The Psychology of Mermaids

You - Mermaid! Your sea-green hair and sin-sweet singing Bewitch me.
- Anne Marie Ewing

Mermaids and other female water spirits have appeared in folklore and religions around the world for many centuries. They may be viewed as symbols both of men's idealization of the feminine and of men's fear of women. There is also ambivalence in women's views of mermaids, which may represent subservience to patriarchy, as in The Little Mermaid, yet also embody female freedom and power, as in images of goddesses.

Annotated Bibliography for Psych 339


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Psychology of Mermaids

Science has not yet entirely explained away the mermaid who, like the Loch Ness Monster, still lurks on the borders of credibility. As long as parts of the world's oceans remain a mystery no doubt people will continue to believe in the existence of hidden submarine beings. Reported mermaid sightings while much diminished still occur, and the remoter regions of Scotland, traditional haunt of the mer-folk, have supplied several twentieth-century eye-witness accounts testified to with much apparent sincerity.

In an attempt to rationalize such sightings, science has produced a sea mammal theory reliant on the possible confusion between the mermaid and a surfacing sea cow or basking seal. As the explanation goes, sailors long at sea were so desperate for the company of women that their minds tricked them into seeing beautiful mermaids, curiously spying on their ships from the waves. A lively imagination would be required for such misidentification at closer range, however; particularly in the case of the two favorite sea cow contenders, the dugong and manatee...A chance meeting between a dugong and a mermaid demonstrates the unlikelihood of mistaking one for the other.

- Beatrice Phillpotts



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Last Update: August 7, 2003
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The image of the Art Nouveau maiden was obtained from Art Today.