The Mermaid's Choice

A Mermaid, Charles Murray Padday (1868-1954)

Mermaid Day

Jan 9

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Mermaid Day
The Mermaid's Choice
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Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” ~ T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, saw three “mermaids” (in reality, probably manatees) and disappointedly described them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Tales of mermaids form a large part of seafaring lore, especially round the coastal areas of Britain such as Cornwall, and the Northern Isles of Scotland. Their sighting was thought to be a bad omen, foretelling storms and rough seas. 

The Mermaid's Choice

On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, saw three “mermaids” (in reality, probably manatees) and disappointedly described them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) had set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, he would find the "New World" in the Americas.

Tales of mermaids have been around for centuries, and form a large part of seafaring lore, especially round the coastal areas of Britain such as Cornwall, and the Northern Isles of Scotland. Their sighting was thought to be a bad omen, foretelling storms and rough seas. 

In the British Isles, the descriptions of mermaids are remarkably similar from Cornwall to the Outer Hebrides. Generally, mermaids are described as having the upper body of a beautiful woman with long hair, with the lower body from the waist down of a fish. In many of the classic descriptions, mermaids are often found sitting on a rock just off the shore, combing their hair, singing sweetly and admiring their beauty in a hand mirror. Their beautiful singing attracts the unwary, and much like the Greek sirens, their unfortunate victims are either drowned or spirited to their world.

Muckle Flugga is a small rocky island in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, and according to local folklore, Muckle Flugga and nearby Out Stack were formed when two giants, Herma and Saxa, fell in love with the same mermaid. They fought over her by throwing large rocks at each other, one of which became Muckle Flugga. To get rid of them, the mermaid offered to marry whichever one would follow her to the North Pole. They both attempted to follow her and as neither could swim, perished in the sea.

For a video of this dance being performed by the Toronto Area Teachers' Association in 2016, see below.

And for more on pre-Raphaelite Mermaid Art, click John William Waterhouse's, A Mermaid, 1900.

The Mermaid's Choice
The Mermaid's Choice

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The majority of dance descriptions referenced on this site have been taken from the

 

Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary or the

Scottish Country Dancing Database 

 

Snapshots of dance descriptions are provided as an overview only.  As updates may have occurred, please click the dance description to be forwarded to a printable dance description or one of the official reference sources.

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