There were Nixes in the streams, and Kobolds in the caves, and Tannhauser in the dark pine-glades, who hated the Christian man, and would lure him to his death. There were fair swan-maidens and elf-maidens; nay, dame Venus herself, and Herodias the dancer, with all their rout of revellers; who would tempt him to sin, and having made him sell his soul, destroy both body and soul in hell.
Now these women were swan-maidens, or mermaids, and one of them, Hadburg, spake to him. Sir Hagen, she said, well wot I that ye wish to find a ferry. Now give to us our garments and we will show you where one is. They breasted the waves like swans. Once more spake Hadburg: Safely will ye go to Etzels land and great honours will ye gain there; aye, greater than hero ever rode to find.
So the swan-maiden kept her human form, as long as she was deprived of her tunic of feathers. Indo-European folk-lore teems with stories of swan-maidens forcibly wooed and won by mortals who had stolen their clothes. A man travelling along the road passes by a lake where several lovely girls are bathing; their dresses, made of feathers curiously and daintily woven, lie on the shore.
"She is dead!" the two returning swan-maidens had said, and they had concocted a complete story, which ran as follows: "We three together flew high in the air: a hunter saw us, and shot his arrow at us; it struck our young companion and friend; and slowly, singing her farewell song, she sunk down, a dying swan, into the woodland lake.
In a Danish legend, the Mara betrays her affinity to the Nixies, or Swan-maidens. A peasant discovered that his sweetheart was in the habit of coming to him by night as a Mara. He kept strict watch until he discovered her creeping into the room through a small knot-hole in the door. Next day he made a peg, and after she had come to him, drove in the peg so that she was unable to escape.
She is dead, so the two swan-maidens had said when they came home; and they made up quite a story about her, and this is what they told, "We three flew away together through the air," said they: "a hunter caught sight of us, and shot at us with an arrow. The arrow struck our young friend and sister, and slowly singing her farewell song she sank down, a dying swan, into the forest lake.
In the myth of the Swan-maidens, as in some types of the myth of the Forbidden Chamber, the human hero weds a supernatural bride; and a story containing such an incident seems to have a tendency to unite itself to one or other of these two groups. This tendency is not, however, always developed.
Then they left the farmlands and the abodes of men far behind them; and they passed by the shore of a sparkling lake, where they heard the swan-maidens talking to each other as they swam among the rushes, or singing in silvery tones of gladness as they circled in the air above.
The clouds were no bodies of vaporized water: they were cows with swelling udders, driven to the milking by Hermes, the summer wind; or great sheep with moist fleeces, slain by the unerring arrows of Bellerophon, the sun; or swan-maidens, flitting across the firmament, Valkyries hovering over the battle-field to receive the souls of falling heroes; or, again, they were mighty mountains piled one above another, in whose cavernous recesses the divining-wand of the storm-god Thor revealed hidden treasures.
We will give specimens of the annotations, taken haphazard merely premising that the most characteristic of them those at which the saints in heaven knit their brows necessarily in a work of this kind exclude themselves from citations: "Laughter. Arab writers often mention the smile of beauty, but rarely, after European fashion, the laugh, which they look upon as undignified. "Swan-maidens.