The term the ancient Greeks used to identify the nature spirits of the countryside is ‘nymph’. While learned scholars will argue that nymphs are primarily water beings, it is helpful to for the purposes of classification to use the term ‘nymph’ as the generic term, and more specific words to differentiate between the types of nymphs according to the landscape features they inhabit. Tree nymphs known as dryads, and nymphs of marshes and bogs known as limnaedes, have been discussed in previous articles. This one will focus on the nymphs who dwell in the mountains, the oreiades.
While mountains are often built-up and urbanized in modern times, they are still more likely to be wild and untamed than coasts, plains and agricultural regions. Jennifer Larson gives us, in her ‘Greek Nymphs, Myth, Cult and Lore’, the following passage: “A ‘mountain’, oras, need be little more than a hill in terms of altitude. Yet oras carries a consistent range of associations in Greek thought. In myth and cult, it is regularly the meeting place of gods and mortals (Hesiod and the Muses or Anchises and Aphrodite) and a place where societal norms undergo temporary reversal, as in Dionysiac revels. It is space beyond, and contrasted with, urban areas.”
But mountains, real mountains, are the best places to encounter oreiades. Oreiades tend to be wilder, more dangerous, more unpredictable than the friendlier water nymphs, although no nymph is safe. Oreiades are often associated with Artemis, and share her untamable ferocity, as well as her mesmerizing beauty. Whether hunting with the Goddess or dancing wildly in her train, they can bring delight or doom to the mortal who comes upon them unsuspecting. However, it is possible to develop a good relationship with the mountain dancers. Like most nymphs, they enjoy mortal attention and appreciate being approached respectfully and with appropriate offerings. Honey, flowers and spring water are all traditional gifts for all nymphs. An excellent devotional activity is to find an area particularly appealing for its wild beauty, and to make sure it is completely cleared of trash and any trace of human depredation, then to create a shrine or offering area and beautify it for the oreiades. Repeated visits to an oreiad-haunted mountain glade with simple, heartfelt gifts will almost certainly result in a delightfully reciprocal relationship.
But do not take them lightly.