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Women of the Sea, Muses of the Ages

By Carolyn Emerick

Mermaids, sirens, selkies, water nymphs. Female mythological figures of the sea were a source of both inspiration and fear for seagoing men for hundreds of years. Perhaps they represented the allure of the open sea, the way it beckoned to those young men who left life at home behind. The sea is a giver of life, and taking to the sea could be a road to prosperity during periods when times were tough. Yet the sea is a dangerous place and every sea voyage could end in peril. Likewise, there are stories of beautiful sirens singing an irresistible song, or mermaids promising romantic bliss to a naïve sailor. In many of these stories if the sailor succumbed to her call, he was dragged to the bottom of the sea and drowned!

Sometimes the story was reversed and the watery woman was the victim. Hans Christian Andersen reimagined the mermaid legend. His mermaid wanted nothing but to live on dry land with her handsome prince. But, when he married another, she was doomed to dissolve into sea foam. Selkie legends also involve a woman from the sea transforming to live on dry land. Scottish and Norse folklore are rife with stories of seal-women who shed their seal skin to reveal a beautiful human body. If a man is able to find her seal skin and hide it, the selkie will be trapped on land and forced to be his wife. Only if she can find her hidden seal coat will she be able to return to the sea.

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