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Ondine (mythology)

    Ondines or undines are elementals, enumerated as the water elementals in works of alchemy by Paracelsus.[1] They also appear in European folklore as fairy-like creatures; the name may be used interchangeable with those of other water spirits.[2] Undines were said to be able to gain a soul by marrying a human and bearing his child.


Sleep of Ondine

The term has also been used as proper name for such a water spirit, "Ondine".

Ondine was a water nymph in German mythology. She was very beautiful and (like all nymphs) immortal. One of the "only threats" to a nymph's eternal happiness is if she falls in love with a mortal and bears his child - she will lose her "gift" of everlasting life.

Ondine fell in love with a dashing knight - Sir Lawrence - and they were married. When they exchanged vows, Lawrence said, "My every waking breath shall be my pledge of love and faithfulness to you." A year after their marriage Ondine gave birth to Lawrence’s child. From that moment on she began to age. As Ondine’s physical attractiveness diminished, Lawrence lost interest in his wife.

One afternoon Ondine was walking near the stables when she heard the familiar snoring of her husband. When she entered the stable, however, she saw Lawrence lying in the arms of another woman. Ondine pointed her finger at him, which he felt as a kick, waking up with a start. Ondine uttered a curse: "You swore faithfulness to me with every waking breath, and I accepted your oath. So be it. As long as you are awake, you shall have your breath, but should you ever fall asleep, then that breath will be taken from you and you will die!"

Characteristics of undines

According to a theory advanced by Paracelsus, an Undine is a water nymph or water spirit, the elemental of water. They are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. They have beautiful voices, which are sometimes heard over the sound of water. According to some legends, undines cannot get a soul unless they marry a human man. This aspect has led them to be a popular motif in romantic and tragic literature.

In 18th century Scotland, Undines were also referred to as the wraiths of water. Even then, they were not feared as other wraiths.[citation needed]

Cultural reproductions

  Fantasy authors will sometimes employ undines in their fiction, often as elementals rather than another type of water spirit.[3]

Ondine's curse

Ondine's curse is now a medical term applied to a rare syndrome where the autonomic (involuntary) control of breathing is lost, resulting in the need to initiate every breath consciously. Untreated, patients with Ondine's curse supposedly will - like Ondine's unfaithful spouse - die if they fall asleep.

See also

  • Morgens
  • Siren
  • Rusalka (opera)


  1. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, p 38 ISBN 0-19-512100-6
  2. ^ C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, p135 ISBN 0-521-47735-2
  3. ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Elemental" p 313-4, ISBN 0-312-19869-8
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ondine_(mythology)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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