Exploring the Legend of Melusine

Fairies, serpents, mermaids and dragons, legend of Melusine has it all. Read on to discover more about this medieval tale of two tails.

6 February 2024

In simple terms, the legend of Melusine tells of a cursed fairy betrayed by her mortal husband. But beyond the story itself, this mediaeval myth is an integral part of the tapestry of European folklore.

It embodies the themes and typical portrayals of women of the time, echoing those of different cultures and countries. Over the centuries, it’s even bled into real life, being linked with some of Europe’s most powerful ruling houses, who claimed her as their ancestor.

Part of Mediaeval Folklore

Jean d'Arras' Roman de Melusine (Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As with many folk tales, the roots of the story of Melusine, also known as Melusina, are difficult to ascertain. Such legends tend to be inspired by those before them and, in turn, inspire numerous versions. So, while it’s considered of French origins, it’s been argued that Melusine was inspired by the concept of water spirits.

The best known version of the Melusine story is Jean d’Arras’s “Roman de Melusine.” Written for his patron, minor royal the Duke of Berry, d’Arras completed the work in 1393. Part fantasy, part history, it portrayed the fairy as the Duke’s ancestor and inextricably linked her with the French region of Lusignan.

The Legend of Melusine

An illustration of The Chateau De Lusignan. (Credit: Print Collector / Contributor via Getty Images)

There are several variations on the Melusin fairy tale. But the most common iteration is as follows:

Born to a mortal king and his fairy wife, Melusine was cursed by her mother as a punishment for imprisoning her father. As a result, every Saturday, she would become a serpent from the navel down. What’s more, she could only marry someone who would agree never to see her on a Saturday.

One day, a lord by the name of Raymondin accidentally kills his uncle on a hunting trip before happening upon Melusine in the forest. She helps him explain the incident to others and the two marry, with Raymondin agreeing never to see her on Saturdays and Melusine promising the impoverished nobleman a life of wealth and fame. Both keep their promises, and live together happily for many years, having ten sons. Melusine builds him great castles, like the Château de Lusignan, and bestows upon him a prosperous territory.

However, curiosity and jealousy eventually lead Raymond to break his promise, revealing Melusine’s secret. This act of betrayal forms the climax of the story, often culminating in Melusine’s departure, leaving a trail of sorrow and regret.

Behind the Melusine Fairy “Tail”

Melusine (Credit: Christophel Fine Art/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Some tellings of the Melusine fairy tale have been viewed as a form of propaganda, adapting the details to connect her with prominent families. For instance, in Jean d’Arras’s take, the domain she grants her husband is Lusignan, and the castles named are real. Other dynasties that have been attached to the story include the houses of Anjou and Plantagenet.

These variations apply to all aspects of the story, but especially to the supernatural elements. Thus Melusine has been shown as a mermaid, a serpent, and a dragon, sometimes all three. And a frequent detail is that she has not one, but two tails. Even her name has several forms, including Melusina and Melisande.

A Spirit of Fresh Water

Illustration for The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie by Wagner (Credit: Heritage Images / Contributor via Getty Images)

We’ve mentioned the difficulty in establishing the roots of any myth. In the case of Melusine, it’s been argued that her transformation to a mermaid or serpent was inspired by the traditional folkloric concept of water spirits. She’s often interpreted as a spirit of fresh water, like the German and Norse myths such as the Swan Maiden and Valkyrie.

Female Portrayal

Mlle. Louise Perigat (Periga) as Melusine (Credit: Florilegius / Contributor via Getty Images)

Duality is a central aspect of Melusine’s story. As a spirit of fresh water, she embodied both nurturing and destructive forces. In her human form, she was a loving wife and a mother, while her serpent form represented her wild, untamed nature. This has been interpreted in various ways, often reflecting societal views on femininity and nature. The image of Melusine bathing in her secluded fountain, transforming into a serpent, has become an iconic symbol in folklore.

Cultural Impact and Enduring Legacy

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, (1749-1832). (Credit: Universal History Archive / Contributor via Getty Images)

Over the centuries, there’s no doubt that the image of the Melusine fairy, mermaid and serpent with her two tails has crept into countless works of art, literature, and music. She has appeared in one form or another in works ranging from the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to the video game Final Fantasy.

A Universal Tale

The legend of Melusine, rich in symbolism and emotion, serves as a window into the mediaeval mind and its worldview. As a fairy, a spirit of fresh water, and a legendary figure, Melusine embodies the timeless allure of folklore, her story oscillating between human experiences and mythical realms.


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