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The Heart of the Matter

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Long before the Europeans settled in North America, there was another race who dwelled within the ever changing landscape of the continent, scattered across the plains, mountains, deserts and marshlands of their homeland. Like all other cultures, these Native American tribes had their own ways of life. Their own way of governing, whether it be through local tribes, or the mighty Iroquois Confederacy. Their population was made up of a great deal of different languages, and like other cultures, they had their own stories and mythology.

What is now considered the Lower Hudson Valley, was once part of Algonquian settlements who were spread far and wide down what is now known as New England and the Atlantic Coast. Different tribes, with different names and variations of the language dwelled in the forests and beautiful nature before industrialization and colonization of their invaders took hold.

Although their myths and stories, passed down from generation to generation stayed relatively the same, word of mouth often changed the little details. A popular one, was the ‘Ladies of the Lake’ who were said to dwell in most freshwater areas.

A variation of this was the story of two daughters whose parents ordered them not to go into the lake by which they lived. However, they continuously disobeyed and swam in the water, knowing it was prohibited. One day, their father found his daughter's in the lake and called to them to get out immediately. But when they reached the shore, they couldn’t. The father, demanding to know why, got his answer. His daughters cried that they had become so heavy it as impossible for them to climb out, and found that where their legs had been was now slimy like a serpent. Suddenly, they sank below the surface, and when they emerged they were more beautiful than ever! Their father, stunned, reached for their clothes left on the shore when his daughter's screamed out “don’t touch them! Leave them!” Owning up to their mistakes and misfortune, the daughters sang a beautifully haunting song to their parents who wept by the lake, before the girls dived beneath the surface.

Many years later, a group of children stumbled upon the daughters clothes that were still left on the shore. Wondering whose they were, they rowed out onto the lake, trying to find the owner. After a while, they came across two mermaids in the water and attempted to catch them. But their tails were so slimy, it was impossible. That was, until one managed to grab one of the daughters by her long hair, and tore a chunk off. Upset, the daughter started pushing and rocking the boat, demanding to get her hair back. The boy refused at first so her sister joined in. The daughters threatened to drown all of them unless she got what was hers back. Scared, the boy gave in and threw the hair back to the girl, and the children rowed away from the mermaids back to safety.

When the Europeans came to North America, centuries later, they brought their own mythology with them. First it was the Dutch, who came along to buy and colonize what they called New Amsterdam, now known as Manhattan. They had come into the Hudson Valley first, before they were driven away by the British.

They had taken over and pushed their way through Algonquin territory quickly. Having much better technology, guns and armor, the Algonquin people didn’t stand a chance. Helped by new diseases brought by the Europeans that the natives weren’t immune to, massive populations were wiped out so the Europeans could swiftly move into the now empty territory. The rest is history.

Not many people are aware about the mythological world that exists. Most believe that they are just that, myths and nothing more. But if you were to believe, you would know that it wasn’t just pilgrims escaping religious intolerance or people looking for a better life, many creatures who could pass themselves off as human came to North America as well. Including the European Ladies of the Lake. Having escaped their contaminated lakes and rivers where they dwelled, they left, hoping to find purer homes in new lands.

European mermaids had a different biology and mythology attached with them, but when they found new homes in the various different lakes and rivers, it was like paradise. One, in particular, had found herself in a lake many miles away from the port she came in. In what is now known as Mohegan Lake, she made friends with the Native American mermaids who had already been residing there for centuries, who took her in as one of their own.

Their descendants would live on and continue the myth about the mermaids who lived in Mohegan Lake to present day.