Five or so years ago, I remember reading about various mythological water monsters and coming across one mentioned in passing called a “Neck”. No joke. The name struck me as odd, and the book I was reading had infuriatingly little information on the creature, so it awoke my curiosity. I would like to say that I promptly researched everything on Necks and became and expert, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to search for information on it, not only for the very obvious coincidence of its name, but also because I didn’t know where these creatures were from. So, I kept the fact of their existence in my head as a quirky bit of knowledge that I could show off to impress people (or make them go away, depending on the people) and did nothing more with it. When I came up with the idea of this series, my mind nearly immediately turned back to the mysterious Necks and I knew that I had to talk about them first.
Oh dear. I’m giggling every time I write the word “Necks”. Please bear with me; I find a better name very soon, I promise.
Between now and that first encounter, I have purchased a really, really big book called The Dictionary of Mythology. Everything I have looked for in it I have found, no matter how obscure. So, when I started researching Necks, I went straight to that book, moseyed on over to the “N” section, held my breath, went a bit too far in both directions, and then finally found my water monster. And I quote:
“Necks (see Stromkarls)”(pg 741)
Thank-you, dear Dictionary, how very helpful of you. *ehem*
“Stromkarl Scandinavian … In Norway, this being is a spirit of the waterfall and a wonderful musician. In Sweden, it is the spirit of any body of freshwater.”(pg 963)
With a name I knew I could easily search for, out came trusty Google, and in came the information.
Stromkarls, also known as Nøkken, Fossegrim, Nixes, and a whole host of other names, are male water spirits that often lure people to be drowned in whatever body of water they inhabit. As Stromkarls and Fossegrim, they do so by playing beautiful music on their fiddles while they sit under a waterfall. They wouldn’t always try to drown people, though, as they aren’t as malevolent as the Nøkken. Sometimes, if a person gives them a sacrifice, they will teach them how to play the fiddle. Give a sacrifice that’s too small, and they’ll only teach you how to tune your instrument, but give one that’s big enough and they’ll teach you how to be master fiddlers.
Those sounded nice, didn’t they? Well, let me tell you about the Nøkken. These creatures can play the fiddle as well, and might teach someone else how to play, but they will try to drown their pupils. If you want to be a master fiddler, you have to be very, very careful. They can also shape shift, turning into horses that will take any riders into a watery grave, or beautiful young men who will seduce women and then pull them under, or a raft floating on the water that would sink or float away.
Then there’s the German variant, known as the Nix. Nixes don’t involve themselves with fiddles, and they tend to look like mermaids and mermen. Unlike the Nøkken, Nixes don’t seem to leave the water often, and will try to draw people to them rather than finding people to drown (though I’m not entirely sure how good a Nøkken in the form of a raft is at finding people), relying on their songs to lure people in, like the Stromkarl with his fiddle.
“Hold on, Thea!” I hear you say. “I thought you were going to tell me about one monster. I think we’re up to three by now. Why?”
As far as I am concerned, these are all the same creature. Their traits and behaviours overlap too much for me to say that one is separate from the other. The Nixes and the Stromkarls, perhaps, but only if the Nøkken didn’t exist to tie them together. I like to think of mythological creatures as having different cultures and ethnic groups. Imagine that there used to be one group of these water spirits, way back when all the Germanic peoples were also one group. As time went on, they settled further areas, following the spread of the Germanic tribes, becoming more and more different the farther they went. Nowadays, the ones farthest from each other are the most different, but the ones next to each other are very similar, making a continuum of Stromkarl/Fossegrim/Neck/Nøkken/Nix cultures, with different customs and preferences. Perhaps people treated the Nøkken poorly over time, causing them to orient more towards harming humans as revenge for past treatment. Perhaps a Stromkarl took up a fiddle one day and liked it so much that he gave one to all his friends. Perhaps the Nixes play a game with their singing, and the number of drowned humans is the score. Even within these different water spirit cultures, there is variance. Some Fossegrim fall in love and live with humans for a time. Some Nøkken limit their victims to women and children. Humans in different places act and think differently, so why not these water spirits?
The possibilities! I’m getting plot bunnies just thinking about them (think dust bunnies, but cuter and made of tantalizing bits of stories).
Now, this is all very well and good, but I’m sure that the next, burning question on everyone’s mind is: “What on earth do I do the next time I’m in Norway, Sweden or Germany and a Stromkarl/Fossegrim/Neck/Nøkken/Nix ups and grabs me? Surely there must be some way to defend myself.”
Excellent question. Apparently, if you say his name, the Stromkarl/Fossegrim/Neck/Nøkken/Nix will disappear back into the water. Unfortunately, none of my sources included a list of names of the more active of these creatures. The fact that they didn’t answer their phones the last time I called is probably a result of this oversight.
Sites and books I used for research! :D
Also, here’s a short story about a Fossegrim!