Neraida are spirits of modern Greek folklore, not ancient mythology. Their name derives from Nereids, but they may or may not be the Nereids of yore. The name may just be borrowed, or alternatively the Nereids have emerged from their ocean and changed their disposition. Modern Neraides are female spirits dwelling in forests, freshwater springs, and wild nature, in general, not only in the ocean. If they are the ancient spirits, then they derive from the entire category of Nymphs. (The word Neraida may be singular or plural but the plural Neraides is also sometimes used.)
Neraida resemble Nymphs: beautiful, seductive spirits who sing, dance, weave, and spin in the moonlight. They haunt caves, groves, grottoes, springs, wells, and mountains—the Nymphs’ old territory. They like mill ponds, too. This is not an exclusively female type of spirit. The Neraida’s male counterpart is the Neraidos; however the female is the primary subject of lore.
Nereids (and Nymphs in general) were considered generally benevolent spirits who bestowed good health, good luck, psychic power, prosperity, and fertility to devotees. The modern Neraida is a dreaded spirit who causes death, disease, and misfortune. What happened? Here are some possibilities:
• Neraides are completely different spirits with little in common with Nereids beyond their name; there’s no reason to expect them to behave like Nereids.
• Neraides who may or may not be Nymphs are really not so malevolent or dangerous but were saddled with a bad reputation by a Church seeking to discourage people from contacting and venerating them.
Nymphs have always displayed tempers when angered or treated disrespectfully. After two thousand years of denigration, not veneration, Neraides have reason to be volatile.
A Neraida can bestow health, wealth, and fertility. She can withhold it, too, or cause it to disappear. It’s considered crucial not to interrupt or aggravate them in any way as Neraides strike out suddenly in the manner of Djinn. The afflictions that they potentially cause include blindness, muteness, impotence, and seizure disorders, especially epilepsy. Children who fail to thrive or who suffer from wasting ailments are described as struck by Neraida.
Neraida are mischief makers. Among their other misdeeds, Neraida stand accused of capturing or seducing men and women, luring them to their caves and forcing them to dance from dusk to dawn, sometimes with fatal results. They are among those spirits accused of stealing human babies and leaving changelings behind. They steal midwives, too, whenever they require their services.
A Neraida can be captured by stealing an item of her clothing. If she gets it back, though, she’ll depart. Solitary men try to trap them for sex, companionship, and their legendary culinary skills.
“The Man Who Loved the Nereids,” a story by author Marguerite Yourcenar (1903–1987) contained in her 1938 book, Oriental Tales, draws on modern Neraida lore.
The traditional invocation against the Neraides should you encounter, anger, or fear one is to quickly say aloud, “Honey and milk in your path!” It’s a promise that must be kept. Deliver the requisite offering as soon as possible. In addition, the goddess Artemis and her successor Saint Artemidos are invoked for protection and to remedy any harm caused by Neraides, including illness and possession. Garlic is also used in traditional rituals that attempt to undo damage perpetrated by Neraides.
Neraides resemble beautiful women but some have donkey or goat feet.
White, gold, yellow. They usually dress in white.
The early days of August are sacred to the Neraides. It is forbidden during this time to cut trees or to use water for washing or household tasks, anything that will sully the purity of the water.
The Neraides exert their maximum power after dark and at high noon.
Offerings are served outdoors under shady trees or wherever one has encountered or anticipates encountering Neraides:
1. Lay a clean, white cloth on the ground and serve offerings on plates. Give them a full table-setting, including clean glasses, forks, and knives. (The Neraides are not afraid of iron.)
2. A complete ritual offering includes bread, honey, honey cakes, assorted sweets and pastries, and a full bottle of good wine. Open the bottle for them.
3. Light some fragrant incense or burn a new candle, dedicating it to the Neraides.
The names Neraida and Nereid are used interchangeably. Clearly Nereids and Neraides are virtually indistinguishable. Either name may indicate either the ancient sea spirits or the modern nature spirits. In the context of this book, for the sake of clarity, Neraida indicates the modern spirits, and Nereid the ancient ones; however, this is an artificial construct. In real life, no such clarity exists.
The simplest offering is honey and milk or wine. Honey is the essential ingredient; other things may be offered as well, but honey is always included among their offerings. Brides traditionally offer items of clothing from their trousseau.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.