Name a legendary sea creature? Did you think of a Mermaid? I bet you did! These enchanting creatures of the water world have been chronicled in maritime cultures thanks to Homer’s “The Odyssey”. Mermaids are truly fascinating mythological creatures that have effortlessly tapped into our imagination, making us question what really happens at the bottom of the ocean! Keep on reading to learn 50 facts about Mermaids.
Fact 1: The first mermaid or half-human recording was found in ancient Syria, in 1000 B.C. The recording was of a woman called Atargatis.
- Atargatis was a beautiful and powerful priestess who fell in love with a human shepherd boy who she had a child with. An older Atargatis then tried to commit suicide, by throwing herself into the ocean to drown, but the Gods didn’t let her die. Instead, the Gods changed Atargatis into a mermaid, with the upper body of a woman, and lower body of a fish.
Fact 2: In the Greek mythological tale “The Iliad,” Odysseus asked his crew to tie him to the ship’s mast to prevent him from being seduced by the mermaids and drowning himself in the sea.
- These mythological mermaids were not only deadly and vicious, but they also had feathers and could fly!
Fact 3: In the Middle Ages, mermaids were used to symbolize ‘sin’ and ‘seduction’.
- The medieval church used mermaids and sirens to teach Christians about sin, salvation, and promiscuity.
Fact 4: The term “Mermaid” literally means “Woman of the sea”.
- The Old English word “Mer” means “of the sea” and ‘maid’ means ‘woman’. So combining the words ‘mer’ and ‘maid’ results in ‘woman of the sea’.
Fact 5: There are accounts that Christopher Columbus saw manatees while travelling, which he thought were mermaids. In some reports, he is said to have mistaken a manatee skeleton for a mermaid.
- At this time, it would not have been uncommon for animals to have been mistaken for the legendary sea creatures, because manatees would rise out of the water like mermaids, and they would also perform ‘tail stands’!
Fact 6: Sirenomelia, also called “mermaid syndrome,” is a rare congenital disorder where a child is born with his or her legs fused together.
- This condition is about as rare as conjoined twins, affecting 1 out of every 100,000 live births. It is usually fatal, and not many survive for long after birth because of kidney and bladder complications.
Fact 7: The existence of mermaids was never questioned during medieval times, because they were given the same credit as other oceanic creatures like whales.
- This was because there were hundreds of accounts of mermaid sightings, so mermaids were discussed and accepted without question.
Fact 8: Mermaids were often considered to be bad omens. Legend says that if mermaids were spotted by sailors at sea, it usually meant that the sailor’s voyage was heading for trouble.
- Generally, to overcome these kinds of superstitions, the Captain of the ship would be tied to the mast and the rest of the crew would stuff their ears with wax, to drown out any potential harmful singing from the mermaids. Or they’d sail another way.
Fact 9: Mermaids are often compared to Greek sirens, who are said to possess extraordinary levels of beauty. Mermaids are often portrayed with long wave-like hair, large enticing eyes and a sparkly bottom half.
- However, a great deal of literature supports the idea that these depictions of mermaids are somewhat wrong. Mermaids are said to be far more treacherous in nature, and their primary goal is to entice men in with their beautiful singing voice.
Fact 10: Mermaids are said to have supernatural powers. The 4 main powers that are usually attributed to mermaids are immortality, telepathy, hypnosis, and the ability to see the future.
- ‘Immortality’ means they are exempt from death, ‘telepathy’ means they can communicate by sharing thoughts, ‘hypnosis’ means that they can place a person into a state of consciousness, and their ability to ‘see the future’ means they can actually see events before they happen.
Fact 11: It has been noted that ‘aquamarine’ is made from mermaid tears. And it’s believed that this gem will protect sailors while they are at sea.
- The ‘aquamarine’ gemstone is part of the Beryl mineral class, and its name literally translates to ‘water of the sea’ from Latin.
Fact 12: In modern culture, there are 4 types of mermaids. These are the traditional mermaids, Selkies, shape-shifting mermaids, and the Merfolk.
- But really we’re all going to mention Ariel, and more recently, Aquaman, if we’re ever asked to name a mermaid!!! They’re 2 prominent underwater characters that we all know and love!!
Fact 13: Irish shedding mermaids or “Selkies”, are able to shed their tails in favor of human legs.
- On the other hand, shape-shifting mermaids are able to change into human form, and back to mermaid form at any time!
Fact 14: The Merfolk mermaids have a more ‘human’ shape that allows them to live on the land and in the sea.
- Only traditional mermaids are confined to the ocean and cannot live on land.
Fact 15: A mermaid’s kiss is pretty magical, it is said that he who receives a mermaid’s kiss will have the ability to breathe underwater.
- Although it’s unclear if the receiver of the kiss simply inherits this magical ability or if they sprout gills somewhere on their body!!
Fact 16: A mermaid’s tail changes color based on her mood.
- A mermaid’s tail is unique to every mermaid, and it depicts the mermaid’s personality and her feelings at any given moment. FYI, you should so go and check out what colour your mermaid tail is!!!
Fact 17: Much like the ladies on land, mermaids love to accessorize themselves as well. Some of their favorite jewellery pieces are shell crowns, pearl necklaces, conch hats and kelp bracelets.
- Mermaids are likely to decorate themselves in magnificent, eye-catching jewellery as a part of their plot to lure gentlemen away from their ships!
Fact 18: The Babylonian God “Oannes,” predates the Syrian mermaid Atargatis by several thousand years.
- Oannes apparently had both a fish body and a human body. His human form was beneath his fish form which allowed him to live among men, as well as in the sea.
Fact 19: In some Pacific Islands legends, it’s said that human beings are descended from both mermaids and mermen.
- It seems somewhere back in time, both mermaids and mermen somehow dropped their tails and walked on land. A good example of this is the creator God Vatea, who was usually depicted as being half-human and half-fish.
Fact 20: Starbucks’ original logo features a two-tailed mermaid. Why? Because Starbucks wants to lure all its coffee lovers in.
- The inspiration for this came from a Greek myth. The myth talks about a time when sirens lured shipwrecked sailors to an island just off the Pacific, that island was called, Starbuck Island5.
Fact 21: Hans Christian Andersen based the mermaids in his tale, ‘The Little Mermaid,’ on Scandinavian mermaids called the Havfine.
- These northern Merfolk were able to live in both freshwater and saltwater.
Fact 22: Mermaids were originally created for the personification of water deities.
- Mermaids were celebrated as the bringers of life and fertility, however, they were also considered as the forces of great natural power and destruction as well.
Fact 23: All natural-born mermaids are born with powers and know how to use them. But, sea-born mermaids must learn how to use their powers as they do not come naturally.
- Interestingly, if a mermaid gets sick, their powers get messed up and don’t work as they should.
Fact 24: Mermaids are more confident than mermen.
- Mermen were supposedly more shy and secretive than their female counterparts, and nearly all stories suggest that mermen never came to the surface of the ocean.
Fact 25: Merfolk are said to be more beautiful than the average human being. This is because they are said to be voluptuous creatures, that are interested in luring men in.
- A just born mermaid looks like a regular human, but as they grow up transformations take place and mermaids become more beautiful with every transitional phase.
Fact 26: Alexander the Great’s grief-stricken sister, Thessalonike, was turned into a mermaid after his death.
- According to reports, Alexander the Great washed Thessalonike hair with water that he retrieved from the Fountain of Immortality. When Alexander died, his sister could not cope and decided to end her own life, but she was turned into a mermaid instead!
Fact 27: Mermaids were clairvoyants. Aside from being temperamental creatures, mermaids also have the ability to predict the future.
- Being able to see the future meant that they could predict when a ship would be near, and they could go off to lure the sailors.
Fact 28: Famous deities like Triton and Aphrodite, (from Greek mythology), the Assyrian goddess Astarte and the African deity Mami Wata, existed in mermaid form.
- They represented beauty, fertility, a force of nature, destruction and the danger of seduction.
Fact 29: The Disney version of “The Little Mermaid ” is a somewhat sanitized version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, which was first published in 1837.
- For example, in the original work, the ‘mermaid’ suffered great pain when she was transformed into a land-worthy creature. The description of this event is also far more graphic!!
Fact 30: The terrifying mermaids in, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” 2011, represent a realistic picture of the legendary creatures and their behaviours – which is considerably different to how Ariel is portrayed by Disney.
- The mermaids luring errant sailors off their course and onto rocky shoals, with the intent of drowning them, is far more gruesome, likely and realistic!!
Fact 31: One especially feared group of mermen, the Blue Men of the Minch, are said to dwell in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.
- Although mermen are not as well known as their female counterparts, they have an equally fierce reputation for summoning storms, sinking ships and drowning sailors.
Fact 32: Local lore claims that before laying siege to a ship, the Blue Men of the Minch, often challenge the ship’s captain to a rhyming contest.
- If the captain is quick, witty and agile with his tongue, he can win the contest and save his sailors from a watery death.
Fact 33: Japanese legends have also got a version of Merfolk called the “Kappa”.
- The Kappa is said to reside in Japanese lakes, coasts and rivers. These child-size water spirits appear to be more like animals than humans, with simian faces and tortoise shells on their backs.
Fact 34: Kappa mermaids are said to have an appetite for children. So, don’t go swimming in those open waters alone…
- Like the Blue Men, Kappa’s like to toy with their prey before eating them, so they often play a little game to see who wins. Obviously, if the prey isn’t quick and witty enough, well, they get eaten!
Fact 35: One story, dating back to the 1600’s, claimed that a mermaid once entered Holland through a dike (like a barrier to hold back water), but was injured in the process.
- The mermaid was taken to a nearby lake and was soon nursed back to health. She eventually became a productive citizen, learning to speak Dutch, performing household chores, and eventually converted to Catholicism, thus leaving her mermaid life behind.
Fact 36: One of the most famous and credible stories of seeing a mermaid in the flesh is from Captain John Smith. While sailing off the West Indies coast, he saw a woman with green hair swimming elegantly in the water.
- Given his title, there was no reason to believe that the Captain had made this story up, he would have been an incredibly reliable source at the time. Also, as he made way around the world he encountered another famous figure, Pocahontas.
Fact 37: By the 1800s, hoaxers churned out fake mermaids by the dozen to satisfy the public’s interest in the creatures. The trend was rife and people believed what they saw on stage, so it was a good way to make a profit for these hoaxers.
- The great showman P.T. Barnum displayed the “Feejee Mermaid” in the 1840s, and it became one of his most popular attractions.
Fact 38: Although rare, modern mermaid reports still exist. A report circled in 2009 claiming that mermaids had been seen off the coast of Kiryat Yam.
- The mermaid was said to do a performance for onlookers just before sunset, then disappeared for the night.
Fact 39: In 2012, an Animal Planet special called “Mermaids: The Body Found,” renewed interest in mermaids.
- It presented the story of scientists finding proof of real mermaids in the oceans – although it was fiction, sadly.
Fact 40: A temple in Fukuoka, Japan, is said to house the remains of a mermaid that washed ashore in 1222.
- The mermaid’s bones were preserved at the behest of a Priest. The Priest believed that the creature had come from the palace of a dragon God, at the bottom of the ocean.
Fact 41: For nearly 800 years, the mermaid’s bones have been displayed in Fukuoka, Japan and the water used to soak the bones is still said to prevent diseases.
- Only a few of the bones remain and since they have not been scientifically tested, their true nature remains unknown.
Fact 42: Magical female figures first appeared in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago.
- This was when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas, thus reporting sightings of female-like creatures.
Fact 43: Mermaids are not the only half-human creatures to grace us, there are others like the ‘chimeras’, (fire breathing woman, with a lion’s head!!!) that also come up in mythology.
- It’s really not uncommon to see a human portrayed with an animals body, or several animals even. Here are some examples for you to read about, Ketu (An Asura with a snake-like body and legs), Gamayun (A woman’s head on a bird from Russian mythology), and Centaur (An upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse).
Fact 44: Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 movie ”The Shape of Water” features a merman.
- It’s about a mute cleaning lady, who works in a high-security government laboratory in Baltimore, 1962. She develops a unique bond with a mysterious creature living in a water tank, which is inside the building’s secret laboratory.
Fact 45: Chinese mythological tales talk about Mermaids as wonderful, skilled and versatile beings, whose tears become pearls.
- Mermaids are also found in Romanesque columns, sharing prominence with the Nereids and the Harpies.
Fact 46: In Spain, there is a famous legend about the “Sirenuca” from Cantabria, which is about a mermaid that had once been a human.
- Sirenuca’s mother got fed up with her daughter not listening about keeping away from the cliff edge. In the end, the mother screamed, “God grant that you become a fish”, which turned her beloved daughter Sirenuca, into a mermaid.
Fact 47: In the classic story of “Jason and the Argonauts”, the Argo ship crew commanded by Jason, manage to evade the seductive singing of the mermaids and got to freedom just in time.
- They managed to escape from the bewitching melodies thanks to a great musician called Orpheus, son of Apollo, who travelled with them.
Fact 48: Contrary to popular belief, not all mermaids have the perfect singing voice. Actually, it’s only the Merfolk who actually sound good.
- It’s thought that they would sing and use their powers of persuasion to lure men in. Not forgetting this was coupled with their exceptional beauty too!!
Fact 49: In 2011, i09 released an article talking about ‘Mer-physics’. The article explains the physics behind how mermaids would experience the world, with emphasis on their senses underwater; seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling.
- One cool fact is that some mermaids might not be able to see the colour red. Why? Because water absorbs red wavelengths. So, for mermaids living near the top of the water this might not be an issue, as they will have evolved to see red while they jump out of the water. But for those living deep down in the water and rarely surface, they won’t have evolved to see red.
Fact 50: According to “ The secret world of mermaids” compiled by Francine Rose, there are 15 species of mermaids.
- This list includes the ‘shipsavers’, who are duty-bound to save humans lost at sea, ‘weather-workers’ who can control the wind, moon, waves and tides, and the ‘pearl-weepers’, who leave the sea in search of truth and shed their tails while on land.