Nymphs are female natures spirits of Greek mythology, similar to the notion of Fairies. Nymphs can be described as being lesser deities, separated from the other gods of Greek mythology by the fact they are intricately connected to certain aspects of nature such as trees, rocks, and rivers, rather than governing specific spheres of human existence as say the Olympians do.
Nymphs are always female. The male spirits of nature are called Satyrs.
Classification: There are a variety of types of Nymphs. Examples of types of Nymphs are as follows;
Dryads - Forest Nymphs
Hamadryads - Nymphs of specific trees, especially oak trees. Hamadryads lives are bound to their tree. When their tree dies, so do they.
Oreads - Mountain Nymphs
Naiads - Freshwater Nymphs
Nereids - Sea Nymphs
Oceanids - Ocean Nymphs
Epimelides - Meadow and Pasture Nymphs
Melissai - Honeybee Nymphs
Anthoussai - Flower Nymphs
Aurai - Nymphs of cool breezes
Nephelai - Cloud Nymphs
Lampades - Underworld Nymphs
Appearance: Hauntingly beautiful and seductive young women. Often a Nymph will have physical features that are indicative of the type of Nymph she is. For example, the Epimelides are said to have hair as white as wool or apple blossoms. Nereids were said to have both hair and eyes in varying shades of the sea.
Parentage: Nymphs are the daughters of the earth goddess Gaia, or else the daughters of other Gods, such as the sea god Nereus who fathered the Nereids.
Powers: Nymphs, being supernatural creatures, possess a wide range of supernatural powers. Nymphs have control over the elements in which they reside and can also inflict curses, harm, injury, and death to mortals who invoke their anger. In Mythology there are tales of Nymphs who achieved revenge against mortals who harmed their tree, who acted destructive toward nature, or who broke a promise to them. Because of their powers it's likely that one might confuse a Nymph for being a witch.
Lore: Nymphs are notorious in mythology for being the love interests of various deities. Nymphs are also notorious for seducing mortal men, especially the Naiads. Like with the lore of European Fairies, men who take Nymphs as lovers tend not to live long.
Also just as with Fairies, Nymphs are often believed to kidnap babies. Nereids have been especially blamed in Greece, and well into modern times, for engaging in this practice.
There is some confusion as to the lifespan of Nymphs. Some Nymphs, like the Hamadryads for example, are mortal and die when their tree dies. Other Nymphs are said to be immortal. Another opinion is that Nymphs are extremely long-lived by none-the-less mortal.
Nymphs In Culture: The phrase Nymphomaniac, a term describing a hypersexual woman, comes from wanton and lustful actions of many Nymphs in mythology.
Connection To Other Deities: Nymphs are often the lovers of various deities such as Zeus, Apollo, and Pan. In addition, Nymphs are also said to be the attendants of deities such as Artemis/Diana, Persephone, and Dionysus. Nymphs are also frequently found in close proximity to their male counterparts, the Satyrs, male nature spirits who appear in part-human, part-animal (frequently goat) forms.
Below is a clip featuring the painting, Hylas And The Nymphs by J.W. Waterhouse. In the legend, Hylas is the homosexual lover of Hercules who disappears one day while gathering drinking water. While performing his chore, Hylas chances upon a group of Naiads, freshwater Nymphs, who immediately are aroused by his physical attractiveness. The Nymphs grab Hylas, pull him underwater, and he is seen no more. Upon hearing of the loss of Hylas, Hercules was said to have "wept like a woman".