Cirlot on sirens
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
A Dictionary of Symbols – J E Cirlot
A symbolic figure which usually takes one of two main forms; as a bird woman or as a fish woman. The sirens in Greek mythology were supposed to be daughters of the river Achelous by the nymph Calliope; and Ceres turned them into birds. They inhabited mountainous places. Legend attributed to them a song of such sweetness they could entice the wayfarer, only to devour him.
Latterly, the myth arose of sirens with fish tails whose haunts were rocky islands and cliffs and who behaved in the same manner as did their sisters inhabiting the element of air.
The siren myth is one of the most indestructible of all myths; among some marine peoples it has persisted even into the present day. Material concerning these sirens is to be found in Aristotle, Pliny, Ovid, Hyginus, the Physiologus (2nd century AD) and medieval bestiaries. Dating from before the 10th century are the two tailed sirens on the tympanum of the chapel of St Michael d’Aiguilhe at Le Puy, and the siren birds at Saint Benoit-sur-Loire. These and the French viper fairies as exemplified by Melusina in particular are complex figures and we are not satisfied that a merely literal interpretation is the right one