Lair of the Beasts: British Mermaids (Mania.com)
Date: Saturday, April 21, 2012
While the controversial notion that the United Kingdom might actually be the home of living, breathing, flesh and blood mermaids will inevitably, and quite justifiably, be greeted by many with the rolling of eyes and loud hoots of derision, it is an undeniable and astonishing fact that such beliefs persisted for centuries.
And, particularly in those parts of the English county of Staffordshire - where the many and varied traditions and superstitions of times long past can still be found lurking - that belief actually, and incredibly, quietly continues and even thrives.
The word mermaid is derived from a combination of mere, the Old-English word for sea, and maid: a woman, of course. According to old sea-faring legends, mermaids would often deliberately sing to sailors to try and enchant them; with the secret and malevolent intent of distracting them from their work and causing their ships to run disastrously aground. Other ancient tales tell of mermaids inadvertently squeezing the last breaths out of drowning men while attempting to rescue them.
They are also said to particularly enjoy taking humans to their underwater lairs. In Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, for example, it is said that mermaids often forget that humans cannot breathe underwater; while other legends suggest the sinister she-creatures deliberately drown men - out of sheer, venomous spite, no less.
The fabled sirens of Greek mythology are sometimes portrayed in later folklore as being mermaid-like in nature and appearance; in fact, some languages use the same word for both bird and fish creatures, such as the Maltese word, Sirena.
Other related types of mythical or legendary creatures include water-nymphs and selkies: animals that can allegedly transform themselves from seals into human-beings - and vice-versa, too.
The village of Thorncliffe, near Leek, on the Staffordshire Moorlands of England, has a very memorable tale attached to it of a mermaid that can supposedly be seen at the witching-hour, at the appropriately named Mermaid’s Pool.
For those who may be unacquainted with the Moorlands, they are typified by forests, lakes, rolling hills and crags and have the distinction of being the home of Flash: the highest village in the British Isles, which stands at 1,518 feet above sea-level.
But back to the tale of the mermaid of that mysterious pool: those that get too close to the seemingly beautiful, flirty creature, as she tantalizingly and teasingly combs her long and flowing locks under a starry, moonlit sky, are destined to be dragged into the waters of the pool by what is in reality a malevolent, and utterly deadly, she-devil of a creature, tellers of the tale quietly whisper.
Reputedly, the legend dates back to around the tenth century when a young girl (who, so the story goes, may have been a witch and one who was very well practiced in the world of the black arts) was pursued and persecuted by a local man, who duly threw the girl to her death in the waters of Mermaid’s Pool.
She, in turn, proceeded to scream absolute bloody vengeance upon her persecutor before she finally disappeared under the water and was duly drowned. And, sure enough, the man’s body was shortly thereafter found dead in Mermaid’s Pool – his face violently torn to pieces, as if by monstrous and vicious talons.
Whether born out of some strange and unearthly reality or merely the stuff of legends, mermaids – and their attendant tales – continue to provoke a wealth of controversy and fascination centuries after the captivating mystery began.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books on paranormal mysteries, including the forthcoming The Pyramids and the Pentagon.