Watery Depths & Sea Deaths
The definitions Patten has found on women and water are intriguing, if somewhat questionable. The first definition under “Water” reads, “Woman, the feminine or passive principle, is represented by water, all things sinuous, concave, curving, receptive.” The following definitions include broader explanations such as “cleansing, regeneration, refreshing, invigorating qualities of the spirit” and “healing, fountain of youth.” These definitions clearly contain different implications on women’s agency, whether women are passive creatures who exist to be filled or whether they have power and strength of their own. Under the entry for “Woman” Patten details: “Blue of the Seas which was looked upon as the mother of all things. Saviour was born of a Virgin called Maria - mare (sea).” One might assume that there would be immense awe and respect of water women if they were associated with the “mother of all things.” However, depictions often either infantilize or villainize these women, putting their power not in the women themselves, but rather in the men that they “torment.”
“Mermaid,” according to Patten’s entry, was: “At first a symbol of man whose speech is fair but whose deeds are treacherous. But many believed the mermaid –part women and part fish, was a symbol of the union of the divine and human natures.” He also includes more common meanings associated with mermaids, such as “the story of sailer dragged down to the bottom of the sea by mermaids,” “sea mothers,” “wisdom”, “mother of the world,” and “symbol of seduction.” Similarly, Sirens are described as representing virtues and vices of human nature, as well as showing the “delusive nature of human pleasures.” These beautiful women are repeatedly connected to death (dragging men to watery graves, entrapping souls to the sea, being actual “spirits of death”), which sharply contrasts and connects both beauty and despair, life and death.