The Secret Life of Melusine: Mysterious Mermaid & Serpent Mother of European Nobility

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Painting of a mermaid by Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann, 1873.

The Secret Life of Melusine: Mysterious Mermaid & Serpent Mother of European Nobility

Melusine is the spirit of fresh water, usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down, much like the mythical mermaid. She is also frequently illustrated with two tails. The image of Melusine is so famous and enduring that, perhaps without knowing her by name, we still recognize her image today as the logo for Starbucks Coffee.

The Starbucks Logo: Melusine and her two tails; Deriv

The Starbucks Logo: Melusine and her two tails; Deriv (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sixteenth century Theologian Martin Luther referred to Melusine unfavorably several times as a succubus, and nineteenth century composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture titled “The Fair Melusina”.

These days, images of Melusine are still seen in the Vendée region of Poitou, western France, where one can drink Melusine-brand beer and eat Melusine-style baguettes. In Vouvant, paintings of her and her sons decorate the “Tour Melusine,” the ruins of a Lusignan castle guarding the banks of the River Mère, where visitors of the tower can lunch at the Cafe Melusine nearby.

Tour Mélusine

Tour Mélusine (Public Domain)

The legends of Melusine are especially connected with the northern and western areas of France, Luxembourg and the Low Countries. Her name derives from Mère Lusine (“Mother of the Lusignans”), connecting her with Cyprus, where the French Lusignan royal house that ruled from 1192 to 1489 claimed to be her descendants. The legend of Melusine, therefore, is related to the territorial and dynastic expansion of her descendants beyond Lusignan across the Mediterranean to distant Armenia during the crusades (1095 – 1291).

The Fairy and the King: The Legend of Pressyne, the Mother of Melusine

One day, at the time of the Crusades, Elynas, the King of Albany, went hunting and saw a beautiful lady in the forest. The lady’s name was Pressyne. Elynas persuaded her to marry him and she agreed. However, Pressyne demanded a promise from him that he must never enter her chamber when she birthed or bathed her children.

The couple lived happily for some time until Pressyne gave birth to triplets. When, as one would expect to happen in these stories, her husband broke his promise, Pressyne left the kingdom, together with her three daughters, and traveled to the lost Isle of Avalon where her daughters — Melusine, Melior and Palatyne — would grow up.

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