16 Facts about the Haitian Mermaid Lasiren

The Haitian Mermaid Lasiren has a long tradition and plays an important role in the religious Haitian Vodou beliefs to this day.

And even today many Haitian people frequently report (e.g. on social media platforms like Twitter) that they or their relatives saw mermaids in Haiti themselves.

This is fascinating because it shows that the Haitian mermaid tradition is more alive than many other mermaid myths in different parts of the world!

I did some research on mermaids in Haitian culture and their history and compiled this list of fascinating facts about the Haitian mermaid Lasiren (also called Lasirn, Lasirènn, La sirène).

1. The Haitian mermaid is an ocean queen

First of all, what are Haitian mermaids?

Haitian mermaids are connected to one specific female Haitian water spirit called Lasiren. In Haitian folklore, Lasiren is the queen of the ocean and the maritime version of the spirits of love and beauty [2].

This mermaid queen is thought to live in a luxurious palace underwater but also comes to the surface regularly where she can be seen by humans.

She is worshipped mainly in the form of a mermaid. Because of this connection to the ocean queen, when a mermaid is sighted in Haiti, it is often thought to be Lasiren.

It is however not quite clear if there are several different mermaids or if it’s all the same mermaid that people see. Some people say, there are actually many mermaids in the waters around Haiti. Some art also suggests that there is more than one by depicting several mermaids.

2. Lasiren has many looks

Lasiren is known as the beautiful mermaid of Haiti. But there is not one specific description of what she exactly looks like, except that it is often said that she has long black hair.

Most often she is depcited as a mermaid with a fishtail:

Lasiren is a mermaid. (Picture by darclick on Pixabay)

Sometimes she is depicted as a beautiful human woman as well:

Lasiren in human form. (Edited, picture by No machine-readable author provided. Infrormation assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

This image can often be found on shrines and related to the worship of Lasiren.

Human depictions do by the way not necessarily mean, that she is not a mermaid. There might be a fishtail under her long watery dress! She is a water spirit with great powers after all.

In this video, you can see a lot of beautiful pictures of Lasiren as a mermaid and in dresses:

In the song, another Lwa called Agwé is also mentioned. Agwé is Lasirens consort and the king of the ocean. Besides her consort, Lasiren is also known to have an affair with Ogou, who is the Lwa of war and power. This affair frequently leads to conflicts between the two male Lwas though [2].

4. She represents the divine feminine

In Haitian mythology, Lasiren represents the three faces of the feminine together with her two sisters Danto and Freda. The three faces of the feminine are mother, lover and goddess.

Danto symbolized the calm and strong woman who is under control: the mother. Freda represents the sexy, passionate and temperamental side of the feminine: the lover.

And Lasiren, as the ocean queen, symbolizes the mystical and spiritual aspect of a woman [1].

5. Lasiren’s mirror has special meaning

Like sirens in Europe, Lasiren also often carries a comb and a mirror, as a sign of vanity that is connected to her beauty. She is sometimes referred to as the Lwa of vanity because she is known to be concerned about her appearance.

But there is also another meaning behind the mirror: it helps to see and understand yourself more clearly because it can represent a sort of portal between the conscious and unconscious world [1]. Thus she also expresses self-love [2].

6. Christopher Columbus saw mermaids in front of Haiti

Interestingly, Christopher Columbus said he saw three mermaids off the coast of Haiti when he sailed to America in 1493.

Could this be evidence that there have always been mermaids around Haiti?

There is one problem. Columbus actually said the mermaids looked like ugly bearded men! That doesn’t sound like the beautiful Lasiren. Instead, it is believed that what Columbus saw were manatees and not mermaids at all.

[Related: Are mermaids real?]

But on the other hand, if those mermaids had been real than that would mean, that there might have always been mermaids in Haiti, not only since the African people came there…

7. The Haitian mermaid has strong ties to African water goddesses

As I mentioned, Lasiren came to Haiti with the African people who were forcefully brought there by the colonizers of America. She is often described as the Haitian version of the African water spirits Mami Wata or Yemaja.

Mami Wata
A statue of Mami Wata with a snake. (Picture by Unknown (Igbo), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Both of them share many similarities with Lasiren and are also worshipped as spirits in various parts of Africa and America. They do however often have a stronger connection to snakes in Africa.

What is special about Lasiren is, that she had both African as well as European influences.

8. There are mermaid counterparts in many countries

Since African people were taken from their homes and brought to America, their Vodou religion and their mermaids also came on the transatlantic journey with them.

The same beliefs about Lasiren can be found in New Orleans, where also a lot of people from Africa were taken.

Here on Wikipedia, you can furthermore see a complete list of the countries that share similar versions of Mami Wata.

Lasiren is interestingly one of the only ones that do not have a name that is derived from the African words Mami Wata or Yemaja.

9. Lasiren’s name literally means “the mermaid”

The word Lasiren was derived from the French word “la sirène” which literally means “the mermaid” or “the siren”.

French is one of the two official languages of Haiti because of the influence of the French who took over Haiti during the 17th century. So, when people of African descent were forcefully taken there, they started using a French name for their ocean goddess.

Other spellings for Lasiren include Lasirn, Lasirènn and La Sirène.

Today only about 5% of Haitians speak fluent French anymore though. Most actually speak Haitian Creole which developed as a mixture of African languages, the language of the indigenous Tanoi and French.

10. Lasiren is not a siren as her name suggests

Even though “La sirène” sounds like “the siren”, it translates better as “the mermaid”. In romance languages like French, there is only one word for both mermaids and sirens. So the distinction between sirens and mermaids became blurred.

Lasiren is not the same as a siren. (Picture by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay)

Even though Lasiren also was influenced by the mermaid myths of Europe during a time in which sirens were popular motives in European churches, she is definitely not the same as a siren because sirens are creatures of the underworld who lure sailors to their death.

Here you can read more about the difference between sirens and mermaids.

Lasiren does however share the sirens’ musicality and can enchant people with the music of her conch shell [2].

11. Haitian mermaids do not go after men, but women

Other mermaids, especially the Greek sirens, seem to really like to attract men. Lasiren is however often said to specifically abduct women!

If this happens and a woman is pulled into the water by Lasiren, there are two possible scenarios: they either drown or they reemerge with new powers like the gifts to heal and see into the future [1].

A possible reason for the fact that Lasiren is more interested in women could be her role as the spirit of feminity. She simply has a much deeper connection to women through their spiritual sides.

12. Lasiren takes gifts in exchange for her services

The followers of the Vodou religion gift the Lwas, like the Lasiren, food and certain items to gain their favor.

In the following video, you can see how elaborate such an offering to Lasiren can look like.

Common gifts to Lasiren include mirrors, combs, jewelry, flowers, wine, doves and perfume. You can see all of these in the video, as well as many pieces of artwork of Lasiren.

In exchange for the gifts, Lasiren is said to assist her followers in many areas of life. She has the power to help you gain prosperity, health, good luck and especially love.

Some people even say Lasiren’s spirit enters the bodies of women and in that way brings them luck and love [1].

13. Lasiren can talk to people by possessing a woman

The Haitians also hold elaborate processions to honor Lasiren. One woman will represent the Lwa during the festivities.

During rituals in Vodou religion, the Lwa are actually often directly invited to possess a believer. This way the spirit of the Lwas like Lasiren can interact with her believers through one person.

She usually will dress up with a beautiful dress or a mermaid tail as well as sparkling baubles and beads that symbolize the fortune she can bring to her followers. She will also hold her symbols, the mirror and the comb. Sometimes she also carries a trumpet or a conch shell which stand for her musicality [1].

You can watch a video of a beautifully dressed Lasiren during a ceremony here:

From around 8:30 minutes in, you can see her getting possessed by Lasiren and afterward interacting with her followers while looking into her mirror.

While she is on land, her followers even bathe her with water (see the water she sits in in the video) so she stays comfortable and does not return to the ocean too quickly.

14. Lasiren might change your life

It is said that those who see Lasiren will experience sudden insights that can change their life forever.

The following Haitian Vodou chant shows this:

“The mermaid, the whale, My hat falls into the sea. I caress the mermaid, My hat falls into the sea. I lie down with the mermaid, My hat falls into the sea.”

Haitian Vodou chant

The line “my hat falls into the sea” stands for the feeling of getting such a sudden insight from Lasiren because the sea represents intuition and the unconscious. [1]

So it basically means that your head (with hat) suddenly is being pulled into the ocean of intuition by Lasiren. Quite a beautiful way of thinking about insights.

This again emphasizes Lasirens spiritual powers.

15. Lasiren can be a whale

If you wonder why the chant also mentions a whale, it is not a coincidence. Lasiren is often associated with another Lwa called “Labalen” or “The whale”.

In some accounts, Lasiren is described as the daughter of Labalen and in others, both are the same spirit [2].

16. She has good and bad sides

Lasiren is usually known as a friendly spirit but her temperament can sometimes suddenly turn into fury as well [2].

According to Haitian folklore, there are two things that can happen, when Lasiren catches you. Either she takes you underwater and you drown or she actually teaches you magic in her palace underwater and then lets you return to the land with new magical powers.

Keep in mind, that not all versions of Lasiren are exactly the same since the traditions can vary slightly in different parts of Haiti and New Orleans. For example in New Orleans Lasiren is given seafood offerings while in Haiti this is not approved [2].

Among other resources which I linked directly in the text, I used these books for my research:

[1] Alexander, Skye (2012) Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, and Lore. Adams Media.

[2] Cappucci, John (2015). In Vodou Encyclopedia: Magic, Ritual, and Religion by Jeffrey Andersen.

Video about Lasiren by a Haitian person: Ted Vodou on Youtube.

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