It is rather common for seafarers to catch sight of both mermen and mermaids, and perhaps hafstrambis, as they raise their head and shoulders above the ocean and gaze for a moment at the vessel before diving back into the sea. Mermen are by far the most common of these sightings. All these sea creatures portend a storm, tempest or heavy seas, or loss of life in or by the sea.
A merman going up on dry land of his own accord carries the same portent. However, it is said that they are sometimes forced to go up on land while fleeing their enemies in the sea. In such cases, it is considered a great transgression and bad luck to harass them. They will sometimes flee from heavy waves onto quiet inlets or sand beaches, preferably in hard-to-reach places far from the dwellings of men. They will then rest there until they believe it safe to go back into the sea. In fact, they prefer being on land to being in the sea or fresh water, although it was said that it is usually their curiosity, importunity and ferocity that makes them come on land. While on land, they would most often rest against a beach rock or stand up against a pillar or cliff, leaning on their elbow and with their paw resting against their cheek. Fierce mermen often try to drive men into the sea. Many have had to fight them with bludgeons. Some are also said to be cannibals. […] It is of no use to fire a gun at them except with silver buttons, as they shake off bullets and shells as if they were dust. Mermen most often come on land during the night. They avoid crowds, large ships, sharp noises and prolonged clatter. […] Once in a while they would, for a lark, break into people’s dwellings during the night and steal some item with which they would amuse themselves.
Source: Sigfús Sigfússon, Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og sagnir V, p. 10-11.
Our Monster of the Month comes from the project Duldýrasafnið (“Hidden Beings Museum”) by Arngrimur Sigurðsson. He takes firsthand accounts of creature sightings, like the one above, from Icelandic historical texts, and creates a painting of each one. An Icelandic book is out now, and an English language book is also available in our web store. Read our interview with the artist here.
See more monsters here.