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The most terrifying mythological monsters are the ones that want to sleep with you.
Look at mermaids, for example—supposedly dugongs mistaken for beautiful topless women (how far away/homesick/salt-drunk do you need to be to mix those up? I digress) by ancient sailors, the stars of myths and horror stories about sailors wrecking their ships or drowning having been distracted and seduced by the sea ladies’ beauty. It certainly made for a good cautionary tale: scurvy-induced hallucination or not, travelling men should be wary of any strange, ethereal women they come across. They’ll seduce you with their sweet songs and drag you under the sea to drown, or maybe crash your ship for good measure. And they’ll take all your sea-biscuits when they dump you. Wicked wanton creatures! Wanderers beware!
Sirens, mermaids and other watery seducers appear in the legends of all cultures with any coastal connection, and of course they have equally dangerous, gorgeous cousins extending into all kinds of supernatural creatures: handsome and lustrous vampires, succubi and incubi, enchanters and enchantresses and a whole parade of demonic legions set on leading the unwary to ruin via their undergarments.
It’s easy to see where this mythological trope comes from. Much in the same way that fairy tales teach children good morals and life lessons (and terrify them into compliance), these myths were part of establishing a moral and safety-conscious compass: in the case of the sirens, don’t get distracted by sexy ladies when you’re missing your wife on long journeys, because you’ll end up underwater. In the case of vampires, don’t talk to strange men, because they might bite you and drink your blood. It’s less daunting, in a way, than straight-up saying ‘don’t have affairs with women you meet while at sea because you’ll end up with terrible guilt and illegitimate foreign children’ and ‘don’t talk to strange men because they may overpower and sexually assault you’. By creating veiled imagery, the warning is established. Continue reading