitrite, mother of Triton). The Yara
in Brazil is a Siren associated with charisma, as were the Graeco-Roman ones;
today, "siren" survives as a term for a vampish woman, as well as the French
word for mermaid, sirène. The Nymphs’ brothers were the goat-legged Satyrs.
So here we are, having arrived at Mermaids by way of their more powerful but
still fishy forbears. Mermaid Mythology:
"Hair, vegetable, weedy and massed. A face that is beautful or cunning, and
sometimes both. Lungs and larynx, a singing voice but without a song. Arms,
usually rudimentary, but able to hold a mirrir, but sometimes a comb. The torso
may vary from slender to voluptuous; an earthly mermaid - is that possible?
Very occasionally mermaids, as seen in art or described in legend, wear garments
of some sort, or at least a piece of fine veiling or aquatic plant that flows
over and partially conceals their high, hard, rounded breasts. There might alo
be a necklace or hair ornament.
In the matter or mermaids tails there is enormous variation. Tails may start
well above the waist, flow out of the hips, or extend in a double set from the
legs themselves. They're silvery with scales or dimpled with what looks like
a watey form of cellulite. A mermaid's tail can be perfunctory or hugely long
and coiled, suggesting a dragon's tail, or a serepent's, or a ferocious
writhing penis. These tail are packed, muscular, impenetrable, and give powerful
thrust to the whole of the body. Mermaid bodies are hard, rubbery, and
indestructible, hereas human bodies are as easily shattered as meringues.
The asexual morphology of mermaids is obvious, there being no feminine
passage designed for ingress and egress.
Mermaids are the colour of water and of watery vegetation - brown, blue,
green, silver. Mermen are found in art and in folk tales, and even merdogs and
mercats, but among mythical fishy creatures, mermaids predominate.
Some folklorists have suggested that mermaids are matter and spirit fused.
Mermaids exist in all the world's cultures and go back to the dawn of time,
always gesturing, it seems, at the origin of life itself, which began in the
"The mermaid…is thus, an emblem of sexual ambiguity. Traditionally, women
were regarded as lesser versions of men, with abbreviated sex organs, but the
mermaid preceded even that image, being a female whose development was arrested
at an early stage of evolution. She is erotic but passionless, a culturally
charged gender model whose seductive capacity is valued over her reproductive
capacity. In her double-tailed version she may call to mind the old Celtic
sheila-na-gig, or the Indian Kali, aggressively squatting and displaying her yoni.
In her far more familiar single-tailed version, though, she is closer to an Eve
figure overlaid with the cult of the Virgin, a sealed vessel enclosing either
sexual temptation or sexual virtue, or some paradoxical and potent mixture of
– Carol Shields, The Republic of Love
The graphic carvings of Sheila-na-gig in Irish churches are also associated
with St. Bridget in Ireland and Wales, with the Celtic Brigantia, with
Artemis/Diana the virgin goddess of hunting, childbirth etc., and with Romano-British
Sulis Minerva who evolved from the Greek Athena. And like Athena, the Sumerian
Inanna (Ishtar in Akkad) was goddess of love, war, fertility, and also rain
and thunderstorms - the Indian Mahadevi (Great Mother) Durga is another warrior
Virgin Goddess, her name meaning "Beyond Reach". The irony of virgin
goddesses of fertility and childbirth seems to stem from the idea that the untapped
sexual potency of virginity held great powers in beliefs, both sacred and
profane, hence legends of virgin sacrifices and vampirism. Then there is the
Mordvinian (now in W. Russia) Mermaid Ved-Ava, the Water Mother, a spirit believed to
rule the waters and their bounty; she is known as Vete-ema among the
Estonians and Veen emo among the Finns. The water spirit belongs to a class of nature
spirits common to the Finno-Ugric peoples dependent on fishing for much of
their livelihood. One of the chief symbols of the Maori is a fish-hook. Fishermen
sacrifice to the water spirit as a personification of their concerns, give
her the first of their catch, and observe numerous taboos while fishing.
Ved-ava, however, is also responsible for promoting fertility in humans and in
In appearance, the Water Mother reflects general European traditions of the
Mermaid: long hair that she may be seen combing while seated on a stone, large
breasts, the lower part of the body fishlike. She can often be seen or heard
playing music to entice people, but seeing Ved-ava generally bodes misfortune,
most often drowning. Ved-ava has also been thought of as the spirit of a
drowned person, like Russian Rusalka. At other times she is simply a
personification of the water itself.
The Selkie or Seal Wife occurs in Celtic legend and ballads, which are deeply
saturated in a mystical atmosphere imparted by the presence of magical
appearances and apparatus. One such ballad, about a male Selkie or Silkie ("The
Great Silkie of Sule Skerry") tells how he begets upon an earthly woman a son who,
on attaining maturity, joins his seal father in the sea. Shortly thereafter,
father and son both die at the hands of the woman’s human husband.
In Scandinavia they're known as Havfine, Havfrue (Mermen), or Havmand. The
Japanese Mermaid known as Ningyo was depicted as a fish with only a human head;
whereas the Polynesian mythology includes a creator named Vatea who was
depicted as half human and half porpoise. Greeks and Romans believed dolphins
carried the soul to the afterlife.
Mary Magdalene Associated with Mermaids
Mary Magdalene is sometimes shown with a fish tail as Marina, often depicted
with a jar of ointment (spikenard was usually used for anointing), a crown of
thorns, long loose hair, and a mirror – as Mermaids are shown with a mirror
combing their long hair, and singing like Sirens. Mary is the patron saint of
hairdressers, perfumiers, gardeners and prostitutes.
An association between Mary Magdalene and the sea grew up, as it did with the
Holy Grail which, according to the Nag Hammadi Codices, Magdalene took with
her to France after the Crucifixion. The Chalice also represented the uterus to
the cultists (as does the horseshoe), and the wine the menstrual blood.
Tantric and alchemical texts refer to menstrual blood by a number of colourful
names including Star Fire, Gold of the Gods, and Vehicle of Light. This provides
another root for vampire legend. The Roman goddess Mens
(Bright Moment/Mind) is also associated with menstruation and Tantric shakti.
According to the Gnostic gospels, the three Marys – Mary Magdalene,
Mary-Salome (Helena), Mary Jacob, together with Martha and Lazarus, fled into exile in
France after the crucifixion and resurrection - where the men were not
present. Mary Magdalene was said to be bearing the child of Jesus, his daughter
Tamar. They arrived at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer (Three Marys of the Sea, Très
Matres) and here arose associations with Triple Goddesses like the Fates and
the Morrigan. In fact, the idea of a Holy Trinity did not form part of Israelite
theology, and only became a Christian concept as the gospel spread into the
Pagan world, where a Holy Triad or family was a well established device.
An extension of the hermaphroditic goddess is the Virgin Mother: There were
many Virgin Mothers of gods, some with parallels to the Virgin Mary – the Roman
Kore was a virgin goddess who gave birth to Dionysus, whose name is sometimes
written Ies or Jesus. At the end of the 6th century Pope Gregory I defamed
the red cloaked priestesses of early Judaeo-Christianity, the hierodulai such as
Mary Magdalene, as harlots, scarlet women, although nowhere in the Bible does
it identify Magdalene as a sacred prostitute. She is often portrayed in a red
cloak over a green dress of fertility. As a head sister Mary was entitled to
wear black, like the priests of Isis, and there are many statues of Black
Madonnas with black hands and faces in France, in churches like Notre Dame, on
pagan sites dedicated to Isis and Athena. Mary the mother of Jesus, the token
woman in the Roman and Orthodox Church, was therefore only permitted to be
portrayed wearing blue cloak (heaven) and white dress (purity) – traditional ocean
colours! Earlier she wore a red dress - her mother St Anne wore a red dress
(love) and green cloak (rebirth), like Mary Magdalen. As Isis she was known as
Stella Maris, Miriam - Star of the Sea
(originally Stilla Maris, Myrrh of the Sea), and a church in Rome is called
Santa Maria della Navicella, Our Lady of the Boat, again a uterine reference?
In addition to the connection of Magdalene to the sea, there appeared a
general connection to water. La Dompna del Aquae (Mistress of the Waters) was a
term for her who, legend has it, was buried at Aix en Provence (Acqs – water).
Royal descendants in Grail lore, the Merovingian kings, became known as Fisher
Kings - the successor to the French throne is the "dauphin", dolphin! The Red
Dragon of Wales emblem evolved from serpents, dragons or Holy Crocodile, Draco,
that represented the Pendragon Celtic kings. Gnostics and Celts venerated
females in association with lakes, wells, fountains, and springs. In Arthurian
legend, the Lady of the Lake was transposed into Britain; the gallant knights
and troubadours of the Age of Chivalry idealised women with Courtly Love. The
Lady of the Lake has further associations with Vivian/Nimue, originally the
Welsh moon goddess. She in turn was linked with Rhiannon/Rigantona, wife of the
King of Dyfed, who rode a white horse, her avatar.
Another Celtic horse goddess, Epona, was connected with the colossal white
horses carved in chalk hills in southern England; the association of goddesses
with horses and their moon-shaped hoof prints, the moon, tides and water was
widespread. The male symbol of a unicorn submitting to a maiden featured widely
in pre-Raphaelite paintings of the nineteenth century, which sensually
portrayed other themes of romantic legend including Mermaids and water sprites.
Springs were said to have arisen from the hoof-prints of Pegasus, the son of
Medusa; and there are legends of Water Horse spirits such as the Scottish Kelpie,
Nykur, and the Germanic Nix who could be a Mermaid or centaur!
In Ireland Mermaids are known as Merrow, and although obviously from "mer" or
"mare" for "sea", the word "Mermaid" is sometimes presumed to come from the
same root as Mary/Miriam from the Egyptian for "beloved." So are the word
"marry", and the term "Merrie England." This archaic use also appears in Robin Hood’
s "Merry Men," and some consider Maid Marion herself a link to Mary
Magdalene. During the Qumran era, Miriam (Mary) and Martha were not simply names, but
titles for those who participated in a formal ministry within spiritual orders
such as the ascetic and healing community of the Therapeutate, Moses being the
The name Magdalene comes from the Hebrew "magdala" or "migdal" – a tower, one
of her emblems, and the term maudlin meaning sorrowful, evolved from
Magdalene sobbing at the foot of the cross. Along with the cult of Mary Magdalene is
that of Mary the Gypsy, sacred harlot and love cultess. She is identified with
Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love who was 'born from the foam' - the Indian
goddess Lakshmi was born from the primordial sea of milk. The name of Gaia's
daughter Rhea (Titan mother of the gods) means milk in Greek. Anglo-Saxons
portrayed Mary Magdalene as the May Queen. May celebrations such as Morris Men
dancing and the Maypole, a fertility symbol, naturally have pagan associations
with Maia goddess of spring and fertility, just as Christmas is associated with
the winter solstice.
Water and Serpent Goddesses ? In ancient Sumer Ki/Ninti was a double serpent
goddess of the earth (also known as Ninhursag), and Enki was god of water. The
Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple represented the womb of Ashtoreth
(Asherah, in Sumer), the Phoenician goddess of love and fruitfulness whose symbol was
also the double serpents. Ashtoreth merged with her daughter Anath to become
Jehovah’s consort, the Shekinah/Matronit. Sarah (Princess), wife of Abraham,
revered as a goddess of health and fertility, is also said to be embodied in the
Shekinah (Indwelling). Celts worshipped the Shekinah at dolmen or cromlechs.
The Syrians knew Ashtoreth as Atar Gatis, a Mermaid. Other associations
include the Greek/Roman goddesses Hecate (witchcraft), Selene (moon), and
Aphrodite/Venus (love - incidentally the Pisces constellation represents Aphrodite and
her son/lover Eros, disguised as two fish to hide from Typhon.) The list also
features Artemis/Diana, who is in turn linked to the fishermen’s moon goddess
Britomartis (Sweet Maiden). Another Roman moon goddess of childbirth,
chastity, and young women is Diktynna, a Mermaid or snake. Obviously creator goddesses
have always been associated with the moon, perhaps because of its monthly
cycle, even to its control of tides, and the purifying essence of life-giving
water. So many civilisations believe that water is the foundation of all things -
Nun was the Egyptian primordial ocean, Oceanus to the Greeks, and Apsu the
primeval watery abyss in Mesoptamia was the consort of Tiamat. The Mesopotamians
had the same word for 'fresh water' as 'semen', denoting its fecundity. Water
is the instrument of purification and expiation - the Ashanti hold rivers
most sacred, underground rivers like the Styx conduct the dead to the Underworld.
Eskimos too, believe that their sea goddess, Sedna, lives in a world under
In the Zoroastrian 'dualism' religion of the prophet Zoroastra/Zarathustra in
Persia, the wives of Lord Wisdom, the Ahuranis, were rain clouds and water.
Anahita was their goddess of the moon, fertility and rain; she has associations
with Anath, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Magna Mater. Similar to the Ahuranis were
Varma’s Varmanis of the Hindu Rig-Veda book of knowledge. The blue and white
clothed Indian goddess Saraswati (Flowering One) embodies rivers, the flow of
blood as well as water, purification and fertility, shamanic healing, art,
music, learning and speech.
18th century Tantric Buddhist carving depicts a Yogini or female teacher with
serpentine energy (kundalini – Sanskrit for "snake") emanating from her yoni
(genitalia, or "sacred space"). In Tantrism, Star Fire is the menstruum; Jade
Fluid is the woman’s saliva, nourishing to the man. Chalchiuhtlicue, was the
Aztec goddess of running water, and her husband/brother was Tlaloc, god of rain
and the oldest Aztec god - chief gods Zeus and Indra were also gods of rain.
Yet again and again we see the connections between femininity, fluids, fish or
serpents, and life.
Python, the original Oracle at Dephi was a pythoness, as were the
Scandinavian sibyls or volvas. The Greeks and Egyptians depicted a serpent swallowing its
tail in a circle, a symbol known as Ouroboros, representing eternity and
renewal because it sheds its skin, a sign which was later adopted by alchemists
and hermetics. And so we’re back to a serpent Great Mother creator such as
Tiamat, for as you can see, very many of these ancient myths and legends of
creation, rebirth, female spirituality and sexual potency concern divine serpents and
water goddesses. Perhaps mermaids, too, are a manifestation of these beliefs
in simple folklore.
"All the Great Mothers are born from the primeval ocean or the watery abyss,
the primordial womb of life from which all created forms emerge: the ideogram
for the Sumerian goddess Nammu was the sea; Isis was 'born from all-wetness';
Hathor is 'the watery abyss of heaven'; Nut, the sky goddess, lets fall her
milk as rain; Aphrodite is born from the foam of the sea. The brightly painted
'mermaids', flinging their arms and hair to the winds of every quarter on the
prows of ships, may be a folk remnant of this inheritance."
Anne Baring & Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess (Mary as the Great
Mother Goddess). Copyright Patience Gent 2001
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