Water, Water Everywhere, and So Are the Myths by Elizabeth MS Flynn w/a Eilis Flynn
Earth is mostly water, and even though we have been on the moon and some parts beyond, we are still painfully aware we don’t know everything that’s under the seas right here on this planet. Each time we think there’s nothing more to be revealed in its depths, something new and surprising comes out of it. Every time we hear about the Loch Ness monster being fictional, we hear about a real prehistoric fish discovered still around. For every Nessie, we have a coelacanth, thought to have become extinct in the Cretaceous period millions of years ago, but found alive and thriving today!
That intrigued Jacquie Rogers and me, and we had to check out the deets of the watery depths. Our planet’s been explored pretty thoroughly since mankind’s been around, from the top of Mt. Everest all the way down to…okay, not so much the seven seas. The oceans are truly the final undiscovered country of Earth, and they’ve been feared and respected in perhaps equal parts as long as mankind has been around, spinning tales about what could possibly dwell down below.
Water myths can be found everywhere there’s water. There are water beasts and water demons and even water ghosts! And of course there are aquatic superheroes (who hasn’t heard of Aquaman or even Namor the Sub-Mariner? Come to think of it, there’s Ariel the mermaid, too) and submerged continents and cities. And the old seamen’s chanties about the ghosts of ships lost at sea! Who hasn’t heard of the Flying Dutchman, or the odd story of the Marie Celeste, or the even odder story about the ghost ship in land-locked Wyoming? And think of all those TV shows and movies with a water theme. Who doesn’t remember Flipper, or the Man from Atlantis, or even Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent? Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea? Water is mysterious, and it is everywhere!
As we did our research on watery legends around the world, we realized that yes, there are sea stories that go across cultures and oceans. Stories about giant octopuses pop up in areas that have nothing in common except a perilous tale about sailors fighting a gigantic octopus or even being swallowed by one. Interested in dragons? There are water dragons, again all over the world!
Water shows up in crossing over to death. The River Jordan in Abrahamic imagery isn’t unique. The Finns have their own river to cross to the land of the dead, the Greeks have several rivers connected to the newly dead, the river Vaitaran of Hindu mythology that marks the boundary between the living and the dead, and there’s the legend of the Sanzu River, which can be found in northern Japan. Look for a pattern of stones and cross the water at that point to enter the kingdom of the dead. The relative difficulty to find and cross has been likened to Purgatory.
And there’s the Lady of the Lake, the keeper of Excalibur. And what about the story of Lorelei? Betrayed by her lover, she threw herself into the sea and became a siren. If a man hears her song, he’ll be lured to his death.
And sunken cities and continents swallowed by the sea! Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria…and there’s more. There’s Dwarka, ruled by the Hindu deity Krishna, until it sank perhaps 12,000 years ago. The bells of sunken Lyonesse, off the coast of Cornwall, are said to be heard at certain times.
In Polynesian mythology, there’s a story about a boy who was raised by the seas themselves as one of their own. His mother had been abducted by evil spirits, and they stole the baby within her before the sea rose and rescued the infant. Other sea spirits built a boat for the infant that also acted as a soul collector, sailing at night and searching for anyone who had died at sea. The boat was known as the boat of souls.
And there are the various forms of hantu—spirits—in the Pacific Rim. There’s the hantu air, water spirits that live in rivers or large lakes, ghosts of those who have drowned on those bodies of water. They take on the appearance of a floating log to trick unsuspecting travelers to drown them or eat them. Then there are the hantu laut, the sea spirits sympathetic to fishermen and sailors and help them in their time of need.
And of course, there’s the story of a great flood. There’s always a great flood, it seems, no matter what culture or mythology you look at.
The oceans are truly the final frontier for the planet. We keep finding things within their depths that we’ve assumed were long extinct but aren’t, unearth secrets within their depths that continue to surprise, and we’re nowhere near done. Between the lost continents and cities that sink beneath the waves, and amazing creatures we have heard about, some extinct, some extant, we have no end of things we can imagine and explore. We are explorers, after all!
This is just the tip of the watery iceberg. Join Jacquie and me at our FF&P workshop from 2/2 to 2/15! (Register here.)
Question of the Day: Can you sing the song to Flipper?
Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a new-adult novel, novellas, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for almost 40 years. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at email@example.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.