Germanic

Writers from the sixth century on, as noted in the last chapter, testify to the Germanic reverence for rivers, springs, and trees. Procopius (Bell. Goth. 2. 15. 23) reports that the people of Thule, by which is meant some part of Scandinavia, 'worship many gods and demons, celestial, aerial, terrestrial, and marine, as well as certain powers said to exist in the waters of springs and rivers'. His wording is too vague to reveal whether these powers manifested themselves in female human form. In later Germanic folklore there are water sprites of both sexes, the males being apparently more prominent.26

A tenth-century German source attests belief in 'agrestes feminae quas Silvaticas vocant'; they are said to show themselves at will to their lovers and take their pleasure with them, and again, as the fancy takes them, to vanish.27 These are clearly wood nymphs, with the same erotic proclivities as we have noted in nymphs of other nationalities. There are many later stories of wood spirits forming unions with mortal men.28

In north Germany and Scandinavia different types of tree were under the protection of different 'mothers' or 'ladies', who received offerings and prayers and whose permission had to be asked if a tree was to be cut: the Elder-Mother or Lady, the Ash Lady, the Alder Lady. In central Germany there were tree-spirits known as Holzfräulein, Waldfräulein, Moosweiblein, and the like.29 Their life was bound up with the life of the trees, and they could die in consequence of a woodcutter's assault.30

From the mass of material collected by Grimm and Mannhardt on women of the wild in Germanic lore I pick out a few further points. They can befuddle people's wits, making them lose their way in the forest or impairing their long-term sanity.31 They can be paragons of beauty, as implied by the Old Norse phrase fríd sem álfkona, 'lovely as an elf-woman'. On the other hand they are sometimes hairy all over, or covered with moss or foliage. In Unter Engadin (eastern Switzerland) the sprites known as Dialen were conceived to be good-looking and amiable but to have goat's legs, like Pan.32 In Danish legend the elf-women, who dance on the grass by moonlight, look

27 Burchard of Worms, Decreta 19. 5 (Patrología Latina cxl. 971c); cf. Mannhardt (1905), i. 113.

28 Cf. Mannhardt (1905), i. 79, 88, 102 f., 109, 112, 135, 152 f.

29 Grimm (1883-8), 432, 651 f.; Mannhardt (1905), i. 10 f., 74-86. Burchard's 'Silvaticae' may represent a vernacular name of this sort.

30 Mannhardt (1905), i. 75, cf. 69 (a Bohemian meadow spirit), 89, 91 n. 1 (Tirol), 124; an analogous story of an elf who resided in a tree-stump, 62 f.

young and attractive from the front, but seen from behind they are hollow like kneading-troughs.33

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