Paracelsus, a Medieval alchemist, identified four magical creatures that symbolized the elements that make up our world: air, fire, water, and earth. Today’s DotW brings you one of them.
An undine or ondine is a beautiful female water nymph, an elemental spirit that lives in water, and in a symbolic way, represents the spirit/idea of water. Phillip von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus, was the first to identify elementals, in his works about alchemy. The concept of the undine is Germanic in origin.
Friedrich Heinrich Karl La Motte-Fouqué wrote the first novel about an undine in 1812, appropriately titled “Undine.” Also, that was the name of our water elemental heroine.
In Undine, the water nymph heroine meets and falls in love with a noble knight, who promises that his every waking breath will be a promise of loyalty and faithfulness to her. Well, that sounded pretty good to Undine, so she married the guy and had his baby. (In fairness, he’d been pretty clear about the fact that he’d had a thing for another woman, name of Bertalda, before they met.)
As a water nymph, Undine was soulless, ageless, and beautiful. As a wife, she grew a soul, which of course brought her no end of trouble. She had to make a noble sacrifice to protect her husband. She had to go back to living under the waves, but her husband assumed she was dead. She could protect him so long as he kept faithful to his promise.
And then he broke his promise by marrying Bertalda.
Though she still loved him, Undine was forced to kill him for his faithlessness. She had to come back through the well that Bertalda uncovered and kiss him to death (his request).
I know this sounds pretty dumb, but the book’s good–much better than described here. Check it out on Google Books.
A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits
by Carol K. Mack, Dinah Mack
Undine, Or The Water Spirit, a Romance
Friedrich Heinrich Karl La Motte-Fouqué
Published by J. Miller, 1881