N is for Nymph
I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.
If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.
I first saw various nymphs in Disney’s Hercules. There are, of course, different versions of them. I wrote about sea nymphs (Nereids), water nymphs (Naiads), tree nymphs, mermaids (Oceanids) and wood nymphs before.
The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley 
Like a tender Nymph
Within the dewy caves.
THE Grecian mythology, like its kindred systems, abounded in personifications. [a] Modified by scenery so beautiful, rich, and various as Hellas presented, it in general assigned the supposed intelligences who presided over the various parts of external nature more pleasing attributes than they elsewhere enjoyed. They were mostly conceived to be of the female sex, and were denominated Nymphs, a word originally signifying a new-married woman.
Whether it be owing to soil, climate, or to an original disposition of mind and its organ, the Greeks have above all other people possessed a perception of beauty of form, and a fondness for representing it. The Nymphs of various kinds were therefore always presented to the imagination, in the perfection of female youth and beauty. Under the various appellations of Oreades, Dryades, Naides, Limniades, Nereides, they dwelt in mountains, trees, springs, lakes, the seas where, in caverns and grottos, they passed a life whose occupations resembled those of females of human rare. The Wood-nymphs were the companions and attendants of the huntress goddess Artemis; the Sea-nymphs averted shipwreck from pious navigators; and the Spring- and River-nymphs poured forth fruitfulness on the earth. All of them were honoured with prayer and sacrifice; and all of them occasionally ‘mingled in love’ with favoured mortals.
In the Homeric poems, the most ancient portion of Grecian literature, we meet the various classes of Nymphs. In the Odyssey, they are the attendants of Calypso, herself a goddess and a nymph. Of the female attendants of Circe, the potent daughter of Helios, also designated as a goddess and a nymph, it is said,
They spring from fountains and from sacred groves,
And holy streams that flow into the sea.
Yet these nymphs are of divine nature, and when Zeus, the father of the gods, calls together his council,
None of the streams, save Ocean, stayed away,
Nor of the Nymphs, who dwell in beauteous groves,
And springs of streams, and verdant grassy slades.
The good Eumaeus prays to the Nymphs to speed the return of his master, reminding them of the numerous sacrifices Ulysses had offered to them. In another part of the poem, their sacred cave is thus described:–
But at the harbour’s head a long-leafed olive
Grows, and near to it lies a lovely cave,
Dusky and sacred to the Nymphs, whom men
Call Naides. In it large craters lie,
And two-eared pitchers, all of stone, and there
Bees build their combs. In it, too, are long looms
Of stone, and there the Nymphs do weave their robes
Sea-purple, wondrous to behold. Aye-flowing
Waters are there; two entrances it hath;
That to the north is pervious unto men;
That to the south more sacred is, and there
Men enter not, but ’tis the Immortals’ path.
Yet though thus exalted in rank, the Homeric Nymphs frequently ‘blessed the bed’ of heroes; and many a warrior who fought before Troy could boast descent from a Nais or a Nereis.
The sweet, gentle, pious, Ocean-nymphs, who in the Prometheus of Aeschylus appear as the consolers and advisers of its dignified hero, seem to hold a nearly similar relation with man to the supernal gods. Beholding the misery inflicted on Prometheus by the power of Zeus, they cry,–
May never the all-ruling
Zeus set his rival power
Against my thoughts;
Nor may I ever fail
The gods, with holy feasts
Of sacrifices, drawing near,
Beside the ceaseless stream
Of father Ocean:
Nor may I err in words;
But this abide with me
And never fade away.
One of the most interesting species of Nymphs is the Dryads, or Hamadryads, those personifications of the vegetable life of plants. In the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite, we find the following full and accurate description of them. Aphrodite, when she informs Anchises of her pregnancy, and her shame to have it known among the gods, says of the child;–
But him, when first he sees the sun’s clear light,
The Nymphs shall rear, the mountain-haunting Nymphs,
Deep-bosomed, who on this mountain great
And holy dwell, who neither goddesses
Nor women are. Their life is long; they eat
Ambrosial food, and with the deathless frame
The beauteous dance. With them, in the recess
Of lovely caves, well-spying Argos-slayer
And the Sileni mix in lova Straight pines
Or oaks high headed spring with them upon
The earth man-feeding, soon as they are born;
This fair and flourishing; on the high hills
Lofty they stand; the Deathless’ sacred grove
Men call them, and with iron never cut.
But when the fate of death is drawing near,
First wither on the earth the beauteous trees,
The bark around them wastes, the branches fall,
And the Nymph’s soul at the same moment leaves
The sun’s fair light.
They possessed power to reward and punish these who prolonged or abridged the existence of theft associate-tree. In the Argonautics of Apollonius Rhodius, Phineus thus explains to the heroes the cause of the poverty of Peraebius
But he was paring the penalty laid on
His fathers crime; for one time, cutting trees
Alone among the hills, he spurned the prayer
Of the Hamadryas Nymph, who, weeping sore,
With earnest words besought him not to cut
The trunk of an oak tree, which, with herself
Coeval, had endured for many a year.
But, in the pride of youth, he foolishly
Cut it; and to him and to his race the Nymph
Gave ever after a lot profitless.
The Scholiast gives on this passage the following tale from Charon of Lampsacus:
A man, named Rhoecus, happening to see an oak just ready to fall to the ground, ordered his slaves to prop it. The Nymph, who had been on the point of perishing with the tree, came to him and expressed her gratitude to him for having saved her life, and at the same time desired him to ask what reward he would. Rhoecus then requested her to permit him to be her lover, and the Nymph acceded to his wishes. She at the same time charged him strictly to avoid the society of every other woman, and told him that a bee should be her messenger. One time the bee happened to come to Rhoecus as he was playing at draughts, and he made a rough reply. This so incensed the Nymph that she deprived him of sight.
Similar was the fate of the Sicilian Daphnis. [b] A Nais loved him and forbade him to hold intercourse with any other woman under pain of loss of sight. Long he abstained, though tempted by the fairest maids of Sicily. At length a princess contrived to intoxicate him: he broke his vow, and the threatened penalty was inflicted.
The Hymns of Orpheus Translated by Thomas Taylor 
TO THE NYMPHS.
The FUMIGATION from AROMATICS.
NYMPHS, who from Ocean’s stream derive your birth,
Who dwell in liquid caverns of the earth
Nurses of Bacchus secret-coursing pow’r,
Who fruits sustain, and nourish ev’ry flow’r:
Earthly, rejoicing, who in meadows dwell,
And caves and dens, whose depths extend to hell:
Holy, oblique, who swiftly soar thro’ air,
Fountains and dews, and mazy streams your care:
Seen and unseen, who joy with wand’rings wide
And gentle course, thro’ flow’ry vales to glide;
With Pan exulting on the mountains height,
Loud-founding, mad, whom rocks and woods delight:
Nymphs od’rous, rob’d in white, whose streams exhale
The breeze refreshing, and the balmy gale;
With goats and pastures pleas’d, and beasts of prey,
Nurses of fruits, unconscious of decay:
In cold rejoicing, and to cattle kind,
Sportive thro’ ocean wand’ring unconfin’d:
Nysian, fanatic Nymphs, whom oaks delight,
Lovers of Spring, Pæonian virgins bright.
With Bacchus, and with Ceres, hear my pray’r.
And to mankind abundant favour bear;
Propitious listen to your suppliants voice,
Come, and benignant in these rites rejoice;
Give plenteous Seasons, and sufficient wealth,
And pour; in lasting streams, continued Health.
The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper
Nature spirits of Greek mythology, usually depicted as beautiful young women and typically associated with a specific natural feature of the landscape such as a lake, stream, tree, mountain, meadow, or spring. There are many types of nymph, including nereids, the nymphs of the sea, naiads, the freshwater nymphs, and dryads, the tree nymphs.
Shrines to nymphs existed across ancient Greece, located at sites such as healing springs and wells. It was thought that nymphs had powers of prophecy, and some consulted them to divine their future, in a similar way to the Delphic Oracle.
Nymphs were also often associated with a particular god or goddess, such as the wild, intoxicated maenads, who formed part of the entourage of Dionysus, spirit of grapes and merrymaking, or the huntress nymphs who attended the hunting goddess Artemis.
*More can be read in the book.
The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous
Among the latter were Nymphs, and it was believed that to them was given the guardianship of the woods and of the trees.
Other varieties of nymphs were the Oriades, or Mountain-Nymphs, which haunted the mountains; the Napœæ, or Dale-Nymphs, frequenting the valleys; those which frequented the meadows, known as Leimoniades, or Mead-Nymphs, and which appear to have approximated more to the Fairy type; the Naiades, or Water-Nymphs, found by rivers, brooks and fountains; and the Lake-Nymphs, or Limniades, haunting the lakes and pools.
*Read more in the book.
Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane
In ancient Greek lore, the nymphs were lesser deities or nature spirits, whose dominion or realm was over a cave, glade, landform, ocean, river, stream, tree, well, or the like. Depicted nude and having a reputation for being promiscuous, these beings frequently were the companion or lovers to the gods. Small and beautiful these seductive fairies could also choose to marry and live out a life with a mortal man. They were honoured with prayers and sacrifices made to them at cairns and shrines.
*Read more in the book.
- Nymphs in Greek Myth: A Detailed Breakdown (Types & Myths)
- NATURE GODDESSES: Nymphs
Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel
The nymphs, always female, are minor nature goddesses who populate the earth. They preside over nature: everything from springs, to clouds, to caves, and everything in-between. They are responsible for the animals and plants in their care. They are closely associated with the Olympian gods of nature such as Demeter, Artemis and Pan.
Nymphs are always portrayed as young and beautiful. They are regarded as benevolent beings, and the term “knock on wood” comes from hoping one would come from the trees to protect the person invoking them.
The male counterparts to the nymphs are the Satyrs and Tritons.
There are several classes of nymphs, depending on what they protect. From the nereids, naiads and oceanids who inhabit the various waters, to the oreads who inhabit the mountains, to the dryads who live in trees, and others inhabiting the natural world.
There are several named nymphs throughout classical literature, such as Amphitrite who is the wife of Poseidon, and Calypso who lived on the island of Ogygia and loved Odysseus who was marooned on her island.
The nymphs were the nurses for Zeus and Dionysus when they were infants. Some nymphs follow certain gods, such as the Thyiades who are wild, frenzied nymphs who follow Dionysus. Nymphs are also relentlessly pursued by gods, satyrs and mortals – some like the nymph Daphne was saved from Apollo by being turned into a laurel tree. There are nymphs who are the mothers of great Greek heroes, such as Achilles. And, of course, nymphs were the companions and attendants to the goddess Persephone.
Nymphs are infinite in number. And though some are nearly immortal, others are closely tied to their environment, such as dryads who die when the tree they are tied to dies.
Nymphs are featured in classic works of art, literature and more. They are usually scantily clad or even naked. Since the Middle Ages, they have been associated or even confused with the fae.
Nymphs in Modern Culture
Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan
They are often chased by love sick gods or satyrs for their beauty.
There are different nymphs and each of the many subspecies has its own name depending on what they preside over (E.g. Naiads are nymphs presiding over the sources of fresh water, with the Limnatides specifically governing lakes).
Learn more here.
- Hesperides (Nymphs of Sunset)
- Wind nymphs (Harpies, Storm Spirits, Aurae or Aurai, Nebulae, Asteriae)
- Water nymphs (Oceanids, Nereids, Naiads)
- Land nymphs (Oreads, Alseides, Napaeae)
- Wood nymphs (Dryads, Anthousai)
- Epimeliads (Sheep Nymphs)
- Maenads (Followers of Dionysus)
- Lampades (Underworld Nymphs, the servants of Persephone)
- Cloud Nymph (Nephelae, Fleecy)
Nymphs are a race of female nature spirits that tend to take on a form related to their environment (Example: While in forests: trees, in flower fields: flowers, in bodies of water: water). They can take on a human form with brown, orange, blue, green or aqua skin color. In the animated series a nymph named Syrinx has a family of male tree-like entities, if these creatures are male nymphs or not is never explained; these “males” can only take on a partially humanoid form (resembling trees or bushes with faces). The nymphs reside on Phil’s Island and Philoctetes enjoys spending his time peeping on the females.Learn more here.
Winx TV series
All Nymphs are mostly humanoid in appearance.
Most Nymphs are known to have used their powers for good purposes and protect the Magic Dimension from the forces of evil. However some Nymphs are known to have allied themselves with the evil forces for their own selfish motives, such as Politea who betrayed Daphne and did not assist her against the Witches when she needed help the most, and the Ancestral Witches were able to place a curse on Sirenix. Some of these nymphs become Dark Nymphs.
Guardian Nymphs are guardians of their respective homeworlds, bound to protect them from evil and destruction. These nymphs achieve ultimate harmony with the Magic Dimension. The position of “Guardian Nymph” is forever a part of the aspiring nymphs. The Nymphs of Sirenix are guardians of the Infinite Ocean since ancient times. The Nine Nymphs of Magix were tasked with guarding the Five-Headed Great Dragon that rests underneath Domino in a chamber located beneath the royal palace and watching over his sleep, and are guardians of their homeworld, Domino since the ancient times. The Nymphs of Domino are the only beings capable of controlling the Beast of the Depths, a creature who wields power stronger than the Dragon’s Flame.
Most of the abilities of the Nymphs are unknown:
Learn more here.
- Flying without wings (Daphne)
- Opening portals to other worlds and realms (Daphne, Omnia)
- Turning magic back on itself (Politea)
- Reversing any spell (Omnia, Daphne)
- Breathing underwater (Omnia, Daphne, Politea)
- Energy and light projection
- Dragon’s Flame (previously)
Nymphs in My Writing
Origin of the Fae: Nymphs
Nymphs are fascinating Fae – they can have the power of almost anything found in nature.
They are nearly immortal, but can be killed like any other fae. Certain nymphs are bound to their trees, springs, etc. and will die when their source of life dies.
Not all nymphs like to be classified as anything specific, as they feel they should be protecting all of Nature. Nymphs, no matter their association, can all breathe underwater, in the places between realms, and within the earth. They can also open portals between realms, fly without wings, and reverse any spell wrought upon the earth.
In my own writing, I like to use the different kind of nymphs as Solitary Fae (and bound to the land) who can act as ambivalent guides to my heroines.
Translation of Nymphs in Afrikaans: Nimfe.
See them in action:
Solitary Fae (Origin of the Fae #6)
Where did you encounter Nymphs for the first time? Anything about Nymphs you’d like to add? Do you use them in your own writing? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.
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No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.