Mermaids, mermen, merbeings, or merfolk encompass a wide variety of aquatic creatures that either are at least partially human in appearance or take human form at certain times. Some are ultimately based on the fish-tailed gods, goddesses, and entities represented in the mythologies of many cultures, including Mesopotamia, Japan, China, India, and Greece. Some of the earliest god-myths, such as the Babylonian Ea and the Phoenician DERKETO, percolated through oral history via cultural dispersion and intermingled with European legends about the sea and streams; they took on regional lore about seals and other aquatic animals and ultimately contributed to tales of the SeLKIES and RusAlkas of European tradition. North American and African varieties were either imported from Europe and Asia or developed locally.
It makes sense for any maritime or riverine culture to have an amphibious deity for all sorts of reasons—to assure good weather, safe trips, and successful fishing or to serve as a scapegoat for bad luck—whether there is a zoological model for a fish-tailed human or not. Nonetheless, as the most human-looking of sea creatures, Seals and SlRENIANS have undoubtedly influenced merfolk-lore for centuries. Both mammals can appear to rest vertically in the water in the posture of a classic Mermaid. Female manatees and dugongs have mammary glands located in the axilla, or armpit, with which they nurse their calves as they graze or move about, though this activity is relatively brief. The seal's fishy shape, smooth coat, expressive eyes, vocalizations, and fondness for basking are all elements that could foster a Mermaid myth.
However, scattered throughout history are seemingly reliable descriptions of unknown aquatic animals with a peculiar resemblance to human beings. These accounts (primarily found in the MeRM AID entry) indicate an unknown variety of seal with light fur, oddly flexible front flippers, and a long mane. It is this seeming naturalism that has kept Merbeings from falling into the red-eyed, apparitional class of high-strangeness ENTITIES that keep one foot (or flipper) in a paraphysical realm. If these observations represent a real species that became extinct in recent times, then a physical archetype for half-man/half-fish myths worldwide could some day emerge from the fossil record.
Of the twenty-nine Merbeings listed here, eleven have European origins, five are Asian or Middle Eastern, two are African, six are North American, three are South American, one is Australasian, and one (Jenny HaniveR) is a generic name for Merbeing fakes. (Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe are more inclusive in their Merbeing category, adding in an assorted lot of web-footed EnTTIES such as CHU-PACABRAS and some Hairy Bipeds.)
Apsaras; Blue Men of the Minch; Derketo; Ea; Havmand; Ipupiara; Jenny Haniver; Jip-IJKMAK; KAPPA; MAMBA MUTU; MAMI WATER; Mansanzhi'; Mene Mamma; Mermaid; Nereid; Nix; Nykkjen; Ri; RusAlka; Saba-
waelnu; Selkie; Shompallhue; Silenus; Siren; Steller's Sea Ape; Tchimose; Triton; UNgemes; Vodyany
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