The Mermaid is known by many different names: sea maiden, water witch, water nymph, siren, selkie, naiad, and Oceanid.
But no matter what they are called, these mythical creatures capture the imagination of those who hear about them. They feature in the culture and folklore of almost every coastal community.
Seafarers of all nationalities and backgrounds have reported sightings of them, and have passed down tales of the magical encounters.
In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be playful and spirited. Whilst in others they are heralded as ethereal and angelic.
Many sailors have described them as sensual and seductive, and many others have warned that they are deadly and deceptive.
What is always apparent, however, is their mysteriousness. They are rare and otherworldly. In all accounts, shy away from human contact and guard their whereabouts with great secrecy.
Mermaids have the scales and tail of a fish and the torso and head of a woman. However, this half human, half fish dichotomy seems to be the only aspect of their appearance that people agree on.
The hugely popular Disney adaptation of ‘The Little Mermaid’ means that many folk think of mermaids as pretty young girls. Girls who love to splash about with friendly fish and angry crabs.
However, Hans Christian Andersons’ original depiction was much darker. Moreover, the mermaids described by other cultures and tribes are darker still.
Far from the bubble-blowing, dolphin-leaping, Disney-fied version we know so well, mermaids from ancient mythology and legend hold a gritty, complex and nuanced symbolism.
Like the waters they are said to inhabit, their image is ever changing and shifting. Such means that we attach to these fantastical creatures is always changing too.
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Mermaid Spirit Animal
If the Mermaid is your spirit animal, you are most likely to be a playful. You are also spontaneous and creative individual who is in touch with their inner child. Often impulsive and daring, you tend to be ruled by your heart rather than your head. This can sometimes get you into trouble.
However, like your spirit mermaid, you are also highly adaptable. You also are able to shape-shift and wriggle your way out of situations in a way that no one else would think to.
As mermaids are part human and part animal, you too are governed by instinct and intuition. You react quickly, and don’t stop to consider your actions before you take them.
Whilst this can rub some people up the wrong way, most find your behavior beguiling. You have natural charm and an infectious energy.
As a spirit animal, the mermaid brings out the youthfulness in people, and with that, their irresponsibility and skittishness too.
This means that those with a mermaid spirit animal sometimes need to be reminded to think about the consequences of their own actions. They are wanderers, and find it hard to stay in one place, relationship or job for very long.
However, for the time that they are there, they are fully invested and present in the moment. They are always sorely missed, but they do not tend to miss others themselves.
Mermaid Totem Animal
As a mermaid totem animal, the mermaid is especially able to protect secrets. Mermaids are said to be shy, secretive and suspicious of humans. This is because their survival depends on their existence being kept from common knowledge.
It is for this reason that mermaid totems are often used to guard privacy and prevent harmful truths from getting out.
Of course, mermaids are thought to have healing powers in many cultures. Thus, as totem animals they also bestow their medicinal magic on sick or injured parties.
In many stories, mermaids have rescued drowning sailors from the treacherous waves. So, the preservation of human life is something that they can offer communities and families who honor them.
The mermaid’s energy is deeply feminine, and as a totem animal they boost fertility, sensuality, sexuality and emotional connections.
They are particularly related to female friendships and relationships. As mermaids are often said to play and swim in groups, singing together and taking pleasure from each other’s company.
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Mermaid Power Animal
Those who are feeling sexually stifled or stagnant can call upon the mermaid power animal. Calling upon your inner mermaid can help people who have lost touch with their own sensuality to reconnect and reignite those passions.
The fluidity of water can be inspirational and awakening for those who have become too rooted in earthly tasks, or caught up in heady matters of the air.
If you are experiencing a block in your own sex life, harnessing the power of the mermaid can help you to celebrate your body, go with the flow, and exude a sensuality that is sure to attract attention.
Pleasure is a huge part of the mermaid’s power. Pleasure through play, through female companionship, through liberation, and through sensuality. As a power animal, the mermaid can help you find pleasure, and can stop you from over thinking things.
Mermaids are instinctive and impulsive, and they live in the moment just as animals do. This is something that many of us humans find very difficult and we can learn a great deal through giving it a go.
In particular, mermaids enhance female power and the significance of the female voice. If you have a presentation or meeting coming up in which you feel unheard, use the mermaid power animal to guide you and embolden you.
Native American Symbolism
In Native American symbolism and folklore mermaids appear as both sinister, unpitying creatures, and also as solitary, unknowable creatures.
They call them NeNwas. In one particular tale, some children decided to take a dip in a watering hole that their parents had specifically warned them to avoid.
At first the children were having a wonderful time. But gradually they saw that their hair was turning to seaweed, their skin was becoming scaly and slimy, and water snakes coiled around their legs.
The children were dragged under the surface where they became the NeNwas. The NeNwas were therefore seen as both tragic and dangerous.
Celtic symbolism associates the mermaid with human brutality, and ignorance towards the earth and her creatures.
Selkies, or seal people, are cold water mermaids from Celtic mythology, and they are incredibly suspicious and fearful of humans.
Sightings of them are extremely rare because they fear that if the local people know of their existence they will hunt and kill them and use their skin to make clothes and furnishings.
There is no mention of mermaids in the Bible. However, Christian teachings, art, literature and culture used mermaids as a symbol of lust and temptation, sin and salvation.
Mermaids portrayed overly sexual beings, and Christians used it to demonstrate to Christian men the dangers of succumbing to lust and desire.
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If a mermaid appears in your dream, it is often a sign that you are feeling passionate and lustful.
Mermaids tend to enter our subconscious as symbols of sensual release, creative freedom, emotional expression, and physical passion. Chances are, the mermaid in your dream is responding to the natural desires and urges you are feeling in real life.
Mermaids also symbolize the pursuit of something unattainable.
Dreaming of a mermaid sitting on a rock can often signify that you are preoccupied with trying to gain something that is beyond your reach or control. Whether it is a job, living situation, relationship or otherwise, the dream sighting of a mermaid could indicate that you need to let it go.
If you dream of mermaids swimming in choppy or stormy seas, this could be a warning of troubled times ahead. It could also indicate that you are anxious and tense even if you have not realized it.
As mermaids are sometimes considered dangerous and deceptive creatures, seeing one in your dreams could indicate that you need to be more shrewd and astute in your day to day dealings with colleagues and acquaintances.
Dreaming of mermaids playing is symbolic of your subconscious letting go of restraint and connecting with your inner animal. Liberation, spontaneity, optimism and positivity are all tied up in the image of those playful creatures.
Far Eastern Mermaid Symbolic Meanings
In Chinese folklore, mermaids appear as extremely lucky creatures.
Far from the evil temptresses depicted in the ancient Greek and Roman myths, in Chinese culture, mermaids could cry tears of pearl, and could lead sailors to hoards of buried treasure.
They link to good luck and fortune.
Mermaid Tattoo Meaning
People who choose to get a mermaid tattoo, may do so for many different reasons.
As creatures who exist outside of human society, in secrecy and mystery, the mermaid is a symbol of non conformity, and uniqueness. Those who want to celebrate their own individuality, or identify as an outsider in some way, gets a mermaid tattoo.
Sailors sometimes opt for mermaid tattoos to illustrate their own life on the oceans, or to evoke the protection and friendship of these magical creatures on their voyages. After all, many seafarers consider mermaids are rescuers and guiding angels of the water.
Women often get mermaid tattoos to express their female empowerment and to celebrate their femininity. Mermaids are symbols of sensuality and passion, and those who wish to connect with that side of themselves can find inspiration from their image.
And of course, people who are fans of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, will know that the mermaid in the story gave up her voice in exchange for human legs, so that she could win the love of a prince.
However, she was unable to express herself, or to fit in with society. She felt silenced and lonely. When she realised what she had sacrificed, she threw herself back into the ocean to return to her home, but without her tail she could not swim any more, and drowned.
In this story, the mermaid is symbolic of how we should never surrender what makes us special in order to be accepted by others. Many people get a mermaid tattoo in homage to this story and as a reminder of its lesson.
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Hawaiian folklore calls mermaids as Mo’o, and they were half human, half water creatures.
However, Mo’o were not only fish-like. They could be half octopus, half eel, half dolphin, and even half crocodile.
They said mermaids reside in freshwater lakes and rivers, as well as in salt water, and they had personalities as varied as humans.
Some Mo’o were evil and threatening, like the water spirit Mokuna, whereas others were sweet natured and playful, like Hina.
Greek Myth and Symbolic Meanings
Mermaids appear again and again in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and the Sirens are by far the most famous example of this.
The sirens are a group of beautiful mermaids who perch on rocks far out at sea and sing in the most exquisite voices as sailors go by.
Their song is too melodious to resist, as is their alluring appearance. They have long, flowing hair and glistening naked bodies.
So seductive are they, that sailors jump from their ships head first into the waves in an attempt to swim to them and sate their desires. Yet, the foolish sailors drown in the water or are dashed on the rocks and never make it to the sirens alive.
In Homer’s epic tale The Iliad, Odysseus is a noble king and worthy sea captain. He and his crew encounter the sirens on their journey back from the Trojan war.
Luckily, Odysseus has been forewarned about the sirens’ cunning, so he commands his men to fill their ears with wax, and to tie him to the mast of the ship. He tells them that no matter how hard he begs, they must not release him from his bonds.
As the men row by the sirens, they cannot hear their song but Odysseus can. He writhes and screams out, so desperate is he to dive into the waves and join the maidens on the rocks, but his men hold fast.
Once at a safe distance, they unplug their ears and free their captain. They tell him that they could see the sirens for what they truly are, flesh eating birds, pecking at the corpses of dead sailors who have swam to them.
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Mermaids in African Folklore
In West African folklore, Mami Wata is a sea deity. Her name translates as Mother Water. She has wide hips and large breast and is connected to sexual power, fertility, femininity and abundance.
She is a benevolent goddess who is generous and kind, but is also not to be underestimated, just like the ocean itself.
Australian Mermaid Symbolism
Though Australia is a land completely surrounded by ocean, the mermaids who appear in Aboriginal art and folklore are all freshwater creatures.
They reside in the rivers, streams and lakes rather than the salty waves, and they are very shy. Most people only see the splash they leave as they dart into the water.
Mermaid Symbolic Meaning
- Sensuality / sexuality
- Non-conformity / uniqueness
- Impulsiveness and instinct
- Temptation / lust
- Threat / warning
- Privacy / discretion
- The female voice / Femininity
- Freedom / lack of restraint
- Creativity / spontaneity
- Independence / solitude
- Healing / rescue
- Inner child / playfulness / youth / Irresponsibility
- Adaptability / shape shifting / transformation
- Treasure / riches
Mermaids are mythical creatures that bridge the gap between human and animal, not only in their physical appearance, but in their ability to be both sentient and instinctive in equal measure.
They symbolize how we too are animals at heart, and how we need to treasure the impulsive, sensual and intuitive parts of ourselves.
More than anything, mermaids symbolize oneness with nature through their relationship to the ocean, and this is something that we can all learn from.
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