Groennewijf, a painting depicting the Purmermeer mermaid.
Province Friesland, Noord Holland, Zeeland
City Edam, Haarlem, Westenschouwen

Througout Dutch history, several tales have been told about the Meermin (also known as a Zeemeermin) and her male counterpart the Meerman. She is known to be a vain creature, often combing her hair or using a mirror. When mermaids don't tend to their appearance, they like to sing.[1] Encounters with mermaids and merman were sometimes friendly, other times erotic but more than often gruesome.


One story starts during the heavy storm of 1403.[2] Violent waves destroyed part of the dyke that seperated the artificial Zuiderzee lake from the open sea. Water came gushing in and brought along with it a mermaid. When the storm calmed down, the dyke was quickly patched and the mermaid became trapped within the Zuiderzee. The mermaid was often sighted by two milkmaids on their way to milk their cows. At first, both the mermaid and milkmaids were scared and avoidant, but as time went on, they got used to seeing each other. One fateful day, the mermaid got really close to their boats and the milkmaids saw their chance. They pulled the mermaid on board and took her back to Edam. It became apparent that the mermaid did not speak their language. Nevertheless, the people from Edam raised her as a human being. Everyone realized her longing for the sea, and so - despite her incredible ability to adjust - she was well guarded, so she would not escape. Word spread across the area, and people came to visit Edam just so they could witness the so-called "Zeewijf". The people from Haarlem made it known they wanted her to live in their city, so Edam presented her as a gift. Haarlem gave her a home on the Grote Houtstraat and taught her to use the spinning wheel. The mermaid lived a long time, but never learned to speak with human beings. At the end of her life she was burried in a cemetery. During her life she often crossed herself, which obviously pointed towards religious interests.


An old legend from the 15th century[3] speaks of a town in Zeeland called Westenschouwen (but a similar story is told about Saeftinghe in 1570[4]), where one of the fisherman had caught a mermaid in his nets. She was taken aboard unwillingly where the fishermen ridiculed her and planned to bring her ashore for everyone to see. A merman rose above the waves and kindly asked the fishermen to free her, for she would surely die outside the water. But as much as he begged them, they were not interested in releasing such a unique catch. The mermen followed them into the harbor, but the townsfolk wouldn't listen to him. They answered his call by throwing rocks at him. Furiously, the merman punched the waves to foam. He preached a bad omen over the people of Westenschouwen and soon the village was cursed. The weather changed for the worse and the harbor silted. The rich became poor and the sands drifted through town, destroying entire buildings in the process. Soon enough, the whole town was covered in sand, and all that was left of Westenschouwen was a lonely little tower, protruding from the sand.


  2. Uitgeverij Bert Bakker: Verhalen van Stad en Streek (Sagen en Legenden in Nederland)
  3. Uitgeverij Verba: De mooiste Nederlandse Sagen en Legenden