Common Names: Rhine Maidens, Rhine Maidens, naiads, river spirits, nymphs, sirens, nixies, nixen
Habitat: – Found in Germanic fairy lore. Attributed to the Rhine River of Germany.
Description: Rhine Maidens are water spirits known along rivers, especially the Rhine River in Germany, that protect children. The most popular myths depicts them as three sisters – water nymphs known as the “Rheintöchter” or “Rhine Daughters” most classically famous from the Richard Wagner’s opera cycle called “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. These sisters are named Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Floßhilde (Flosshilde) which were inspired by Wagner from myths and legends of the Nibelungenlied involving water nymphs, sprites, nixies, and mermaids. The tale tells that these river guardians along the Rhine were in charge of the golden treasures and through the renunciation of love had their gold stolen from them leading to world domination. Much of the myth today is influenced by Wagner’s works. They appear in the beginning and towards the end of his four opera cycle beginning in Das Rheingold and then in Götterdämmerung.
These German Nixen (Nixies) or Water Sprites were known to appear very innocent but with a range of sophisticated emotions. They are seductive, elusive, flirty, and enchanting. No one seems to know of their origin. Unlike much of the mythos they appear in, they do not originate from the Prose Edda (Iceland’s source for Norse Mythology), but rather from much older European based folklore. Sometimes they are described with siren and selchie traits, similarities to mermaids and naiads, but otherwise as shape-shifting seductive wise women found bathing and basking along the Rhine River or the Danube River nude. Much drama and trickery is mixed in the tales surrounding their stories which led to the creation of the modern day opera. Some say their existence was influenced by the German legend of Loreli – the lovelorn maiden who drowns herself in a river and becomes a siren luring fishermen to their deaths. Other similarities to Greek myths of the nymphs and naiads. Parallels of the Rhinemaidens of Das Rheingold to the Hesperides myth are extraordinary relating to three females guarding a golden treasure that ends up stolen. Most attribute them as daughters of the Rhine River. In the story telling they are however not destroyed by the fires at the end of Götterdämmerung but rather just swim away joyously in the river with their found treasure. They are said to have the good nature of the Oceanids (being helpful) and the austerity of the daughters of Ægir (willing to drown people). A mystical ring that belongs to the treasure was supposedly imbued with the powers to allow its wearer the ability to rule the world – but was cursed until the stolen gold was returned to the Rhine’s Maidens. In 1933 they were depicted on a postage stamp designed by Alois Kolb for use in the Third Reich. From the 19th-20th century they have been a highlight in Opera, theater, and the arts.
For more German Faeries, visit our German Faeries page.
Article by Leaf McGowan, Thomas Baurley, Technogypsie Productions: http://www.technogypsie.com
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Rhine’s fair children, bewailing their lost gold, weep. Arthur Rackham, from The Rhinegold & the Valkyrie, by Richard Wagner, London, 1910
- Terreno, Bella 2006-2008 “Mystical Myth: Germanic Faeries”. Website referenced 1/25/2014 at http://www.bellaterreno.com/art/german/germanfairies.aspx.
- Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia undated “The Rhine Maidens”. Website referenced 1/20/14 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhinemaidens.
“Though gaily ye may laugh, In grief ye shall be left, For, mocking maids, this ring Ye ask shall never be yours.” (Art by Arthur Rackham – from ‘Siegfried & The Twilight Of The Gods’ by Richard Wagner, London, 1911).