Mythical Creature of the Week: Merfolk

In 1493, Christopher Columbus spotted three mermaids, which he described as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” Nineteenth-century sideshows like PT Barnum’s American Museum often displayed mermaid skeletons.

So why are merfolk our mythical creature of the week?  you may ask. Clearly they’re the real deal. Today, it is commonly believed that sailors mistook underwater mammals like manatees for the half-human, half-fish creatures of lore. The skeletons displayed at sideshows were later revealed to be a combination of baby monkey and fish bones, sometimes with added bits of wood or paper mache.

Mermaid
Dugong

They’re practically identical.

Mermaids are common in folklore across the world. Japan is home to kappa, who are described as child-sized water spirits with tortoiseshells on their backs. Some Great Lakes tribes believe the riverbanks are home to Maymaygwayshi, hairy child-sized creatures. The Scottish/Icelandic selkie is a shape-shifting creature that can shed its seal skin and become human on land. The sirens of Greek myth are often imagined as comparable to mermaids; though they started as half-bird, half-fish creatures with a woman’s head, they were sometimes depicted as half fish, half woman.

Regardless of the creatures’ origin, in most folklore merfolk are associated with misfortune. They famously lure sailors away from the ships, create fearsome storms, and steal from landfolk.

Despite these more horrifying myths, perhaps the most well-known mermaid story is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (1837). The lead mermaid in this story is much more human-like than the creature of myth, though ultimately more tragic than Disney’s adaptation.

Read on for a merfolk craft, as well as books and movies featuring this week’s mythical creature.


Miss Mary’s Take & Make: Mermaid Sensory Bottle

Materials

Register here to pick up a pre-made kit for this craft from the library!

  • 1 container of glittery mermaid dust
  • 1 container of blue sea sand
  • 1 seahorse
  • 1 clear bottle with cap
  • 1 container of liquid waves (liquid hand soap)
  • Various beads
  • Various seashells
  • 1 piece of twine
  • School glue (opt)
  • Food coloring (opt)
  • Other items like toy fish, plastic fork (aka Dinglehopper), etc. (opt)

Written Instructions

  • Decorate the outside of your bottle with markers or even paint, but be sure that the bottle dries and leave space to view the items inside your bottle.
  • Add a tiny bit of school glue to the bottom of the bottle.
  • Pour the entire container of sand into the bottle & let settle for two minutes or until sand no longer moves about when you shake the bottle. Add one or two more drops of glue if needed.
  • Fill ¼ of the bottle with tap water.
  • Add the entire container of liquid waves. If desired, add a few drops of blue food coloring.
  • Drop in your shells and other decorations.
  • Add the entire container of glittery mermaid dust.
  • Fill the rest of the bottle almost to the very top with hand soap.
  • Shake the bottle to mix the items.
  • Do not get discouraged. The bottle will not look great at first because the solution needs to settle.
  • Have a parent or guardian glue the cap to the bottle or just double check to make sure it does not leak when shaken.
  • Take your silver seahorse and pull one of the ends of the twine through the small hole above its head.
  • Now take your piece of twine and make sure both ends meet.
  • Tie them once in a loop around the neck of the bottle.
  • Now double knot the end, and you are all finished!

Movies

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Youth Books

Young Adult

Adult