Starbucks Sinful Serpent Siren


Wait a minute. The Starbucks business books out there describe their logo chick as being a siren, but I think she is actually a melusine or nixie. Given the two tails thing and all.

In European legends and folklore, Melusine (or Melusina) is the name of a spirit of fresh waters, in sacred springs and rivers. She is usually depicted either as a mermaid-like creature with two tails or a woman who was half-serpent. She is also sometimes depicted with wings.

Melusine is sometimes used as a heraldic figure, typically in German and Scandinavian coats-of-arms, where she supports one scaly tail in each arm. She may appear crowned. The Coat of Arms of Warsaw is variously said to feature a mermaid or a siren (identified in Polish as a syrenka) very much like a depiction of Melusine, brandishing a sword and shield. She is the water-spirit from the Vistula who identified the proper site for the city to Boreslaus of Masovia in the late 13th century. Ferenc Frangepán, Archbishop of Kalocsa in Hungary, included in his will of 1543 a series of seven tapestries representing the story of “The Beautiful Melusina.”

The Archbishop’s tapestries will have shown the most famous literary version of Melusine tales, that of Jean d’Arras, compiled about 1382 – 1394 and worked into a collection of “spinning yarns” told by ladies at their spinning. The tale was translated into English about 1500, and often printed in the 15th and 16th century. (There is also a prose version called the Chronique de la princesse.)

It tells how Elynas, the King of Albany (a poetical euphemism for Scotland) went hunting one day and came across a beautiful lady in the forest. She was Melusine’s mother, Pressyne. He persuaded her to marry him but she agreed, only on the promise — for there is often a hard and fatal condition attached to any pairing of fay and mortal — that he must not enter her chamber when she birthed or bathed her children. She gave birth to triplets. When he violated this taboo, Pressyne left the kingdom, together with her three daughters, and traveled to the lost Isle of Avalon.

The three girls, Melusine, Melior, and Palatyne grew up in Avalon. On their fifteenth birthday, Melusine, the eldest, asked why they had been taken to Avalon. Upon hearing of their father’s broken promise, Melusine sought revenge. She and her sisters captured Elynas and locked him, with his riches, in a mountain. Pressyne became enraged when she learned what the girls had done, and punished them for their disrespect to their father. Melusine was condemned to take the form of a serpent from the waist down every Saturday.

Raymond of Poitou came across Melusine in a forest in France, and proposed marriage. Just as her mother had done, she laid a condition, that he must never enter her chamber on a Saturday. He broke the promise and saw her in the form of a part-woman part-serpent. She forgave him. Only when, during a disagreement with her, he called her a “serpent” in front of his court, did she assume the form of a dragon, provide him with two magic rings and fly off, never to return. Men can be such dicks.

Melusine myths are especially connected with the northern, most Celtic areas of Gaul and the Low Countries. When Count Siegfried of the Ardennes bought the feudal rights to Luxembourg in 963, his name became connected with the local version of Melusine. In 1997 Luxembourg issued a postage stamp commemorating this Melusina, with essentially the same magic gifts as the ancestress of the Lusignans. This Melusina magically made the castle of Bock castle appear the morning after their wedding. On her terms of marriage, she too required one day of absolute privacy each week. Alas, Sigefroid, as the Luxembourgeois call him, “could not resist temptation, and on one of the forbidden days he spied on her in her bath and discovered her to be a mermaid. When he let out a surprised cry, Melusina caught sight of him, and her bath immediately sank into the solid rock, carrying her with it. Melusina surfaces briefly every seven years as a beautiful woman or as a serpent, holding a small golden key in her mouth. Whoever takes the key from her will set her free and may claim her as his bride.” (Yes, the script of Splash is based on this tale. Putting a liberal arts education to good use.)

Martin Luther knew and believed in the story of another version of Melusine, die Melusina zu Lucelberg (Lucelberg in Silesia), whom he referred to several times, as a succubus. Goethe wrote the tale of Die Neue Melusine in 1807 and published it as part of Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre. The playwight Grillparzner brought Goethe’s tale to the stage and Felix Mendelssohn provided a concert overture “The Fair Melusina,” his Opus 32.

Melusine is one of the pre-Christian water-faeries who were sometimes responsible for changelings. The “Lady of the Lake,” who spirited away the infant Lancelot and raised the child, was such a water nymph. This proves that slutty snake chicks raise boys with no respect for the bonds of holdy matrimony. “Melusina” would seem to be an uneasy name for a girl-child in these areas of Europe, but the Duchess of Kendal, George I of England’s German mistress, was christened Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulenburg in 1667. (via Wikipedia)


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