In Mythos, our virtual world in Second Life we love so much, we have mermen, of course. And underwater mer homes. Our merman avatars, or its’ female opponent – and better known – mermaid, has one tail. I didn’t know any differently, and I think that this is probably what most of us see, when we picture a mermaid:
The upper body of a nice-looking young girl with beautiful long hair, and the lower body of a fish with a fishy tail. But it seems our minds are programmed by Disney!
Or … That is what my tour guide Anna claimed, when I was visiting gardens in LLoret de Mar, a medium-sized Mediterranean village, well-known as a cheap party destination, but a 100 years back it was a picturesque fishermen’s village. It offers romantic gardens in a Italian Renaissance style, nicely situated on top of a cliff, offering impressive views over the Mediterranean sea.
Decorating the steps of the main stairs covered with ivy, there is a set of five bronze statues of Sirens, that were designed by sculptor María Llimona Benet (1894-1985) in the same style, a project realized between 1939 and 1949. Two sirens have one tail, but what the f*ck!, the other siren statues have two tails! I have been so blind! Why didn’t I notice this before? Until Disney, mermen and mermaids came in all sorts of formats, and with one or two tails; it was all quite normal.
Now I must admit … the Starbucks logo might be the exception that proves the rule. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Shultz wrote about that: “Terry Heckler pored over old marine books until he came up with a logo based on an old sixteenth-century Norse woodcut: a two-tailed mermaid, or siren… That early siren, bare-breasted and Rubenesque, was supposed to be as seductive as coffee itself.”   But honestly, I never identified those drawings on the side of the logo as tails; I thought it was just decoration. Or maybe even didn’t think much of it at all.
SERIOUSLY SCARING SIRENS
The modern fairytale of the Little Mermaid we know from Disney (1989) is very charming: a cute redhead girl rises to the surface, wins a prince’s love, gets married, and all is well. But the original tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875) is sceriously scary, and puts Copenhagen’s famously Mermaid statue in a different light; is she about to die horribly, or just thinking about murdering somebody? [read: “9 Ways The Original Little Mermaid Is Disturbing”]
A little further digging learns us that many mermaid stories are not nice at all. In Greek mythology, the sirens were sea nymphs who lured sailors to their death with a bewitching song. According to Ovid, they were formerly handmaidens of Persephone. When the goddess was secretly abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, her mother and goddess Demeter gave the sirens the bodies of birds, and sent them to assist her in search of her daughter. This version explains why the Sirens were called “the Muses of the Lower World”. 
MERMAIDS WERE PLUCKED CHICKEN
It is also said that mermaids had wings and feathers and that Hera, queen of the gods, persuaded the sirens to enter a singing contest with the muses. The muses won the competition and then plucked out all of the sirens’ feathers and made crowns out of them. Out of their anguish from losing the competition, the sirens turned white and fell into the sea, where they formed the islands in the bay that were called Leukai – the white ones – now Souda (Greece).  Another example of a feathered mermaid is the mermaid of Warsaw, often illustrated with feathers like in this picture below:
That guide opened my eyes, and I now can see new varieties I never saw before, although for sure it was right in front of me many times!
Credits Header: Al Neville, citizen of Mythos.