Necker, Nek, Neker, Nicker, Nicor, Nihhus, Nikke, Nix, Nixe, Nixie, Nykk, Nykr, Nyx, Nøkken
Binames: Fossegrim, Grim, Rhine maidens
Swedish names: Bäckahästen, Bäckamannen, Forskarl, Kvarngubbe, Nick, Nöck, Nock, Nåck, Näcken, Strömkarlen
The Neck/Nixie (English) or the Nix/Nixe/Nyx (German) are shapeshifting water spirits who usually appear in human form. The spirit has appeared in the myths and legends of all Germanic peoples in Europe.
Though in recent times such creatures have usually been depicted as manlike in shape (albeit in many cases shape-shifting), the English Knucker is generally depicted as a wyrm or dragon, thus attesting to the survival of the other usage as any 'water-being' rather than an exclusively humanoid creature.
Their sex, binames, and various animal-like transformations vary geographically. The German Nix and his Scandinavian counterparts are males. The German Nixe or Nixie is a female river mermaid.
Names and etymology
In Norway, Theodor Kittelsen's Nøkken from 1904 is equally famous.The names are held to derive from Common Germanic nikwus or nikwis(i), derived from PIE neigw ('wash').It is related to Sanskrit n?nekti ('wash'), Greek nízo and nípto, and Irish nigther.
The form neck appears in English and Swedish (näcken or nek), where the Swedish form is derived from Old Swedish neker, which corresponds to Old Icelandic nykr (gen. nykrs), and nykk in New Norwegian. In Old Danish, the form was nikke and in modern Danish and Norwegian Bokmål it is nøk, nøkke. The Icelandic word nykr is also used for hippopotamus.
In Middle Low German, it was called necker and in Middle Dutch nicker. The Old High German form nihhus also meant 'crocodile', while the Old English nicor could mean both a 'water monster' and a 'hippopotamus'.
Common bynames are the Swedish strömkarlen and the Norwegian fossegrim. Since the Scandinavian version can transform himself into a horse-like kelpie, he is also called Bäckahästen (the 'brook horse'). In Germany where they mainly appear as female, they are also called Rhine maidens.
In the English county of Sussex, there are said to dwell "water-wyrms" called knuckers. The Word knucker is derived from the Old English nicor.
English folklore contains many creatures with similarities to the Nix or Näck these Necks include Jenny Greenteeth, the Shellycoat, Peg Powler, the Bäckahästen-like Brag, and the Grindylow.
The Scandinavian näcken, nøkk, strömkarl, Grim or Fosse-Grim were male water spirits who played enchanted songs on the violin, luring women and children to drown in lakes or streams. However, not all of these spirits were necessarily malevolent; in fact, many stories exist that indicate at the very least that Fossegrim were entirely harmless to their audience and attracted not only women and children, but men as well with their sweet songs. Stories also exist wherein the Fossegrim agreed to live with a human who had fallen in love with him, but many of these stories ended with the Fossegrim returning to his home, usually a nearby waterfall or brook. Fossegrim are said to grow despondent if they do not have free, regular contact with a water source.
If properly approached, he will teach a musician to play so adeptly "that the trees dance and waterfalls stop at his music". The fiddler, who learnt to play of Näcken, could, when playing dance music, become so enthralled by a mysterious force he could not stop play and lost his mind. It was equally enchanting and dangerous for those who danced, they could'nt stop either. The spell could only be broken if one of the involved destroyed the violin by cutting the strings or smashing it.
It is difficult to describe the actual appearance of the nix, as one of his central attributes was thought to be shapeshifting. Perhaps he did not have any true shape. He could show himself as a man playing the violin in brooks and waterfalls (though often imagined as fair and naked today, in actual folklore he was more frequently wearing more or less elegant clothing) but also could appear to be treasure or various floating objects or as an animal - most commonly in the form of a "brook horse" (see below). The modern Scandinavian names are derived from an Old Norse nykr, meaning 'river horse'. Thus, likely the brook horse preceded the personification of the nix as the "man in the rapids". Fossegrim and derivatives were almost always portrayed as especially beautiful young men, whose clothing (or lack thereof) varied widely from story to story.
The enthralling music of the nix was most dangerous to women and children, especially pregnant women and unbaptised children. He was thought to be most active during Midsummer's Night, on Christmas Eve and on Thursdays. However, these superstitions do not necessarily relate to all the versions listed here, and many if not all of them were developed after the Christianizing of the Northern countries, as were similar stories of faeries and other entities in other areas.
When malicious nix attempted to carry off people, they could be defeated by calling their name; this, in fact, would be the death of them. If you brought the nix a treat of three drops of blood, a black animal, some brännvin (Scandinavian vodka) or snus (wet snuff) dropped into the water, he would teach you his enchanting form of music.
The nix was also an omen for drowning accidents. He would scream at a particular spot in a lake or river, in a way reminiscent of the loon, and on that spot a fatality would later take place.
In the later Romantic folklore and folklore-inspired stories of the 19th century, the nix sings about his loneliness and his longing for salvation, which he purportedly never shall receive, as he is not "a child of God." In a poem by Swedish poet E. J. Stagnelius, a little boy pities the fate of the nix, and so saves his own life. In the poem, arguably Stagnelius' most famous, the boy says that the Näck will never be a "child of God" which brings "tears to his face" as he "never plays again in the silvery brook."
In Scandinavia, water lilies are called "nix roses" (näckrosor/nøkkeroser). A tale from the forest of Tiveden relates of how the forest had its unique red water lilies through the intervention of the nix:
At the lake of Fagertärn, there was once a poor fisherman who had a beautiful daughter. The small lake gave little fish and the fisherman had difficulties providing for his little family. One day, as the fisherman was fishing in his little dugout of oak, he met the Nix, who offered him great catches of fish on the condition that the fisherman gave him his beautiful daughter the day she was eighteen years old. The desperate fisherman agreed and promised the Nix his daughter. The day the girl was eighteen she went down to the shore to meet the Nix. The Nix gladly asked her to walk down to his watery abode, but the girl took forth a knife and said that he would never have her alive, then stuck the knife into her heart and fell down into the lake, dead. Then, her blood coloured the water lilies red, and from that day the water lilies of some of the lake's forests are red.
Bäckahästen or bækhesten (translated as the brook horse) is a mythological horse in Scandinavian folklore. It has a close parallel in the Scottish kelpie. In Nordic mythology and folklore of Skåne (the southern part of Sweden), the brook spirit or Näcken was an insidious predator who tricked children to ride on its back. The children, who think the horse is beautiful, wants to ride it an no matter how many children there are, its back became longer the more children who sat on it. To prevent a Bäckahäst to drown its riders, throw a piece of steel between the horse and the water, then it can not go that way and its power is broken.
It was often described as a majestic white horse that would appear near rivers, particularly during foggy weather. Anyone who climbed onto its back would not be able to get off again. The horse would then jump into the river, drowning the rider. The brook horse could also be harnessed and made to plough, either because it was trying to trick a person or because the person had tricked the horse into it. The following tale is a good illustration of the brook horse:
A long time ago, there was a girl who was not only pretty but also big and strong. She worked as a maid on a farm by Lake Hjärtasjön in southern Nerike. She was ploughing with the farm's horse on one of the fields by the lake. It was springtime and beautiful weather. The birds chirped and the wagtails flitted in the tracks of the girl and the horse in order to pick worms. All of a sudden, a horse appeared out of the lake. It was big and beautiful, bright in colour and with large spots on the sides. The horse had a beautiful mane which fluttered in the wind and a tail that trailed on the ground. The horse pranced for the girl to show her how beautiful he was.
The girl, however, knew that it was the brook horse and ignored it. Then the brook horse came closer and closer and finally he was so close that he could bite the farm horse in the mane. The girl hit the brook horse with the bridle and cried:"Disappear you scoundrel, or you'll have to plough so you'll never forget it."
As soon as she had said this, the brook horse had changed places with the farm horse, and the brook horse started ploughing the field with such speed that soil and stones whirled in its wake, and the girl hung like a mitten from the plough. Faster than the cock crows seven times, the ploughing was finished and the brook horse headed for the lake, dragging both the plough and the girl. But the girl had a piece of steel in her pocket, and she made the sign of the cross. Immediately she fell down on the ground, and she saw the brook horse disappear into the lake with the plough. She heard a frustrated neighing when the brook horse understood that his trick had failed. Until this day, a deep track can be seen in the field.
The German Nix and Nixe (and Nixie) are types of river merman and mermaid who may lure men to drown, like the Scandinavian type, akin to the Celtic Melusine and similar to the Greek Siren. The German epic Nibelungenlied mentions the Nix in connection with the Danube, as early as 1180 to 1210.
Nixes in folklore became water sprites who try to lure people into the water. The males can assume many different shapes, including that of a human, fish, and snake. The females are beautiful women with the tail of a fish. When they are in human forms, they can be recognized by the wet hem of their clothes. The Nixes are considered as malignant in some quarters, but as harmless and friendly in others.
By the 19th century Jacob Grimm mentions the Nixie to be among the "water-sprites" who love music, song and dancing, and says "Like the sirens, the Nixie by her song draws listening youth to herself, and then into the deep." According to Grimm, they can appear human but have the barest hint of animal features: the nix had "a slit ear", and the Nixie "a wet skirt". Grimm thinks these could symbolize they are "higher beings" who could shapeshift to animal form.
One famous Nixe of German folklore was Lorelei. According to the legend, she sat on the rock at the Rhine which now bears her name, and lured fishermen and boatmen to the dangers of the reefs with the sound of her voice. In Switzerland there is a legend (myth) of a sea-maid or Nixe that lived in lake Zug (the lake is in the Canton of Zug).
The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang includes a story called "The Nixie of the Mill-Pond" in which a malevalent spirit that lives in a mill pond strikes a deal with the miller that she will restore his wealth in exchange for his son. This story is taken from the Tales of Grimm.
The legend of Heer Halewijn, a dangerous lord who lures women to their deaths with a magic song, may have originated with the Nix.
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