Nymphs, Nephilim and their forlorn relationship with men

by Matheus Yuhlung

Paracelsus[i] wrote: It has been experienced in many ways that they are not eternal, but when they are bound to men, they become eternal, that is, endowed with a soul like man […] God has created them so much like man and so resembling him, that nothing could be more alike, and a wonder happened in that they had no soul. But when they enter into a union with man, then the union gives the soul. It is the same as with the union that man has with God. […] If there were no such union, of what use would the soul be? Of none. […] From this it follows that they woo man, and that they seek him assiduously and in secret.

The they here is being referred to Nymphs; but the way I see it, it suits the curse of damnation more in my imagination. For the lips of the adulterous woman, Solomon wrote, drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; […] Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.[ii]

In the creation story, there is a myth about a race of men that used to roam the earth called Nephilim. Based on Genesis chapter six, the popular story is that these men (or giants as they are known) were like ordinary men but much bigger in size and stronger in strength. They are believed to be the offspring of fallen angels and men.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.[iii]

Interestingly, Paracelsus’ description of Nymphs as quoted above somewhat resembles the popular theory of Nephilim, don’t it? Further, Giorgio[iv] writes:

Created not in the image of God but of man, they constitute his shadow or imago and, as such, they perpetually accompany and desire that of which they are the image and by which they are at times themselves desired. And it is only in the encounter with man that the inanimate images acquire a soul, become truly alive.

In a page before that, Paracelsus also writes:

For although they are beasts, they have all reason of man, except the soul. Therefore, they have not the judgement to serve God, to walk on his path, for they have not the soul.[v]

If the soulless copulates with the one with soul, because it desires to have a soul, would that mean the later would sacrifice his, for the former does not have one? It sounds like a gamble not to indulge oneself in. I’m reminded of a small Biblical incident, I’ll quote it below:

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly[vi]

The idea of the material alluring the ethereal into an entrapped existence is not something exclusive only to Paracelsus’ idea of Nymphs; a theory with the same sentiments were taught by Samkhya in their theory of evolution.

Samkhya admits two ultimate realities namely, Purusa and Prakrti which are independent of each other in respect of their existence. Purusa is an intelligent principle, of which consciousness (caitanya) is not an attribute, but the very essence. It is the self which is quite distinct from the body, the senses and the mind (manas). It is beyond the world of objects, and is the eternal consciousness which witnesses the changes and activities going on in the world, but does not itself act and change in anyway. […] Prakrti is the ultimate cause of the world. It is an eternal unconscious principle which is always changing and has no other end than the satisfaction of the selves. Sattva, rajas, and tamas are three constituents of Prakrti which holds them together in a state of rest or equilibrium. The three are called gunas.[vii]

Evolution starts when there is heterogeneous change in the gunas and one predominates over the other two.[viii] […] Prakrti evolves the world of objects when it comes in contact with the Purusa. […] Purusa is reflected in the intellect (Buddhi) and wrongly identifies himself with his own reflection in the Buddhi.[ix] […] It is only when it mistakes its reflection in the Buddhi for itself and identifies itself wrongly with the internal organ – the intellect, the ego and the mind, that is said to be bound.[x] And hence, begins the struggle of liberation, for which to accomplished the jiva (being) has to realize itself as the pure Purusa through discrimination between Purusa and Prakrti.[xi]

Nymphs and Nephilim, are both interesting stories with both having a sharp similarity in essence of the ill consequences they bring to man when they are in union with them. And so, Giorgio writes:

(Nymphs) Created by God among the material elements and as such subject to death, they are forever excluded from the economy of redemption and salvation.[xii]

Interesting, isn’t it? And as I dwell on these thoughts, I can’t help but be intrigued by the existence of the sense of segregation that is evident in the collective imagination of men throughout history: that he needs to separate himself from that which is comparatively dark or mysterious in nature.

Why does this intrigue me? This aspect of man’s thought intrigues me because; much of the Old Testaments stretches a lot on the importance of preserving the peculiarity of God’s people. I wonder if this has any intellectual influences or ramifications on nymphs, nephilims or secular myths as a whole.

[i] Giorgio Agamben – Nymphs (page 45-46)

[ii] Proverbs 5:3-6 (NIV)

[iii] Genesis 6:4-22 (ESV)

[iv] Giorgio Agamben – Nymphs (page 47)

[v] Giorgio Agamben – Nymphs (page 44)

[vi] Numbers 25:6-8 (ESV)

[vii] Orthodox Systems – 1 Samkhya (page 16-17, Ignou, 2011)

[viii] Orthodox Systems – 1 Samkhya (page 22, Ignou, 2011)

[ix] Orthodox Systems – 1 Samkhya (page 23, Ignou, 2011)

[x] Orthodox Systems – 1 Samkhya (page 24, Ignou, 2011)

[xi] Orthodox Systems – 1 Samkhya (page 24, Ignou, 2011)

[xii] Giorgio Agamben – Nymphs (page 42)

Picture Credit: 1) chinaoilpaintinggallery.com 2) en.wikipedia.org

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