Mermay and the mermaid fairy Melusine

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It’s been some time since the last update to my legends sketchbook. I’ve been so taken by delivering new projects and publishing new books that I didn’t add new pages for a while.

Despite everything, this month I really wanted to give some space to my passion for folklore.

In the artists’ community online, May is dedicated to one of the most famous mythological creatures: the mermaid. Throughout the month, nicknamed “Mermay,” many artists dedicate one or more drawings to these creatures. This year, I wanted to do something special.

So I involved my friend, anthropology expert, and puppet artist Jenny Tourn from Babacio and proposed to her to work on the same topic. After seeking some inspiration, we chose to imagine the features of a fairy aquatic creature dating back to medieval folklore: the Melusine.

Jenny created one of her lovely mythological puppets, and I added a new drawing to my legends sketchbook. It was an excellent opportunity to discover this beautiful and articulated story of love, fairies, spells, and transformations.

The most famous version of the story is the one written by Jean d’Arras at the end of the 1400s. In “Le roman de Mélusine,” the story of the fairy Melusine is told, attributing a supernatural origin to the House of Lusignano, a French aristocratic family.

The birth of Melusine

The king of Albania met a beautiful fairy close to a spring and fell madly in love with her. The fairy agreed to take him as her husband on one condition: the king could not attend for any reason the birth of their children and the subsequent convalescence. Sometime later, the fairy gave the world triplets: Melior, Palestine, and Melusine. The king, however, did not comply with the request and entered the fairy’s room immediately after the happy event. The fairy cursed her husband for breaking her promise, and she walked away, taking her three daughters with her.

The three little fairies grew so full of resentment towards their father that they decided to take revenge by imprisoning him in a mountain. However, the fairy mother, still in love with the king, freed him and severely punished her daughters. Melusine, particularly, was condemned to transform herself into a snake every Saturday from the waist down, and she could only marry a human if he never saw her during this transformation.

Melusine and Raymond

One day, while she was at a spring with two other fairies, Melusine met the knight Raymond, son of the Count of Forez. The two fell in love at first sight, and the fairy agreed to marry the young man, only on condition, of course, that he never, ever saw her on Saturdays.

The wedding took place at the spring where they first met, and Melusine built the castle of Lusignano there. Time passed in serenity and prosperity, and the couple gave birth to ten children. One day, however, Raymond, unable to hold back his curiosity, decided to spy on his wife on the day he was forbidden to meet her. A Saturday, he followed her into the tower where she usually retired and, hidden behind a tapestry, observed her.

The true nature of Melusine

His beautiful Melusine was taking a bath in a tub, combing her long hair that framed her beautiful face. The skin of her body was candid and perfect. But then, what she saw left him speechless: from the waist down, her body had become that of a hideous snake. Horrified, Raymond left but decided not to say anything about what he had discovered.

One day, however, a tragedy struck the family: one of their children set fire to an abbey. Raymond saw the demonic influence of his mother in his son’s actions. In a moment of anger, he revealed the true nature of Melusine. Because of the broken pact, the fairy was forced to transform herself, forever losing her human appearance. In addition to her snake tail, wings sprouted out of her, and she took flight with heartbreaking screams. Raymond never saw her again, although it is said that from time to time, Melusine returned to visit her younger children to take care of them.

According to legend, her cries can be heard every time mourning strikes her descendants, the Lusignano family, and when the castle changes occupants.

In my interpretation, I decided to represent Melusine taking inspiration from heraldry, where the fairy was often portrayed with a mermaid’s tail when bathing in a tub. In her hand, she holds a mirror and a comb. In other versions of the legend, Melusine is said to have a fishtail, sometimes even double. So, I drew her with an eel tail, an animal that is a bit of a cross between fish and snake.
In my version, Melusine turns cautiously as she takes a bath on Saturday, unaware that the secret of her shiny scales is about to be discovered.

In her blog post, Jenny tells about the possible origin of the legend, the reference to eels, and other precious information. (Italian only)