Merbeing of Northern Europe.

Etymology: German, "water-man." Nixe (for the female); plural, Nixen. Possibly derived from Hnikarr, an alternative name for the Teutonic god Odinn in his guise as sea-sprite.

Variant names: Aanycke (Danish), Lorelei (Old German, "rock lurker"), Merenneito (Finnish), Merineitsi (Estonian), Nacken (Swedish), Nak (Swedish), Nakineiu (Estonian for the female), Nakinneito (Finnish for the female), Nakki (Finnish), Neck (Dutch), Nek (Estonian), Nichus (Old High German), Nicker (medieval Dutch), Nicor (Old English), Nik, Nikkisen (Manx), Nixie, Nixy, Nok (Danish), Nokk (Estonian), Nokke (Danish), Nykk, Nykur (Icelandic), River man, River woman, Stromkarl, Wassernix (German).

Physical description: In human form, a male being of varying ageā€”from a boy to an elder. Often looks like either an old man with green eyes, big ears, green teeth, and a full beard, or a handsome man above water and a horse below. Sometimes has an enormous mouth. The female is a young girl, sometimes with a fish's tail. When it comes ashore, it can only be recognized by its wet skirt or apron.

In animal form, the Nix resembles a snake, bird, bull, ox, calf, pig, cat, fish, or (most commonly) a horse. Some legend themes describe the Nokk as a haystack, half a boat, a log, a silver dish, or a string of pearls.

Behavior: Amphibious. Appears both on the shore and in the water. The female sits near the water and combs its hair with a golden comb. Can change shape and features at will. Usually naked but sometimes clothed. Often wears a red cap. Said to drag humans underwater, especially children. Shouts and sighs. Said to be an excellent singer and fiddle or harp player. Owns a herd of cattle that live in the water (see WATER Bull). Alleged to be the spirit of a drowned human.

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls; often under bridges or near mills.

Distribution: Norway; Sweden; Denmark; Iceland; Scotland; Germany; Estonia; Finland. Possible explanations: (1) A mythological method for marking physical and social boundaries in agricultural societies, according to Jochum Stattin.

(2) Different sea mammals, such as otters or seals, seen under distorting atmospheric conditions.

(3) An elaborate mythology based on the importance of seals and sealing to Scandinavian life.

Sources: Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1880-1888); Uno Holmberg [Harva], Finno-Ugric, Siberian Mythology (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1927); Tor Age Bringsv^rd, Phantoms and Fairies from Norwegian Folklore (Oslo: Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1970), pp. 95-115; W. H. Lehn and I. Schroeder, "The Norse Merman as an Optical Phenomenon," Nature 289 (1981): 362-366; Jochum Stattin, Nacken: Spelman eller gransvakt? (Malmo, Sweden: Liber Forlag, 1984).

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