Everyone talks about mermaids, but you rarely hear about mermen, and they deserve just as much credit to folklore and legends. Some countries swear that all mermen were benevolent, other countries are in opposition to this theory. Let‘s explore some mermen folklore.
Ireland and Orkney Mermen were called merrows and finmen. Western Europe has many merman legends. In Ireland, merrows were merpeople and were both bad and good but that entirely depended on who was telling the tale. In the Dark Ages, male merrows were ugly, hateful creatures while the female merrows were beautiful. It was often told that male merrows always wore red caps that many believed gave them the ability to breathe underwater and on land. If their cap was lost or stolen they could never return to the sea.
Finfolk were said to be vicious creatures and would come to the Orkney shores only to hunt their victims. If they were to capture a woman they would enslave her for eternity. They lived in the sea in a place called Finfolkaheem. They were tall and thin and had many magical powers. They could turn invisible to the human eye making it easier to catch their prey. Their kryptonite was silver and it was said that humans would cast silver in true North, South, East and West to distract the mermen preventing capture of their women.
Male selkies were also told in these tales. They were the Bluemen of the Muir, Nixes and the Dinny Mara. Each of these selkies have unique characteristics not unlike other mermen.
Many of the ancient sea gods were mermen. Dagon the Semitic God was half man and half fish. In most ancient cultures there are multitudes of gods that are half man and half fish. Dagon was only one of them.
Triton was a Greek merman god of the sea. He was the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. He was the cause of great storms at sea and has been seen as an erotic spirit. Some legends say he was a vicious lover. He was known for shapeshifting. He always carried a conch shell to use as a horn and spent much of his time with his father, Poseidon.
Glaucus was a merman god of the sea also from ancient Greek mythology. His story differs from Triton’s, Glaucus consumed a magical herb that caused his transformation into a sea god. He was an advisor and protector of sailors and had many fish like features.
Enki was the Sumerian god of the sea and also a god of war and wisdom. Many considered Enki a creator god. He was also known as the Lord of the Water and Sumerian mythology states Enki saved the Earth from the great flood. He was known to manifest in merman form.
Olokun was an Orisha sea god. Nigerians believed Olokun was the king of the sea and would manifest between serpent and merman. Olokun was a psychopomp who would lead lost souls to the other side. Olokun also had dominion over rivers and streams.
Conflicting accounts of merman helping or hurting humans is common. Some legends tell of mermen helping drowning sailors, while others depict the merman as vampirous, kidnapper and tormentor. It is commonly known that mermen had the ability to lead souls to the other side, but some accounts state that mermen would take pleasure in keeping their souls in cages at the bottom of the sea, never to be freed to the other side.
There is an old tale from Ireland where a man befriended a merman, they frequently drank excessively together and told each other stories. The man learned that his friend kept souls at the bottom of the sea captive. He got the merman intoxicated, stole his hat, dove to the bottom of the sea and released all of the captured human souls.
Male selkies of Shetney were stunning and highly desired as lovers for human women. Legend has it if a woman would cry seven tears into the ocean a male selkie would appear.
Sightings of mermen date back to the 1800s. A particular story comes to mind of an Irish man who found two young mermen on the shore injured. One died and the other dying. It was believed they were washed to shore during a bad storm. The man took the dying creature home and placed him in a tub of water and nurtured his wounds. The merman was only able to ingest milk and shellfish. His appearance was very different from a human and said to be about four feet in length with the torso and head of a human boy and the rest fish like. He had green skin, webbed fingers and seaweed like hair. It is said after recovering, the man released the young merman back to the ocean.
And the age-old question… are mermen bad or good? I think they are both bad and good, just like humans.