The Lorelei (Loreley), A Siren of German Folklore

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BY HANNAH HORN

Lorelei is an enormous rocky cliff that resides about 433 feet above water level in Germany, located on the left bank of the river Rhine. There were numerous legends, poems, and songs dedicated to this rock. One of the most famous sagas was of a lady named Lorelei/Loreley who was the daughter of Old Father Rhine. The story of Lorelei was not easy to piece together, for many of her stories were hard to date. Many elements of this folklore derived from a romantic poet/novelist named Clemens Brentano, but the idea did not become favored until author Heinrich Heine published a poem called ‘Die Loreley.’

Lorelei was rumored to be a beautiful mermaid, a taunting siren, a nymph and a water spirit. Some debate on her hair color glowing golden or sometimes even being copper red, in general she had bright eye-catching hair. The mythology behind Lorelei created a wonderful inspiration to composers, painters, poets, and drama enthusiasts to design their own visions of the fable. Her tale tells of her living in the depths of the river while smoothly singing tempting songs in the evenings while sitting on her rock. The heavy currents and small waterfall created a murmuring sound, which gave the rock its nickname as ‘murmuring rock’ and an addition of a special echo that works as an amplifier for the mermaid’s voice. Those who heard her lovely melodies easily became captivated in a spell, causing them to lose track of time and where they were until their vessels would horrifically crash, the men drowning with them. She was, of course, an immortal creature but she was also another victim to love in Germany.

One day, she fell in love with a fishermen who returned the spark, allowing a romance to storm for several weeks. Loreley also helped the man at fishing. Until one day, she heard of another young girl sharing a liking towards this handsome fishermen and she became jealous. So jealous that she snatched her lover, rapidly pulling him to the underwater palace, where he drowned as she forced him to stay with her forever. Though, this ripped open a hole that she never could fill, so she continued her singing and caused countless men to lose their lives. Then, a man named Count Ludwig, the son of the powerful Prince Palatine heard of her and went to see her with his own eyes. Like others, he was smitten in a trance, causing him to lose everything including his life. When his father found out, he immediately wanted to put an end to her tragic games. Even when she was surrounded by the Prince’s army, she didn’t care, believing her own father would protect her from any form of danger. Therefore, she dropped the pearls that hung around her neck into the depths of the water awaiting a chariot to come. When it did, it drove her away in the deep depths of the sea to never be seen again. Rumor has it that a distant ‘murmur’ of her song can still be heard at her rock.

Lorelei is a very compelling lore that has existed for countless years, though there is more than one variation of the legend. One version of the story doesn’t end with the fishermen dying from her fear of his cheating, but more so that the fishermen actually left her, causing her deadly ritual after she waited for his return. Others also claim the bishop later assigned her to nunnery for her crimes, soon after she received permission to view the Rhine river once again from her rock before she follows through. When she looked in, she believed she saw her lover in the water, causing her to fall off the monumental rock to her death. Therefore, the rock ‘retained’ the echo of her name after the incident. Another alternate ending would be that instead of getting a clean getaway from the warriors, she was actually a mortal who drowned during her escape and came back as a vengeful siren. A fun fact about the girl’s name Lorelei (Loreley) is that it can be translated as ‘lurking rock’ or ‘murmuring rock’ which beautifully solidified the rocks nickname and the whole yarn. Also, in the Marvel comics, the character Mantis briefly took the name as Lorelei. Lorelei is also a character name in the video game Pokémon and there is so much more related! The next time you consider sailing down River Rhine, don’t let the hypnotizing lady Lorelei fool you, she’s a sucker for love but she also is a sucker for revenge.

“But if my ship, which sails tomorrow / should crash against these rocks / my sorrows I will drown before I die / It’s you I see, not Lorelei” 

The Pogues, Lorelei

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