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A cecaelia (pronounced /sɨˈseɪliə/ sə-SAY-lee-ə; unrelated to Cecilia or caecilian) is a composite mythical being, appearing occasionally in art (notably from Japan), literature, and multimedia; combining the head, arms and torso of a woman (more rarely a man) and, from the lower torso down, the tentacles of an octopus or squid as a form of mermaid or sea demon. The term derives primarily from the distorted mispronounced name of a character/story title from a black-and-white comic in Vampirella Magazine featured in the early 1970s which shows a woman/octopus hybrid character called "Cilia"[citation needed].

Other common terms used are "octopus-mermaid", "octo-mermaid", "octo-girl", "octopian", and variants thereof. While the broader term mermaid (Latin- "sea maiden") would otherwise apply, cecaelia are generally considered a separate unrelated species. Also, more commonly, cecaelia are referred to as "sea witches" (see below).


The originating story of the term cecaelia comes from the comic "Cilia" in Issue #16[1] of Vampirella Magazine (Warren Publications) in April, 1972, and later reprinted in Issue #27[2] in September, 1973, though it is unrelated to the title hero character for which the magazine was named. It was a short black and white comic strip written by Nicola Cuti and illustrated by Felix Mas.

In the story, a nude thin-figure cecaelia rescues the only two survivors of the crash of the wooden sailing ship Davy Jones just after April 16, 1872 in an unspecified oceanside location somewhere between England and Africa. While the one sailor is unconscious for the entire two week ordeal (the story itself is recounted from his point of view after the ordeal), the captain begins to search for help and food, coming upon the cecaelia as she is weeping on the beach. Initially repulsed and fearful of her appearance, she speaks calmly to him:
"Don't be frightened, mortal. I am a gentle sea creature. I am a cilophyte. My people have saved many of yours from drowning."
She tells him that she had rescued them, but she too became lost and separated from others of her kind during the rescue. She then helps the two survivors by hunting for food in the sea and providing medicine for the unconscious sailor. During this time the captain begins to fall in love with the cilophyte as she helps them. She comes to be known by him as "Cilia". Having also fallen in love with him, she agrees to go back with the captain to England, disguised as a mysterious third passenger- 'walking' on her tentacles in a long black dress to disguise her aquatic origins.
After returning to England, stories among the townsfolk and fishermen quietly begin to circle about the captain's new wife- she is frequently gone for long periods of time, she almost never appears in public, and she is sometimes seen drenched in water. Eventually, a small group of fisherman kidnap Cilia. Days later, they anonymously reveal to the captain where his wife is- chained to the rocks on the nearby shore, where she has been humiliated and badly beaten. When the captain arrives to rescue her, Cilia's injuries are severe, and she dies in his arms. Stricken with grief, he carries her dead body into the water, intentionally drowning himself in the process.
Days after this happens, a ship crashes during a stormy night near the village where the captain and Cilia lived. When the rescue party arrives, they discover that all of the sailors aboard- among them the ones who kidnapped Cilia- have been tortured and mauled, literally torn limb-from-limb. Though not specifically mentioned, there is evidence in the final windows of the comic that the sailors were attacked by other cilophytes in an act of revenge, though the rescue party obviously does not recognize this as such...

There is only one really clear picture of Cilia in the strip, but oddly it shows her with only six tentacles forming below her waist, as opposed to an octopus' normal eight. It is likely that her two arms are included in the limb count. It is in that same frame that she speaks to the captain for the first time.

In Literature and Art

Cecaelia have appeared occasionally in artwork and literature- indeed predating the story "Cilia"- though they are not consistently named-

  • The Japanese artist Hokusai produced a couple of erotic pieces that featured such a woman-octopus hybrid, as well as related pieces showing couplings of women with octopuses.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's mythology frequently featured squid and octopoi hybrids, including a two legged female cecaelia derived from both "The Shadow of Innsmouth" and "Dagon", which was made into a movie in 2001, with Macarena Gómez playing the role of the siren-like Uxía Cambarro. Though she only has two tentacles in place of human legs, some classify Uxía as more likely being a variant on a lamia, which- like a mermaid- is half-woman, but features a single long snake's tail instead of a shorter fish tail with fins.

In Popular Media

Sea witches

Perhaps one of the most well-recognized cecaelia in modern history is Ursula the Sea Witch, from Walt Disney Pictures' "The Little Mermaid" (1989), voiced by Pat Carroll. Full figured and purple-tinged skin, Ursula uses her black-and-purple tentacle arms to dramatic effect, though in the climax of the film she is killed by Prince Eric. (She was only animated with six tentacles compared to a real octopus's eight. However, she technically has eight limbs if her two human arms are included). She also had a very brief non-speaking cameo in one episode of Hercules: The Animated Series (1998-1999). Her sister, the cecaelia Morgana (voiced also by Carroll), is featured in much the same role in the direct-to-DVD sequel "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea" (2000)- though she's thinner and more squid-like.

The character of Ursula also appears as the antagonist in Disney's Broadway musical production of The Little Mermaid (2008-2009), she is originally performed here by stage actress Sherie Rene Scott. A major change for the character was introduced here which was not seen before- that Ursula and King Triton as brother and sister (thus making Princess Ariel her niece). Ursula and Triton, at their father's deathbed, are given presents- Triton was given the crown and magical trident which give him command over Atlantica, and Ursula half of the sea and a magical seashell. This enrages Ursula, and although she and Triton are supposed to co-rule Atlantica, she secretly plots to take over the kingdom through the use of dark, forbidden magic that manifests through the shell. However, she is caught before she can do so, and is eternally banished from the kingdom. Later in the musical Ursula uses her magical shell to store Ariel's voice in. Just like she did with her necklace in the film. It is implied in the musical, that she may have originally been a mermaid, and that either Triton or her misuse of magic transformed her into an ugly cecaelia as punishment, but this is not shown. This plot element of Ursula being a relative of Ariel's family was in the initial script drafts for the 1989 animated film, but was eventually dropped. Her association with King Triton, however, is vaguely hinted at in her first appearance in the film where she says that she once lived in the palace, but no further explanation is given. This closer family-relations plot element is only part of the Broadway production, and is not considered canon in any other animated or literature in the larger franchise.

  • One time during the "Little Mermaid"-based TV series (1992-1994)- in which she makes several appearances, again as an antagonist- Ursula's species was identified as "Octopian".

Because of a lack of common knowledge in identifying Ursula and Morgana's species (which is not mentioned specifically in the more readily-available motion picture, subsequent direct-to-DVD movies, or any literature), cecaelia in general are now more frequently referred to as "sea witches" today due to the popularity of Disney's example in their Little Mermaid franchise.

By contrast, the unnamed Sea Witch from Hans Christian Andersen's original story of "The Little Mermaid"- first published in 1837- was vaguely described as being just an old mermaid who specialized in potions and magic; a rather minor though important character in the story compared to Disney's re-interpretation.

Other media sightings

Here are other well-recognized sightings of cecaelia from TV, movies, and video games:

  • A Sony advertisement for the "PlayStation 9" (which was actually promoting the PlayStation 2) briefly features in an underwater sequence a cecaelia that turns into a giant octopus. However, instead of human arms, the cecaelia had two more tentacles attached to her shoulders in their place, for a total of 10. Although the sequence is short (barely two seconds long), the advertisement was aired thousands of times in the United States alone and was seen by millions of people.
  • In the 2002 video game "Kingdom Hearts" produced by Square Enix and Disney Interactive for the PlayStation 2 platform, one of the worlds that the main characters visit is the Kingdom of Atlantica from "The Little Mermaid". Because the events of the game take place underwater in this world, some of the characters undergo a transformation. Specifically, Donald Duck becomes a cecaelia version of himself, with six small light blue tentacles replacing the lower half of his body. Also, Ursula the Sea Witch makes an appearance as one of the many lead villains throughout the game. She does return in the sequel game "Kingdom Hearts 2" (2005), but there she more closely matches her role from "The Little Mermaid" (though there is no acknowledgment in-game that any of the characters had met her in the previous game).
  • In the 2002 computer game "Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind", one of the island's native fauna are a male cecaelia-like race living by the Northern coast-lines known in the game as "dreugh". They are rusty red in colour with two crab-clawed human arms, a second pair of smaller clawed arms followed by only 4 octopus like tentacles. They, like most wildlife in the game, are malevolent and will attack the player if he/she swims too close. Sometimes after the Dreugh has been killed, the player can harvest "Dreugh wax" from the corpse which can be sold to one of the game's merchants for gold. Some armor in the game is also forged from Dreugh shell known in the game as "Dreugh Armor"
  • In the MMORPG "World of Warcraft" there are no in-game cecaelia, but the official artwork of Queen Azshara (villainess of the universe and Empress of the Naga) depicts her as a sort of cecaelia - having lower body of an octopus and upper body of nightelven female with snakes for hair. Naga "Sea Witches" appear in in "Warcraft III", but they are serpentine unlike the ones in "The Little Mermaid".


  1. ^ "Vampirella Issue #16 cover & summary, from The Grand Comics Database Project". http://www.comics.org/details.lasso?id=25040. 
  2. ^ "Vampirella Issue #27 cover and summary, from The Grand Comics Database Project". http://www.comics.org/details.lasso?id=26677.