Jul 6, 2020
The lakes, rivers, and seas of Germany were inhabited by numerous water spirits variously called “Nixen”, “Nöck”, or “Wassermänner/-frauen” (“water men/women”). Frequently they were presented as menaces to humans and livestock alike, as in this sample story:
The Captured Water Man near Wartha
Behind the village of Wartha, close to Commerau, a water man once lived with his wife within the black water, and he pulled many people and animals into those waters. At one time a man named Krusche from Commerau offered to lure the water man out of the lake and capture him. He prepared himself carefully and then let himself lowered into the water while secured by iron chains. When bubbles were showing on the surface, the others were to pull him up again. For then he surely would have caught the water man, and indeed in this manner he pulled the latter out successfully. When the water man lay bound on the solid ground, he told Krusche: “If you hadn’t eaten bread twice today, I would have managed to get you and throttle you!” He then promised to cease his activities at this location and move to a distant region. Then the people let him go, and since that time no one has neither noticed nor seen him or his wife. For whenever he had strife with his wife, he gave her nothing to eat. She therefore had to go begging from other people. She was immediately recognizable by her skirts, which were wet up to two feet high from the ground, as well as her peculiar manner of begging. For she never said a word, but stood with crossed arms in the corner opposite to the fireplace and waited there in silence until someone put a piece of bread on her arms. She only removed the bread from her arms and put it away when she reached the door.
Notes. Why did it have to be iron chains which the diver used to lower himself into the water? Because the iron “binds (bans) the nixie”. If someone wants to protect themselves from the malice of the nixie when they want to bathe, they must first throw a piece of steel into the water, stick a knife into the ground at the beach, or a needle into the rushes. Iron has saved Ireland from the danger of the waters, and thus it is supposed to be called “Eisenland” (Iron Land, Ireland!). For allegedly Ireland once was under water all the time except for every seventh year until a divine revelation was received that a piece of iron should be thrown on it. And now finally the flooding ceased and Ireland became inhabitable.
Why horseshoes in particular are credited with being sanctified is explained in the notes for story nr. 47. The detail about eating bread twice is an interesting trait, which as far as I know only shows up again in the story that Gregory of Tours tells about his childhood remembrances (de glor. confess. cap. 31). In that tale, the farmer passing over the river is safe from the depredation of the nixie, because he had asked a priest to bless the bread he had eaten for breakfast. (Grimm p. 282) Shouldn’t it be possible to find mythic connections in the case of Krusche? The antipathy against metal and iron in particular lies in the nature of the sensitive, softer nature of the water spirits, for the water is in its kinship to plant life and the Moon the more female, receptive, birthing and night-aligned principle while the fire dwelling within the mountains symbolizes the male, procreative force which is known to the dwarves, who are metal workers after all. With sleepwalkers, in whom this lunar or “night consciousness” predominates, the same antipathy against the hard iron grown from liquid fire can be found.
 The German phrase used here was “schwarzes Wasser”. This might refer to one of the many lakes in the area, or to a particularly dark region of lake water. The lakes have been subdivided into many smaller lakes which might or might not have existed in the year 1865 when this tale was written down, and thus it is hard to pinpoint the exact location.
 The German unit used here was one “Elle”. If we use the definition of nearby Dresden for this unit, that would be 0.56638 meters.
 The German term used here was “Besenwinkel” - “broom corner”. This source tells us that this “broom corner” was opposite to the “Kaminwinkel” - the “fireplace corner” of the main chamber of a farm.
 A direct translation of the German “Binse”, although I am not quite sure that this fits - I feel I am missing some of the context. Rushes are flowering plants that superficially resemble grasses and grow in wet habitats.
 Those notes, on p. 50f of the same source, go into some details about the linguistic connections between “horses” and “water”, but do not mention horseshoes explicitly. We can only speculate that due to the horse-water connection, horseshoes might symbolically represent “water bound by iron”.
 This has apparently been translated into English in 2004 as “Glory of the Confessors” by Ramond Van Dam, for those who want to hunt down this information.
 It isn’t clear to me which of the works of the Brothers Grimm the author is referring to here. Neither volume of either Deutsche Sagen nor the 1857 edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen discusses river crossings or nixies on p. 282.
Commentary: Not giving his wife any food whenever they have “strife” displays an abusive streak towards women that is all too common to German folklore tales about male nixies. That the wife is apparently mute adds another streak of horror - was she always mute, or did this result from her husband attacking her?
The author’s side notes add some fascinating details - I’ve never heard of a legend that Ireland was regularly flooded in this manner. Is this authentic Irish folklore, or something that German folklore came up with on its own? The musings of the author on the symbology of water and metal gives us a good view into the world view of 19th century folklorists as well, though I wonder how modern-day folklorists would view this text.