Imagine this: you are walking along uneven terrain, tripping over roots and attempting to stay on a narrow path. To either side of you, cypress trees tower, their knees peeking out of dark, marshy waters. You hear a splash to your left and jump. You initially laugh it off figuring it must be a turtle…your laughter dies off as you remember a sign a ways back warning of alligators. Timidly you go to continue, and as you do you hear a soft enticing tune drifting from between the trees. Your fear instantly dissipates and you find yourself frantically searching for the source of that otherworldly song. Before you have time to scream you are nothing more than ripples on the surface of the marsh. Little did you know that alligators weren’t the most dangerous creature in that swamp…
Legends of sirens exist all over the world from the depths of the Amazon to the Emerald Isle. Most people when imagining such a creature picture a gorgeous woman sitting by the sea and singing sailors to their deaths, but there exists in various mythologies a freshwater version and one whose beauty is not always guaranteed. These creatures range from the traditionally stunning Iara who leads men to drown in the Amazon River, the germanic Nix who can appear as mermen and mermaids but both will lead any human to the depths, to ones such as the Abere who has been labeled a demoness, and is a marsh siren said to lure men into the reeds which she uses to trap and devour them. Apart from the tail having sort, there are other similar entities that aren’t as gentle with trapping their prey, some are more like spirits who will haunt and ambush before dragging bodies under the water. The Slavic Rusalka is a creature who creeps from their watery source at night, captures unsuspecting men, and drags them kicking and screaming to their home below the surface (am I the only one thinking The Haunting of Bly Manor?). The entity known widely as Jenny Greenteeth or Wicked Jenny is a mythical creature from the United Kingdom who waits just underneath the surface of the water for someone to get too close and when they inevitably do she grabs, drowns, and eats them. She also is said to have a specific taste for children (which I’m sure makes sense to parents who don’t want their kids playing near the bogs).
These swamp sirens do not only show up in the depths of folklore, but they have made their way into pop culture as well. In fact, a horror movie is coming out this year called Erzulie which is about a swamp mermaid goddess and four unfortunate friends who may or may not make it through their encounter with her. The most popular occurrence of a creature like the swamp sirens of lore shows up in the infamous British comedy show, The Mighty Boosh. In 2005, this show introduced the world to the Legend of Old Gregg* and created an iconic swamp siren that their viewers were sure to never forget (no matter how hard they’ve tried).
Some of the artistic creations based on these mythic aquatic creatures are less terrifying and more of a beautiful sort of horror. Like this painting from Robot Del Espacio:
Also, this poem about the rusalka by Alexander Pushkin:
In lakeside leafy groves a friar
Escaped the world; out there he passed
His summer days in constant prayer,
Deep studies and eternal fast.
Already with a humble shovel
The elder dug himself a grave,
And calling saints to bless his hovel,
Death—nothing other—did he crave.
So once upon a falling night he
Bowed down beside his drooping shack
And meekly prayed to the Almighty.
The grove was turning slowly black;
Above the lake the mist was lifting;
Through milky clouds across the sky
A ruddy moon was softly drifting,
When water drew the friar’s eye –
He looks; his heart is full of trouble,
Of fear he cannot quite explain;
He sees the waves rise more than double
And suddenly grow calm again.
Then, white as first snow of the highlands,
Light-footed as nocturnal shade,
There comes ashore and sits in silence
Upon the bank a naked maid.
She looks at him and brushes gently
The hair and water off her arms.
He shakes with fear and looks intently
At her seductive, luscious charms.
With eager hand she waves and beckons,
Nods quickly, smiling from afar,
And shoots within two flashing seconds
Into still water like a star.
The glum old man slept not an instant
All night. All day not once he prayed;
Before his eyes still hung and glistened
The wondrous girl’s persistent shade.
The grove puts on the gown of nightfall;
The moon walks on the cloudy floor;
And there’s the maiden—young, delightful,
Reclining on the spellbound shore.
She looks at him, her hair she brushes,
Smiles, sends him kisses sweet and wild,
Plays with the waves—caresses, splashes –
Now laughs, now whimpers like a child,
Moans tenderly, calls louder, louder…
“Here, monk, here, monk! To me, to me!”
Then vanishes in limpid water,
And all is silent instantly…
On the third day the ardent hermit
Was sitting on the shore, in love,
Awaiting the voluptuous mermaid,
As shade was lying on the grove.
Night ceded to the sun’s emergence;
By then the monk had disappeared.
It’s said a crowd of local urchins
Saw floating there a wet gray beard.
No matter which version you believe in, if you even believe at all, one thing is for certain: the swamp siren is irresistible. And that is why there was no better name for this enticing Gose. Salty, sour, and dangerously good. Go get a pint today! If you dare…
*Want to get in on the trauma? Here ya go: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5rg8i