Mermaid Tattoos: the Magnificent Symbology

If you are planning on getting a mermaid tattoo any time soon, you might just discover some of the mystical energies connected with these legendary figures

The origin of the word

The word ‘Seirenes’ is an ancient Greek word, and its root is far from clear. Some linguists trace it back to ‘Seirà’ or string which seems to underline the union of such different and opposing bodies. For others, the adjective it comes from is ‘Seiros’ which means ‘burning’ as if with reference to something ambiguous, fiery and dangerous.

Paul Dobleman, Spider Murphy's Tattoo, San Rafael, USA
Paul Dobleman, Spider Murphy’s Tattoo, San Rafael, USA

“The Book of Monsters”

For the Greeks, the sirens were not half-woman and half-fish. Homer does not even give a physical description of them, limiting himself to talking about their hypnotic singing, but the sirens are actually winged creatures with talons. It would not be until the Middle Ages and the ‘Liber Monstrorum de Diversis Generibus (the Book of Monsters)’ that they would be portrayed as we know them today. For the Catholic church, a winged woman was too far removed from the commonly accepted notion of sin, Anyone might have mistaken her for an angel. So a creature of the sea, with her unsettling curves and naked breasts, was far more indicative of the “peril” and “morbid sexuality” which the obscurantists of the time were so eager to condemn.

Symbol of danger?

The association of sirens-death, however, is not as far-fetched as it may seem. For many scholars, their primary role is that of otherworldly comfort. They accompany sailors on their journey to the afterlife with their hypnotic melodious song. The legend has its roots in a natural phenomenon in the sense that these bewitching sounds might come from the cries of seagulls which, if you listen to them long enough, begin to sound like female voices actually speaking to us.

The “mutation” theory

Some scholars of folklore actually went so far as to claim that mermaids have the same reproductive system as fish. Yet others have said that the mermaid, when all is said and done, is no more than a common mammal such as the dolphin. And there is a third school of thought, the most popular of all in the collective imagination, which gives credence to the “mutation” theory whereby mermaids can change into proper women by drying off their fishtail. Their legs can then turn back into a tail again by simply wetting them with salt water.

The feminine archetype

From a psychological point of view, Gloria Jean Watkins, in her book, also inspired by the feminist movement, ‘The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love’ (2004) presents the mermaid not as a magical creature but rather a sort of primordial feminine archetype. Each and every woman, basically, is a mermaid from the moment of her conception. A source of charm, mystery, seduction and vitality.

Marco Matarese, Puro Tattoo Studio, Milan, Italy
Marco Matarese, Puro Tattoo Studio, Milan, Italy

A star fallen in the sea

For Watkins each and every woman is always able to encapsulate both the high and the low, both the spirituality of the mother and the sexuality of the harlot. If these two elements were to be separated, mankind would probably go mad and die out. That is why in certain Anglo-Saxon cultures, the mermaid is none other than a star which has fallen into the sea. With one hand she points to the sky and with the other she holds her tail and feeds her young. The ultimate Stella Maris.