There are many mermaid stories about the siren call. Sailors have heard mermaids singing and been so hypnotised by it, that they have sailed to where the sirens where singing and crashed their ships onto rocks. This particular story is very old. The Ancient Greeks recount how Ulysses, to get past an island of sirens had to block his crew’s ears with wax, so they could resist the siren call. He tied himself to the mast; in order to safely row past the island. Why Ulysses didn’t block his own ears with wax, as well, is never made clear.
All breath-holding divers like the Ama and Haenyo divers of Japan and Korea and modern freedivers have to practice regularly to be able to hold their breath for more than three minutes underwater. Opera singers also have similar breathing exercises both to develop powerful lungs and to hold a very long note. By developing strong lungs and excellent breath control, breath-holding divers will unwittingly also develop powerful voices though their breathing exercises. If a group of mermaids lying on rocks are having a sing-song, their powerful voices will carry far out to sea, to be heard by passing sailors in ships.
In the past, sailors didn’t have detailed charts as they have today, so sailing close inshore meant there was always the danger of hitting a rock, just below the water, or a sandbar. There is also the danger of tidal currents that in light winds can take hold of a sailing ship. If these currents whip around a rocky headland, they will probably smash the ship into the rocks. Also, ships of the past were not very good in sailing upwind, especially if it was a square rigger. So if a sailing ship comes too close to the shore and wind was to change and blow towards the coast, they would find it very difficult to sail upwind away from the shore. There was a big danger of being blown onto rocks or onto a beach.
Island of Sark
Perhaps mermaids could have helped the situation by not singing and covering their bodies. It seems that this did happen in the Orkney and Shetland islands where it was reported that mermaids wore petticoats. Also as mentioned in our last video they probably did make some sort of wet-suit out of sealskin, though we have no reports of mermaids doing this, in any other part of Europe.
Ama diver with cotton clothing
Nude singer: Madona
The same is also true of singing. The sensible thing would be to avoid this. But doing breathing exercises can be boring and mermaids may have found that doing these while singing is more enjoyable. It may even have become a tradition, and the mermaids became reluctant to give it up.
Maybe mermaids didn’t have to change their ways. Perhaps the scare stories to scare young sailors and fishermen away from the coast were effective. The sailors stopped coming close inshore and left the mermaids alone. Maybe the mermaids didn’t mind. Because of these scare stories they were left alone. So all we now know are these dramatic scare stories of evil sirens.
The scare stories were also used by the Church to discredit mermaids. Many of them were wiped out in Witch hunts, perhaps only surviving in remote places like Northern Scotland, the Orkneys and Shetland islands, places which were called, “the land of the mermaids”. Many mermaids might have seen the sense of not drawing attention to themselves by singing too loudly and lying on rocks in the nude. They put on petticoats in the water or even wear wet-suits made of seal skin.
Mass graves after the Cheju massacre
After the Second World War, the Cheju people objected to the way they were being ruled by the Korean government. The Korean government condemned them as communist sympathisers, and their brutal suppression of the Cheju people was far worse than what was done by the Japanese. Many of the Haenyo divers had to flee the island and moved to Japan. It was after this that the Haenyo divers began to wear wet-suits to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
In the next video we will discuss why we think that mermaids and witches were probably the same people.