The Nymphai

Blessing: Invariably depicted as female, the Nymphai are the spirits of wild, natural places: oceans, rivers, streams, springs, caves, mountains, meadows, forests, grottoes and even individual trees. In the ancient world, offerings and prayers were made to the Nymphai to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery; they were (and are) considered to be Deities (or spirits) of midwifery. Some Nymphai (such as the Okeanids) are also gifted with prophecy. The Nymphai may also be approached in matters of the heart. Nymphai are also known to attach themselves to particular families, most especially family lines which they start (it was not uncommon in the ancient world for royal and noble families to claim descent from the nymph of the local spring, well, mountain, et cetera). The Nymphai, as free spirits, are also known to be fond of dance and song.

Varieties of Nymphs: Ancient authors loved to make lists, and there are many lists of the different types of nymphs; the lists do not all agree. A few of the more well-known varieties include The Anthousai (flowers), Bakkhai (companions of Dionysus), Dryades (tree), Epimelides (highland pastures), Haliai (sea and shore), Krenaiai (wells and fountains), Lampades (Underworld companions of Persephone and Hekate), Melissai (honey and bees), Naiades (freshwater sources such as rivers, streams, springs, lakes, et cetera), Nereides (the fifty Haliai daughters of Nereus), Okeanides (all fresh water, both terrestrial and heavenly), and Oreiades (mountains). 

Subcategories of nymphs are also included in many of the old lists. For example, Hamadryades are the Dryads of oak trees, while Meliai are the Dryades of ash trees. The Amnisiades are the Naiades of the river Amnisos on Crete and companions of Artemis, while the Nysiades, Oreads of Mount Nysa, are companions of Dionysus.

Among the more well-known individual Nymphai are Beroe (from which Beirut derives its name), Daphne (a Naiad transformed into a laurel tree), Doris (the Okeanid mother of the fifty Nereides), Echo (an Oreiad of Mount Helikon), Harmonia (mother of the first Amazon Queen by Ares), Libya (daughter of Apis, loved by Poseidon), Maia (mother of Hermes by Zeus), Oinone (Oread wife of Prince Paris of Troy), and Perseis (Okeanid mother of Aeetes, Pasiphae and Circe, grandmother of Medea, Ariadne and Phaedra).

Equated With: Some modern devotees equate the Nymphai with the Fey; others do not. Some consider them to be the same as the Landwights of the Northern Traditions; others do not. Some people also use the terms “nymphai” and “anima loci” interchangeably.

Associations: Any wild place which feels especially alive, or numinous. Oak trees. Caves. Mountain tops. Natural springs. A rocky shoreline. A meadow covered in wildflowers. A circle of blooming trees.

Festivals:

Dryad Nymphaia (27 Artemesios)
Limnad Nymphaia (27 Dystros)
Naiad Nymphaia (27 Panemos)
Oread Nymphaia (27 Hyperberetaios)
Pharia (8 Audēnaios)
Philokhoria (Summer Solstice)

Ways to Honor: Make offerings of honey, milk and oil (but never wine, according to Theocritus). Also, lamb and goat meat, and their wool. Clean up the trash littering the ground and water. Fight to protect wild places, especially forests, streams, rivers and mountains.

Ancient Texts:

Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern Texts:

Modern Texts:

Articles:

Demeter and the Kumaras by Astalon

Rituals and Festivals:

Links:

Theoi.com article on The Nymphai

Wikipedia entry on The Nymphai

A modern art photograph by Karissa Carlson

Hylas and the Water Nymphs

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