Wild and untamed
Despite what can be seen as a civilizing nature the fairies of the nymph types were ultimately wildness fairies, wild and untamed. (Ralston, 1872) describes the rusalki by stating that;
They are generally represented under the form of beauteous maidens with full and snow-white bosoms, and with long and slender limbs. Their feet are small, their eyes are wild, their faces are fair to see, but their complexion is pale, their expression anxious. Their hair is long and thick and wavy, and green as is the grass (sometimes it is black, or blond). Their dress is either a covering of green leaves, or a long white shift, worn without a girdle. At times they emerge from the waters of the lake or river in which they dwell, and sit upon its banks, combing and plaiting their flowing locks, or they cling to a mill-wheel; and turn round with it amid the splash of the stream. If any one happens to approach, they fling themselves into the waters, and there divert themselves, and try to allure him to join them. Whomsoever they get hold of they tickle to death Witches alone can bathe with them unhurt.
A more recent scholar describes them as:
In contrast to the bride, there is a female folk figure in East Slavic lore whose hair is permanently loose and uncontrolled; she is the rusalka.
She is pale, lithe, often beautiful female spirit who lives in the water, forest and fields. She is known to swing aon tree branches waiting to entice unsuspecting male passersby whom she often attacks and at times tickles to death.
Hair is light brown, blond, or green, loose hair, blazing eyes and magnificent breasts…. Noted for her beautiful voice and melodious laugh…. If her hair ever dries out she will perish.
She goes on to state that they ride wildly through pastors on horses, dance freely in meadows. In essence they are symbolic of the freedom and happiness so often denied to women in later Europe. Their wild hair is extremely which is significant to their character and this is symbolic in the Slavic lands as hair is symbolic of sexual status.
In the wedding ritual the bride is “sold” to her new husband and his family, and must leave her home and village. As part of the ritual, she “sell her braid to her new husband, and is valued for the thickness of her braid. I will argue that this act is symbolic of the women’s giving over her sexual potency and autonomy to her husband…
Because the various Slavic fairies have no braids they can be said to be free from any obligation and they cannot be sold or given over to anyone. Without the knots of a braid they are not tied down to anything as the fairies of the nymph type tend to be.
Of course the tying down associated to marriage was not always so strict;
Philippa Rapport maintains that the wedding rituals of the tenth through the fifteenth century show diminishing domestic and social status of women with the increasing influence of the church.
Vila and rusalka in the Slavic lands are to a certain extent a folk memory of freer times. However, they go beyond this by being able to shirk nearly all reasonability, when a fairy of a nymph type bares their children they give it over to humans to be raised as they have no family ties. Yet despite the fact that they don’t raise their own children they do in fact raise the children of other people. They raise those who will become leaders and heroes, the fairies of the nymph type have every advantage then for they still raise children as many people want too but they do not have to raise children who are disobedient or difficult, only those who will grow up to do great things. Their children are Zeus and Dyonisis thus their civilizing power comes from their wild freedom and their freedom comes from their civilizing power. This contrasting nature is important to the fairies of the nymph types. In Greece the religious places associated with nymphs were natural places, often in caves. So the heroes and the civilizers of society lived and were raised in caves while at the same time caves were the birth place of monsters and the dangerous nature. In Slavic lands it was said that;
they run about the meadows, or they frolic among the high-standing corn and,
rocking upon it, make it wave to and fro. Whole bevies of
them live on lonely spots along the streams, or in deep places
and under rapids. Sitting in the depths of brooks and rivers,
they entangle the fishermen's nets; by breaking the dikes they
flood the adjoining fields and wreck the bridges; and they may
also cause fatal storms, dangerous rains, and heavy hail.
Rising to the surface of the stream on clear summer nights,
they bathe, sprinkling the water around them and frolicking in
the waves; they like to sit on the mill-wheel, splashing each
other, and then they dive deep, crying, "Kuku." In late spring
especially they come out of the water, and run about the
neighbouring woods and thickets, clapping their hands and
turning somersaults upon the grass, while their laughter re-
sounds far and wide in the forests. In the evening they like
to rock upon slender branches, enticing unwary wanderers;
and if they succeed in leading any one astray, they tickle him
to death, or draw him down into the depths of the stream.
The Rusalky are extremely fond of music and singing; and
their fine voices lure swimmers to deep places, where they
drown. The water-nymphs also divert themselves by dancing
in the pale moonlight, and they inveigle shepherds to play with
them, the places where they dance being marked by circles
in which the grass is particularly luxuriant and green. Fond of
spinning, they hang their yam on trees; and after washing
the linen which they weave, they spread it on the banks to
dry. If a man treads on such linen, he becomes weak and lame.
Larson states that;
The word numph, paradoxically can refer to the Greek Maiden as a virgin bride and her divine counterpart in the chorus of Artemis, or it can refer to a local fertility deity, often manifestly unchaste, who presides over the spring and woodland..... Nymphs combine the forbidden allure of virgin Artimus with the lust of the sexually aware Aphrodite; yet a social deities believed to inhabit not Olympus but caves, trees, and springs they are much more accessible.... The nymph is also idolized myth poetic version of the village girl at the peak of her sexual desirability.... She has supernatural power and assumed superiority over the male so that her desires are central to the narratives of their stories..... Unlike the chorus of Artemis, which attempts to preserve sexual purity, the nymphs in general are likely to engage in sexual sport with Hermes, the silens, or even a bemused shepherd.
Fairies of the nymph type then represent both the a certain amount of wishfulness for women and the sexual fantasies of men. For they are free, boys who dare to harm their linins, or insult them are punished. She is superior to males and yet is desirable to them. She is never rejected, never has to truly worry what others will think of her. She is also never going to be tied down. For boys she represents both the fantasy of the shy girl and the agressive willing girl. The fairies of the nymph type allow them to imagine having a dominant mate while continuing to think of their future or current brides as submissive.
This internal dualism as previously mentioned is important to naturalistic worship, because nature itself is clearly internally dualistic, as mentioned in Grimm’s Fairies
So while later religions and societies would place the duel nature of creative and destructive of fertility and desolation in separate beings it was common for people who worshiped nature to think of them as being in the same being. So when people later thought of the fairies as evil or dangerous it may not be a complete change in their nature but rather a shift in focus.
As part of this dualism we also see that they were both feared for their deisire to snatch away both males and females and that they would give comfort to those who’s loved ones had been snatched away. This is because death by natural forces was thought to be a selection by the gods, a means by which they took people to live among them. In both accounts of Hylos (Herkuleses assistant who was taken by the nymphs) they are said to have taken him, not drowned him. In one he becomes their husband in the other they hold him in their laps like a weeping child while they comfort him. In either case however he is now free from mortal concerns. In essence one can imagine that he will find a form a bliss in their free heaven.
In the Rome an epitaph states that a five year old girl was carried of by the naides to be a their playmate.
In many later mythologies its stated that fairies will try to get girls to join them or that fairies of the nymph type are the souls of girls who drowned before marraige or unbaptized. What’s likely is that these myths are a remnant of a form of heaven in which some girls could get to live out their fantasy of being free, of dancing wildly, punishing those who wronged them, while at the same time bringing life to their village and people. For men this too represents a form of heaven where they are allowed to be blissfully passive.