Monday, 3 March 2014

The Nymphs

Nymphoi are female spirits of the natural world and considered minor goddesses by some.  They are the guardians and sculptors of nature and are responsible for not only the growth and well-being of the earth, but its beauty as well.  Streams, caves, valleys, springs, groves; even individual trees are said to have a residing Nymphai; and though not immortal, they are very long-lived and often reside on Mt. Olympos with the heavenly gods. The word ‘nymphe’ means bride, still Nymphoi are rarely described as being married, it is perhaps a reference to their potential at becoming the wives, nurses, lovers and mothers of gods and heroes, many of whom  and are of great importance in Greek myth, religion and genealogy.  They are also the companions and counterparts to the wild male nature spirits such as the Kentauroi, Satyroi and Panes who are near-constantly chasing after them.  They are often depicted or referred to as bees and honey is one of their favorite offerings.  They are well known for their healing abilities, gifts of inspiration and eloquence and their prophetic and divinatory powers. 

There are countless Nymphoi, some believe each tree, each rock, each stream has their own connected to it, and while most are not named in myth some do figure prominently.  Ekho, who fled from Pan and fell in love with Narcissus; Eurydike, the wife of Orpheus who died and was almost given a second life; Thetis, the Okeanid mother of Akhilles and Mintha; the lover of Haides and there are countless more Nymphoi who have small or large roles in the mythic history of the Greek religion.

Worship of the nymphs was very integral to Greek religion, a person would respect all the gods but may have a closer relationship with the numerous Nymphoi of their local surroundings, the beings who effect their day-to-day lives.  They may also pay cultus to a Nymphoi ancestress or to an important nymph from myth and lore that was reputed to come from near-by locations. 

There were also people who devoted their entire lives to the Nymphoi; men who spied the spirits dancing in the sunlight would become entranced with serving them.  These hermit-mystics, called nympholepts would build and maintain shrines and holy places for the Nymphoi, pour them libations, bring offerings of honey, jewelry, shells and astragaloi (the knucklebones used in divination). They would develop a deep relationship with their Nympai and would refer to them as sisters, wives and lovers.  The role brought with it heighten senses, eloquence and divinatory skills.  Some however, viewed the relationship as an illness, a madness brought on by possession.   

There are many categories and sub-categories of Nymphoi in the Greek religion, though none are without some flexibility.  An Okeanid may also be a classified as a goddess or even a titan; a Naiad worshiped as the spirit of a prophetic springs as well as the dryad of the tree which grows from it.  Some Nymphoi may not belong to any class and simply called the Nymphai daughter of a god; others are part of groups that hold particular places in myth and cult and receive special titles such as the Hesperides and Heliads and Horae while still others are the followers of a specific deity and receive titles to indicate their presence in their retinue, this includes the Amnisiades, sixty virgin-followers of Artemis and the Maenads, followers of Dionusos.
The oldest of all of the Nymphai, the Okeanides are the three-thousand daughters of Okeanos, the vast fresh-water river that encircles the world and Tethys the protogenoi (first-born being that emerged from Khaos at the dawn of time) of all fresh water that ran under the earth.   They are responsible for the sources of all fresh water on the earth.   They often act as attendants of goddesses (Klymene, for example is a handmaiden of Hera and Peitho of Aphrodite), nurses of the gods (Thetis fostered both Hera and Hephaistos) and nurses of nature itself.  They are also often married to Potamoi (river-gods) and are mothers to many other types of nymphs.
Types of Okeanides include: 
·         Nephelai- the Okeanides of rain-clouds. They rose up Okeanos daily carrying fresh water to the skies in their pitchers made of clouds and used the water to fill the rivers and water the earth.
·         Aurai- the Okeanides of cool, moist breezes and daughters of the Anemoi (the winds).
·         Boukoloi- (often merged with Epimelides) are Okeanides of grassy pastures andwho fed and protected herds of the cattle, sheep and goats and were good friends of shepherds.  These Nymphai have snow white hair and are also the guardian of          apples and fruit trees.  (The word ‘melos’ in means both fruit-tree and sheep.)
·         Hekaterides- the Okeanides of country dance (possibly non-temple based fertility rituals).
·         Leimonides- Okeanides of flowery meadows.
·         Anthousai- Okeanides of flowers.
o       Leiriopids- are Anthousai of lilies
o       Ionides- are Anthousai of violets
o       Rhodes- are Anthousai of roses
·         Alsaeids-  Okeanides of valleys.
·         Echidnae -  snake tailed protectors of the vinyard
·         Naiades- (also called Hydriades) are the Okeanides of the earthly sources of   fresh-water.  Many are daughters of the various Potamoi and husband of mortal kings and heroes and were very important in the family trees of the royal houses    of the Greek world; others became the wives of gods.  Many sons of Naiades founded cities or islands and named them for their mothers.
There are sub-categories of Naiades as well:
o       Pegaiai- the Naiades of springs who are worshipped for their gifts of healing and poetic inspiration. 
o       Krinaiai- the Naiades of fountains.
o       Potameides- the Naiades of rivers and streams.
o       Limnades or Limnatides, the Naiades of lakes.
o       Eleionomai , the Naiades of marshes.
o       Avernales, the Naiades of the underground rivers.
o       Heleionomi, Naiades of the Marches
Dryades are the Nymphai of trees and forests; some Dryades are Naiads and are worshiped as the tree that sprouts from the banks of rivers and springs.  The Dryades are long lived but not immortal and lived only so long as their tree survives. 
There are several classes of Dryades:
·         Oreiades- the Dryades of the high mountain forest, especially mountain pine and ash. 
·         Meliai- the Dryades of the ash-trees who were born when the blood of castrated Ouranos fell upon the earth.  These Nymphai married the men of the Silver Age and birthed the Bronze Age men who were violent and crafted spears from their mother’s branches.  They are likely the same as the Melissae, Nymphai of honey and honey bees.
·         Alseides – nymphs of sacred groves
·         Aulonides – nymphs of glens
·         Napaiai – nymphs of vales
·         Hamadryades- the Dryades of poplar and oak trees. 
·         Maliades (or Epimelides)- the Dryades of apple trees and other fruit trees.
·         Daphnaie- are the Dryades of laurel trees.
·         Aigeiroi- are the Dryades of black poplar.
·         Ameploi- are the Dryades of grape vines.
·         Balanis- are the Dryades of acorns.
·         Karyai- are the Dryades of hazels.   
·         Kraneiai- are the Dryades of cherry-trees.   
·         Moreai- are the Dryades of mulberry bushes.
·         Pteleai- are the Dryades of elms.
·         Sykei- are the Dryades of fig trees.
·         Pterides- are the Dryades of ferns
Haliai are the Nymphai of the sea and shoreline, waves, fish, sea-caves, and beaches.  Most are daughters of sea gods, though some may be the daughters of Okeanos – these Haliai would guide fresh-water through the salty sea.  Haliai were often in the retinue of sea gods and rode upon dolphins, Ketoi (sea-monsters) or fish tailed animals (including Hippokampoi, fish-tailed horses; Aigikampoi, fish-tailed goats; Leokampoi, fish-tailed lions; Pardalokampoi, fish-tailed leopards and Taurokampoi, fish-tailed bulls).
·         Nereides are the fifty Haliai daughters of Nereus and Doris (they are also called the Doriads after her) two ancient sea deities.  The Nereides are shape-shifters and often aided fishermen and sailors and were especially worshiped in port towns. 
Lampades are the Nymphai of the underworld and are torchbearers in the retinue of Persephone and Hekate and other chthonic deities.  Many were daughters of the underground river gods.
Asteriai are the Nymphai of the stars. Many, such as the Pleiades and Hyades, (both groups being daughters of the Titan Atlas).

  • Astra, are the Asteriai of the wandering stars (planets).
  • Astrothesiai, are the Asteriai of constellations.
    • Zodiakos, are Astrothesia of the zodiac constellations. 

Menai are the nymphs of the fifty lunar months in the four year Olympiad and are the daughters Selene conceived by the sleeping Endymion.

Male Nature Spirits
There are also many male nature spirits in the Greek religion, most often being hybrids of animals and humans.  They are generally very lusty creatures and spend most of their time chasing Nymphai and women.  In art they are generally seen sporting giant phalli and represent the active aspects of nature’s fertility. 

  • Kentauroi- a tribe of creature that are men from the waist up with the lower bodies and four legs of horses, sometimes with pointed ears and snub noses.  They are often rowdy and savage creatures, though some were wise and civilized teachers.  The word Kentauroi may break down into the equivalent of ‘cow-boy’ and it may be that the Kentaur of myth had a precursor in an early nomadic herding culture.   
    • Kyprian Kentauroi- the bull horned Kentaurs in the train of Dionusos.  They were born when Zeus’ semen fell upon Kyprus in his attempt to seduce Aphrodite. There are female Kentaurs (called Kentaurides)though they are rarely mentioned in myth. Some murals have shown them in the train of Dionusos with infant Kentaurs chasing after them, or being defended by Kentaurs as wild animals attack. 
    • Ikhthyokentauroi, two Kentaurs with fish tails instead of hind legs and lobster- claw horns on their foreheads. 
  • Satyroi- rustic spirits of the countryside.  They are often seen in the retinue of Dionusos, Rhea, Hermes, Gaia, and in the company of Nymphoi.  They are men with the tail of a horse, the ears of a donkey and upturned pug  noses.  The name Satyroi seems to come from the phrase ‘moving to and fro in the wine trough’ and they were probably the mask men who crushed the grapes which were used to make wine.
    • Seilenoi are elderly Satyroi and were often seen in the retinue of Dionusos, they are the sons of Seilenos and fathers of Satyroi and Oreiades.
    • Satyriskoi- are child Satyroi
  • Paniskoi - "little Pans"; half goat, half man
         o Panes- sons of the god Pan.  Many of the Panes were attendants and  
          messengers of Dionusos and Hermes and other rustic gods.
  • Tritones – fish or dolphin tailed Daemons of the sea.  Most were similar to the son of Poseidon, Triton though some had viscous teeth, red eyes and seaweed hair.  There are images of tritonesses as well, though these are rare

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