The Siren myth is one of the oldest and indestructible of all myths. Among some marine people, it has survived even to this day.
Sirens take two mythical forms: as a bird-woman or as a fish-woman.
In Greek mythology, sirens were the daughters of the river Achelous and nymph Calliope, later on turned into birds by the Goddess Ceres. They inhabited mountainous places and were attributed a song of such sweetness they could attract anyone, only to devour them later.
According to Ovid, the Sirens were the companions of young Persephone. They were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted.
The myth arouse later of Sirens with fish tails who hunted in rocky islands and cliffs and behaved in the same manner their sisters inhabiting the element of air did.
Sirens with fish tails were normally represented with a double tail in ancient myths. Being the ocean a symbol of our subconscious minds, the tails might allude to the duality of existence in the watery depths of our psyche.
Later on, especially in artistic creations, Sirens stop appearing as ugly and dangerous creatures to give way to the depiction of the young seductress. Young women whose purpose is to seduce and lure the sailors towards them and their islands.
What all of these myths have in common is a sweet voice or song attracting humans toward it, only to die. For me, this represents the way expectations and desires work. How we feel attracted towards a perfect ideal, only to realise perfection is an illusion.
There isn’t a right or wrong interpretation of any legend or myth, as it depends on the perspective of the interpreter. Sirens may very well be representations of the inferior forces in woman, or women as inferior, according to our patriarchal history and interpretation; or they could also be symbolic of the corrupt imagination towards the primitive; or of the torment of desire leading to our own self-destruction.
It seems that they are symbols of “temptations” in the vast path of life, the ocean where we navigate. They want us to stay on the “island” with them, attracting us towards an ideal, causing us to “die”, in other words, causing us to seek the comfort of the stationary instead of the growth we find in change.
Oswald Wirth maintains that the siren is quite simply a symbol of woman, and that woman is a true incarnation of the spirit of the earth, as opposed to man, who is the son of heaven. He expresses his concept of transmigration as follows:
“Life entices the souls of those deprived of it. Why does the other world not retain once and for all those spiritual entities that aspire towards reincarnation? The daughters of men ensnare the sons of heaven with their beauty, dragging them irresistibly down. The spell thus cast is attributed to the siren whose song so captivates the listener that he falls into the ocean teeming with multitudinous life. This temptress owes her powers to the changing forms governed by the moon, the crescent of which shines upon her forehead”.
Sirens appear in many myths, legends, paintings and stories. Maybe one of the most famous one is in the epic poem The Odyssey by Homer, where Ulysses/Odysseus had his crew tie him up to the mast of the ship, while they covered their ears with beeswax so as to not fall under the sweet and deadly song of the Sirens.
There are many more legends, and also, many more symbolic interpretations of these mythical creatures. Psychologically we can relate to them as that voice that sometimes lures us into making the wrong turns and choices. Although in the end, nothing is good or bad ‘per se’, but as good or as bad as we perceive it and use the lessons extracted from the experiences.
Personally, I love Sirens. I think they speak to a much deeper part of our psyches. Maybe a part of ourselves that has been ignored for too long, and the only way it knows how to make it’s appearance is by using pain as a sign.
Art: The Siren by John William Waterhouse.