As some readers may know, Starbucks had to change their corporate logo because some consumers found the suggestive split tail of their topless siren too lurid and sexually suggestive. A simplified logo was introduced, hiding the siren’s breasts under waves of hair, and that in turn was cropped and enlarged so the split in the siren’s tail would no longer show. The only indication now that the female icon is a sea creature is in the wavy lines, which originally were part of the representation of the two tails.
Although the image is that of a split-tailed sea creature, it is a siren. More specifically, it is a double-tailed siren, a baubo siren, which The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects points out, is “a cross between a mermaid and a sheila-na-gig” and is found as a decorative motif in many European churches and cathedrals. “Her suggestive pose, like that of the sheila-na-gig, referred to female sexual mysteries in particular.”
Sheila-na-gig is a general reference to female figures that prominently display their genitalia to signify the power of female sexuality and fertility. These images are also quite prominent in the decoration of sacred sites in general and are thought to be a legacy of the older Goddess religions whose holy sites were usually taken over by later religions. The shape of the genitalia in these squatting figures is also symbolic of the vesica piscis, the “vessel of the fish,” which is also associated with Christ. The well-known Christian “fish” symbol (seen prominently on the backs of many cars these days) is the ICHTHYS, referring to the Greek acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
The mermaid and siren were terms and symbols that referred to prostitutes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Second, “The ancients insisted that women’s sexual secretions smelled like fish, which is why the sign of the yoni came to be called vesica piscis.
Regardless of where we begin our interpretation of the mermaid, or which analytic path we take, we are brought back, again and again, to the ancient Great Goddess, the archetype behind the figure of Mary, who in Christian culture is usually split into the virginal Madonna and the holy prostitute. The mermaid ultimately signifies the fundamental mystery of female sexuality, particularly for men who, because they cannot comprehend it, are simultaneously drawn to it and terrified by it. That is why the mermaid becomes so easily conflated with the siren and her irresistible call that leads men to their doom.
And so the Starbucks logo is a brilliant piece of design, which, oddly enough, resonates with much of what I’ve discussed above. The original logo made quite explicit that Starbucks was using the lure of female sexuality to draw the customer to their coffee, but now you can see that the coffee is linked to the double lure of ultimate wisdom and the pleasures of the flesh. The name of the company, about which there is relatively little deep inquiry, actually makes the connection even more interesting. Apparently, the owners of Starbucks originally wanted to call their company “Moby’s Coffee,” referring to Moby Dick, the great white whale in Herman Melville’s classic novel (which is read as a Christian allegory, the whale representing Christ). But bringing up the image of a giant whale was deemed potentially unattractive for coffee drinkers. And so a new logo was designed, but the name “Starbucks” maintains the connection to Moby Dick—Starbuck is the name of the coffee-drinking first mate from Nantucket, the only man who challenges the mad Ahab.”
-From Heins Insu Fenkl’s “The Mermaid”
Alright. I just wanted to add one short story about a mythological beast from the Inuit. This happens to be one of my favorite pictures of all time, just because of the level of creepiness involved. These are Qallupilluit, Qallupilluk singular. Now, Qallupilluit are ocean creatures that steals lone children through cracks in the ice.
There are many descriptions for a Qallupilluit, so I’ll name a couple popular ones. They are claimed to be short with blue skin, they wear parkas made of loon feathers, and their hair is home to a host of sea critters like crabs, and laced with seaweed.
Sometimes they are described with long hair, like the picture, and green skin with long finger nails. They are said to wear a amauti, a unique parka created with a pouch for a child to rest in.
Sometimes they are said to have scaly and bumpy skin. And even sometimes they have an eider duck parka. Most descriptions of the creature include a pouch for carrying children.
They are said to reek of sulfur, which I’m sure adds to their non-existant appeal. Inuit elders say that Qallupilluit have a specific humming sound that they make, and you can hear it when they are near. They also tend to jump out of the cracks in the ice without warning. And, the most creepy thing to me, they knock on the ice and you can hear the distinct tapping. If the ocean gets particularly wavy or steam rises, a Qallupilluit is hiding in the water.
No one is sure why they steal children. Some speculate loneliness. Others speculate dinner. Some variations of Qallupilluit mythology say that the child stolen will either die or turn into a mermaid to live underwater with the Qallupilluk that took them.
Most accounts claim that this was a legend created to scare children away from playing on the beach alone, or approaching cracking, drifting ice. But, even so, I wanted to include this because something about the idea of Qallupilluit really scares the crap out of me. Humming, ice tapping, baby kidnapping ocean creatures.
The Inuit sure knew how to scare the crap out of children (and possibly everyone else. Unless I’m alone here.)
Oh hey, Robert Munsch wrote a kids book about these that my mom used to read to me when I was little.
I had A Promise Is A Promise as a kid. I love Qallupilluit.
Wow, it’s cool to see Inuit writing on Tumblr! XD
Oh shit, I’d never heard of these before but I have to remember them.
I remember that book from elementary school…
Roberto Ferri. Siren series.
Roberto Ferri is an Italian artist and painter from Taranto, Italy. Deeply inspired by Baroque painters and other old masters of Romanticism, the Academy, and Symbolism, his works typically depict mythological creatures and scenes of decadence and romantic lust.
Note that in each exquisite painting, the siren has the human male contained or snared in some way.
View his website here.
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Martin Van Maele, ‘The Great Danse Macabre of the Quick (Prick),”
1907 (Neret 1994:563). Courtesy The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
In August 1590, two women Jonett Grant and Jonett Clark were together tried and convicted of performing various murderous acts of witchcraft. The verdict against them listed their crimes as slaughtering cattle by witchcraft, raising the devil, murdering several men and women by witchcraft, and finally stealing penises from some men while bestowing them on others. For instance, they were accused of giving “ane secreit member to Johane Coutis; and gewing and taking of power fra sindrie mennis memberis; ITEM, sylit of taking of johnne Wattis secreit member fra him” (Pitcairn 1833:206). For these acts the two women were sentenced to be burnt at the stake at the Castle Hill of Edinburgh.
The Flying Phallus and the Laughing Inquisitor: Penis Theft in the “Malleus Maleficarum”
Author(s): Moira Smith
Source: Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan. - Apr., 2002), pp. 85-117
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Finally, what shall we think about those witches who somehow take members in large numbers twenty or thirty and shut them up together in a birds’ nest or some box, where they move about like living members, eating oats or other feed. This has been seen by many and is a matter of common talk. One should say that it is all brought about by the devil’s work and illusion. The senses of the witnesses are deceived in the manner we have mentioned above.
A man reported that he had lost his member and approached a certain witch in order to restore his health. She told the sick man to climb a particular tree where there was a nest containing many members, and allowed him to take any one he liked. When he tried to take a big one, the witch said you may not take that one, adding, because it belonged to a parish priest.
There is never a single, orthodox version of a myth. As our circumstances change, we need to tell our stories differently in order to bring out their timeless truth. In this short history of mythology, we shall see that every time men and women took a major step forward, they reviewed their mythology and made it speak to the new conditions. But we shall also see that human nature does not change much, and that many of these myths, devised in societies that could not be more different from our own, still address our most essential fears and desires.
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The asuang is often confounded by Europeans with ghosts and devils. It is neither devil nor ghost, but human, and is possessed of certain miraculous powers acquired by eating human liver. In certain ways it is a compound of both vampire and ghoul, for it may fly like the vampire and live on human flesh drawn from the living, and on the other hand it may feast on the flesh of those who have died natural deaths, like the ghoul. It has the power to change its corporal form from human to bat-like by a process of division at the waist line, the lower limbs and lower part of the trunk remaining behind while the upper part grows wings and flies away. It may also take the form of a dog, cat, cayman, or other animal, and in any form possesses the power of causing sickness or death by its spells. In one of the stories of the asuang of Baco, the asuang compels the change of his food into a shape less abhorrent to others. The defences against asuangs are several.
Garlic held in the hand is an effectual shield against their malign power. Ashes placed on the divided body prevent the reunion of the upper and lower portions, and condemn the asuang to some dreadful fate which is never more than hinted at in the stories. The most effectual weapon is the tail of the sting-ray, of which the asuang is mortally afraid. At the birth of a child, or in sickness, it is customary in some parts of the Philippines to beat the air and the ground with these formidable whips to drive away the asuangs.
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Generally, zombis are not affected by noise, but are afraid of living people and flee them if they can. They also are afraid of red objects. For example, if a mother dies leaving a child, the child has to wear red tights for one year and one day lest the zombi of the mother torment it….To prevent a dead husband from making love to his living wife, she can put on red underwear to repulse him.
To the Tanzanian Zinza, the local zombi, or kintunge, is a dead person who has been resuscitated by a witch using secret medicines. It is a thing that has lost one of its souls but can move and perform simple chores such as drawing water, gathering firewood, or hoeing in the gardens of its master. It works during the night so ordinary people rarely see it (Bjerke 1981:100). Tanzanian tradition also says that dead people who have been turned into zombis sleep on top of their masters’ huts during the day (Willis 1970). The Tanzanian Kaguru, on the other hand, believe that witches zombify people by giving a banana stem the appearance of the victim. This surrogate then dies and is interred, and the real victim is made to work for the witch.Affluent people are often suspected of being witches and are thought to have zombis working for them. It is also said that atop the mountains there are entire zombi communities performing dances, marriages, and circumcisions (Beidelman 1963:66).
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