Mermaids, Harpies, Valkyries, Succubae, Sirens, Banshees, Nymphs – We’ve been encountering the mythical female in literature and folklore for thousands of years. She appears in numerous religions, sometimes as saviour, sometimes as a harbinger of doom. She lures men to their death, transports them to the afterlife, enchants them, tricks them and sets them free. What are the origins of these specifically female creatures and why do they continue to fascinate us?
Many of these creatures may look benign, but behind their beautiful faces beat hearts of ice. They exist only to kill or create misery – often specifically for men. More physically alluring than human women, they possess mysterious or sensual features, designed to lure men with the promise of sexual delight. Crucially they have little in common with real women, more closely resembling archetypes.
Female creatures often appear in stories where they are used and abused. This is a common problem for the selkie, for instance, who are often lured onto shore by a man who then hides her sealskin, forcing her to stay with him. These stories never end well – the skin is eventually found and the woman abandons her human family, returning to the sea.
We also discuss the nature of ‘sisterhood’ when it comes to mythological and feminine creatures as well as women often being depicted as the guardians of both life and death. This episode contains such gems as ‘The buggery goblin‘ and Megan talking ad nauseum about men’s ‘dumbsticks’.
- The Poisoned Crow by Charlotte Bond
- ‘Hush’ – episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by John Keats
- Hansel and Gretel by Jacob and William Grimm
- Merlin (TV miniseries, 1998)
- Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner
- The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
- The Wyrd Museum and The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis
- The Woman in Black
- The Saga of Norna-Gest