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Mermaids in Myth and Art

By Gail-Nina Anderson

Like angels, mermaids belong to that category of beings we might just hope to see, though almost certainly we haven’t and won’t. Still, we recognise them at once, a familiar image in our culture if not our experience. Unlike angels, however, mermaids don’t exist within a theological framework that “explains” them. There’s no mermaid dogma, nor even a central text setting out quite what they are. Appropriate to their ambiguous nature, mermaids are slippery creatures, at home in a surprising range of contexts, from the oral traditions of folklore to the most officially approved manifestations of high art. It’s impossible to track a consistent path down which our idea of the mermaid has developed – her natural element is, after all, far more fluid than any graph or wall-chart. Fish-people are probably an imagin­ative inevitability. We have populated the sea, as the sky, with creatures recognisably like ourselves yet also different because of the element they swim in. And we can add to this a trait that, as mythologies across the world attest, seems basic to the human imagination – we create the unknown from the familiar, envisaging hybrid creatures whose morphology offers a potent combination of recognisable parts.

Read the original article at: Fortean Times

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