Last week for Mythical Monday, I ventured into the forests of Germany and Scandinavia for a look at the earthy Moss People. Today, I’m mired in the same region of the globe, but wading into a watery domain with Nixies and the Water-Men of Germany.
Tales vary depending on the branch of folklore you happen to be pursuing. In some legends, the Water-Men are human in appearance but have green teeth and favor green hats. They often mingle with humans in marketplaces where they do their shopping. For the most part they dwell on good terms with men, and even aspire to friendship. Their women are beautiful and ethereal, commonly called Nixies.
In other legends, they appear human-like with amphibious features such as gills, webbed feet and hands. Many claim they are shapeshifters who have no true form.
In Scandinavia, these same creatures are known as Necks, a male water sprite who dwells in rivers and streams. Master musicians who favor the harp and violin, they prey on unsuspecting women and children by luring them to the water to drown. The music they weave is magically enchanted, much like that of a siren, too beautiful for mortals to resist. Pregnant women and unbaptized children are especially susceptible to their bewitching melodies.
In most tales the Neck is doomed, but in some, he is a creature who fervently craves redemption.
A timeworn legend tells of a priest who came upon a Neck as he played along the riverbank. Spying the creature, the priest rebuked the Neck harshly. “Look at this dead staff,” he said, displaying the withered piece of wood he used to aid in his walking. “This piece of rot will put forth green leaves, before your soul is saved.”
By Ernst Josephsson (1851 – 1906) (Swedish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hearing the cruel denouncement and fearing his soul beyond redemption, the Neck burst into tears. He threw his harp aside and buried his face in his hands, mournfully bemoaning his fate.
Satisfied, the priest left him weeping, but as he walked away, guilt twisted his heart. He had not gone far when his staff abruptly surged with green sap, putting forth a bounty of twigs and leaves—a message from the great I AM that all creatures belong to God. Deeply ashamed, the priest retraced his steps. He found the Neck still sobbing, and humbly begged forgiveness, showing the heartbroken creature his staff. Seeing the change that had overtaken the withered piece of wood, the Neck rejoiced. Reclaiming his harp, he burst into song, his music so utterly beautiful that the river itself echoed with his sweet melody.
As someone who adores a happily-ever-after, I love that tale. I can imagine the old priest rejoicing with him, sitting down on the river bank and sharing his bread and wine.
Have you ever heard this legend before? Were you familiar with the Neck?