The World is full of mermaids.
Historically, folkloric-ly, and metaphorically!
I am fascinated with the breadth and depth of mermaid culture around the world.
Mermaids can be found in the history and folklore of almost every culture! With such a variety of interpretations and significance it really amazes me!
From the wicked sirens of Ancient Greece to the helpful and exotic Iara of Brazil, each culture has their own unique take on mermaids!
We also have a universal love of them. Some people casually enjoy a mermaid tale or image, others are more fascinated and collect mermaid items and enjoy mermaid books and films, and some are dedicated to their love of mermaids; purchasing their very own mermaid tails, learning to swim like a mermaid and seeking a community, or pod, of mermaids to connect with.
I believe mermaids represent freedom to us. Mermaids are free to be exactly who they are, free to roam the oceans or land, free to swim and play and live carefree. Since they are half human, they make us feel that we, too, can have that freedom; we can see ourselves with the power, grace, and beauty of a mermaid. They also represent our connection to the sea, which will forever captivate our imagination.
Whether you’re a casual mermaid lover or you are passionate in your devotion, you have to admit that the history and lore of mermaids is fascinating!
I’ve compiled a list of types of mermaids from around the world. It is in no way exhaustive but is but I’ve included quite a few types. *Also, these are “types” of mermaids, or classifications, there are also a lot of individual famous mermaids, but that’s a list for another time.
Read through the list and tell me which is your favorite!
Mermaids of the British Isles
The fair skinned, green haired beauties of the Irish seas. They are gentle and affectionate mermaids who often form attachments to humans.
Beware of seeking an attachment with just any Merrow, some are not so friendly and will lure men out to the depths of the sea, leaving them everafter in an enchanted state.
Merrows can transform to human shape and do so often. But to be able to return to mermaid form and to the sea, they must have possession of their cohuleen druith, which is a magical red cap. They must guard well though, because if they lose it or it is taken from them (which human lovers have been known to do) they cannot return to mermaid form and to the sea.
Merrows create beautiful music that can be heard from the farthest depths of the ocean and they can sometimes be seen dancing to the music on deserted shores.
Morgans are eternally young and extremely dangerous mermaids of Wales and Brittany. They love to sit on shore and comb their long beautiful hair to lure men to them, then they seduce them to their deaths by drowning.
They are sometimes blamed for heavy flooding that destroys crops and villages.
Ceasg (pronounced kee-ask)
A complex mermaid from the Scottish highlands. They are half salmon and are said to grant 3 wishes to anyone who manages to capture them. Beware though, they are cunning and will easily lead you to your death. On the other hand, if you manage to capture the heart of a Ceasg, she will transform into human form and stay with you, giving you eternal good luck.
They have a secret though, they keep their souls hidden in an object, if you manage to destroy the object, the Ceasg will die.
Not much is known about the Ben-Varrey. They are rarely encountered mermaids from the Isle of Man, Scotland. They are some of the more benevolent mermaids and have been known to assist humans in need and occasionally exchange gifts with them. Although there are stories of some ben-varrey luring a sailor to his death.
Unusual Scottish and Irish mermaids who are in fact part seal. They take the form of a seal while in water and a human while on land. They must first take off their seal skin to be able to walk on land and must keep it well guarded as there are humans who will steal their skin. If a selkie loses her skin she cannot return to the sea until she finds it. Many human men seek to find a selkie skin in order to hide it and keep the selkies captive on land. The selkies will then be compelled to stay with the human, but will always be longing for the sea and searching for their skin.
Kelpies are non-traditional fresh water mermaids of Scotland. They are very secretive and are usually seen as a black horse that inhabits large pools and lochs. They are able to disguise themselves as seaweed or water plants and can transform to human form on land. Some think that the Loch Ness monster is actually a Kelpie.
Finfolk are beautiful but cruel and greedy mermaids from the deep sea realm of Finfolkaheem. They often journey to the Orkney Islands to find human mates. They are shapeshifters and will disguise themselves as sea animals or plants to capture unwitting humans and force them into lifelong servitude as their spouse and slave. Some Finwives, though, prefer to entice men with their beauty. It is said that finwives prefer to marry human men because if a Finwife marries a Finman, he will force her to go ashore among the humans and work as a healer or crafter and send all her silver home or risk a terrible beating.
The Asrai are shy mermaids with flowing green hair and cold, pale skin that will burn anyone who touches it. They live in seas and lakes and do not like to be around humans. Some Asrai will play tricks on humans or lure them to sea, although they are not particularly evil. Their pale skin is extremely sensitive to sunlight and cannot tolerate prolonged exposure. Some say the Asrai will melt into a puddle if in the sun too long. They love moonlight.
Mermaids of Europe
Nixies, known as The Neck or Nokke in Scandinavia
These Germanic mermaids are actually shapeshifting water spirits that inhabit rivers and lakes. Little is known about their true form, but they are usually seen as beautiful women with fish tails. When they are in human form they can be recognized by aquatic features, such as slit ears. It is said that they lure men to their deaths with their beautiful voices.
The two-tailed mermaid of French origin. The Melusine are freshwater mermaids who live among humans. They return to their mermaid form while bathing or swimming, usually doing so in secret. The Starbucks logo mermaid is a Melusine!
Rusalka are tragic mermaids who are actually spirits of women who have died of causes linked to water. They are beautiful but vengeful and will seduce men and lure them to deep water where they entangle the men in their long red hair until they drown. Some say they can change their appearance to match the tastes of men to more easily seduce them.
They are attached to nature though and are known to bring moisture to the land and will even nurture crops.
Undine are freshwater mermaids from Greece. They inhabit rivers, lakes, ponds, and sometimes even fountains. They act as protectors of their water source and will keep them safe and clean.
Undine are known for their great beauty, but they are said to be without a soul and can only gain a soul by marrying a human. They will entice men with their beauty and lovely voice and their perceived vulnerability. Their human husbands must remain faithful to them or he will die and the she will lose her soul.
Sirens are the infamous mermaids known for being mischievous and deadly. Using their beautiful voices, they sing enchanting songs to lure sailors to their death. They also have the ability to conjure storms and fog, can foretell death, and can read minds.
Sirens of ancient history were actually half bird, not half fish. At some point they lost their feathers in a singing contest with the Muses and then became mermaids. They were sore losers and still to this day take out their anger by tormenting humans.
Nereides are both saltwater and freshwater mermaids and are most often seen in the Aegean sea.
They are extremely beautiful and very friendly and will gladly help sailors in times of need. They are close to the God Poseidon and are known to sometimes fight each other for the chance to carry his trident.
Humans often keep shrines to nereids in ports as a tribute to their helpfulness.
Naiades are found in fresh bodies of water such as rivers, springs, wells, and even fountains.
They are very nurturing of the waters they protect and are, for the most part, kind to humans.
Naiades’ lives are connected with the body of water they protect. As long as their body of water remains strong the Nereides will stay healthy and alive. If the water runs low, they will lose their strength and possibly die.
Since most fresh water sources are very important to survival, humans will sometimes leave offerings to the Naiad of a particular water source to honor and placate them.
Sometimes though, Naiades will use their beauty and long flowing hair to make men fall in love with them and can maintain a relationship. But, if the Naiad is scorned or angered, she can cause flash-floods or inflict droughts or make the waters undrinkable to humans.
It is said that If you swim in a water source that is protected by a Naiade, you could absorb some of her power. These waters have often been known to heal the sick and bring fertility to women and crops.
Oceanids are freshwater and saltwater mermaids. There are said to be around 3000 Oceanids around the world.
Oceanids preside over regions, such as Europa and Asia, instead of particular bodies of water like Naiads do. The main role of Oceanids is to protect their bodies of water.
Oceanids are known to be very compassionate and because of that many sailors dedicate prayers and sacrifices to the Oceanids in order to receive protection from the deadly sea storms.
Mermaids of Asia
The Ningyo are not traditional mermaids, but more of a human-fish hybrid. They have the complete body of a fish and the head of a human, sometimes depicted with a monkey mouth. They are not seen as traditionally beautiful but can sometimes have beautiful colorings.
It is extremely bad luck to catch one and will bring on storms and mass misfortune to the fisherman and village. Eating the flesh is said to bring eternal youth but few dare to try because of the bad luck it could bring.
Ponyo, the animated film is loosely based off of the Ningyo.
Jiaoren are mermaids of China and are not only beautiful but are great craftswomen. They are able to create Dragon Yarn, a secret skill which is known only to them. They weave a magical cloth from this yarn that is a beautiful glistening white and can never get wet. The Jiaroen sell or trade the cloth, and sometimes Dragon Yarn, to humans.
The Jiaoren are also special in that their tears turn to pearls. They will sometimes gift their tears to humans who have been kind to them.
Siyokoy are non-traditional mermaids from the Philippines. More animal than human, they are green or brown skinned humanoids with scales, gill slits, webbed arms and legs/feet, and fins or tentacles. They tend to travel with intimidating sea animals such as eels, octopus, rays, and squids. They will drown and eat human adults but will not harm children.
Magindara are fierce mermaids of the Philippines. They have the upper body of an attractive woman and the lower body of a multicolored fish with sharp scales. They have enchanting voices that can lure men to their deaths.
Marakihau mermaids are New Zealand’s guardians of the sea. They have dark skin and a very long fish-like tail and can be quite menacing. They have a long tubular tongue and are blamed for consuming large amounts of fish and therefore depriving fisherman of abundant catches. They will sometimes destroy boats.
Mermaids of Africa
The Njuzu are mermaids of the Zimbabwe Save River and are seen as the messengers of the ancestors who controlled the River. They are beautiful and have pale skin and are said to be how the people of Zimbabwe are related to white people in the ancestral spiritual world. They can tell the future and are also able to possess people and pass along ancient knowledge.
Jengu are mermaids of the Sawa people of Cameroon. They are beautiful mermaids who live in rivers and the sea. They have long hair and beautiful gap teeth and bring good fortune to those who worship them. They are said to be able to cure disease.
The Chitapo are mermaids of Zambia who live in Victoria Falls and the Atlantic Ocean. They are quite vicious and will capture humans to eat them, including children. They lure humans to them by placing household items around and in the water. When humans go to retrieve the items, the Chitapo capture them.
Mermaids of South America
Encantado mermaids are actually dolphin shapeshifters. It is said that they will place a married human man under a spell and then visit him yearly to seduce him. On the seventh year she transforms him into a baby and implants him into his own wife’s womb in order to continue the cycle of life. (I’m honestly a little freaked out by this one!)
The Iara live in the Amazon and other fresh water rivers of Brazil. They have green hair, a dolphin or manatee tail, copper skin, and are very beautiful and have enchanting voices. They often come to the surface and lure men to them with their voice in order to enchant them and drown them at the bottom of the river.
They will occasionally take human form and enter towns and villages seeking human companionship. Sometimes they will even fall in love with a human and will be a devoted and caring lover, but more often they will end up killing them.
Aicaya – type
The Aicaya are very special mermaids of the Caribbean. They are made up of women and men who are shunned by their people. Each one is transformed by an existing Aicaya and taken to live in the sea in communities where all are treated equal despite their differences. The Aicaya regularly seek out these shunned people to transform them so that they won’t be sad and alone.
Cecealia, sometimes known as sea witches, are of Native American and Asian origin. They have tentacles like an octopus or a squid. They are only recently known as Cecealia, traditionally they were just known as octopus people. Not much is known about them. Ursula from The Little Mermaid is a Cecealia and sea witch.
Sabawaelnu are considered water spirits by the Mi’kmaq. Their name literally means “water people” and they are sometimes called Halfway People. They are like traditional mermaids in that they have a human upper body with a tail instead of legs. They are respectful of humans and do no harm and they are said to have power over storms. Mi’kmaq people who learn to interpret the Sabawaelnu songs are able to predict the weather.
Lumpeguin are mermaids of the Maliseet people. It is possible that they shape-shift because there are many tales of lumpeguin mermaids with legs. They are considered a water spirit and, like many nature spirits in Native American folklore, they fall under the power of anyone who steals their magical garments. Some say that lumpeguin women are claimed as wives by men who take their clothing. Lumpeguins have the ability to create food by either turning a morsel of food into a feast or using a magical pot to produce an infinite amount of food.
There are many, many more mermaid legends and tales. If you know of a type of mermaid I haven’t listed, please let me know, I’ll add it to the list!