Bestiary 11

11web Mermaid


In the land of Ti, in the East of Kien Mu, there live Teishin.”Tomo kummo dzue”’, Chinese chronicle translated into Japanese, reports that they have a head of a man and the body of a fish. It does not say weather they are mortal or not. True mermaids have a definite streak of immortality running in their blood, besides the power of prophecy and granting wishes. Listening to mermaids can bring on madness. They enjoy tempest, but grow sad in calm weather. And old seamen’s superstition says that recording a sighting of a mermaid in the ship’s log book will bring bad luck. One of the best described encounters is found in the ship’s journal of Henry Hudson. Considering the grisly fate his expedition met, there may be something in the old superstition.

Drawing of Mermaid above is by Nat from


In the 6th cen a mermaid was caught in North Wales, baptised, and in some old calendars took a place as St.Murgen. She was born Liban, one of the daughters of Eochaid and Etain. Around AD 90 the sacred spring nearby, which was sacrilegiously neglected, overflew, and formed Lough Neagh. Eochaid and his family drowned in the flood. Liban was swept away with her pet dog, but she was preserved in a subaqueous cave , where she spent a year with her dog alone. She prayed to be turned into a salmon, so she could play with the fish that swam past her. God granted her a fish tail, but the top end of her body remained female. Her dog was turned into an otter. Together they swam around for centuries.


Meanwhile, Ireland became Christian, and one day St.Comgall sent his cleric Beoc to Rome on a business. As they sailed along the coast, a very sweet voice sung to them from underneath the waters. Clerics thought it was an angel, but Liban surfaced and spoke to them, telling her story and arranging a meeting with Beoc the following year, after his return from Rome. Beoc kept his appointment and fished out Liban a year later. She was given a choice- live on land the same length of time she spent under the sea, or dies and ascend to heaven. She chose the immediate death. Baptised Murgen (e.g. sea-born) she entered the heaven as one of the Holy Virgins. Many wonders were done through her in the Teo-da-Beoc church. Another variant of mermaid is merrow, from Irish “muirrughach”. Possibly not a true sea-people, they inhabit a strange dry land beneath the seabed itself. Using an enchantment, they can cross the water layer in between to reach the dry land. W.B.Yates called them mermaids and wrote that their women are beautiful, head and torso of a woman, lower end and a tail of a fish. On the other hand, their men have noses like pigs’ snouts, fiery red eyes, green hair, green teeth and arms like short scaly fins. No wonder that merrow females like to marry human males instead. Descendants of such unions are still living in Machaire, Ireland. Such people are usually under some kind of a curse: either they cannot sleep at night for the haunting sounds of the sea in their ears, or they are doomed not to speak . Male merrow were known to befriend the fishermen.

Henri L.Joly in his “Legend in Japanese Art” lists a Mu Jima, a hairy mermaid, without elaborating.




Als are demons originating in Persia, later also appearing in Christianity and in Armenia. Half men and half animals, of both sexes, they have hair of snakes, eyebrows of brass, eyes of glass, teeth of iron, tusks of boar and face white as snow. St.Peter and St.Paul are credited with meeting als on the road during their apostolic travels and conversing with them.

Afghani Al are female, always looking about 20 years old, with long teeth and nails. They feed on corpses like Hindu Churel.

In Armenia Als developed into shaggy demons with bristling hair, who lived in watery or damp places. Fiery eyed with hair of snakes, they always carried iron scissors as weapons. Their king is chained in an abyss, shrieking continuously.

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