In ancient Greece, they were called “Nymphs”. In modern Greek folklore, they are known as “Neraides”. Described as “extraordinarily beautiful”, neraides are supernatural beings associated with the elements of nature. But who are they exactly? Are they nice or dangerous?
In a previous video, we discussed the modern Greek legend of the “Kallikantzaroi”, the Greek Christmas trolls. Today, we will explore another folktale, the one of Greek fairies.
From Nymphs to Neraides
Apart from heroes and Olympian gods and goddesses, ancient Greek myths involve different mythical creatures, including fairies. Ancient Greek fairies were called “nymphs”. According to various legends, nymphs were very beautiful women who were related to gods, such as Zeus and Hermes. But they were also mortals. Nymphs often resided in sacred trees that people treated with great respect. These trees looked extraordinary and wise. When a nymph died, her tree also did.
Nymphs were divided into different subgroups:
- Meliae, were the ash tree nymphs;
- Dryads, were the oak tree nymphs;
- Naiads, were the freshwater nymphs;
- Nereids, were the sea nymphs;
- Oreads, were the mountain nymphs.
There are countless stories featuring nymphs in ancient Greek mythology. Hylas, Hercules’ friend, was accidentally drowned by a nymph named Ephydatia who fell in love with him, hugged him, and dragged him down a lake, causing him to suffocate. Daphne is another well-known nymph; god Apollon was once chasing her in the woods, when the gods fell pity for her and transformed her into the plant with the same name. Nymphs would also spend a lot of time with the male nature spirits, the satyrs, who would often chase them into the woods.
As time passed by, nymphs started being called “neraides” and started being associated with the fairies of western European folklore. Since neraides are associated to nature, in Medieval times they were thought to be pagan deities.
Are Greek Fairies Dangerous?
Neraides are generally not considered evil but rather playful and sometimes mischievous. However, in some parts of Greece, they were often feared and there are countless stories across the country that present neraides as dangerous.
For example, in the Cyclades, such as Mykonos, the fairies of the wind dance in circles around midday, causing people to have sunstrokes and get dizzy. In other places, neraides may grab you to dance with them, which may result in you losing your senses, your voice, or even your ability to think clearly. A person who returned home from the woods looking dizzy and confused was often called “neraidoparmenos” (abducted by fairies).
In other parts of Greece, neraides manage to get into people’s homes and search for new dresses to steal. A soon-to-be-bride should be very careful at night. In some Greek villages, it is believed that bridal gowns that are not stored in wardrobes during the night can be stolen by the neraides. Neraides can also “steal” young men who wonder alone in nature. They will flirt with them and lead them into different realms. If the men return, they are not the same anymore.
This fear for the neraides often stems from the transition from paganism to Christianity, which often led people to associate mythological creatures to demonic entities.
Folktales from Greece: Married to a Neraida
The most common folktale from modern Greece, however, is that of the Neraida who got tricked into marrying a mortal man. Greek fairies normally like to roam freely away from busy towns and cities. They prefer staying with their own kind and dance and play by streams, lakes, and rivers. They sometimes flirt with mortal men but they never want to settle down.
According to some local legends, neraides usually hide their silky hair under a thin veil that supposedly holds some of their powers. If a man manages to grab the fairy’s veil while dancing with her, she is then bound to stay with him. He can ask her to marry him and she has to follow him home. A very common Greek folktale that you can hear in every Greek village goes as follows:
Once upon a time, there was young man who fell in love with a beautiful woman he met in the woods. The woman was a neraida and was not planning on getting married and moving to the world of humans. But the man, let’s call him Alexis, was determined to marry the neraida.
An elder man told Alexis that a neraida can be captured by stealing her veil. Her veil holds all her supernatural powers. Without it, she cannot disappear, fly away, or transform herself into a tree. After hearing this, Alexis run deep into the forest and watched the fairies dance in circles. He waited for the right moment and as soon as the girl he liked turned her back to him, he grabbed her veil.
That is when the neraida realized that all her powers were now in the hands of the mortal man. She agreed to marry Alexis and followed him to his house. Although hesitant at first, the neraida started liking her new life. She and Alexis had many children together and she made many new friends in the village.
Ten years had passed and the woman seemed very happy in her marriage. One night there was a big celebration in the village. Alexis’ wife wanted to dance but she suggested to use her veil that her husband was still hiding from her for “no reason” all those years.
“We’ve been married for so long and you still don’t trust me. Just let me wear my veil for once”, the fairy told him.
Alexis realized what a fool he was for believing that his wife would try to leave now after being happily married for years and after giving birth to their children. He went into the house and unlocked a cupboard in which he kept her veil. He handed it to her with a smile and saw her dance like never before. She was glowing from happiness. As soon as the dance stopped, he blinked for a second and saw his wife disappear in front of his eyes. He never saw her again. The fairy was waiting all those years for her opportunity to flee.
This story varies from place to place, however, it narrates the story of a man who tricked a fairy into marrying him and ended up all alone in the end. A neraida will always wait for the opportunity to return to her world, far away from humans. In some villages, you may find people who may tell you that they are descendants of such fairies who were tricked into marrying a mortal man.
Are their stories real or fake? What do you believe?
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