Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Vol 26, No 3 (2013)

Where Skin Meets Fin: The Mermaid as Myth, Monster and Other-Than-Human Identity

Venetia Laura Delano Robertson
Issued Date: 24 Feb 2014


Mermaids have persisted as a feature of popular culture for centuries as one of the most multivalent of all mythical creatures. The mermaid blurs the boundary between woman and fish, femininity and carnality, land and sea, human and other. She is also held to be an astral entity in various metaphysical circles, in the mermaiding industry she is often marketed as an ambassador for marine preservation, and in the general pervasiveness of this character, competing with inhuman beings such as vampires, werewolves, and angels in the heavily mediated realm of contemporary culture, the mermaid represents an additional opportunity to invest in an other-than-human identity. This paper explores the development of the mermaid and how she has been conceived of as ‘other’. It then questions how ‘otherness’, traditionally understood to be something different or deviant with regard to gender, sexuality, race, species, or divinity, may be of value in the explicitly human project of personal meaning-making. By looking to the ‘mermaider’ community, a fandom for mermaid mythology, it can be seen that mermaid identity offers a sense of re-enchantment, a path to reifying an authentic subjectivity, and a mode by which the other-than-human self is seen as a sacred self.

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DOI: 10.1558/jasr.v26i3.303


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