Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 98

“She came through the waves when the fair moon shone

(Drift o’ the wave and foam o’ the sea);

She came where I walked on the sands alone,

With a heart as light as a heart may be.”

L. E. R.

There were also malignant marine monsters known as Nicors, from whose name has been derived the proverbial Old Nick. Many of the lesser water divinities had fish tails; the females bore the name of Undines, and the males of Stromkarls, Nixies, Necks, or Neckar.

“Where in the marisches boometh the bittern,

Nicker the Soul-less sits with his ghittern,

Sits inconsolable, friendless and foeless,

Wailing his destiny, Nicker the Soul-less.”

From Brother Fabian’s Manuscript. [194]

In the middle ages these water spirits were believed sometimes to leave their native streams, to appear at village dances, where they were recognised by the wet hem of their garments. They often sat beside the flowing brook or river, playing on a harp, or singing alluring songs while combing out their long golden or green hair.

“The Neck here his harp in the glass castle plays,

And mermaidens comb out their green hair always,

And bleach here their shining white clothes.”

Stagnelius (Keightley’s tr.).

The Nixies, Undines, and Stromkarls were particularly gentle and lovable beings, and were very anxious to obtain repeated assurances of their ultimate salvation.

The Neckan

The Neckan

J. P. Molin

Many stories are told of priests or children meeting them playing by a stream, and taunting them with future damnation, which threat never failed to turn the joyful music into pitiful wails. Often priest or children, discovering their mistake, and touched by the agony of their victims, would hasten back to the stream and assure the green-toothed water sprites of future redemption, when they invariably resumed their happy strains.

“Know you the Nixies, gay and fair?

Their eyes are black, and green their hair—

They lurk in sedgy shores.”


River Nymphs

Besides Elf or Elb, the water sprite who gave its name to the Elbe River in Germany, the Neck, from whom the Neckar derives its name, and old Father Rhine, with his numerous daughters (tributary streams), the most famous of all the lesser water divinities is the Lorelei, the siren maiden who sits upon the Lorelei [195]rock near St. Goar, on the Rhine, and whose alluring song has enticed many a mariner to death. The legends concerning this siren are very numerous indeed, one of the most ancient being as follows:

Legends of the Lorelei

Lorelei was an immortal, a water nymph, daughter of Father Rhine; during the day she dwelt in the cool depths of the river bed, but late at night she would appear in the moonlight, sitting aloft upon a pinnacle of rock, in full view of all who passed up or down the stream. At times, the evening breeze wafted some of the notes of her song to the boatmen’s ears, when, forgetting time and place in listening to these enchanting melodies, they drifted upon the sharp and jagged rocks, where they invariably perished.

“Above the maiden sitteth,

A wondrous form, and fair;

With jewels bright she plaiteth

Her shining golden hair:

With comb of gold prepares it,

The task with song beguiled;

A fitful burden bears it—

That melody so wild.

“The boatman on the river

Lists to the song, spell-bound;

Oh! what shall him deliver

From danger threat’ning round?

The waters deep have caught them,

Both boat and boatman brave;

’Tis Loreley’s song hath brought them

Beneath the foaming wave.”

Song, Heine (Selcher’s tr.).

One person only is said to have seen the Lorelei close by. This was a young fisherman from Oberwesel, who met her every evening by the riverside, and spent a few delightful hours with her, drinking in her beauty [196]and listening to her entrancing song. Tradition had it that ere they parted the Lorelei pointed out the places where the youth should cast his nets on the morrow—instructions which he always obeyed, and which invariably brought him success.

One night the young fisherman was seen going towards the river, but as he never returned search was made for him. No clue to his whereabouts being found, the credulous Teutons finally reported that the Lorelei had dragged him down to her coral caves that she might enjoy his companionship for ever.

According to another version, the Lorelei, with her entrancing strains from the craggy rocks, lured so many fishermen to a grave in the depths of Rhine, that an armed force was once sent at nightfall to surround and seize her. But the water nymph laid such a powerful spell upon the captain and his men that they could move neither hand nor foot. While they stood motionless around her, the Lorelei divested herself of her ornaments, and cast them into the waves below; then, chanting a spell, she lured the waters to the top of the crag upon which she was perched, and to the wonder of the soldiers the waves enclosed a sea-green chariot drawn by white-maned steeds, and the nymph sprang lightly into this and the magic equipage was instantly lost to view. A few moments later the Rhine subsided to its usual level, the spell was broken, and the men recovered power of motion, and retreated to tell how their efforts had been baffled. Since then, however, the Lorelei has not been seen, and the peasants declare that she still resents the insult offered her and will never again leave her coral caves. [197]


Chapter XXI: Balder

The Best Loved

To Odin and Frigga, we are told, were born twin sons as dissimilar in character and physical appearance as it was possible for two children to be. Hodur, god of darkness, was sombre, taciturn, and blind, like the obscurity of sin, which he was supposed to symbolise, while his brother