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Notes on Norse and German Water Fairies From:
Jacob Grimm’s “Teutonic Mythology”
The people prayed on the river’s bank; at the fountain’s brink they lighted candles and laid down sacrificial gifts… Above all was the place honored, where the wondrous element leaps up from lap of earth; a spring is in our older speech ursprinc, and also prunno.
Often enough the first appearing of a spring is ascribed to divine agency or a miracle: Wuontan, Balder, Charles the Great, each made the reviving fountain flow out of earth for his fainting host. Other springs are charmed out of the rock when struck by a staff or a horse’s hoof; a saint plants a bough in the ground and the water bubbles up. But there are two theories even more generally received: that the water of sacred brooks and rivers is in the first instance poured by gods and superior beings or of urns; and that springs and wells are guarded by snakes or dragons lying near them.
Water drawn at a holy season at midnight, before sunrise and in solemn silence, bore till a recent time the name of heilawc, heilwac, heilwage…
Curious customs show us in what manner young girls in the Pyrenees country tell their own fortunes in spring water on May-day morning.
Water-sprites exhibit the same double aspect. Wise-women, calkyrs, appear on the waves as swans, they
merge into prophetic merwomen and merminnes. Even Nerthus and dame Holla bathe in lake or pool, and the way to Holla’s about is through the well.
Water sprites have many things in common with mountain sprite, but also some peculiar to themselves. The males, like those of the schrat kind, come up singly rather than in companies. The water man is commonly represented as oldish and with a long beard, like the Roman demigod out of whose urn the river spouts; often he is many headed… In Danish folk-song the nokke lifts his beard aloft, he wears a green hat, and when he grins you see his green teeth. He has at times the figure of a wild boy with shaggy hair or else with yellow curls and a red cap on his head. The nakki of the fins is said to have iron teeth. The nixe (fem), like the Romance fay and our own wise-women, is to be seen sitting in the sun, combing her long hair, or emerging from the waves the upper half of her body, which is exceedingly beautiful. The lower part, as with the sirens, is said to consist of a fish-like tail; but this feature is not essential and mostly likely not truly Teutonic, for we never hear of a tailed nix, and even the nixe, when she come on shore among men, is shaped and attired like the daughters of men, being recognized only by the wet skirt of her dress, and the wet tips of her apron…
Dancing, song and music are the delight of all water sprites, as they are of elves. Like the sirens, the nixe by her song draws listening youth to herself , and then inot the deep. So Hylas was drawn into the water by nymphs. At evening up come the damsels from the lake to take part in the human dance, and to visit their lovers. In Sweden they tell of the stomkarl’s, alluring enchanting strain” the stromkarls-lag is said to have eleven variations, but to only ten of them may you dance the eleventh belongs to the night spirit and his band; begin to play that, and tables and benches, cup and can, gray-beards and grandmothers, blind and lame, even babes in the cradle would begin to dance. This melodious stromkarl loves to linger by mills and waterfalls. Hence his Norwegion name fossegrim…. As a remnant of heathen sacrifices, that to this demonic being people offered a black lamb, and were taught music by him in return. The fossegrim too on calm dark evenings entices men by his music, and instructs the fiddle or other stringed interment any one who will on a Thursday evening, his head turned away, offer him a little white he-goat and throw it into a ‘forse’ that falls northwards. If the victim is lean, the pupil gets no father than the turning of the fiddle; if fat, the fossegrim clutches hold of the player’s right hand, and guides it up and down til blood starts out of all his finger-tips, then the pupil is perfict in his art, and can play so that the trees shall dance and torrents in their fall stand still.
Although Christianity forbids such offerings, and pronounces the old water sprites diabolic beings, yet the common people retain a certain awe and reverence and have not quite given up all faith in their power and influence…
But beside the freewill offering for instruction in his art, the nix also exacted cruel and compulsory sacrifices, of which the memory is preserved in nearly all popular tradition. To this day, when people are drowned in a river, it is common to say: ‘ the river-sprite demands his yearly victim,’ which is usually ‘an innocent child.’ This points to actual human sacrfices offered to the nichus in far-off heathen times. To the nix of the Diemel they throw bread and fruit once a year.
On the whole there runs through the stories of water sprites a vein of cruelty and bloodthirstiness, which is not easily found among daemons of the mountains, woods and homes. The nix not only kills human beings who fall into his clutches, but wreaks a blody vengeance on his own folk who have come on shore, mingled with men, and than gone back….
Notes on German Forest Fairies
From Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology
Forests and Sacred Groves
Temple… means also wood. What we figure to ourselves as a built and walled house, resolves itself, the father back we go into a holy place untouched by human hand, embowered and shut in by the self-grown trees. There dwells the deity, veiling his form in rustling foliage of the boughs; there is the spot where the hunter has to present him the game he has killed, and the herdsmen his horses and oxen and rams…..
I am not maintaining that this forest-worship exhausts all the conceptions our ancestors had formed of deity and its dwelling place; it was only the principle one.
Here and there a god may haunt a mountain-top, a cave of the rock, a river; but the grand general worship of the people has its seat in the grove…
At a time when rude beginnings were all there was of the builders art, the human mind must have been roused to higher devotion by the sight of the lofty trees under and open sky, than it could feel inside the stunted structures reared by unskillful hands. When long afterwards the architecture peculiar to the Teutons reached its perfection, did it not in its boldest creations still aim at the reproduction of the soaring trees of the forest? Would not the abortion of miserably carved or chiseled images lag far behind the form of the god which the youthful imagination of antiquity pictured to itself, throned on the bowery summit of the sacred tree? In the sweep and under the shade of primeval forests the soul of man found itself filled with the nearness of Sovran deities. The mighty influence that a forest life had from the first on the whole of our nation, is attested by the ‘march-fellowships’, the word from which they took their name denoted first a forest, and afterwards a boundary….
Gods dwell in these groves; no images are mentioned by name as being set up, no temple walls are reared. But sacred vessels and altars stand in the forest, heads of animals hang on the boughs of trees. There divine worship is performed and sacrifice offered, there is the folk-mote and the assize, everywhere a sacred awe and reminiscence of antiquity….
Several districts of lower Saxony and Westphalia have until quite recent times preserved the vestiges of holy oaks, to which the people paid a half heathen half Christian homage. Thus in the principality of Minden, on Easter Sunday, the young people of both sexes used with loud cries of joy to dance a reigen (rig. circular dance) round an old oak. In a thicket near the village of Wormeln, Paderborn, stands a holy oak, to which the inhabitants of Wormeln and Calenberg still make a solemn procession every year.
I see a fruit hanging,
That it has hair or bristles;
In any holy forest
Of Thuringia or of Saxony
There could not grow
Better fruit on bough
(This) assultion is surely to sacrificed animals, or first fruits of the chase, hung up on the trees of a sacred wood?....
And in other poems of the Mid. Ages the sacredness of the ancient forests still exerts an after-influence…..
We have inklings now and again, if not of sacrifices offered to sacred trees, yet of a lasting indestructible awe, and the fancy that ghostly beings haunt particular trees. Thus, misfortune like a demon, sat on a tree
It is said of a hollow tree:
There are saints in there,
That hear all the peoples prayers.
To the Old Prussians, Romove was the most sacred spot in the land, and a seat of the gods; there stood their images on a holy oak hung with clothes. No unconsecrated person was allowed to set foot in the forest, no tree to be felled, not a bough to be ignored, not a beast to be slain. There were many such sacred groves in other parts of Prussia and Lithuania
There can be no doubt that for some time after the conversion the people continued to light candles and offer small sacrifices under particular holy trees, as even to this day they hang wreaths upon them, and lead the ring dance under them… The Ossetes and Circassians hung the hides of animals on poles in honour of divine beings, the Goths of Jornandes truncis suspendebant exuvias to Mars, that as a gernal thing animals were
hung on sacrificial trees; most likely this tree was also sacred to some god through sacrifices, i.e. offerings of individuals, hence the whole place was named ‘ad votum.’ And now only were those trees held sacred, under which men sacrificed, and on which they hung the head or hide of the slaughtered beast, but saplings that grew up on the top of sacrificed animals. A willow slip set over a dead foal or calf is not to be damaged…
Of the hallowed trees (which are commonly addressed as frau, dame, in the later mid. Ages) the oak stands at the head: an oak or beech is the arbor frugifera in casting lots. Next to the oak, the ash was holy, as we may see by the myth of the creation of man… (Men were created or born from Ash Tree’s in much of European Mythology)
A man in Sudermania was on the point of cutting down a find shady juniper, when a voice cried out, ‘hew not the juniper’ He disregarded the warning, and was about to begin again when it cried out once more ‘I tell the, hew not down the tree!’ and he ran away in fright.
The Greek drayads and hamadrayads have their life linked to a tree, and as this withers and dies, they themselves fall away and cease to be; any injury to bough or twig is felt as a wound and a wholesale hewing down puts and end to them at once. A cry of anguish escapes them when the cruel axe comes near.
When the alder is hew, it bleeds, weeps, and begins to speak. An Austrian Marchen tells of a stately fir, in which there sits a fay waited on by dwarfs, rewarding innocent and plaguing the guilty.
Wish-wives appear on pools and lakes in the depth of the forest: it is because they are likewise wood-wives, and under this character they suggest further reflection. The old sacred forest seems their favorite abode: as the gods sat throned in the groves, on the trees, the wise-women of their train and escort would seek the same haunts. Did not the Gothic aliorunas well in the woodland among the wood-sprites? Was not Velda’s tower placed on a rock, that is, in the woods? The Volundarqvioa opens with the words:
Meyjar flugo sunnan Myrkvio igognom,
Maids flew from the south through murky wood to the seashore, there they tarried seven years, till they grew homesick… They could resist no longer, and returned to the somber wood. Almost all swan-maidens are met with in the forest.
Like norns and valkyrs, they are invited to the house with promise of gifts.
On this point we will consider a passage in Saxo, where he is un-mistakably speaking of valkyrs, though, as his manner is, he avoids the vernacular term. In his account of Hother and Balder which altogether differs so much from that of the Edda…
After bestowing their advice on him, the maidens with their house vanish before Hothers eyes….
This seems no modern distorted view, to imagine the maids of war, that dewlt in Odin’s heavenly company, that traversed air and flood, as likewise haunting the woodland cave; therefore Saxo was right to call them silvestress, and to place their chamber, their cave, in the forest.
The older stages of our language supply some similar expressions, in which I recognize the idea of wise wood-wives, not of mere elvish wood-sprites. They are called wildiu, wip, and the Trad. Fuld,….
In groves on trees their appeard dominae, matronae, puellae, clothes in white, distinguishable from the more elvish tree wife or drayad, whos life is bound up with that of the tree. The Vicentina Germans worship a wood-wife, chiefly between Christmas and the Twefthday: the women spin flax from the distaff, and throw it in the fire to propitiate her: she is every bit like Holda and Berhta.
As three bunches of corn are left standing at harvest-time for Wuotan and frau Gaue, so to this day in the Frankenwald they leave three handfuls of flax lying on the field for holzueible (wood-wives)
The little wood-wives come up to wood-cutters and beg for something to eat, or to take it themselves out of their pots; but whatever they have taken or borrowed they make it good in some way, not seldom by good advice. At times they help people with their kitchen work and at washing but always express great fear of the wild huntsman that pursues them. ON the Sale they tell you of a bush-grandmother and moss-maidens; this sounds like a queen of elves, if not the weird lady of the woods. The little wood-wives are glad to come when people are baking, and ask them, while they are about it, to bake them a loaf too, as big as half a millstone and it must be left for them at a specified place; they pay for it afterwards, or perhaps bring some of their own baking, and lay it in the furrow for the ploughmen or the plough, being mightily offended if you refuse it. At other times the wood-wife makes her appearance with a broken wheelbarrow, and begs you to mend the wheel; then like Berhta she pays you with fallen chips, which turn into gold; or if you are knitting, she gives you a ball of thread which you will never have done unwinding. Every time a man twists the stem of a young tree till the bark flys off, a wood-wife has to die. When a peasant women, out of pity gave the breast to a crying wood-child the mother came and made her a present of the bark in which the child was cradled; the women broak a splinter off threw it in her load of wood, but when she got home she found it was of gold.
Wood-wives like dwarfs are by no means satisfied with the ways of the modern world…
Their maxim (is);
No tree ever shell,
No dream ever tell,
Bake in thy bread no cumin seed,
And God will help thee in all they need.
A wood-wife, after tasting some newly-baked bread, ran off to the forest, screaming loud, They’ve baked me caraway-bread, it will bring that house great trouble….
Some wood-mannikins, who had long done good service at a mill, were scared away by the miller’s men leaving out clothes and shoes for them. It is as though by accepting clothes, the spirits were afraid of suddenly breaking off the relation that subsisted between themselves and mankind. We shall see presently that the home-sprites proper acted on different principles, and even bargained for clothes.
In the Romance fairy-tales an old Roman god has assumed altogether the nature of a wood-sprite an old Roman god; out of Orcus has been made an Italian orco, Meapol. Huorco, Fr. Ogre: is is pictured as black, hairy, bristly, but of great stature rather than small, almost gigantic; children losing their way in the woods come upon his dwelling, and he sometimes shews himself good natured and bestows gifts oftener his wife (orca, ogresse) protects and saves.
German House Fairies From:
Jacob Grimm’s “Teutonic Mythology”
We have now considered genii of mountains, of woods and of rivers; it remains to review the large and variously named group of the friendly familiar Home sprites. They of all sprites stand nearest to man, because they come and seek his fellowship, they take their abode under his very roof or on his premises.
Again, it is a feature to be marked in home sprites, that they are purely male, never female; there appears a certain absence of sex in their very idea, and if any female beings approach this goblin kind, it is former goddesses who have come down in the world….
It seems they used to carve little home sprites of boxwood and set them up in the room for fun, as even now wooden nutcrackers and other mere playthings are cut in the shap of a dwarf or idol; yet the practice may have to dow with the old heathen worship of small lares, to whom a place was assigned in the innermost part of the dwelling; in time the earnest would turn inot sport and even Christian sentiment tolerate the retention of an old custom. They must also have tied rags and shreds into dolls, and set them up. The dumb wooden kobold is kept in countenance by the ‘wooden bishiop’ mentioned immediately after by the Misnaere….
In the writers of the 17th century I find the remarkable phrase ‘to laugh like a kobold,’… you laugh as though you’d empty yourself, like a kobot,’ This mus either mean to laugh with mouth agape, like a carved kobold, who may have been so represented, or simply to laugh loud and heartily. Again, to laugh likes a hampelmann.
The puss-in-boots of the fairy-tale plays exactly the part of a good-natured helpful kobold; another one is called stiefel, because he wears a large book; by the boot, I suppose, they are indicated the gefeite schuhe (fairy shoes) of older legend, with which one could travel faster on the ground, and perhaps through the air; such are the league boots of fairy tales and the winged shoes of Hermes….
In stature, appearance and apparel they come very near to elves and dwarfs; legend loves to give them red hair or a red beard, and the pointed red hat is rarely missing. The Norwegion Nissen is imagined small like a child, but strong, clothed in grey, with a read peaky cap, and carrying a blue light at night. So they can make themselves visible or invisible to men as they please. Their fairy shoes or boots have been notices, with these they can go over the most difficult roads with the greatest speed: it was just over mountains and forests that Hutchen’s rennpfad extended… With his walking apparatus and this swiftness there is associated now and then some animal’s form and name: Heinze Heinzelmann, polterkater, katermann, boot-cat, squirrel’ there shuffling and bustling about the house is paralleled by the nightly turbulence of obstreperous cats. They like to live in the stable barn or cellar of the person whose society they have chosen, sometimes even in a tree that stands neat the house. You must not break a bouth off such a tree, or the offended goblin will make his escape, and all the luck of the house go with him; moreover, he cannot abide any chopping in the yard or spinning on a Thursday evening. In household occupations they shew themselves friendly and furthersome, particularly in the kitchen and stable. The dwarf king GOldemar is said to live on intemante terms with Neveling of Hardenberg at the Hardenstein and often shard his bed. He played charmingly on the harp, and god rid of much money at dice; he called Neveling brother in law, and often admonished him, he spoke to every boddy, and made the clergy blush by discovering their secret sins. His hands were lean like those of a frog, cold and soft to the grasp; he would allow himself to be felt, but never to be seen. After a stay of three years he made off without injuring any one…. A place at the table had to be kept for him, and one in the stable for his horse; meats, oats and hay were consumed, but of horse or men you saw nothing but the shadow. Once an inquisitive man having sprinkled ashes and peas to make him fall and to get sight of his footprints, he spring upon him as he was lighting the fire, and chopped him up into pieces, which he stuck on a spirt and roasted, but the head and legs he thought proper to boil. The dishes, when ready, were carried to Vollmar’s chamber , and one could hear them being consumed with cries of joy. After this, no more was heard of king Vollmar; but over his chamber-door it was found written, that from that time the house would be as unlucky as it had been prosperous til then, and the scattered estates would never come together again until their were three Hardenbergs of Hardenstein living at once. Both spit and gridiron were long preserved, til in 1651 they disappeard during the Lorrain war, but the pot is stil there, let into the kitchen wall. The home-sprites parting prophecy sounds particularly ancient, and the grim savagery of his wrath is heathen all over.
The goblin then is an obliging hardworking sprite, who takes a pleasure in waiting on the men and maids at their housework, and secretly dispatching some of it himself. He curries the hourses, combes out their manes, lays fodder before the cattle, draws water form the well and brings it them, and cleans out the stable. For the maids he makes of fire, rinses out the dishes, cleaves and carries wood, sweeps and scrubs. His presence brings prosperity to the house, his departure removes it. He is like the helpful eath manikins who lend a hand in field labors. At the same time he oversees the management of the house, that everything be done orderly; lazy and careless workers get into trouble with him, he pulls the voerleta off the beds of sluggards, blows their light out, turns the best cow’s neck awry, kicks the dawdling milkmaid’s pail over and mocks her with insulting laughter; his good nature turns to worrying love of mischief, eh becomes a ‘tormenting spirit….
Servants, to keep on good terms with him, save a little potful of their food on purpose for him, which is surely a vestige of little sacrifices that were offered him of old. That is probably why one Swiss goblin bears the name Napfhans, Potjack. But in many cases it is only done on holidays, or once a week. The sprite is easily satisfied, he puts up with a saucerful of porridge, a piece of cake, a glass of beer, which are left out for him accordingly; on those evenings he does not like any noisy work to be going on, either in or out of doors….
The Nissen loves the moonlight, and in wintertime you see him merrily skipping across the farmyard, or skating. He is a good hand at daincing and music, and much the same is told of him as of the Swedish stromkarl, that for a grey sheep he teaches people to play the fiddle.
The home-sprite is contented with a trifling wage: a new hat, a red cap, a parti-coloured coat with tinkling bells he will make shift with. The hat and cap he has in common with dwarfs, and therefore also the power to make himself invisible.
He loves to play merry pranks, and when he has accomplished one, he is fain to laugh himself double for delight: hence that goblin laugher and chuckling. But also when he sulks and means mischief to those who have brought him into trouble and difficulty, he utters a scornful laugh at the top of his voice.
As henchman true, he abides by his master he once takes up with come weal or woe. But his attatchment is often found irksome, and one cannot be rid of him again. A farmer set fire to his barn, to burn the goblin that haunted it; when it is all ablaze, there sites the sprite at the back of the cart in which they were removing the contents. In mone’s Anzeiger we read of a little black man that was bought with a chest, and when this was opened, he hopped out and slipped behind the oven, whnce all efforts to rout him out were fruitless; but he lived on excellent terms with the household, and occasionallty shewed himself to them though never to strangers.
There are also goblins who, like nix and watersprite, are engaged in no man’s service, but live independently; when such a wone is caught, he will offer you gifts or or tell your fortune, to be set at liberty again.
The unfriendly, racketing and tormenting spirits who take possetion of a house, are distinguished from the friendly and good natured by their commonly forming a whole gang…
The Roman expression for peaceful happy spirits of the dead was manes, for uncanny disquieting apparitions lemurs or larvae; though the termsfluctuate, for manes can denote spectral beings too and lemres can have a general meaning. Larva betrays its affinity to lar and the good kindly lares were often held to be manes or souls of departed ancestors. So in or German superstition we find instances of souls becoming home sprites or kobolds, and still oftener there a connexion between unquiet spirits and specters.
Another class of specters will prove more fruitful for our investigation: they , like the ingues fatui, include unchristened babes, but instead of straggling singly on the earth as fires they sweep through the forest and air in whole companies with a horrible din. This is the widely spread legend of the furious host, the furious hunt, which is of high antiquity, and interweaves itself, now with gods, and now tih heros,.