Macabre Mermaid Tales Pulled From The Darkest Depths Of The Sea

Do you daydream about seeing a real mermaid? Such a spotting might be the highlight of any day out on the water. But before you get too lost in your imagination, beware: eerie tales about mermaids say they're actually a harbinger of doom.

Don't believe the Disney hype about mermaids being sweet fish-women seeking their soulmates. In reality, sinister mermaid mythology characterizes them as sea monsters worthy of any horror film. Mermaids and mermen have many tools at their disposal to bring about your untimely end. They may channel a storm, lure your ship into the rocks, drive you mad with their singing - or even feast on your flesh. These scary mermaid stories prove that they're some of the creepiest things in the sea.

  • The Little Mermaid Involves A Literal Bloodbath

    The Little Mermaid Involves A Literal Bloodbath
    Photo: Bertall (1820-1882) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    "The Little Mermaid" is a sinister morality tale by 19th-century Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Like the beloved Disney film, it follows a mermaid’s quest to win the heart of the handsome prince whose life she saves from the water. Unlike the beloved Disney film, the original story takes a dark turn when the mermaid is unable to win the prince’s heart.

    Mute and alone, she is doomed to be transformed into sea foam because fish girls have no souls and cannot go to heaven. Her sisters sell their hair to the sea witch in exchange for a dagger that the mermaid must use to pierce the prince in his sleep. If she lets his blood wash over her feet, she will regrow her tail and return to the ocean.

    The heroine stands over the sleeping prince with the dagger for a long time, but cannot follow through with the dreadful act. Because she resisted taking him, angels appear and let her know she can work for several hundred years doing good deeds, and then perhaps she may obtain an immortal soul and go to heaven. 

  • A Japanese Mermaid Has A Snake Body And Fangs

    A Japanese Mermaid Has A Snake Body And Fangs
    Photo: Sawaki Sūshi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Sure, it's unsettling to think about a half-fish person - but what about a half-snake person? This Japanese myth is known as Nure-Onna, and she has the face and hair of a woman, but the eyes and teeth of a snake.

    Nure-Onna sits by the shore, cradling a bundle to trick humans into thinking she's a distressed mother holding a baby. If a passerby picks up her bundle, it becomes so heavy it pins them to the rocks. Then, Nure-Onna uses her long, pointed tongue to drain their blood at a pace that suits her. In some versions of the tale, she even strangles her victims with her pretty hair.

  • The Blue Men Of The Minch Have A Taste For Human Flesh

    The Blue Men Of The Minch Have A Taste For Human Flesh
    Photo: Arnold Böcklin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Scottish folklore tells of a strange group of creatures that inhabit one particular strait. According to legend, they would appear in groups with only their torsos raised out of the water. These Blue Men of Minch would wave to sailors in a friendly manner, and the sailors would assume they were innocent people in need of rescue. But when the sailors got closer, they would see the unnatural blueness of the men’s skin and the elongated, twisted features of their faces.

    Unfortunately, sailors close enough to recognize the Blue Men were close enough to become prey. The Blue Men would drag them into the water and feast on their flesh.

  • Those Seductive Sirens Were Actually Horrific Monsters

    The Odyssey details one man's quest to get home, despite the machinations of a lot of evil women (thanks, Greek mythology). But of all the seductresses Odysseus faces, none stand out quite like the sirens. These creatures are commonly depicted as mermaids whose beauty equals that of their deadly songs. However, in the original text, the sirens have the bodies of birds, and the only beautiful thing about them is their singing.

    This makes them more like harpies, who are traditionally the personification of lethal storm winds. Either way, you're likely facing a shipwreck.

  • The First Mermaid Was The Result Of A Suicide Attempt

    The First Mermaid Was The Result Of A Suicide Attempt
    Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Perhaps the oldest known mermaid myth is the Syrian tale of Atargatis. She was a goddess who fell in love with a human shepherd - but her divine strength accidentally took his life. Overcome with grief and guilt, Atargatis attempted to take her own life in the ocean.

    Gods usually turned into fish when they dove into the sea, but the goddess was too beautiful for that fate. The transformation stopped halfway through, and she became the first mermaid.

  • Rusalki Are The Vengeful Spirits Of Girls Who Passed Violently

    Rusalki Are The Vengeful Spirits Of Girls Who Passed Violently
    Photo: John Reinhard Weguelin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In Russian folklore, rusalki are the spirits of women who took their own lives or were submerged in water until passing due to unwanted pregnancies. Their souls lived on forever in the form of vengeful mermaids who punished men and children for their fate.

    If you met a rusalka, she would lure you in with her beauty and make you feel safe with her soothing voice. Once you were in her grasp, she would hold you underwater until you passed. In some versions of the story, she would instead tickle you to your end while she laughed herself.