Myth is something that’s so true that we find fantastical ways to tell it. Because myth is not something that’s false according to Irish poet Padraig O’Tuama. He’s the host of the Poetry Unbound podcast.
That got me thinking about what is so true about the myth of mermaids that we have to make them fantastical?
The earliest archaeological depictions of mermaids are from Syria, The goddess Artargatis dove into a lake to become a fish. Supposedly she was so beautiful the other gods would only let her bottom half turn piscine.
Most of us know the Disney version best where the girl barters her voice for a man she’s only glimpsed. In the Hans Christian Anderson version, which Disney based his bombshell on, gaining her legs cost not just her voice, but resulted in chronic pain and she didn’t get the guy. Almost always, mermaids are depicted as beautiful creatures of temptation.
But what underlying truth is covered by this fantastical myth?
That women’s voices have power?
That we are adaptable?
That we dare to explore foreign environments?
As ‘mere’ ‘maids’, women are naturally drawn to the sea?
I think they’re all possible, and it’s worth the effort to reclaim the myth of mermaids from a passive temptress to a force for women’s power.
Myths are the subconscious we base our stories on. If we can’t be mindful of the myths we use when we tell our stories, our stories will not be mirrors of us and our inner truths, but mirrors of outer projections from others.
I think a truth we can hold on to is to be mindful that your shiny mermaid scales sparkle from your inner power, not the reflection of other people’s desires.