Nymphs, which exist in Hindu, Shinto and Classical (Greek and Roman) mythology, include any of the numerous minor deities represented as beautiful maidens inhabiting and sometimes personifying features of nature such as trees, waters, forests and mountains. Reports of modern sightings are restricted to the Mediterranean Basin.
Classical (Greek & Roman)
A nymph (Greek: νύμφη, nymphē) in Greek mythology and in Latin mythology is a minor female nature deity typically
associated with a particular location or landform. There are 5 different types of nymphs, Celestial Nymphs, Water Nymphs, Land Nymphs, Plant Nymphs, and Underworld Nymph Different from goddesses, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile maidens who love to dance and sing; their amorous freedom sets them apart from the restricted and chaste wives and daughters of the Greek polis. They are believed to dwell in mountains and groves,
by springs and rivers, and also in trees and in valleys and cool grottoes. Although they would never die of old age nor illness, and
could give birth to fully immortal children if mated to a god, they themselves were not necessarily immortal, and could be beholden to death in various forms. Charybdis and Scylla were once nymphs.
Other nymphs, always in the shape of young maidens, were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally the huntress Artemis. Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs. They are frequently associated with the superior divinities: the huntress Artemis; the prophetic Apollo; the reveller and god of wine, Dionysus; and rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes.
The Andanian mysteries, an ancient Greek cult, was centered around a holy spring named Hagna. A nature spirit that looked like a maiden named Hagna, that was supposed to inhabit such spring was worshiped by the initiates. They kept the rituals and special knowledge of such sanctuary to themselves, never sharing them to uninitiated people.
Nymphs are mentioned in some of the most important classic works of western literature, such as the Platonic dialogue "Phaedrus" and the Homeric poems "Iliad" and "Odyssey". They are also common subjects in the paintings of Renaissance masters.
20th century researcher John Cuthbert Lawson stated that people still believed in nymphs and had encounters with them while he was doing his research in Greece. He published such nymph sightings in his book: "Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals". He saw a nymph and described it in the following way:
I myself once had a Nymph pointed
out to me by my guide, and there certainly was the semblance of a female figure draped in white and tall beyond human stature flitting in the dusk between the gnarled and twisted boles of an old olive-yard. What the apparition was, I had no leisure to investigate ; for my guide with many signs of the cross and muttered invocations of the Virgin urged my mule to perilous haste along the rough mountain-path. But had I inherited, as he, a
belief in Nymphs together with a fertile gift of mendacity, I should
doubtless have corroborated the highly-coloured story which he
told when we reached the light and safety of the next village; and the ready acceptance of the story by those who heard it proved to me that a personal encounter with Nymphs was really reckoned
among the possible incidents of every-day life.
Jennifer Larson in her book "Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore" states that people still claim to have encounters with nymphs in the 21st century. She visited several places that are reputedly inhabited by nymphs such as caves. She also states that the modern view on nymphs has changed, as Christianity has depicted them as completely evil. In ancient Greek paganism they were nature spirits capable of doing both good and bad things.
Shinto and Tao
Tennin (天人), which may include tenshi (天使), ten no tsukai (天の使い, lit. heavenly messenger) and the specifically female tennyo (天女) are spiritual beings found in Japanese Buddhism that are similar to western
nymphs or fairies. They were imported from Chinese Buddhism, which was influenced itself by the concepts of heavenly beings found in Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism. Tennin are mentioned in Buddhist sutras, and these descriptions form the basis for depictions of the beings in Japanese art, sculpture, and theater. They are usually pictured as unnaturally beautiful women dressed in ornate, colorful kimonos (traditionally in five colors), exquisite jewelry, and flowing scarves that wrap loosely around their bodies. They usually carry lotus blossoms as a symbol of enlightenment or play musical instruments
such as the biwa, or flute.
Tennin are believed to live in the Buddhist heaven as the companions to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Some legends also make certain tennin solitary creatures living on mountain peaks. Pilgrims sometimes climb these mountains in order to meet the holy spirits. Tennin can fly, a fact generally indicated in art by their colored or feathered kimonos, called hagoromo ("dress of feathers"). In some legends, tennin are unable to fly without these kimonos (and thus cannot return to heaven). More rarely, they are shown with feathered wings.In a Noh play Hagoromo, which bears a number of similarities to the Western swan maiden legends, tennyo come to the earth and take off their hagoromo. A fisherman spies them and hides their clothes in order to force one to marry him. After some years he tells his wife what he did, and she finds her clothes and returns to heaven. The legend says it occurred on the beach of Miyo, now a part of the city of Shizuoka.
An Apsara (also spelled as Apsarasa) is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
An Apsara (Sanskrit: अप्सराः apsarāḥ, plural अप्सरसः apsarasaḥ, stem apsaras-, a feminine consonant stem, អប្សរា), is also known as Vidhya Dhari or Tep Apsar (ទេពអប្សរ) in Khmer, Accharā (Pāli) or A Bố Sa La Tư (Vietnamese), Bidadari (Indonesian & Malay), Biraddali (Tausug), Hapsari or Widodari (Javanese) and Apson (Thai: อัปสร). English translations of the word "Apsara" include "nymph," "celestial nymph," and "celestial maiden." Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They are often the wives of the Gandharvas, the court musicians of Indra. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertain and sometimes seduce gods and men. As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, and are often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god, they may be compared to angels. Apsaras are said to be able to change their shape at will, and rule over the fortunes of gaming and gambling. Urvasi, Menaka, Rambha and Tilottama are the most famous among them. Apsaras are sometimes compared to the muses of ancient Greece, with each of the 26 Apsaras at Indra's court representing a distinct aspect of the performing arts. They are associated with fertility rites. There are two types of Apsaras; Laukika (worldly), of which thirty-four are specified, and Daivika (divine), of which there are ten. The Bhagavata Purana also states that the Apsaras were born from Kashyap and Muni.