Illustration by Chloe Effron
Illustration by Chloe Effron

9 Mermaid Legends From Around the World

Illustration by Chloe Effron
Illustration by Chloe Effron

Not all mermaids are the shimmering versions of femininity often seen in pop culture. In fact, those mermaids—which seem to be a combination of the Melusine and Greek mythology—barely skim the surface of this fish-human legend. Many countries and culture have their own versions of mermaids, from a snake water goddess to a fish with a monkey mouth. Some are benevolent, some ambivalent, and many are openly hostile to the poor humans who cross their paths.


Vastly different than the Western version of a beautiful mermaid, this monster found in Japanese folklore is described as a giant fish with a human face and a monkey's mouth, and sometimes even horns and fangs. In a serious conflict of interest, anyone who eats the Ningyo will have eternal youth and beauty—but catching one often brings terrible storms and misfortune to entire villages.


Selkies are gentle creatures who live their lives as seals while in the water and shed their skin to become human on land, but they're frequently equated with mermaids because in Gaelic stories they are associated with maighdeann-mhara, or "maid of the sea." Selkie legends usually end in tragedy; the folktales almost inevitably feature a selkie's sealskin getting stolen and the selkie getting married and having children with a human, only to later find its old sealskin and get called back to the sea.


The "water spirit" Mami Wata is sometimes described as a mermaid, sometimes as a snake charmer, and occasionally as a combination of both. Found in many African folk stories, the legend of Mami Wata made its way to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. Although she can sometimes take human form, she is never fully human. She is closely associated with healing, fertility, and sex.


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The idea of mermaids in Brazil comes from the tale of Iara, the "Lady of the Waters." Iara was originally known as a water snake, but through folklore became an immortal woman with green eyes and brown skin who was known lure sailors to her underwater palace, where they became her lovers. Iara is blamed for many accidents in the Amazon, especially those where men disappear.


Most tales of mermaids are passed down through spoken tales and pictures—and in New Zealand's Maori folklore, they are also seen in carvings. A little more intense than a mermaid, the Marakihau is a taniwha (guardian) of the sea. It has a human head and the body of a very long fish, as well as a long, tubular tongue that is often blamed for destroying canoes and swallowing large quantities of fish.


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A feminine spirit found in many medieval European folk stories, the Melusine has a serpentine tail and occasionally sports wings. France, Germany, Luxembourg and Albania all have varying tales of Melusine, but the general legend describes her as a willful maiden who attempts revenge on her father on behalf of her mother, only to be punished by her mother with a serpent's tail. Melusine is especially connected with France as the royal French house of Lusignan claimed to be decedents of her. Images of this sea fairy can be seen over the world—especially on the coffee cups of Starbucks, which has a Melusine-like mermaid as its logo.


A magical cap called a cohuleen druith enables merrows to live under the water. Female merrows, with their long green hair, are similar to traditional sirens—the beautiful, half-human fish of mythology. Male merrows, however, are considered hideous and frightening, more fish than man. And they're cruel—so cruel that merrow women were said to often have relationships with human men. Their offspring might have scales and webbing between their fingers. Merrows frequently become tired of the land and try to find a way to return to the sea—with or without their human family.


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Often translated as “mermaid,” these water nymphs of Slavic myth were originally considered benevolent because they came out of the water in the spring to water crops. But the mythology also has a darker side: Rusalka are thought to be the spirits of girls who died violently, and thus they frequently lure men and children to their own watery deaths. Their translucent skin gives them a ghost-like appearance, and they'll sometimes use their long hair to trap and entangle their victims.


Probably the least like a traditional version of a mermaid, finfolk are shape-shifters of the sea. Considered nomads who can alternate between living on land and at their ancestral home—Finfolkaheem—finfolk tend to have an antagonistic relationship with humans. They often abduct humans for their spouses, making them more servant than partner. Finfolk also have an affinity for silver, and one might be able to escape their grasp by throwing a silver coin their way.

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Big Questions
Did Wilt Chamberlain Really Sleep With 20,000 Women?
Brian Bahr/Allsport/Getty Images
Brian Bahr/Allsport/Getty Images

At 7'1", Wilt Chamberlain may have been the most dominating and amazing basketball player of all time. In his legendary career, Chamberlain scored 31,419 points, including the unbelievable time he actually scored 100 points in one game. He holds dozens of unbreakable basketball records.

In addition to his accomplishments on the court, Chamberlain also authored four books. None of the others created nearly the stir and controversy as his 1991 book, A View From Above. In it, the basketball great claimed to have slept with 20,000 different women during his life.

A media firestorm erupted, and Chamberlain was attacked from all sides. The country was at the height of the AIDS crisis, and activists criticized Wilt for his promiscuity. He also came under fire in African-American circles for promoting black racial stereotypes. And feminists resented his blatant sexism for using women in such a manner.

To Wilt's credit (I guess), he never backed down from his claim, never said he was just "bragging" or "stretching the truth." He simply stated: "I was just laying it out there for people who were curious."

Wilt was emphatic that he never went to bed with a married woman. "I was just doing what was natural—chasing good-looking ladies, whoever they were and wherever they were." But could he really sleep with 20,000 different women? Let's analyze it.


If Wilt started at the age of 15, from then up to the age of 55 (when the book was published) he would have had 40 years to sleep with 20,000 women, or 500 different women a year—easy math.

That works out to roughly 1.4 women a day.

According to close friends, Wilt loved threesomes. According to legend, he was intimate with 23 different women on one 10-day road trip. Wilt was also a lifelong insomniac, sometimes just not sleeping at all. He probably would take a woman to bed any time he couldn't fall asleep.

But the time factor is an interesting point. A close childhood friend, Tom Fitzhugh, said, "I don't remember him having a date. He was probably a virgin when he left high school." So let us assume Wilt really started around the age of 18, which ups the average to 1.5 women per day for 37 years.

Additionally, he did have a six-month schedule, for 14 seasons, of playing professional basketball. That's 82 games a season, not including playoffs, exhibitions, practices, and travel time.

The fact that he said 20,000 different women also leaves little time for repeats, or love. And what about sickness? Everyone gets sick once in a while, which would have cost Wilt precious time during those 37 to 40 sexually active years.

But most incredibly, even with those reported 20,000 sexual liaisons, Wilt is not known to have contracted any serious sexually transmitted diseases. Nor was there ever a woman who came forward with an unplanned pregnancy, a "little Wilt," or a paternity suit.

And what about turndowns? Every guy in human history has been turned down by a woman at some point. One can only wonder at Wilt's rejections ... probably extremely few, to manage that 20,000 record.

In a 1999 interview, shortly before he died, Wilt made the following revealing statement:

"Having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I've learned in my life. I've (also) found out that having one woman a thousand different times is more satisfying."

So perhaps he made time for repeats after all.

Chamberlain died of heart failure in 1999 in Bel-Air, California, at the age of 63.

As a sidebar, Wilt was a huge hero of mine—my supreme basketball hero, as a kid and to this day. I wore Wilt's number 13 on my jersey as I ineptly played for my synagogue's basketball team. (I scored 18 points in 18 games, a nifty 1.0 scoring average.)

Many years later, I met "Wilt the Stilt" at a book-signing for the infamous A View From Above, and I even got to shake his hand. It was, far and away, the biggest hand I have ever seen (or shaken). He didn't just shake my hand—he engulfed it!

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9 Victims of King Tut's Curse (And One Who Should Have Been)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When King Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered on November 26, 1922—after more than 3000 years of uninterrupted repose—some believed the pharaoh unleashed a powerful curse of death and destruction upon all who dared disturb his eternal slumber.

Like any urban legend or media sensation, the alleged curse grew to epic proportions over the years. Here are nine people who might make you believe in such things, and one who should have been a direct recipient of Tut's wrath but got off with nary a scratch.


The man who financed the excavation of King Tut's tomb was the first to succumb to the supposed curse. Lord Carnarvon accidentally tore open a mosquito bite while shaving and ended up dying of blood poisoning shortly thereafter. This occurred a few months after the tomb was opened and a mere six weeks after the press started reporting on the "mummy's curse," which was thought to afflict anyone associated with disturbing the mummy. Legend has it that when Lord Carnarvon died, all of the lights in his house mysteriously went out.


Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb, gave a paperweight to his friend Ingham as a gift. The paperweight appropriately (or perhaps quite inappropriately) consisted of a mummified hand wearing a bracelet that was supposedly inscribed with the phrase, "cursed be he who moves my body." Ingham's house burned to the ground not long after receiving the gift, and when he tried to rebuild, it was hit with a flood.


Gould was a wealthy American financier and railroad executive who visited the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1923 and fell sick almost immediately afterward. He never really recovered and died of a pneumonia a few months later.


It's said that Lord Carnarvon's half-brother suffered from King Tut's curse merely by being related to him. Aubrey Herbert was born with a degenerative eye condition and became totally blind late in life. A doctor suggested that his rotten, infected teeth were somehow interfering with his vision, and Herbert had every single tooth pulled from his head in an effort to regain his sight. It didn't work. He did, however, die of sepsis as a result of the surgery, just five months after the death of his supposedly cursed brother.


Evelyn-White, a British archaeologist, visited Tut's tomb and may have helped excavate the site. After seeing death sweep over about two dozen of his fellow excavators by 1924, Evelyn-White hung himself—but not before writing, allegedly in his own blood, "I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear."


American Egyptologist Aaron Ember was friends with many of the people who were present when the tomb was opened, including Lord Carnarvon. Ember died in 1926, when his house in Baltimore burned down less than an hour after he and his wife hosted a dinner party. He could have exited safely, but his wife encouraged him to save a manuscript he had been working on while she fetched their son. Sadly, they and the family's maid died in the catastrophe. The name of Ember's manuscript? The Egyptian Book of the Dead.


Bethell was Lord Carnarvon's secretary and the first person behind Carter to enter the tomb. He died in 1929 under suspicious circumstances: He was found smothered in his room at an elite London gentlemen's club. Soon after, the Nottingham Post mused, "The suggestion that the Hon. Richard Bethell had come under the ‘curse’ was raised last year, when there was a series of mysterious fires at it home, where some of the priceless finds from Tutankhamen’s tomb were stored." No evidence of a connection between artifacts and Bethell's death was established, though.


Proving that you didn't have to be one of the excavators or expedition backers to fall victim to the curse, Reid, a radiologist, merely x-rayed Tut before the mummy was given to museum authorities. He got sick the next day and was dead three days later.


Breasted, another famous Egyptologist of the day, was working with Carter when the tomb was opened. Shortly thereafter, he allegedly returned home to find that his pet canary had been eaten by a cobra—and the cobra was still occupying the cage. Since the cobra is a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy, and a motif that kings wore on their headdresses to represent protection, this was a rather ominous sign. Breasted himself didn't die until 1935, although his death did occur immediately after a trip to Egypt.


Carter never had a mysterious, inexplicable illness and his house never fell victim to any fiery disasters. He died of lymphoma at the age of 64. His tombstone even says, "May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness." Perhaps the pharaohs saw fit to spare him from their curse.


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