THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY

Nixes

Kennt ihr der Nixen, munt're Schaar?
Von Auge schwarz und grün von Haar
Sie lauscht am Schilfgestade.
MATTHISSON.
Know you the Nixes, gay and fair?
Their eyes are black, and green their hair--
They lurk in sedgy shores.

   The Nixes, or Water-people, inhabit lakes and rivers. The man is like any other man, only he has green teeth. He also wears a green hat. The female Nixes appear like beautiful maidens. On fine sunny days they may be seen sitting on the banks, or on the branches of the trees, combing their long golden locks. When any person is shortly to be drowned, the Nixes may be previously seen dancing on the surface of the water. They inhabit a magnificent region below the water, whither they sometimes convey mortals. A girl from a village near Leipzig was one time at service in the house of a Nix. She said that everything there was very good; all she had to complain of was that she was obliged to eat her food without salt. The female Nixes frequently go to the market to buy meat: they are always dressed with extreme neatness, only a corner of their apron or some other part of their clothes is wet. The man has also occasionally gone to market. They are fond of carrying off women whom they make wives of, and often fetch an earthly midwife to assist at their labour. Among the many tales of the Nixes we select the following:--

The Peasant And The Waterman

   A Water-Man once lived on good terms with a peasant who dwelt not far from his lake. He often visited him, and at last begged that the peasant would visit him in his house under the water. The peasant consented, and went down with him. There was everything down under the water as in a stately palace on the land,--halls, chambers, and cabinets, with costly furniture of every description. The Water-man led his guest over the whole, and showed him everything that was in it. They came at length to a little chamber, where were standing several new pots turned upside down. The peasant asked what was in them. "They contain," was the reply, "the souls of drowned people, which I put under the pots and keep them close, so that they cannot get away. " The peasant made no remark, and he came up again on the land. But for a long time the affair of the souls continued to give him great trouble, and be watched to find when the Water-man should be from home. When this occurred, as he had marked the right way down, he descended into the water-house, and, having made out the little chamber, he turned up all the pots one after another, and immediately the souls of the drowned people ascended out of the water, and recovered their liberty.1

The Water-Smith

   There is a little lake in Westphalia called the Darmssen, from which the peasants in the adjacent village of Epe used to hear all through the night a sound as if of hammering upon an anvil. People who were awake used also to see something in the middle of the lake. They got one time into a boat and went to it, and there they found that it was a smith, who, with his body raised over the water, and a hammer in his hand, pointed to an anvil, and bid the people bring him something to forge. Prom that time forth they brought iron to him, and no people had such good plough-irons as those of Epe.
   One time as a man from this village was getting reeds at the Darmssen, be found among them a little child that was rough all over his body. The smith cried out, "Don't take away my son!" but the man put the child on his back, and ran home with it. Since that time the smith has never more been seen or heard. The man reared the Roughy, and he became the cleverest and best lad in the place. But when he was twenty years old he said to the farmer, "Farmer, I must leave you. My father has called me!" "I am sorry for that," said the farmer. "Is there no way that you could stay with me?" "I will see about it," said the water-child. "Do you go to Braumske and fetch me a little sword; but you must give the seller whatever he asks for it, and not haggle about it." The farmer went to Braumske and bought the sword; but he haggled, and got something off the price. They now went together to the Darmssen, and the Roughy said, "Now mind. When I strike the water, if there comes up blood, I must go away; but if there comes milk, then I may stay with you." He struck the water, and there came neither milk nor blood. The Roughy was annoyed, and said, "You have been bargaining and haggling, and so there comes neither blood nor milk. Go off to Braumske and buy another sword." The farmer went and returned; but it was not till the third time that he bought a sword without haggling. When the Roughy struck the water with this it became as red as blood, and he threw himself into the lake, and never was seen more.2

The Working Waterman

   At Seewenweiher, in the Black-Forest, a little Water-man (Seemänlein) used to come and join the people, work the whole day long with them, and in the evening go back into the lakes. They used to set his breakfast and dinner apart for him. When, in apportioning the work, the rule of "Not too much and not too little" was infringed, he got angry, and knocked all the things about. Though his clothes were old and worn, he steadily refused to let the people get him new ones. But when at last they would do so, and one evening the lake-man was presented with a new coat, be said, "When one is paid off, one must go away. After this day I'II come no more to you." And, unmoved by the excuses of the people, he never let himself be seen again.3

The Nix Labour

   A midwife related that her mother was one night called up, and desired to make haste and come to the aid of a woman in labour. It was dark, but notwithstanding she got up and dressed herself, and went down, where she found a man waiting. She begged of him to stay till she should get a lantern, and she would go with him; but he was urgent, said he would show her the way without a lantern, and that there was no fear of her going astray.
   He then bandaged her eyes, at which she was terrified, and was going to cry out; but he told her she was in no danger, and might go with him without any apprehension. They accordingly went away together, and the woman remarked that he struck the water with a rod, and that they went down deeper and deeper till they came to a room, in which there was no one but the lying-in woman.
   Her guide now took the bandage off her eyes, led her up to the bed, and recommending her to his wife, went away. She then helped to bring the babe into the world, put the woman to bed, washed the babe, and did everything that was requisite.
   The woman, grateful to the midwife, then secretly said to her: "I am a Christian woman as well as you; and I was carried off by a Water-man, who changed me. Whenever I bring a child into the world he always eats it on the third. day. Come on the third day to your pond, and you will see the water turned to blood. When my husband comes in now and offers you money, take no more from him than you usually get, or else he will twist your neck. Take good care!"
   Just then the husband came in. He was in a great passion, and he looked all about; and when he saw that all had gone on properly he bestowed great praise on the midwife. He then threw a great heap of money on the table, and said, "Take as much as you will!" She, however, prudently answered, "I desire no more from you than from others, and that is a small sum. If you give me that I am content; if you think it too much, I ask nothing from you but to take me home again. " "It is God," says he, "has directed you to say that." He paid her then the sum she mentioned, and conducted her home honestly. She was, however, afraid to go to the pond at the appointed day.

   There are many other tales in Germany of midwives, and even ladies of rank, who have been called in to assist at Nix or Dwarf labours. The Ahnfrau von Ranzau, for example, and the Frau von Alvensleben--the Ladies Bountiful of Germany--were waked up in the night to attend the little women in their confinement.4 There is the same danger in touching anything in the Dwarf as in the Nix abodes, but the Dwarfs usually bestow rings and other articles, which will cause the family to flourish. We have seen tales of the same kind in Scandinavia, and shall meet with them in many other countries.

NOTES:

1. This legend seems to be connected with the ancient idea of the water-deities taking the souls of drowned persons to themselves. In the Edda, this is done by the sea-goddess Ran.
2. Grimm, ut sup. p. 463.
3. Grimm, ut sup. p. 453.
4. A tale of this kind is to be seen in Luther's Table-talk, told by die frau doctorin, his wife. The scene of it was the river Mulda.