The word “nymph” comes from the Greek word nymphe, meaning “bride.” Nymphs were often portrayed as having special powers over nature or human emotions. They were said to live in the woods or on mountainsides and come down occasionally to dance at night by moonlight.
The earliest nymphs were depicted as beautiful young women who lived in nature and involved themselves in human affairs. Later myths suggest that they were spirits of the departed or deities who inhabited natural features such as springs or streams.
Nymphs were originally part of the cult of Dionysus, but they later became part of the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses.
In modern usage the term nymph refers to any young woman who lives in or frequents the woods or forested areas.
They can be helpful or harmful to humans but generally act as protectors of nature and its creatures from harm caused by humans and other malevolent forces. Some ancient sources state that they were originally human females who had been cursed by some god for their sins and thus transformed into wood sprites; this is a common theme among European folk tales about fairies as well.
In ancient times, people believed that nymphs could be found in springs or wells where they gave good advice to people who asked for it. In other stories, they lived in caves or grottoes and gave bad advice to people who asked for it.