Mermaids (and mermen, for that
matter) are, of course, creatures that are half human and half
fish (upper and lower halves, respectively). They live in undersea
kingdoms, surrounded by wealth, and sometimes (though not so
often as they used to) visit the surface world to fall in love,
or sink the occasional ship. There has been something of an
outcry against the latter characteristic, and in fairness there
are many tales of merfolk who have actually saved ships
from being lost. Who knows?
Where do the merpeople come
from? The Irish say they were originally ancient women who lived
in Ireland in the Pagan days, and were banished from land by
Saint Patrick. Some say they are descended from the Pharoah's
children who were drowned in the Red Sea. Still others say they
are actually descended from Aphrodite. A more "scientific"
theory (relatively speaking) purports that they result from the
union of human and dolphin.
But perhaps they simply are.
Perhaps they simply evolved as we did, only down there rather
than up here. There are reportedly many descendents from unions
of humans and mermaids living in Machaire, Ireland, although
typically such offspring opt for life in the sea. Wouldn't you?
Many people have reported actually
seeing mermaids. Henry Hudson himself, while exploring near
Nova Zembla in his endless search for the Northwest Passage,
reported seeing one. Henry would shortly, of course, run afoul
of his crew, and end his days set adrift in a small boat in the
cold, uncharted waters of the bay that bears his name. It is
said that those who marooned him thus were later cursed, and
compelled to haunt the mountains overlooking the Hudson River.
It is said that the thunder so often heard over the region is
actually the sound of those unfortunates playing Nine Pins (an
early Dutch antecedent of Bowling). (More information on this
can be found, of course, in Washington Irving's "Rip Van
Mermaids did tend to jinx those
who saw them, although considering the rough-hewn and frequently
piratical nature of those who then plowed the Seven Seas, it
was probably deserved.
Mermaids were said to be so
beautiful that sailors would dive overboard after them. To drown
in pursuit of a mermaid meant the loss of one's Immortal Soul,
yet sailors continued to jump.