Month: September 2016

Mermaid, Siren, Harpy, or Banshee? (part 1 of 2)

The powers and attributes of these mythological figures are commonly mixed but I’m particularly curious as to the original distinctions which, as you will see, vary depending on culture. As always each image is linked back to the source simply click to follow. Also, let’s be clear: I like seeing different mixes but we are dealing with the traditional figures in these two posts.

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Let’s start with the most common mix up, ey? Mermaids have appeared in Walt Disney Pictures’ 2011 film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, stories about Peter Pan, and C.S. Lewis’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia. The earliest mermaid comes from Assyrian mythology in 1000 BC by the Goddess Atargatis – the first mermaid (known as Derketo in Greek mythology). Goddess Atargatis was the goddess of fertility and responsible for the conservation of fish – fish were sacred to her and it was forbidden to consume them especially in Ascalon. Atargatis fell in love with a human shephard who she then accidentally killed during lovemaking. Guilt overcame her and she threw herself into the ocean to become a fish but her beauty was so great that the transformation was not completed. Why? Because the waters refused to conceal her divine beauty.

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Another origin story belongs with Thessalonike of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s sister. Her story is tied to that her hair was bathed in water from the fountain of immortality in the Aegean. After Alexander’s death she was so stricken with grief that she threw herself into the sea to drown but was instead transformed into a mermaid who thereafter lived in the Aegean. Any sailors who discovered her were asked only one question: “Is Alexander still the king?” Should they answer no, she transformed into a gorgon and summon a deadly storm. Should the sailors answer yes, she would grant them calm seas for the remainder of their journey. There is also the African water spirit, Mami Wata/Mamba Muntu, who was a source of healing and good luck for her followers but dealt sickness, delusion, and drowning for those who disobeyed. She sometimes appeared as a mermaid but never as a human and was often associated with a snake. There was also the chance that she could return a person to land with increased wealth, beauty, and psychic power. Mermaids from the One Thousand and One Nights were anatomically similar to humans but could breathe underwater. They could and would reproduce with humans and their children would have the ability to live underwater as well as on land.

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In most cultures where mermaids were present it was always considered bad luck to do anything unkind to them. They could grant wishes or present humans with cures They could not thrive out of water except for the ‘Merrow’ from Scotland and Ireland who would sometimes marry and live with humans. Some mermaids wore a red cap which if it was stolen and hidden from them they would shed their tails and live on land much like with selkies when their whole skins were hidden. However, in British folklore seeing one was a sign of bad luck and they were attributed of causing storms that brought ships to wreckage. Though mermaids lived for a long time none of them had souls, particularly in Slavic mythology where mermaids came from the spirit of a drowned woman who then lured men to their death, dragging them down to their underwater kingdom.

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Any recorded biological possibility of becoming a mermaid surfaces in the medical condition of sirenomelia (Mermaid Syndrome) where an infant is born with their legs fused together. Historically they never live more than a few days due to bladder and kidney malfunctions but there are modern cases when the mutation has been corrected for prolongued land life. It seems the rule of thumb is the more beautiful the mermaid the less likely they were to outright kill you and the more sympathetic and helpful they were likely to be – although mermen were typically wilder, uglier with green seaweed for hair, and had little interest in humans.

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Sirens are the most commonly crossed with mermaids. The physical distinction is that mermaids and mermen were part fish while sirens were part bird although they also lived by the sea on an island or cliffs. Though mermaids had beautiful singing voices their power lay in the ability to cause storms which wrecked sailors and their ships while sirens mesmerized men into a trance with their voices, compelling them to reach the siren whereby she brought sailors to death from her perch upon rocky islands, cliffs, and the shore. Sirens are present in the 2003 Dreamworks movie Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, before that they are notably present in Homer’s Odyssey and date as far back as the Greek story of Persephone and Hades. In the original Greek story the Sirens began as the human companions of Persephone. After Persephone was abducted by Hades they were turned into half-bird, half-woman by Persephone’s mother Demeter. In some versions Demeter did this to help the women locate her daughter but in others it was punishment for failing to either prevent Persephone’s capture or locate Persephone. A siren’s song is irresistibly sweet yet sad, an eternal call for Persephone’s return.

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In India they are usually depicted with harps, lutes, or lyres which were used in combination with their voices to lull men to sleep before then tearing the men to shreds with their talons. Sirens were said to be so gifted musical talents that they could calm the wind. The bane of the siren comes in the elaboration by post-Homeric writers: if someone heard a siren’s song and escaped alive that siren would die as after Odysseus passed their island unharmed the sirens singing to him flung themselves down to perish among the rocks and waves. When Jason and his Argonauts came across sirens in their search for the Golden Fleece, Orpheus drowned out the siren call with his lyre. When Christianity took over sirens became a mere symbol of worldly temptations such as that of prostitutes.

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There is abundant research to be had on all of these figures and their variations and I have only covered bare basics for each of the umbrella nominations as far as origin, appearance, and attributes. Want to delve into more information but not sure where to start? Check out my references below!

 

Part 2–> Mermaid, Siren, Banshee, or Harpy? (part 2 of 2)

Sources:

 

Other Ratified Research posts:

  1. The Luckdragon
  2. Beneficial Stress
  3. another link coming soon
  4. another link coming soon
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1000 Words on the Legend of Korra

Hey guys and gals, I know it’s been a while since this series ended but at the time it was airing I was following other series and this was one of the sacrifices I made in order to keep some peace of mind. I finally finished it earlier this year and here’s what I thought!

Confluence
Confluence

I have heard a lot of chatter on how Korra’s story is not as good as Aang’s. I disagree and find this opinion the majority of the time crops up from persons clinging to an extension of Aang’s journey. While the Avatar is a streamline of rebirth into each generation I believe each individual Avatar’s story is unique to themselves.

Of course we became attached to Aang – the kid was pure happy energy and believed in no limits. He came to us from a spiritual place where everything was possible, the world less strict for a mind to open to the possibilities. His lessons learned and wisdom were easy to sneak in with head-fakes (indirect learning) disguised in light hearted jest. As you progressed through Aang’s show seasons he eased you into the material world – a world of limitations and rules and fire nation tyranny.

Aang
Aang

Korra starts on the other end of the circle: her journey as the Avatar beings with rules and walls and limitations from the moment the White Lotus confirms her the next Avatar. This well-meaning organization takes charge of Korra’s path, choosing her lessons, making decisions for her. A flash back of young Korra shows her to be tenacious and as brightly burning in spirit as Aang ever was. Her rebellious flashes are a mix of her make-it-happen attitude in a world of limitations and typical cooped-up-teenager frustration.

The burning-brightly-fire of Korra’s personality was very pretty and shiny and when you have an instant-hook like that it’s hard to keep the fire going all the time. Her constant antics wore me out at first no matter how much I related with her. The first time I started watching the Legend of Korra (LoK) I had recently finished re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and was still raw to Aang’s story. I feel my love for Aang’s character was more of a slow burn. He started at a much lower energy and strung you along with attractive laughter. I have never watched the live action film after such strong negative feedback from the fanbase and even without the desire for redemption the viewers probably felt going into Korra’s story I was left wanting – so I stopped watching halfway through the first season.

Awakening
Awakening

From a creative perspective I would like you to note a few things:

  1. you can see in LoK how legends are fluffed with meringue and the grandiose over time is exaggerated from Aang’s legacy.
  2. the effect of a long-ruminated story has a stronger, clearer base of execution in the first ‘novel’ (Aang’s series) versus when something is pushed faster (Korra’s series).
  3. In watching each Avatar we needed to be mindful of what they lacked while watching to help stoke long-burnin embers: for Aang we needed seriousness and and understanding of the gravity of his world; for Korra we needed the patience as she struggled to learn not only air bending but flexibility of nature in any given situation.

Difficult as Korra was to swallow I find it hard to believe anyone did not feel chills when Vaatu struck Raava and disintegrated Korra’s connection to the previous Avatars: Aang, Roku, Kyoshi, and the male water bender and female air bender Aang called on for advice when meditating on the lion turtle. Don’t tell me you didn’t feel a surge of familiarity and pride on discovering that Wan started the sequence of elements each subsequent Avatar learned not only in turn but in rebirth; that the order was established not by a grand or philosophical design but by Wan’s motivation to be a protector of the helpless. Seeing the framed story of Wan built up that sense of nostalgia we had for Aang in layers by the time Korra reconnected with Raava and we were back, rooting for the water tribe Avatar.

Harmonic Convergence
Harmonic Convergence

Aang set an example of what greatness could look like and how to nurture the inner child – our inner magic. If you want desperately for the unexplainable magic of a miracle you have to start by believing in magic. Korra and Wan showed us a person of great influence, power, and inspiration can rise from anywhere and anyone.

“Before he fused with Rava, Wan was just a regular person.” 

“You have always been strong, unyielding, and fierce.”

— LoK Season 2, ep 14

The ancient lion turtle that aided Aang before his confrontation with fire lord Ozai taught us that the greatest and purest form of bending was the bending of energy in oneself. This lesson was brought back in LoK and first glimpsed at the end of season one when Korra, brought low when her bending was blocked by Amon, learned to bring back the bending of herself and others. She continually shows us how to stand up and believe in the limitless power inside of ourselves. Wan also taught us this lesson on a less magical level when he focused on his motivations to provide aid and reached past his limitations. They teach us to believe in ourselves and affirm, at least for me, that magic comes in many forms.

Raava and Vaatu
Raava and Vaatu

Aang’s journey was more focused on the external movement of the war and Korra’s was the internal journey of who she was and what degree if significance she held in the world. As a sequential series yes, perhaps Aang’s was better, subjectively. He was first and, let’s face it, it was sentiment for his journey that brought us fans back for Korra. For me they are separate. From Aang’s story I only pulled the lore forward with me. These two avatars are presented in the same world but they had to work in differing eras. I saw the making of two legends.

Aang and Korra Collab
Aang and Korra Collab