Creatures in the Mist: Little People, Wild Men and Spirit Beings around the World: A Study in Comparative Mythology

By Gary R. Varner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2. MERMAIDS & WATER BEINGS

Stories about mermen and mermaids can be traced back to ancient Babylonian mythology, from the Old Babylonian times onward through the history of Mesopotamia and into the modern world. In fact, as Richard Carrington so aptly put it, “There is not an age, and hardly a country in the world, whose folklore does not contain some reference to mermaids or to mermaid-like creatures. They have been alleged to appear in a hundred different places, ranging from the mist-covered shores of Norway and Newfoundland to the palm-studded islands of the tropic seas.”1

The Babylonian god Oannes, a half-man half-fish deity, has been depicted on sculptures dating back at least to 2000 BCE. Like all mermen, he is shown with the body of a man but from the waist down, he is in the form of a fish. Oannes taught the Babylonians the arts, sciences and letters and possessed vast knowledge.

“To the Assyrians,” wrote Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, “the creature was known simply as kulullû, ‘fish-man’… representations of these figures were used in Neo-Assyrian art for the purpose of protective nature…”2 This “fish-man,” wrote Black and Green, “is perhaps the prototype for the merman figure in Greek and medieval European art and literary tradition.”3 The kulullû obviously was an important mystical symbol for the Babylonians as priests were often garbed in the fish-man guise as part of healing rituals.

The ancient grain god of the Philistines, Dagon or Dagan, was half man and half fish, although Black and Green dispute this. According to them, “A

1. Carrington, Richard. Mermaids and Mastodons: A Book of Natural & Unnatural History. New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc. 1957, 5.

2. Black, Jeremy & Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. Austin: University of Texas Press 1992, 131–132.

3. Ibid., 131.

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