Why Mermaids Could Exist (and more about various ocean anomalies)

Believing that mermaids exist may seem childish, but believing in a lot of things seems childish until you’re shown the science to back it up.

So that’s why I’m here today. To give you the science. Or rather, some factual information to support these theories. Now I’m not implying that you should believe in mermaids, because I make it a habit to not tell people what they should or shouldn’t believe in. However, what I’d like to do is provide some reasons as to why it’s not unrealistic to think their existence is valid. And true to my nature, I have included links to reliable sources below. Also, fair warning: I focus a lot on the Deep Sea zone, because it plays an important role in my theorizing. It’s also just a very fascinating marine biome.

But to return to the topic at hand:

Perhaps the greatest reason that mermaids could exist is that 95% of the ocean has been unseen by human eyes [1]. That’s right—even though the ocean covers more than 70% of planet Earth, we’ve only explored ~5% of it. And of course, mermaids don’t have to be ocean-dwelling creatures. They could exist in lakes, ponds, swamps, and more, which leaves more places for them to be discovered.

This is also good reason for why any water-based cryptid could exist. The Kraken, the Leviathan, and the Megaladon could all be living at the bottom of the sea in dark trenches and giant caverns, as completely oblivious to our presence as we are to theirs.

But really, that’s being theoretical. What isn’t theoretical is the undeniable appearance of the mermaid myth across different cultures and history. As seen in my previous post found here, mermaids first appeared as deities in Assyrian mythology between 700 b.c. to 1000 b.c. But it is said that mystical female entities were shown in cave paintings even earlier than that, in the late Paleolithic period about 30,000 years ago, which is when modern humans  gained dominion over the land and began to sail the seas. [2]

For a common mythological figure to appear in cultures and historical remnants across the world can mean a number of things, as any historian and anthropologist will tell you. It indicates an intermingling of stories and cultural values over time, interactions due to international trade and travel. However, it also is indicative of the fact that mermaids could exist around the world, hence why people around the world would create artwork as well as spoken and written legends about them.

Now theoretically, if mermaids did exist, it would be likely that they exist in the Deep Sea zone (600 feet/183 meters below the surface). So consider the fact that deep sea gigantism—a phenoma that caused the gigantic makeup of sea creatures dwelling on the sea floor, like with Japanese spider crabs, colossal squids, and different types of isopods—could mean if there were mermaids dwelling on the ocean floor, they could be the size of a whale.

beharkei: “Mermaid by Sergey Kolesov ”

(this beautiful piece of artwork is titled “Mermaid” by Sergey Kolesov)

Deep sea gigantism is influenced by pressure, or to be more specific, a combination of Bergmann’s Rule and Kleiber’s Law.

Bergmann’s rule is “an ecogeographical rule that states that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, and species of smaller size are found in warmer regions” [3]

Kleiber’s Law is “the observation that, for the vast majority of animals, an animal’s metabolic rate scales to the ¾ power of the animal’s mass” [4]

The results?

The Japanese Spidercrab, as aforementioned:

Image result for japanese spider crabs

The Colossal Squid:

Related image

(they can grow up to twice the length of a school bus)

And large isopods:

Image result for large isopods

The Deep Sea really is a wild place. It is extremely cold (about 4º C) and dark because of the lack of light, and most creatures are generally transparent or a brownish-black because of it. It’s home to Gulper eels, Snaggletooth fish, Sloane viperfish, and Angler fish.

And to continue the discussion of interesting ocean oddities, let’s not forget about brine pools, which are essentially pockets of seawater that are very salty and therefore denser than the surrounding water. [5] Because they exist on the seafloor and have distinct surfaces and shorelines, they often look like small lakes within the ocean (think of Goo Lagoon from Spongebob).

There’s also Sea Sparkles, which sound as fantastical as mermaids. Sea Sparkles, also known as Noctiluca scintillans, are small, non-parasitic, species of dinoflagellate that appear bioluminescent when disturbed. They can be found all over the world, often along the coast, in estuaries and shallow areas that receive lots of light, which facilitates the growth of the phytoplankton on which the Sea Sparkle feeds. [6]

They look like this:

Image result for sea sparkles

Magical, aren’t they?

So yes, sea sparkles aside, mermaids could exist in the real world. Unfortunately, they probably wouldn’t look like we expect them to look—as in, feminine and beautiful. If those pictures of isopods and eels aren’t indicative enough, merpeople are likely to be very large and more fish than human. They would probably appear quite frightening.

How frightening? Next month I will be covering mermaids in art, and I will be including all manner of spooky sea maiden pictures.

And remember, most of my reasoning is theoretical. I am not a marine biologist or anthropologist, so here is a very interesting article from a more reliable source about why mermaids couldn’t exist. It is (not surprisingly) more scientific than mine.

What do you think? Could mermaids exist?

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Tale of Two

I.

At first, they were orphans.
The first a brunette, the second a blonde.
Both insignificant and small
With eyes wide and fingers frail
Trembling in terror.
Side by side, hand in hand.
That is how they were found,
And that is how they were sent,
Sent to the sad little home
For sad little girls just like them.

Insignificant they were,
But helpless they were not.

The Brunette was the dreamer,
Consequently quieter in nature.
The Blonde was small,
With a contagious exuberance
That always lifted the dreamer’s spirits.
“Daisy,” she was called,
Her true name long forgotten,
But daisy was better fitting
For a girl born of the sun.

The home was dismal
Harsh as the world outside.
Knowing each would never survive
Without the other at her side
The two became inseparable,
Day and especially night,
Until the dreaded time came
For them to be separated
By the cruel hands of Fate
Or rather the crueler hands of man.

II.

They were almost grown
Adolescence upon them like a curse.
The dreamer had grown tall,
Shy and awkward in nature,
Her dark hair wearily managed
Her emotions locked behind tied tongue.
Daisy was still so fierce
As bright as her namesake,
A nymph who scorned the advancements
Of gods and men
A harpy of honey and milk.

They were pulled apart,
Screaming and crying
Like the children they once were,
And Daisy was taken away.
No one would tell the dreamer where,
No matter how she begged.
The two were young women now,
They must learn what young women learned.
The dreamer’s dreams were stifled,
And Daisy,
Soft, sweet Daisy
Wilted without her other half.

The two could dress the part
Speak the lines
Please the probing eyes of men
With their waltzes and curtsies
Clothed in ruffles and lace
And powdered in white,
Their lips painted
But their smiles faint.

III.

The dreamer read books
The works of Sappho and Stoker and Mérimée
To feed her hungry heart in trying times,
But it was not the same.
No less entrapped, Daisy would giggle
In the company of many,
Invoking chuckles for her charm,
But it was all pretend.
For their eyes were dull
Their faces weak when compared
To the bittersweet memory
Of her dreamer’s crooked smile.

But one night,
When the moon was full in her splendor
And the shadows whispered promisingly,
she did not have to pretend,
Because in that dimly-lit room of red
Was the dreamer,
Treading timidly in the wake of the men
Whose words were as dusty as death.
When the dreamer saw Daisy,
She ran forward at once
New life had brightened her eyes
And lightened her steps.

Daisy threw her arms around the dreamer’s neck,
Much to the chagrin of her suitors,
And laughed like a fiend.

Their happiness was full.
They would escape that night,
Free from their troubles
Because they had each other.
Off they ran,
Barefoot and brave
Serene and whole.
Everything was perfect
Until the dreamer awoke.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The Mermaid and the Moon

Mermaid-moon

I created it for my digital design class with Photoshop, combining this tattoo design and this picture of the moon. I was inspired by Ted Hughes’s poem “Song,” particularly the first stanza:

O lady, when the tipped cup of the moon blessed you
You became soft fire with a  cloud’s grace;
The difficult stars swam for eyes in your face;
You stood, and your shadow was my place:
You turned, your shadow turned to ice
O my lady

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

The History of Mermaids

Though it has been a few weeks since I last updated, I’ve returned to continue my “Mermaid-a-Month” series as promised. In January, I gave an introduction to mermaids by discussing their etymology and various translations of the word in other languages. In this edition, I will (begin to) cover the rich and complex history of the mermaid myth.

I say “begin to” because obviously, as with any aspect of myth and history, it is very multifaceted. Different cultures all have different stories regarding the origin of these mythological figures, and it would take hundreds of thousands of words to cover them all.

Which I will not be doing today. But I will be covering mermaids in other cultures in later months, so don’t be too disappointed.

Anyway, I hope to answer some basic questions about mermaids’ history and also give you a taste for more. I am not a historian or professional in any way, so my knowledge is gathered from various sources with the links provided below.

Where and when did the idea of the mermaid begin?

Well, we can never be completely sure, but according to Seathos, mermaids first appeared as deities in mythology between 700 b.c. to 1000 b.c.  The story of Atargatis, a myth which appeared in Assyria in 1000 b.c., is about a goddess that becomes a mermaid. She was in love with a human shepherd, but she accidentally killed him and then, overcome with despair, she flung herself into the ocean.  She wanted to become a fish, but since she was so beautiful, only her bottom half became fish-like.

Atargatis was worshiped in ancient Assyria first, but was said to be exalted in Rome and Greece. She is known as Derketo in Greek mythology and considered the inspiration for the Greek goddess Aphrodite (who, if you remember, was said to be born of the sea foam).  She is regarded as “Great Mother and Goddess of Fertility of the earth and water”.  The spread of civilization in the ancient East is also attributed to Atargatis, as she is believed to have taught the people social and religious practices. Her involvement with the conservation of fish and water fertility would explain why the ancient goddess was depicted as a mermaid.

Here’s a photo for reference:
Image result for atargatis
(Wow. What a beauty.)
Now technically speaking, the first mer-person wasn’t female. The Mesopotamian god Oannes predates the Syrian mermaid Atargatis by several thousand years. C.J.S. Thompson, a former English curator, said in his book The Mystery and Lore of Monsters, “Traditions concerning creatures half-human and half-fish in form have existed for thousands of years, and the Babylonian deity Era or Oannes, the Fish-god, is represented on seals and in sculpture, as being in this shape over 2,000 years B.C. He is usually depicted as having a bearded head with a crown and a body like a man, but from the waist downwards, he has the shape of a fish covered with scales and a tail.” And apparently, since his human form was beneath his fish form, he could live among men, as well as in the sea, and thus teach mankind about writing, science, and art. Here is a picture of him:
Image result for oannes
Is it true that some ancient civilizations believed humans were descendants of mermaids?

Indeed it is. In some of the Pacific Island legends, it is said that human beings are descended from both mermaids and mermen. Somewhere back in time, their tails somehow disappeared and replaced by legs, and people were magically able to walk on land. Also, the creator god Vatea from Polynesian mythology was usually illustrated as being half-human, half-porpoise, and Japanese folklore features a mermaid called Ningyo.

Were manatees mistaken for mermaids?
Unfortunately, yes. Back in 1493, Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, was said to see 3 “mermaids” (manatees) and then describe them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

Which would make sense, given that manatees are considered to be sea cows, not beautiful woman of the sea. But Columbus thought America was the Indies, so one shouldn’t always trust his discretion.

Anyway, it’s believed that most mermaid sightings by sailors were actually sightings of manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). They look like this:

Image result for steller sea cows

(I guess if you squint, it looks like a really chubby mermaid with no hair and stubby arms)

Note: Let it be known that in European history, mermaids generally meant trouble, especially to fishermen and sailors. Seeing them could mean a terrible storm or ill-fortune was coming, or that you were about to be drowned. This would also explain why mermaids are sometimes believed to be sea witches.

What about sirens?

Sirens deserve a whole month to themselves, so I won’t be going into too much detail now, but if you didn’t know, the original sirens weren’t half-fish at all. They were half-bird and not very appealing, I’m afraid to say. They used their melodious voices to seduce anyone who heard them. They were first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

So there you have it. A brief overview of the history of mermaids. I hope you now feel better informed. Next month, I will be providing some evidence for why mermaids could be real and giving some cases for proof of their existence.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Why do we believe in myths?

It’s a valid question, really. Why are we so fascinated by stories of Zeus, Thor, or Anubis? Why do these stories get retold over and over, in different forms and across different mediums, in different societies across the world?

These questions are ones I want to answer, but I didn’t feel qualified enough to do so without any research first. So like any curious soul seeking knowledge, I read a book.

Well actually I googled it first, but the results were so less than satisfactory, so then I read a book.

Found at the local library, it was called The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others by Alexander Eliot. Now this is not the author’s only work regarding mythology—his other books bear titles like The Timeless Myths and The Global Myths, which gives you an idea of this author’s expertise. It went into such great depth and detail that I highly suggest reading it for yourself, since the collection of quotes and explanations below are just the tip of the iceberg on this topic.

One of Eliot’s first points is that myths are very complex. He states: “No wonder myth eludes definition. It’s not something which we can isolate for a close look. The primal myths are built into our brains, our genes, and our blood. However distant they may seem, they still surround, embrace, imbue, and color human consciousness.” [1]

Poetic, no? Essentially, mythology cannot be so simply categorized. Myths are, in many ways, like history—a deeply ingrained part of humanity.

But what exactly does “myth” mean? According to Mircea Eliade (a Romanian historian and professor who helped write the book), the exact definition of the word doesn’t adhere to our expectations of it. For those living in the nineteenth century, “‘myth’ was anything that was opposed to ‘reality.’ . . . the word mythos in Greek meant ‘fable,’ ‘tale,’ ‘talk,’ or simply ‘speech,’ but it came be used in contrast with logos and historia, thus coming to denote ‘that which cannot really exist.’” [2]

So really, in the past a myth meant any type of story told, but then over time it became a contradiction to fact. Interesting indeed.

So how do myths come about? Now that question has a very long, complicated answer, but to use the words of Andrew Lang (a Scottish poet and anthropologist who also co-wrote this book): “myths reflect actions, ideas, and institutions which actually existed at some time in the past.” [3]

And I believe this reason plays a huge part in why mythology is so fascinating to us. It reflects the different cultures across the globe, and by learning about different myths, we also have the opportunity to learn about the ideals and mentalities of diverse societies.

But to go even more in depth, Eliot brings up Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. He asserts:

“Another attempt at psychological understanding of myth is that of C. G. Jung, whose theory of myth is interdependent on his theory of the collective unconscious. Indeed, it was mainly the striking similarities between myths, dreams, and symbols of widely separated peoples and civilizations which led Jung to postulate the existence of a collective unconscious. He noticed that the images and structure of this collective unconscious manifest themselves in regularly repeating forms, which he called ‘archetypes.’ Like Freud, Jung considered myth, dream, and fantasy to be the indifferent products of the unconscious . . . these mythical images are structures of the collective unconscious and are an impersonal possession.” [4]

In other words, mythology is an extension of the “collective unconscious,” or the part of the mind that stems from ancestral memory and experience and is a shared quality by all humankind, which is different from an individual’s unconscious. How truly fascinating.

In the modern day, we tend to categorize those past stories of demigods and demons as just another slice of fantasy, yet we can see that they are much more ambiguous than expected. They are a shared experience, a crucial part of humanity, and should not be so easily defined or scorned.

Mythology is a very broad topic, and I hope to continue pursuing it with these little research and writing endeavors. In fact, with all this in mind, I plan on writing the next installment of my “mermaid-a-month” series, focusing on the history of the mermaid myth.

But after this discussion, are they really myths after all?

Bibliography

[1] Eliot, Alexander. The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others. New York: First
Meridian Printing, 1976. Print.

[2] The Universal Myths, 14

[3] Ibid, 17

[4] Ibid, 20

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Shen Yun: A Review

The lights are dim, the crimson curtains drawn.

It’s approximately 7:15 on the night of January 25th, and I sit in the balcony of the grand theater, waiting for a life-changing performance. I know it’s life-changing because the first time I saw it 2 years ago, I was moved, astounded, inspired, and so much more.

I came alone, wanting to fully submerge myself in the experience, but I am still surrounded by a crowd well over a thousand, all of different ages and appearances. The 74 dollars needed for the ticket and the treacherous teetering up the stairs in heels are just small prices to pay for two hours of the diverse and powerful music, dance, acting, culture, and history I am about to receive.

The title printed boldly on the blue pamphlet in my lap reads Shen Yun. According to the inside, “Shen Yun” loosely translates to “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” Shen Yun itself is a performing-arts and entertainment company formed in New York City. They perform a mixture of classical Chinese dance and ethnic/folk dance, usually in a narrative structure, with orchestral accompaniment and solo performers. So along with traditional Western instruments being played in the orchestra, like the violin or the trombone, there is also traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa or the erhu. The dancers are also not just dancers, but acrobats, actors, and even comedians. It’s truly fine art in the highest form.

A man walks around several rows below, waving a sign that declares No photography permitted during the show! In this day and age, when I can spy at least 12 people on their smartphones at a time, I find it’s getting harder for them to enforce this. Since I lack a cell phone of my own, I worry not about breaking this rule. After all, to distract both the performers and the audience with the bright light from a phone screen would be sacrilege.

The orchestra begins to play, each musician joining in until they form one single swell of melodious noise. The show has begun.

Two hours later, I leave the theater in a daze, the crisp night air waking me from some sort of dream. The sound of chatter from surrounding strangers is background noise, the glowing headlights of vehicles blurred in my vision. I am at peace and yet also abuzz with excitement, wanting to share my experience.

Words cannot truly express how sensational it was, but I will try my best describing the performances that appealed to me the most. The first is titled “Mongolian Bowls”: an ethnic dance in which 16 women performed with bowls of simmering milk tea, precariously balanced on their heads or in their hands. I loved this dance the most not only because of the sheer skill involved, but also because of the costumes. They were made of jewel-adorned sapphire fabric which sparkled with every twirl, atop layers of flowing white skirts and puffy white sleeves. That, coupled with the fluidity of their movement, reminded me much of the ocean.

My second favorite dance was “Yellow Blossom”, in which the female dancers, dressed in mint-green and white gowns, used ruffled yellow fans to create the appearance of flowers in motion. At one point, they even came together to form one large flower shape, shaking the fans to make the “petals” of the flower rustle.

My third and final favorite piece was a narrative with a lot of acrobatics, named “Monkey King at Fire Mountain.” It takes a story for the 1592 novel, Journey to the West, which is about a monk and his companions who search for Buddhist scriptures. I won’t spoil the story, but it involves a humorous monkey king (of course), a princess, a goddess, and a lot of fire.

These were just three pieces, but there were close to 20 in all. My descriptions really don’t do Shen Yun justice; you must experience it for yourself to understand. It’s not just for lovers of drama or dance like me, but anyone willing to endure a few hours of sitting to undergo a transformative ordeal.

For those who have seen it, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comment section below.

© 2017 Obliquity of the Ecliptic