Mermaid Mentors

 

“I must be a mermaid… I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
― Anais Nin

“The mermaid is an archetypal image that represents a woman who is at ease in the great waters of life.” — Anita Johnson

“Mermaids don’t drown.” ― Suzanne Palmieri

The mermaid represents a woman’s physical and emotional depths. The Siren’s song, in mythology, was typically a thing to be feared, for sailors who followed it often ended up in a shipwreck. And yet, without these mesmerizing mythical creatures, our seas would be sadly lacking.

Mermaids not only weather the storm, they welcome it. Mermaids live in duality, embodying humanness along with a wild, animalistic and instinctual side. They are as changeable as the water itself, and yet they are ancient, a thing of complete and utter permanence.

How long have mermaids been around? Forever! Which is one reason why we should heed the wisdom of these divas from the deep.

The archetype of the mermaid has appeared in the folklore of every culture and people. They have popped up in the South Seas, the Greek Islands, the tundras of Siberia, the coasts of Africa and sun worshipping Scandinavia.

In Brazil, tribute is paid to the water goddess Yemoja. From Syrian legend came the Dea Syria, mother of all mermaids.  Slavic cultures have tales of the Rusalka, water nymphs that can both harm and help humankind. Lithuanian folklore tells of  Jurate, who lived in an amber palace beneath the Baltic Sea.

The far east also has no lack of mermaids. Korean mythology tells of Princess Hwang-Ok from an undersea kingdom of mermaids known as Naranda. There is also the tale of Kim Dam Ryeong, the Korean mayor of a seaside town, who once saved four hundred mermaids from being captured by fishermen. Chinese literature dating as far back as 4 B.C. speaks of mermaids who “wept tears that turned into pearls.”

Folklore from the British Isles is peppered with tales of mermaids. The Norman chapel of  Durham Castle, built by Saxons, contains an artistic depiction of a mermaid that dates back to 1078. (One must wonder why busy Saxon masons would bother to etch a mermaid into the wall. They had cathedrals to build!)

In Cornwall, there is a legend of a mermaid who came to the village of Zenmor.  There, she listened to the singing of a chorister named Matthew Trewhella. The two fell in love, and Matthew went with the mermaid to her home at Pendour Cove. Needless to say, he was never seen again.  On summer nights, it is said the lovers can be heard singing together.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids near the Dominican Republic.  Henry Hudson (of Hudson River fame)  recorded in his captain’s log in 1608  that his crewmen had spotted  a mermaid in the river. The sailors claimed that from the navel up “her back and breasts were like a woman’s” but when she dove under the water “they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise.”

In 1614, Captain John Smith (of Jamestown Colony and Pocahontas  fame) recorded a mermaid sighting in his captain’s log. While sailing near the coast of Newfoundland, Smith wrote that he saw a woman “swimming with all possible grace.” He stated: “Her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.” (Green hair!)  He also claimed “from below the stomach the woman gave way to the fish.”

Are mermaids real? Would these prominent men lie, and risk looking ridiculous in their logs?

A more recent mermaid sighting occurred in 2009.  In the seaside town of Kiryat Yam, Israel, dozens of other people reported seeing the same astonishing sight: a mermaid frolicking in the waves near the shore.

A mermaid’s endeavors are not to be taken on by the shallow of heart. She moves in synchronicity with the ocean’s tides, rides the waves, rules the waters.   The mermaid is passionate and generous, sometimes even granting wishes.  Just don’t cross her; she can be deadly.

I hope summer finds you near an ocean, lake, pond or pool. (And if you happen to see one of these watery women, approach with caution.)

These beautiful portraits were done by contemporary Russian artist Victor Nizovtsev. Have a lovely, magical and mer-aculous day!

 

 

Godiva

 

Anything to get the taxes lowered.

According to legend, Lady Godiva was an 11th century noblewoman, married to  Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. When Leofric levied an unfair tax upon the town of Coventry, in which Godiva herself was a landholder, Godiva pleaded with her husband to eliminate it. Leofric refused, but jokingly quipped that he would do so if Godiva would ride naked on horseback through the streets.

Surprisingly, Godiva took her husband up on the dare. With one stipulation. She demanded that the citizens of Coventry would remain indoors with their windows shut, and no one look as she rode naked through the town, covered only by her long hair.

The town folk, for the most part, honored Godiva’s request. Only one man, named Tom, dared to take a peek.  Tom was punished for his evil deed by being immediately struck blind. Hence the name “Peeping Tom” which is still used to describe nosy perverts who peek in the windows at naked ladies.

To be fair, while historians agree that Godiva and Leofric were real historical figures, most believe that the story of Godiva’s horseback ride is probably false. For one thing, the legend did not appear until the 13th century, almost 200 years after Godiva’s death. It was written by an English monk, one “Roger of Wendover”, who was reportedly known for stretching the truth in his writings.

For another thing, the town in question was actually owned by Godiva herself.  She had inherited it from her father. (In 11th century England, women were allowed to own land.) So — the taxes imposed would be up to Godiva, not Leofric. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Leofric would have wanted to humiliate his wife in public. In Anglo-Saxon England, a woman could divorce her husband, and still keep her own property, so Leofric had a lot to lose.

The character of Peeping Tom did not become part of the story until the 17th century, and is attributed to Puritan sentiments about harsh punishments for sin.

Nonetheless, Godiva’s legend continues.  She even had chocolates named after her! It is a titillating idea, a naked woman on a horse.

No photo description available.

The above painting was done by female Pre-Raphaelite artist Ethel Mortlock (allegedly born 1865 –  died 1928. But those dates are debatable.)

Ethel was apparently quite a character. Even her given birth and death dates are uncertain, as she was known to lie about her age, systematically knocking off a few years to make herself appear younger.  She never married and had a son out of wedlock who was later adopted by another family member. Willie, the son, always referred to Ethel as his ‘aunt’, an artist who had work exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Ethel Mortlock studied under Sir William Orchardson, a prestigious Scottish portrait artist who became a knight in 1907.  Ethel, too, made her living  through portraiture. Her clients included world renowned figures such as Arthur Wellesley the Duke of Wellington, Abu Bakar the Sultan of Johore, Robert Lowe the 1st Viscount of Sherbrooke. and Edward, Prince of Wales (the famous abdicating king) whom she painted in 1926.

PORTRAIT OF THE DUKE OF WINDSOR

Ethel’s income as an artist enabled her to live pretty well. However, court records show that she filed for bankruptcy in 1901, having run up several gambling debts through betting on horses. (Ironically her portrait of Lady Godiva features a horse!)  In her own defense, Ethel claimed she had painted portraits of the Shah of Persia and the Chinese Viceroy, Li Hung Chang, but they had jilted her on their payments and owed her thousands of pounds. She could easily get herself out of debt if only the foreign royals would pay up! Apparently, the Shah and the Viceroy were not available for comment.

The bankruptcy did not dampen her artistic drive. She continued to paint and travel. Ship manifests show her coming and going to exotic places such as Buenos Aires, Jamaica, and New Zealand, as well as Ireland and the United States. She was often accompanied by her “ferocious bulldog”, named Grimshaw.

By 1904 Ethel had exhibited 29 works at the Royal Academy. No small achievement for a rather obscure and unconventional Pre-Raphaelite female 🙂

For more info on Godiva, watch this short documentary by The History Guy. (Running time 10 minutes.)  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

Mermaids and Muses

 

“When first the sisters had permission to rise to the surface, they were each delighted with the new and beautiful sights they saw; but now, as grown-up girls, they could go when they pleased, and they had become indifferent about it. They wished themselves back again in the water, and after a month had passed they said it was much more beautiful down below, and pleasanter to be at home.

Yet often, in the evening hours, the five sisters would twine their arms round each other, and rise to the surface, in a row. They had more beautiful voices than any human being could have; and before the approach of a storm, and when they expected a ship would be lost, they swam before the vessel, and sang sweetly of the delights to be found in the depths of the sea…” —  Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid

This lovely 1886 painting titled The Sea Maidens was done by female Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919.)  It was meant to depict the mermaid sisters in Andersen’s fairy tale.

Evelyn De Morgan (born Mary Evelyn Pickering)  was home schooled and began her drawing lessons at the tender age of fifteen.  Her work dealt mostly with mythological, biblical and literary themes. She was greatly influenced by Pre-Raph giant Edward Burne Jones. At age eighteen she enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London — although she, like many other Pre-Raph artists, objected to the formal curriculum and never finished her degree.

Evelyn married the ceramicist William De Morgan in 1887. The couple were pro-peace, pro-women activists, objecting to wars and advocating for women’s right to vote.

If the mermaids in this painting all look alike, there is a reason for it — they are all actually the same model, Jane Mary Hales.  Interestingly, according to ART UK, Evelyn had a “very close and passionate relationship” with Jane.  When she died, Evelyn was actually buried in between her husband, William, and Jane, at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.   Jane is referred to as “companion, model and muse”.

Pretty heavy stuff for a Victorian woman, eh?

Evelyn once wrote in her diary: “Art is eternal, but life is short. I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose.”

Evelyn de Morgan