Many mermaids have associations with death. Some are psychopomps providing responsible escort service to the realms of death, especially for those who die by drowning. Others are just lethal killers.
Legends describe mermaids luring people into the water for the express purpose of killing them. Little reason or motivation is given. Many of the killings seem random; in other words, these mermaids aren’t justice spirits who target only those they deem guilty of some crime. Neither are these guardian spirits: they actually lure people into the water rather than just punish trespassers.
Now in some cases, this may just be bad press. Most mermaids are benevolent beings: they’ve been venerated since that old time immemorial. Some stories may be constructs intended to discourage this veneration and instill fear. However, some stories do derive from pre-Christian traditions. What many of these killer mermaids have in common is their method of dispatching their victims. They don’t drown them or devour them: they absorb their life-essence.
A classic fictional example occurs in H. G. Wells’ 1902 novel, The Sea Lady, in which a mermaid pretends to drown in the hope that her intended target will be stimulated to enter the water—and her trap!—in an attempt to rescue her.
Vampire mermaids suck breath, not blood. Stealing life-essence seems to be their motivation. These mermaids are cold, calculating hunters. Many are extremely beautiful and sexy and there is usually an erotic component to their seduction. These mermaids more closely resemble traditional vampires than traditional benevolent mermaids, their unique quality being that they are vampires who reside in water.
Although some vampire mermaids possess fish tails, others are indistinguishable in appearance from human women.
The mermaid as femme fatale with her lover caught in her fatal embrace is a favourite theme of Salon, Symbolist, and Pre-Raphaelite artists alike. This type of mermaid also occasionally appears as the villain or monster in horror movies.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by: Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.