The first stories of mermaids may have originated around 1000 B.C. — stories tell the tale of a Syrian goddess who jumped into a lake to turn into a fish, but her great beauty could not be changed and only her bottom half transformed.

 C.J.S. Thompson, a former curator at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, notes in his book "The Mystery and Lore of Monsters" that "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 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." Greek mythology contains stories of the god Triton, the merman messenger of the sea, and several modern religions including Hinduism and Candomble (an Afro-Brazilian belief) worship mermaid goddesses to this day.

The great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote of the nereids. These were nymphs we’d recognize as half-human half-fish mermaids, though “the portion of the body that resembles the human figure is still rough all over with scales.” He notes that Legatus of Gaul once wrote to Emperor Augustus claiming he found a “considerable number” of them “dead upon the sea-shore.” Pliny also mentions “sea-men,” who when night falls “climb up into ships; upon which the side of the vessel where he seated himself would instantly sink downward, and if he remained there any considerable time, even go under water.

Olaus Magnus, the 16th century writer and cartographer whose seminal map Carta Marina obsessively cataloged the many monsters of the seas around Scandinavia, noted that fishermen maintain that if you reel in a mermaid or merman, “and do not presently let them go, such a cruel tempest will arise, and such a horrid lamentation of that sort of men comes with it, and of some other monsters joining with them, that you would think the sky should fall.” Sea-people, it was widely held, were terribly bad luck to see or snag.

In 1430 in the Netherlands, it was said that after the dikes near the town of Edam gave way during a storm, some girls rowing around in a boat found a mermaid “floundering in shallow, muddy waters,” according to the Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. “They got her into the bat, took her home, [and] dressed her in women’s cloths,” She couldn’t be taught to speak, however, and remained totally mute.

In the mid-16th century the French naturalist Guillaume Rondelet supposedly got his hands on two specimens bearing a striking resemblance to a pair of religious types: monks and bishops. The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana of 1817 describes the supposed “sea monk” accordingly: “The face was human, but coarse and clownish, the head smooth and without hair, a sort of hood resembling that of a monk covered the shoulders,” while its “lower parts ended in a spreading tail.” The “bishop fish” was “yet more wonderful, being clad by nature in the garb of a bishop.” It was taken to the king of Poland, who in his benevolence decreed it be carried back to the ocean and set free.

While sailing the ocean near Haiti, Christopher Columbus in 1493 reported seeing three mermaids from a distance.  Columbus wrote in his diary: “The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men.”
 Captain John Smith is described in Edward Rowe Snow's "Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea" (Dodd Mead, January 1967) as seeing a big-eyed, green-haired mermaid 'swimming about with all possible grace' in 1614 off the coast of Newfoundland. He pictured her as having large eyes, a finely shaped nose that was 'somewhat short, and well-formed ears' that were rather too long. noting that “her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive” , apparently Smith felt "love" for her until he realized she was a fish from the waist down.

Though not as well known as their comely female counterparts, there are of course mermen — and they have an equally fierce reputation for summoning storms, sinking ships and drowning sailors. One especially feared group, the Blue Men of the Minch, are said to dwell in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. They look like ordinary men (from the waist up anyway) with the exception of their blue-tinted skin and gray beards. Local lore claims that before laying siege to a ship, the Blue Men often challenge its captain to a rhyming contest; if the captain is quick enough of wit and agile enough of tongue he can best the Blue Men and save his sailors from a watery grave.

Japanese legends have a version of merfolk called kappa. Said to reside in Japanese lakes, coasts and rivers, these child-size water spirits appear more animal than human, with simian faces and tortoise shells on their backs. Like the Blue Men, the kappa sometimes interact with humans and challenge them to games of skill in which the penalty for losing is death. Kappa are said to have an appetite for children and those foolish enough to swim alone in remote places — but they especially prize fresh cucumbers.
 

Mermaids from the Isle of Man, known as ben-varrey, are considered more favorable toward humans than those of other regions, with various accounts of assistance, gifts and rewards. One story tells of a fisherman who carried a stranded mermaid back into the sea and was rewarded with the location of treasure. Another recounts the tale of a baby mermaid who stole a doll from a human little girl, but was rebuked by her mother and sent back to the girl with a gift of a pearl necklace to atone for the theft. A third story tells of a fishing family that made regular gifts of apples to a mermaid and was rewarded with prosperity.

 

 The logbook of Blackbeard, an English pirate, records that he instructed his crew on several voyages to steer away from charted waters which he called "enchanted" for fear of merfolk or mermaids, which Blackbeard himself and members of his crew reported seeing. These sightings were often recounted and shared by sailors and pirates who believed that mermaids brought bad luck and would bewitch them into giving up their gold and dragging them to the bottom of the sea. Two sightings were reported in Canada near Vancouver and Victoria, one from sometime between 1870 and 1890, the other from 1967. A Pennsylvania fisherman reported five sightings of a mermaid in the Susquehanna River near Marietta in June 1881.
In August 2009, after dozens of people reported seeing a mermaid leaping out of Haifa Bay waters and doing aerial tricks, the Israeli coastal town of Kiryat Yam offered a $1 million award for proof of its existence. In February 2012, work on two reservoirs near Gokwe and Mutare in Zimbabwe stopped when workers refused to continue, stating that mermaids had hounded them away from the sites. It was reported by Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, the water resources minister.

Whether you believe in them or not, the legend of the mermaid is an intriguing one at that, but true belief lies in those who have actually seem for themselves.

GlobeWeather

Weather data OK.
Sarasota
46 °F