Abstract: 'The Seal Woman', a migratory legend attested throughout north-western Europe, is commonly associated with particular families in Ireland. A structural reading of this legend reveals similarities with other tales and dynastic origin myths involving supernatural, aquatic female ancestor figures, and identifies similar social functions for such narratives.
Academic Article - Abstract:
Irresistibly beautiful, the siren moves through myth and fiction in cultures around the world, taking other names and forms - the singing bird-women of Greek myth, the pious utopian seafolk of The Thousand and One Nights, the ningyo of Japanese tales, the soulless mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen, the orixá Iemanjá of the Candomblé Ketu religion of Brazil, the sereia of Portuguese poetry, the Deep Ones of Lovecraftian horror - an alluring temptation that, like the ocean her most wellknown form calls home, is beautiful above, monstrous below. She is a multivalent symbol, interstitially innocent and deadly, in legend signifying the perils of equating a beautiful surface with a beneficent nature, a fair face with a fair soul. In some cases, she is a symbol of the evil woman who cruelly tempts men to destruction; in others her cruelty takes an innocent cast as in her immortal soullessness she has no understanding of the pain and death caused by her actions. Following the mermaid through depictions in ancient myth and fairy tale to modern poetry, fiction, and film across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, this chapter explores the ways these cultures interpret her and what these interpretations have to tell us about feminine evil and monstrous strength. The mermaid is a mirror that reflects our own nature back at us, often revealing the monster hidden behind the beautiful woman, but also revealing the less-obvious beauty and strength of the sinuous beast of the depths.