The Epic Mermaid Blog

Posted by Jessica Jewett 3 Comments »

If you know me longer than a day, you know I have a slight (read as: majorly obsessive) interest in mermaids. Believe it or not, my first exposure to them was not Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It was the Hans Christian Andersen story that Disney hijacked and turned into Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder, Scuttle and Prince Eric.

Prince Eric. Pause for a 9-year-old dreamy sigh.

The Little Mermaid was originally written as a ballet and first published in 1837. Andersen’s tale is actually much darker than Disney portrayed, as were all 19th century European fairy tales happening at that time. They were used to teach children morality lessons. In the original version, the mermaid is told by her grandmother, after rescuing the prince from drowning, that when mermaids and mermen die, they turn into seafoam and cease to exist, while humans go on to Heaven and eternal life. Basically, humans have souls and merfolk do not. The mermaid is in love with the human prince, as portrayed in the Disney version, but she also longs for a soul (Disney made it into her fascination with legs), so she visits the Sea Witch for a potion that will give her legs in exchange for her tongue. This goes back to the ancient tales of sirens, also mermaids, who lured sailors with their intoxicating voices. The deal she makes with the Sea Witch is much darker than the Disney version in that the potion makes her have beautiful legs but she may never return to the sea and when she walks, it feels like she is walking on sharp swords hard enough to make her bleed. Added to that, she can only attain a soul if she finds true love’s kiss. The prince has to love her and marry her. When he does, part of his soul will flow into her (a metaphorical sexual element). If he marries someone else, the morning after the wedding, the mermaid will die, disintegrate into seafoam and cease to exist. The mermaid agrees, drinks the potion, and meets the prince, who falls in love with her. However, he is forced to marry a princess from another kingdom and the mermaid’s heart breaks. Her sisters gave the Sea Witch their hair in exchange for a knife that the mermaid must use to kill him so that his blood dripping on her feet must return her to mermaid form. The mermaid loves him and cannot bring herself to kill him. At dawn, she throws herself into the sea, where her body dissolves into foam. Instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the warmth of the sun and is told she has turned into a spirit, a daughter of the air. The other daughters of the air tell her she became one of them because she strove with all her heart to attain an eternal soul. She will earn her own soul by doing good deeds for 300 years in order to reach Heaven.

Not exactly warm, fuzzy Disney, is it?

Naturally, being a child, I much preferred the happy sing-a-long style of Disney storytelling, but being introduced to mermaids through the darker original version showed me something that felt oddly familiar. No, I’m not saying I’m a mermaid.

Or am I?

Yeah, that happened. Blame my brother for seeing that picture of me kissing Jon Knight and then slapping aviators on Eric.

But in all seriousness, I recognized as a very young girl that mermaids were special. I saw myself in them, especially after learning the Hans Christian Andersen story. The mermaid was a girl who couldn’t walk and wasn’t accepted by most of the human race. She wanted nothing more than to be loved and to continue on living with a souls just like everyone else. The story read to me as an exploration of how far a girl would go to attain the ability to walk, to lead a normal life, and to experience love without fear. In the end, she realized she couldn’t have everything she wanted and yet she became selfless by letting her love life a full life rather than sacrificing him for her own needs. Replace the fin with a wheelchair and you have basically paraplegic and quadriplegic girl in the world. It’s not a huge leap of the mind to see why someone like me would be attracted to the idea of mermaids and that story. Like every good 19th century fairy tale, I did learn a moral lesson from it but perhaps not the one Hans Christian Andersen intended. It made me think about being satisfied with the life I was given. She wasn’t satisfied with her life and her ambition made her overreach until she ended up dead without the man she loved, her family, and so forth. The 300-year sentence read to my Catholic mind as being in Purgatory. The biggest lesson of all was self-acceptance and finding the beauty of being in your own skin.

My fascination with mermaids continued into adulthood. As I developed an interest in history and the paranormal, I began to wonder where the idea of mermaids originated and whether it might be possible for them to be or have been real. An idea doesn’t just materialize out of thin air.

Some historical representations of mermaids.

Saint Pierre de Bessuéjouls, France (16c.).

Hortis Sanitati, 1491.

Physiologus (c. 1070).

“Monstra Niliaca Parei” from Aldrovandi Ulisse’s Monstrorum historia (1642).

England, 1230-1240.

It appears that the mermaid originated as a male god – a half-fish, half-human deity known as Oannes for the Babylonians in 5,000 BCE. Oannes represented everything positive, good and light about the sea. The female version of the Oannes deity was known as the goddess Atargatis. She was a Semetic moon goddess and is believed to officially be the first representation of a mermaid as we know her now. Fish were sacred to her, which meant that she was a woman represented with a fish tail. Stories say that Atargatis and Oannes were the parents of Semiramis, an historical queen of Babylon. This meant that Atargartis became an important fertility goddess. She also represented the darker, night forces of love and their potentially destructive power. Her cult reached as far as Britain and so began the spread of mermaids as mythological creatures throughout the world. Atargartis later evolved into the goddess Aphrodite, who was also born from the sea but then as a full human. The sea powers became her escorts, the male Tritons and the female Tritonids. Her sacred companion was a dolphin and she was a goddess of fair sailing, as well as fertility. Symbols associated with Aphrodite carried throughout mermaid mythology in multiple cultures.

The Greeks were largely responsible for the evolution of an occasional mermaid deity into an entire race of merfolk. Aware of the abundant life in the oceans, the Greeks knew how to tell sea tales. An incestuous union between brother and sister, Oceanus and Tethys, produced 300 sea-nymphs called Oceanids, along with a great many other sea creatures meant to depict its fertility. Some of the creatures produced were Metis, who became mother of Athene by Zeus. One known as Euromyne was depicted as a mermaid in a statue at Phigalia. Further issue from Oceanus and Tethys was Doris, who became the wife of another sea-god, Nereus, who then produced 50 more sea-nymphs known as Nereids. Among these were Thetis, mother of Achilleus, and Amphitrite, who became the wife of the later sea-god Poseidon, and bore the race of Tritons.

I know, it’s all very sordid and confusing. I almost need to draw a map.

By 80 CE Pliney, the Nereids sea-nymphs became synonymous with mermaids, while Tritons were mermen. The original sea-gods were Wise Old Men of the Sea in keeping with the tradition begun by Oannes, but the Tritons were a lustful and rapacious lot, fond of assaulting unwary sea-nymphs and human women alike. The Nereids, on the other hand, were protective of sailors, and reserved their beautiful singing voices to entertain their father, unlike the dangerous Sirens who ensnared sailors with their enchanting voices and lured them to watery deaths. The Sirens were originally bird-women related to the Egyptian Ra, or soul birds, demons of death sent to catch souls. But the Sirens eventually became synonymous with mermaids; thus the mermaids acquired their unpleasant reputation for drowning sailors. This evil aspect can also be traced to a certain degree as stemming from Greek sea-monster propaganda, promoting a fearful image of the sea to discourage commercial rivals in shipping and colonization.

Whilst the Sirens tempted Odysseus with supreme knowledge, a god-like attribute, later the emphasis shifted to worldly temptation. Thus the mermaid/siren symbol was used by the Medieval Church as embodying the lure of fleshy pleasures to be shunned by the God-fearing. The mermaid became a victim of the repressive sexual attitudes of the Christian Church. Mermaid carvings figured prominently in church decorations in the Middle Ages, to symbolically serve as a vivid reminder of the fatal temptations of the flesh. These rapacious soul-eaters (the legacy of the bird-sirens) were of course not considered to have souls of their own. Thus, the legends of the more highly-principled mermaids, anxious to acquire souls, arose.

Apparently, one method for a mermaid to gain a soul was to marry a human being; the best known form of this legend is Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Mermaid’. But similar legends abound in the folklore of many countries. Celtic mythology included the sanctified Liban, a young woman drowned and transformed into a mermaid, who after 500 years, enlisted the aid of the Irish St. Comgall to save her soul; also the Mermaid of Iona who wept many bitter tears over her inability to leave her ocean home to gain her promised soul. St. Patrick allegedly had a custom of transforming pagan women into mermaids, adding to the marine population in Ireland.

France has the legends of Melusine and Undine, both water-spirits who married noblemen. These mixed marriages in legend almost invariably fail miserably, with the unhappy mermaid ultimately unable to abandon her ocean element. In Germany, on the Rhine River, they had their Lorelei or Nix, a beautiful blonde siren who sat on a cliff luring boatmen to their deaths with her songs, in traditional style. There are the ‘morgens’ of Brittany, seemingly descendants of Morgan Le Fay, the sorceress of Arthurian legend. These creature lure all who come too near, down to their gold and crystal underwater palaces. In Norway, the ‘havfrau’ portends imminent disaster if sighted sitting on the surface of the water combing her long golden hair with a golden comb. The Japanese have their mermaids known as Ningyo.

In fact, the mermaid archetype is so widespread among cultures that one may conclude it is very ancient, and fulfills a particular need in the human collective consciousness. The mermaid in our culture is the most persistent and pervasive symbol of the old Goddess energy that represents women, particularly the mysterious, life-generating element. The Christian Church, in promoting the ideas that mermaids were dangerous temptresses and had no souls of their own, was actually stating deeply-held beliefs about all women, much as in the case of the witchcraze, when harmless old women were put to death by burning or hanging for practicing traditional herb-lore; this being the province of women it was destroyed by the Church in support of male domination. This beautiful, helpful and compellingly attractive goddess-mermaid has been stripped of all her spiritual qualities; hence, the stories involving the mermaid’s soul could never end happily. They emphasized the supposed faithlessness and inconstancy of women, the danger of their attraction, and the unlikelihood of their gaining humanity.

In Elizabethan times, the mermaid was used as a symbol of prostitution, and thus, popularly applied to Mary Queen of Scots, as Queen Elizabeth’s hated rival. Shakespeare, in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, included these lines supposedly referring to Mary, five years after her execution:

‘Thou rememberest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a Dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
That the rude sea grew civil at her song;
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
To hear the sea-maid’s music.’

The ‘mermaid’, ‘sea-maid’ meaning Mary; a dolphins back’, she married the Dauphin of France; ‘the rude sea’, the Scotch rebels; ‘certain stars’ referring to the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland and the Duke of Norfolk; ‘shot madly from their spheres’, revolted from Queen Elizabeth, enchanted by Mary’s feminine qualities. These lines may been disguised flattery; but it seems unlikely since Mary was dead, and also due to the prostitution symbolism of the mermaid at the time. More likely it was directed at Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s patroness, in the sense of censuring the behaviour of her rebel nobles. The mermaid was a popular poetic and allegorical symbol in Elizabethan theatre.*

But can mermaids be real? From a cryptozoological standpoint, that’s a tough question to answer and can only be based in theory and possibility, much like the New England sea serpent or the Loch Ness monster. The cryptozoology world largely ignores mermaids because the very idea sounds rather far-fetched. However, I see mermaids as no more far-fetched than werewolves or the alleged dinosaur species that still exist in Africa. The sheer number of first-hand mermaids sightings for thousands of years does make some cryptozoologists stand up and take notice though.

The different between fairy tale mermaids and cryptozoological mermaids is described by people who have allegedly seen them. They are not strictly human from the waist up with verbal speech, beautiful hair, etc. They are typically described as nonverbal, having black or green hair, and having fishy characteristics above the waist.

There are several different scientific theories that have been put forth to explain mermaids and mermen. One idea is that merfolk are animals. They might be some variety of undiscovered fish that has a top half that simply looks human, or they might be a variety of primate that evolved to a half-aquatic lifestyle. Unfortunately, not much evidence has come forth to support either idea. If merfolk exist and are animals, they must be incredibly rare, for science has never managed to get a dead body despite the fact that merfolk are supposed to love hanging about near shore, where capture should be easy and bodies would probably wash onto the beach.

Another idea holds more promise, but strays outside the normal confines of cryptozoology. According to this idea, merfolk are actually intelligent aliens. This idea is supported by the earliest merfolk legends, which describe semi-aquatic “gods” that came from the stars. If this idea were true, merfolk would be the descendants of these ancient aliens, perhaps ones that had been genetically modified to make them look more human and thus get along better with their human subjects. At some point, the set-up for playing gods collapsed and these remnants were stranded here to live out their lives apart from humans. This would explain why we don’t capture mermaids or find bodies, because an intelligent race, unlike animals, would have the ability to prevent such occurences. Unfortunately, even though this idea makes for an attractive story, it doesn’t have much going for it other than some really old legends.

Other explanations lean more towards the supernatural and, thus, are of less interest to cryptozoologists. Mermaids are explained as spirits of the water, as shapeshifters, as a subcategory of fairies, even as a type of demon.

In addition to the various speculations in cryptozoology as to whether mermaid reports might represent a new species of some sort, there is another connection between mermaids and cryptozoology. Some reports of mermaids link them to sea serpents and lake monsters. There are several ways this link can be formed. Firstly, there are legends about mermaids and other water spirits commanding sea monsters and lake monsters. Secondly, a few mermaids are reported to have extra-long tails, like sea serpents, instead of a fishy tail. Thirdly, a few rare mermaids are supposed to be shapeshifters who alternate between a mermaid form and one that resembles a sea serpent. For example, Morag, the legendary monster of Loch Morar, is said to appear in one of two forms. One is a beautiful blond mermaid, the other is a many-humped monster resembling Nessie. According to local lore, Morag appears in her monster form when someone is about to die.**

Recently, Animal Planet created a “documentary” called Mermaids: The Body Found. I have seen a shocking number of people who actually believe this program depicted a truthful story. It was not. The program was explained afterward as being a “what if” scenario. The reasons escape me as to why Animal Planet would produce something intentionally fake but they did and it has a lot more people wondering if mermaids could be real. It appears to me that the people who made the program did it from a heavily cryptozoological standpoint because the theories and appearance of mermaids in it seem to have been directly lifted from the cryptozoologists who are willing to study their possibility. Let me state here for my readers who might be confused that this program was fiction. None of it actually happened, although the theories they presented are widely discussed among the mermaid minority in the study of cryptids.

Do I think mermaids exist?

I don’t know.

I would like to think they might exist in some form just like people swear aliens, Bigfoot, werewolves, Nessie, etc., all exist. There are thousands of years of mermaid sightings all over the world, so I find it hard to believe all of those people were liars. I don’t actually think King Triton, Ariel and her sisters are swimming around the Caspian Sea, but I do think the possibility exists that a human-like species could have taken to the sea thousands of years ago while we stayed on land. There are a lot of different types of monkeys and apes, so who is to say there weren’t different types of humanoid species as well? I certainly don’t think they look/looked like Ariel either. I think they would resemble fish with human features that would make us relate to one another despite the inability on their part to speak. Mermaids may have existed at some point but may be extinct or severely endangered now. And truthfully, I hope they are never found. If they were found, they would be hunted to death.

For now, it’s nice to read the stories and imagine what might be.

And be sent hilarious things like these.

*Historical text borrowed from an article called Shadows of the Goddess – The Mermaid, by Scarlett deMason.
** Cryptozoological text borrowed from http://www.newanimal.org/merfolk.htm 

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Can some orbs be legitimate?

Posted by Jessica Jewett 4 Comments »

We all know that virtually all orbs in photographs are nothing more than distorted dust, water, or bugs. But can there be orbs seen with the naked eye that are paranormal?

There have been a few times in my life when I have seen unexplained balls of light with my naked eye. I don’t have another word for what they might be except the dreaded orb, which is almost a swear word to most investigators in recent years. I’m right there with them. I see allegedly shocking orbs in photographs or video and I want to tear my hair out and scream. The television show, My Ghost Story, has only encouraged this misguided idea that what are really bits of dust or moisture are shocking evidence of the paranormal. Seeing balls of light behave with intelligence and without the aid of a camera are entirely different things though.

My biggest experience with balls of light happened in Gettysburg. My very first time there, I went to Little Round Top at dusk before I totally lost daylight to see my way through the woods. It was my first experience coming into contact with something tangible that played an important role in Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s life. I was there with a few other people and we were all standing around quietly talking about everything that had happened there. At one point, I looked toward the position where the 15th Alabama charged up toward the 20th Maine and I noticed a little movement. I squinted a bit and thought I saw a firefly, except it was November, and fireflies don’t progressively grow to the size of baseballs right before your eyes. More appeared, each moving toward the 20th Maine position but vanishing once reaching a certain point, as if hitting some kind of barrier. They were colored lights as well. Some were in varying shades of red, orange and yellow, while fewer were in shades of blue and green. No one else in my party seemed to notice the lights, so I didn’t say anything. I thought maybe I was just misinterpreting giant Pennsylvania bugs or somehow imagining it. After I went home, I searched online for paranormal experiences on Little Round Top and, much to my shock, other people had reported seeing the same thing at different times.

Here is a photograph of my party and I on Little Round Top that exact evening. It should be known that I was with Jeffrey Keene, who is widely known to be the reincarnation of Confederate General John B. Gordon and a lady who was once Lucy Pickens, who was First Lady of South Carolina at the start of the Civil War. I still wonder if being a Union general’s wife accompanied by Confederate notables had some effect on the spirit activity that evening.

A few years before, I had been basically bed-bound due to a multiple year battle with borderline kidney failure. It was the middle of the night and the house was quiet when I noticed movement by my bedroom door. Three or four blueish-green balls of light came into the room and they ranged in size from a marble to a baseball. I don’t recall being afraid. Quite the opposite. I felt rather calm.

I asked other people recently if they too had ever seen mystery balls of light and I received a great deal of responses. There were a lot of reports of similar things that I had seen and there were other experiences like a sparkling effect or a gassy effect as well. The majority of experiences were just like mine, however, but nobody knew what to make of them. They all saw the same things but the question of what it all meant was met with a resounding I don’t know.

So what are these balls of light? What do you think? Are they partially manifested spirits? Are they merely traces of the earth’s energy? Are they some type of inhuman entity?

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Ancestry DNA – yay or nay?

Posted by Jessica Jewett 8 Comments »

Did you like that? My blog title rhymed.

Most of you know what a junkie for genealogy I am, which came from my mother’s incessant searching when I was a baby for ancestors who might have had my disability. The doctors asked her to do genealogy when I was born in hopes of establishing some sort of genetic explanation for what happened to me (there never was any explanation). I grew up with a mind for history, literature and art, which are all things quite linked, so it wasn’t a stretch of the imagination to see that I would want to understand my own family history. My grandmother gave me boxes upon boxes of documents, photographs, letters, etc., compiled by her cousin. Not all of it pertained to me because she compiled her husband’s genealogy as well. It also had nothing about my father’s side, which, unfortunately, is still a big mystery today. My legal last name is Jones like my father but that’s not the original family name. We had a horse thief in the family who was caught and he thought the shame brought to the family was so massive that he chose to disappear and change his name to Jones, thereby producing me as a Jones generations later. We know the original name sounded like my-s. My but plural. It’s a German name, so it might have been spelled Meis. Other than that? Nothing.

Fast forward to being a member of Ancestry.com so I can try to digitize all of the family tree information in case the tangible documents meet with an accident. They came up with a test known as Ancestry DNA, which will tell you about your ethnicity in specific regions of the world and put you in touch with possible relatives who already took the test. I had heard mixed reviews about the test, so I decided that I was going to compare different genealogical DNA tests over the next year since a few other companies make them too.

Here was my DNA test kit in detail as I unwrapped my package.

As you can see in the last picture, there was a test tube and a specimen bag. The process was to avoid smoking, drinking, eating or chewing gum for at least thirty minutes before collecting my saliva in the test tube up to that black line. Once the saliva was collected, I snapped the lid closed. You can’t really see it here but there was a chemical in that lid that was activated when snapped shut that was meant to stabilize my DNA in the test tube. At that point, I untwisted the lid and replaced it with a smaller lid, and then I shook the tube for five seconds. That’s all it took took to prepare my own DNA sample! It went into the specimen bag, it was sealed, and then it was sent back to Ancestry by their self-addressed stamped envelope.

I mailed in my sample on October 20 and received an email a few days later saying my test was being processed and to allow 6-8 weeks for results. It didn’t take nearly that long, obviously, because today is only November 6 (this blog will post November 12). My results came via email, which I thought was efficient, and made it up to the environment what they did with all that packaging for the test kit. The email directed me to my Ancestry.com account where the results were connected to my existing username. The first thing shown to me was this pie chart of my ethnicity based on their DNA test.

Here’s where the test is good and bad. I had been told by other people before I took the test that it missed big pieces of their known genetic background, so I wasn’t surprised to find that big pieces of my known genetic background didn’t show up in my results. It’s true that my mother’s side is predominantly British Isles (this is England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland) and my father’s side has some of the same, but the test completely missed a large, lengthy branch of French genetics. The French blood was not guesswork in genealogy. It was known ancestors from the 1700s up until just a few generations ago. Through my British Isles blood, I have genetics in every royal European household. Most of it is centered on England, Ireland and France. There was a smattering of Spanish marriages and various other places as well but not really enough to count. The test also missed the Native American blood, which is quite known. I noticed other people didn’t have those things turn up in their tests either when it was known to be there. Several people who were known to be Western European, like me, didn’t have it show up at all. Perhaps there’s something the Western European DNA has that should be adjusted in the test or something. I have no idea how DNA works!

I’m utterly dumbfounded by the 13% of Eastern European blood. That in itself is funny because when I mailed in my test tube, I told people I was hoping for something shocking to turn up, like mystery African blood or something. I got a surprise in the Eastern European blood and I’m not sure if it’s another test error or if it’s the big mystery on my father’s side. Remember, I know virtually nothing about my father’s ancestry and, after talking to my sister, she doesn’t think our father knows much more than perhaps his grandfather. There are a few little branches of people from Hungary on my mother’s side but I doubt they add up to 13%, so that must mean a lot of it comes from my father. Eastern Europe includes the modern locations of Poland, Greece, Macedonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Moldova, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Belgarus, and Kosovo. Since my father’s side is supposed to be very German, I have a theory that those Germans originated in one or more of these Eastern European countries. I have seen Poland, Hungary and Ukraine mentioned as regions where lots of modern Germans might have originated. Without some kind of lead on my father’s side, I may never know if this Eastern European blood is a test error or something real.

All in all, I would say this test was about half-accurate. It needs work before I would say it’s worth the cost. They’re onto something good though because in addition to the ethnicity percentages, you can also be put in touch with possible cousins who also took the test. I haven’t ventured into that part of it yet but I do have one friend who says that part of the test needs work too.

I kind of do like the idea of possibly being a tad Ukrainian though. Ukraine is like Russia. Russia is mysterious. I love a good mystery!

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