Is there a preponderance of seductive water nymphs in mythology? That is, among the more sexually inclined maidens in mythology, are they more likely to embody or be connected to water than other elements?

For example, there's the Russian Russalka, the German Rhine Maidens, the Lady of the Lake in tales that don't involve Excalibur, the Greek Naiads and Sirens, Scottish, Irish, and Faroese Selkies, and so on and so on; even the American First Nations have their water maidens that tempted young warriors to a soggy grave.

If there is a preponderance of seductive water nymphs in mythology, then why is that so?

  • 1
    I feel awkward writing this comment after talking about increasing activity in the chat, but this question needs a lot of work. (1) Is it really necessary to use the wording "preponderance of watery tarts"? It sounds weird, and I (personally) don't think it's funny. (2) I'm not sure how you would answer this question: are you asking to count the number of female characters in mythology and tell you what percentage are "watery tarts"? Because that's completely unrealistic. I'm sorry, but unless this question is significantly edited, I feel like it should be closed.
    – user62
    Aug 19 '15 at 22:41
  • 2
    the word "tart" is very insulting: please stop using it.
    – user62
    Aug 20 '15 at 1:17
  • 7
    Watery tart is a reference to Monty Python. The question is cheeky, but shouldn't be considered insulting.
    – cmw
    Aug 26 '15 at 19:17
  • 2
    @Malandy, that's more of a hypothesis that has not—and cannot—be verified. Think about it. We see a lot of floods in mythology (which, btw, is not limited to IE religion), we then find evidence of Black Sea flooding 10,000 years ago. Therefore we assume it left a mark. But the two are't necessarily related.
    – cmw
    Dec 8 '15 at 13:24
  • 2
    It's a rather large topic in historical and archaeological conversations known as a the positivist fallacy. In other words, we cannot assume that any particular historical flood gave birth to mythological floods, something more especially realized when the fact that worldwide mythologies exist for floods is taken into account.
    – cmw
    Dec 8 '15 at 13:30

Have you heard of the Thompson Motif Index? It's a huge 6 volume index of folklore from various cultures, organized by motif. It's also available for free online.

Looking at the index, there are a lot of entries for "water spirit as woman." I've listed the entires below:

F420.1.2. †F420.1.2. Water-spirit as woman (water-nymph, water-nix). (Cf. †F423.1.) *Type 316; *BP III 322; *Fb “nøkke” II 725ab.--England, Ireland, Wales: Baughman, Ireland: Beal VII 11; Norse: MacCulloch Eddic 261; Finnish-Swedish: Wessman 55 Nos. 468--469; Finnish: Aarne FFC XXXIII 44 No. 58; Germanic: Meyer Germanen 199ff., 202ff., De la Saussaye 323; Slavic: Máchal 254f., 271f.; Estonian: Aarne FFC XXV 126 No. 58; Livonian: Loorits FFC LXVI 42 No. 30; Armenian: Ananikian 84; Japanese: Ikeda.

F420.1.2.1. †F420.1.2.1. Water-maidens are of unusual beauty. German: Ebermann Elbsagen 115 (No. 66), Meier I 67 (No. 1); French: Sébillot France II 196, 345; Icelandic: Boberg.

However, there are also a lot of entries for "Water-spirit as man." For example:

F420.1.1. †F420.1.1. Water-spirit as man. Takelau (New Zealand): Beckwith Myth 150.

F420.1.1.1. †F420.1.1.1. Water-spirit appears as handsome man. German: Ebermann Elbsagen 93 (No. 55); French: Sébillot France II 409; Finnish-Swedish: Wessman 57 No. 487.

F420.1.1.2. †F420.1.1.2. Water-spirit appears as black man. German: Knoop 89 (No. 145), Sommert 108.

F420.1.1.3. †F420.1.1.3. Water-spirit as small gray man. Has green eyes and gray hair. Tobler 99.

F420.1.1.4. †F420.1.1.4. Water-spirit as man clothed in white and accompanied by a dozen attendants. Chinese: Werner 182.

Finally, there are equally as many entries for "Water-spirit as animal". There are actually too many examples for me to quote in this answer, but some examples are:

F420.1.3.2. †F420.1.3.2. Water-spirit as fish. Tobler 97; Icelandic: Boberg, German: Henne-Am Rhyn 113 (No. 216), Ebermann Elbsagen 74 (No. 39); French: Sébillot France II 196.

F420.1.3.3. †F420.1.3.3. Water-spirit as horse. England, Scotland, Ireland: Baughman; Icelandic: Boberg; Danish: Kristensen Danske Sagn (1893) 163ff., (1928) 112ff.; Norwegian: Solheim Register 17; Swedish: Hartmann 27; German: Künzig Badische 31 (No. 87), Karstens Sagen 79.

Finally, there is also "water spirit in abnormal form." Again, there are too many entries for me to list here, but a few examples are...

F420.1.4.5. †F420.1.4.5. Water-spirits with human body and webbed feet and hands. Tobler 98; German: Henne-Am Rhyn 113, Pröhle Deutsche Sagen 153 (No. 119); French: Sébillot France II 403.

F420.1.4.8. †F420.1.4.8. Water-spirits with green teeth. England: Baughman; German: Schöppner I 219--223, Schultze-Gallara 23; French: Sébillot France II 343 (green eyes).

So no, I wouldn't say that there is a "preponderance of seductive water nymphs in mythology." Women might be slightly more popular, but men, animals, and "abnormal forms" are also significantly represented.

  • Wow. ... I did not know of that Motif Index. Thank you very much!
    – Malady
    Dec 24 '15 at 0:55
  • @Malandy I didn't know about it either until today.
    – user62
    Dec 24 '15 at 1:03
  • How'd you find it?
    – Malady
    Dec 24 '15 at 1:44
  • @Malandy it was referenced in several papers I have been reading.
    – user62
    Dec 24 '15 at 18:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.