Friday, October 28, 2011

“Sea Song”, My Take on a Beloved Traditional Image

"SeaSong" by Cristina McAllister
Mermaids are one of the most popular figures of myth and fantasy.  They are beautiful, alluring, mysterious…and sometimes dangerous. 

Associated with water, the moon and seductive beauty, they are symbols of feminine energy, enchantment – and capriciousness.  It was said that they could control the seas and storms, and, depending on how sailors and fishermen interacted with them, could offer a voyage of smooth sailing and abundant fishing, or the misfortune of wrathful ocean squalls, becalmed seas and empty nets.  According to others, they were deadly temptresses who lured men to watery graves with haunting voices.  Some believed this was intentional, malicious murder, while others believed that the mermaids truly desired the love of human men, but tragically, did not understand that dragging them beneath the waves would suffocate them. 

In Chinese myth, mermaids’ tears were said to turn into pearls, and that they were able to weave a kind of fabric more delicate and beautiful than the finest silk.  The Japanese believed their flesh to be delicious and could grant the eater immortality. Therefore, greedy fishermen were always seeking to catch and exploit them, and the mermaids’ entrancing (and disabling) song was employed as a form of self- defense.
"A Mermaid" by J.W. Waterhouse

More positive stories tell of mermaids rescuing drowning men, guiding lost ships back on course, and even teaching humans healing techniques.
They are often portrayed playing harps to accompany their mesmerizing voices.

The harp is one of our most ancient instruments; simple versions were being played by Egyptian musicians 4500 years ago.  Almost every culture has a version of the harp, from Europe to Africa, Latin America to the Far and Near East.

With its graceful, unearthly tones, ancients believed that harp music could link Heaven and Earth, open mystical portals to other realms, and facilitate communion with the Divine.  This may be why angels are so often portrayed playing harps. 

Governor Rekhmire's Musical Banquet.
Harpist and lute player, detail.
Tomb of Rekhmire. XVIII Dynasty, 1570-1293 BC,
New Kingdom. Necropolis at Sheikh
Abd el-Qurna, Western Thebes.
The unique resonance of harp strings has long been considered to be especially soothing and healing.  In the Old Testament, King Saul suffered bouts of rage and despair, which David (also famed for slaying the giant Goliath) could calm by playing his harp.  The ancient Celtic bardic tradition described The Three Musics; the music of mirth, the music of sorrow, and the music of sleep that the harp could produce.  The Greek god Apollo is said to have created the first harp when he discovered that the tones produced by the plucking of his bowstring could sooth souls and heal wounds.  In 16th century Latin America, it was believed that one could make a holy healing potion by scraping wood from a harp and mixing it with water.  Pythagoras theorized that the tones of his lyre could affect the human body, restoring harmony to body and soul.

Today, these ideas are still being explored, and harp music is being used in therapeutic settings.  The vibrations and harmonics of harp music have been found to have measurable effects on stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure and can even lessen the experience of pain.

I like to think of my mermaid as one of the benevolent ones, playing a healing melody, singing a poignant song that soothes and lifts the spirit. Perhaps something along the lines of this piece, “The Kelpie/Song of the Mermaid” performed by Julia Lane on a Celtic harp:

Handmade prints of my "SeaSong" piece can be purchased for $25.00 at my Etsy Shop.

This piece was inspired by my work with the Sylvia Woods Harp Center.  Check out their website for more harp info, harps, harp music, accessories and gifts:

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