“I Wanna Be Where the People Aren’t”
We all know the story of the little mermaid. The perky, curious little mermaid trades her voice to an evil sea witch for the chance to find her prince charming up where the people are. And they all live happily ever after, right?
Well, actually, the original Hans Christian Andersen tale is a lot darker. Some notable differences are that when the mermaid gives up her voice, she has her tongue cut out, and undergoes a violently painful transformation process, and continues to suffer as she dances with the prince on land. She even ends up killing herself at the end of the story once her prince has fallen in love with the wrong girl, returning to the sea as sea foam.
Pretty dark stuff, eh? Well that’s nothing compared to some of the twisted mermaid tales that have come out of cultures around the world for thousands of years. From vengeful shape shifters haunting the marshes of Norway to ugly, mysterious human-fish creatures terrorizing the Maori people of New Zealand, these mermaid tales will change the way you think about the friendly, finned fairy tale characters forever.
So what are you waiting for? KEEP READING to learn about the origins of mermaid lore from around the world!
The Merrow from Ireland
The Merrow is probably closest to Disney idea of mermaids that we all have in our heads. These beautiful maidens are human from the waist up and fish from the waist down, and have flowing green or golden hair. Their magical caps, known as cohuleen driuth, kept them safe at staggering depths beneath the sea. However, the male Merrow were not so charming as their female counterparts – they are said to be hideous, evil creatures that would capture and torture sailors.
For that reason, female Merrow often preferred to mate with human men, and would take off their magical caps and leave the sea to start families up where the people are. It wasn’t hard for them – their beauty and enchanting songs lured in men no problem. But sometimes, they preferred to sing from the depths and lure human men from the shores, living out enchanted romances under the sea.
But these beauties weren’t always kind – they were known to be easily startled, and in some stories even showed a more violent side. In some Gaelic myths, their human husbands would steal the Merrow’s cohuleen driuth, forcing them to stay on land. You can imagine how that probably went over in couple’s counseling…
The Finwife from Norway and Orkney Islands
These mythical creatures of northern Europe were shape shifters. The story goes that the Finfolk were obsessed with silver, and would rob and kidnap throughout human villages to acquire it. Because they could shift shape, the Finfolk spent the winters in their home – Finfolkaheem – at the bottom of the sea, crawling onto land in warmer months to terrorize human populations.
The story goes that female Finfolk, known as Finwives, were born as traditional mermaids – beautiful, mysterious. But the only way they could maintain their youth and beauty was by finding a human husband to have a family with. If they couldn’t convince a human man to fall in love with them, then they would grow old and haggard.
These Finwives would then become ploys sent out into the human world by their Finfolk husbands to trick human populations into giving them silver that they would send back. If their efforts didn’t yield enough silver, the Finwives could expect a visit from their husband accompanied by a vicious beating. So you can imagine why these creatures were so keen on kidnapping human men… the alternative wasn’t exactly glamorous.