Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
There is magic and mysticism on the Rhine. Along the banks of the Rhine folklore tales are abundant -- steeped in romance, mystery, enchantment, and death. Among the plethora of tales are legends of Lorelei, the water-spirit who lures sailors who cannot resist her beauty and song.
In HERO TALES & LEGENDS OF THE RHINE, (1915), Lewis Spence tells of The Lorelei. She is an undine, her element is water. She sits on the massive rock formation high above the Rhine combing her hair on the Lorelei-berg and singing bewitching strains wherewith to lure mariners to their death, and one such legend relates how an old soldier named Diether undertook to capture her.
The Lorelei had enticed Graf Ludwig, the son of Prince Palatine, with her beauty and song. Ludwig's ship was caught in a whirlpool. As the wrecked ship went down, so did Ludwig. Prince Palatine, stricken with grief, vowed to avenge the death of his son. He swore the evil enchantress who had wrought such havoc would dearly pay.
When Prince Palatine asked for a man to do this deed, none would step forward, except for Diether, a captain of the guard. The only reward Diether requested was to cast Lorelei into the depths she haunted if he succeeded in capturing her.
So Diether took his small band of warriors and hiked to the top of the rock on which the Lorelei sat waiting for other sailors to come down the Rhine below her.
Now, hiking up that rock is not an easy task, but, Diether found a way up. He and his men blocked off any escape by land as they crept towards the enchantress. As they quietly came closer to her in the darkness, the moon came out from behind a cloud and behold, the spirit of the whirlpool was seen sitting on the very verge of the precipice, binding her wet hair with a band of gleaming jewels.
Since the moon had betrayed their presence, the Lorelei jumped to her feet and demanded what they wanted of her. Brave Diether growled that he would cast her into the waters below, where she had drowned their beloved young prince.
Lorelei replied that it was the prince's own folly that cost him his life, not herself.
Now Diether had been a brave warrior and did not hesitate to come up that rock in the dark to capture the sorceress. He had the courage to confront her -- yet, he and his men did not have the ability to withstand her enchantment nor the spell that the beautiful Lorelei cast on them.
As she stood on the brink of the precipice, her lips smiling, her eyes gleaming softly, her wet dark hair streaming over her shoulders, some strange, unearthly quality in her beauty, a potent spell fell upon the little company, so that even Diether himself could neither move nor speak.
"And wouldst thou cast me in the Rhine, Diether?" she pursued, smiling at the helpless warrior. “Tis not I who go to the Rhine, but the Rhine that will come to me.”
Then taking her jeweled band from her hair she cast it upon the waters and called upon her Father to send her magical white steeds to her. As quickly as she had called out, a wild storm caused the waters of the Rhine to foam right up to where Lorelei stood. The waves of the waters turned into three white horses and a chariot. Stepping into her watery vehicle, Lorelei rode forth and became one with the water.
As she disappeared into the waves, the spell on Diether and his warriors faded away. As the waters subsided, Diether and his men returned home, vowing to never again try and capture the Lorelei.
A later version of the Lorelei tale says that she was not willfully a seductive enchantress. She was a mortal young woman who lived in the town of Bacharach in medieval times. It was her profound beauty that got her into trouble. She was so beautiful that men could not resist making advances, nor could she resist them. The scandal and disgrace she brought upon herself caused stories to spread that she must be a witch. Townspeople thought she must even be possessed by the devil.
The bishop of the town folk would not agree to an execution without a proper trial. During the trial, the Bishop was stern and severe in his questioning. Lorelei's replies were simple and sincere. In the end, the Bishop felt she was so sincere that he pronounced her free of all guilt.
Lorelei broke down and confessed that the only man she loved had abandoned her and left for other lands. She begged the Bishop to let her die, for neither her years of prayer or tears had brought him back to her.
The Bishop, touched by her sorrow, had not the heart to let her die. Instead he sent her to a convent where he hoped she could live her life in peace.
On the way to the convent with her guardian knights, Lorelei asked if she could climb up the massive rock where once again she could gaze upon the castle of her beloved. As she stood up there above the Rhine, she gazed down and saw a small barque sailing upon the waters. In the bow stood her beloved! She shrieked out a loud cry. Her cry was heard by her beloved and the other sailors as they looked up to see Lorelei standing above them.
The scene startled the sailors and for a moment they forgot to pay attention to steering the boat. As the boat smashed into the rocks Lorelei saw her beloved drowning. She called out to him and leapt off the rock, joining him in the treacherous tide -- where they now are reunited together in death beneath the Rhine.