Saturday, May 16, 2015

Folklore of the 'Nix'

In my novel, the Saxon tribe of the Wolf Sons (who give their name to the book’s title - WULFSUNA) face a terrifying entity. What, you wonder, could put the fear into the hearts of several scores of burly Saxon warriors? Mortal enemies with swords and spears can be vanquished. Those foes do not frighten them. Even death, though often gruesome, is a fate greeted bravely, for it means acceptance to Woden’s great hall and a feast before the last great battle of the world. It is something far more sinister and foreboding that grips these men’s hearts with ice.

The Nix (one of various spellings) is also known as the River-horse, Brook-horse, Nymph, Mermaid, Silkie and Water-wyrm, among others. Their names, variations of Germanic and Scandinavian words for ‘to wash’ and ‘nude’, conjure up a plethora of images for these shape shifting water sirens that drag people to their death in rivers, lakes and seas. Some use merely their beauty, others use song or magic. Appearing as a white horse, naked women or mermaids, men and snakes no one, it would seem, is immune from their spell.
Although not all of the Germanic and Scandinavian tales portray them as evil beings, at least from the perspective of the Wulfsuna I wanted the dark aspect of these legendary creatures to negate the tribe’s want to retain such a beast among them. I wanted the ingrained folklore of these river witches to permeate the men’s innermost fears. From evil wenches dragging children to their watery deaths, to ethereal white horses that once upon their backs you cannot dismount as they dive into a lake to drown you, these were the nightmares I wanted to instil.

Siegfried rhinemaidens.jpg
'The Rhine Maidens Warn Siegfried' (1912) by Arthur Rackham
Even in modern times, tales and folklore abound with stories of mystical sea urchins that can lure men, not always to their doom, but certainly entice them towards an alternative destiny. Take for instance Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ or the Grimm’s Fairy Tales of ‘The Water Nix’ and ‘The Nixie of the Mill-Pond’. In 19th Century Germany the tale of ‘Lorelei’ was romanticised; a female siren that lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks beneath the river that bears her name. That name has become synonymous with seduction, as evidenced in the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ where Marylin Monroe’s ‘Lorelei’ can distract a man with a mere kiss!

I had much fun preparing research on this and delving into mythology and folklore surrounding all things pertaining to water sprites and rituals. It’s intriguing how much of this folklore remains today in our everyday lives. We still cannot pass a well or spring without tossing in a coin to appease the water spirits and making a wish to ward off evil. Burials are still carried out at sea for those who serve atop the waves of the oceans. These rites and rituals have been embedded in our psyche over millennia. We have only to consider archaeological sites such as Flag Fen, or Grendel’s mother in ‘Beowulf’ to realise how deep-seated water is as a connection to spirit. 

So when I wrote the part of Morwyneth the Seer wandering alone in the wilderness, a victim to nature’s elements, I knew her fate relied heavily on who would find her and their response to what they had discovered. Would they see a sodden young woman in need of assistance, or an evil seductress out to lure them into a trap?  If so, legends of hungry sea serpents, or equine spirits who carried the dead to the afterlife would be foremost in their minds. In a time when water was a link to the Otherworld, she could pose a very real and horrifying threat. Would they be intrigued by her beauty and fall under her spell, or would tales of the Nix make them keep their wits about them? If you'd like to find out, WULFSUNA is available in the following locations in paperback and eBook:

If you found this blog interesting, stay tuned as Morwyneth will be the subject of my next blog!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you have a favourite water tale? What resources do you find useful for research in historical fiction?


  1. Interesting post. Sky Alexander published a great book on Mermaids. In it were folklore and stories I had never heard before but were most intriguing and enlightening. These oral tradition stories are millennia old, and it is powerful that we still hear them today! Wulfsuna sounds like a fun book.

    1. Thank you Michelle. Yes, water sirens lie deep in our psyche the world over it seems! All cultures and continents have tales of varying kinds of mermaids. Just taken a look at Alexander's book - what a gorgeous cover! I'm constantly amazed at how centuries-old stories linger still in our modern day lives. I recently read a book on local folk stories from Worcestershire, England where even today, local horse owners will name a black horse 'dragon', which pertains to one of the old tales.

      Glad you like the sound of 'Wulfsuna'. If you like folklore, you'll find I've woven many ancient beliefs into the story ;-)