Folk tales and myths in many places around the world tell of lake or sea spirits’ interaction with human beings. These relationships are rarely friendly and often deceptive: they highlight the danger for human beings who may contact the ‘other world’. The danger for new- borns (who may be stolen), or adolescents (who are objects of desire, or whose vanity may be punished) is central to these stories. Infants and youngsters may be seduced and stolen, and the children of cross-world relationships have a troubled role to play). The essence of such tales is the breaking of boundaries: the attraction and danger of the ‘other’ – and the cost of any breaking of tradition. To have a dalliance with a spirit from the sea can only end in tears!
The image below shows a sea nymph gazing into the eyes of a merman – his upper half that of a man, and his lower half formed of a snake-like tail curving around a cherub as he embraces the nymph.
Tales of mermaids and mermen and their relationship with humans are present in myths and folk tales, and feature in art, story, music and dance from many parts of the world. Where the sea is far away, lakes, streams and wells carry the same mythic presences: they are places where the boundaries of worlds dissolve – and where creatures transit between the domains of water and earth. These creatures may be half human/ half water creature, or may appear to be fully human but for short times only. The temporary nature of the creature’s ability to live amongst humankind – often carries with it a terrible price.
Sculpted panels of Nereids (sea nymphs) feature in ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, as decorative stele on buildings, or on monuments and tombs.