Celtic

Dedicatory inscriptions from Roman Spain and Gaul bear witness to many indigenous nymph cults, the Latin Nymphae being qualified by various local names. Probably no sharp distinction was made between these and the collectivities of Mothers whose popularity in these countries was noted in Chapter 3.34

In any case we must turn to later evidence before any clearer profile emerges. Guillaume d'Auvergne, Archbishop of Paris from 1228 to 1249, wrote of people being deluded by evil spirits who appeared sometimes in the likeness of girls or women, dressed in white, in groves and among leafy trees; sometimes they visited houses and stables, carrying wax tapers, and left drops of wax on horses' manes.35

French folklore tells of Green Women (Dames vertes) who dwell in the woods and may sometimes be heard there singing and calling out. They appear, singly or in groups, to travellers and lead them astray, enticing them into the deepest thickets, where they persecute them without mercy and lead them a merry dance.36

The korrigans of Breton lore are irresistibly beautiful creatures with golden hair, living in the ancient forest of Broceliande around wells, fountains, dolmens, and menhirs. They seduce mortal men and cause them to perish for love. The Manx lhiannan-shee likewise haunts wells and springs. She appears before a man, devastatingly beautiful, but unless he resists her charms she drains him body and soul. There are many Irish and Welsh stories of such supernatural females who take a mortal lover, perhaps marry him, but then leave him, often because he has broken an agreed condition, as in the Indian story of Pururuvas and Urvasl.37

The Welsh fairies known as the Fair Folk (y tylwyth teg) are often associated with lakes, especially Llyn y Fan Fach in south Wales. They have fair hair, and are liable to claim fair-haired children as their own.38

34 Vendryes (1948), 278; cf. F. Heichelheim, RExvii. 1581-99.

35 Guilielmus Alvernus, Opera Omnia, i (Paris 1674), 1066G, quoted by Grimm (1883-8), 287.

37 James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford-New York 1998), 256, 179 f.

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