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In English folklore the asrai is a type of aquatic fairy that lives in seas and lakes and is similar to the mermaid and nixie. They are sometimes described as timid and shy, standing between two and four feet tall, or may be depicted as tall and lithe.[1]


Tales from Cheshire and Shropshire tell of a fisherman who captured an asrai and put it in his boat. It seemed to plead for its freedom in an unknown language, and when the fisherman bound it the touch of its cold wet hands burned his skin like fire, leaving a permanent mark. He covered the asrai with wet weeds, and it continued to protest, its voice getting fainter and fainter. By the time the fisherman reached the shore the asrai had melted away leaving nothing but a puddle of water in the boat [2][3] for it will perish if directly exposed too long to the sun.[4] Their inability to survive daylight is similar to that of trolls from Scandinavian folklore.[5]

Other tales describe the asrai as having green hair and a fishtail instead of legs[6] or may instead have webbed feet.[7] They live for hundreds of years and will come up to the surface of the water once each century to bathe in the moonlight which they use to help them grow. If the asrai (usually depicted as female) sees a man she will attempt to lure him with promises of gold and jewels into the deepest part of the lake to drown or simply to trick him. However, she cannot tolerate human coarseness and vulgarity, and this will be enough to frighten her away.[6]

Etymology and origin[edit]

The etymology of the word "asrai" is unknown. "Ashray" is sometimes given as a spelling variant.

Their oldest known appearance in print was the poem "The Asrai" by Robert Williams Buchanan, first published in April 1872, and followed by a sequel, "A Changeling: A Legend of the Moonlight."[8] Buchanan described them as nature-loving spirits who could not bear sunlight.

The second known mention of the asrai, and the first to explicitly describe them as beings from folklore, was Ruth Tongue's account in Forgotten Folk-Tales of the English Counties (1970). Tongue was an influential folklorist, but her accuracy has been called into question.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Froud, Brian and Lee, Alan (2002). Faeries. Pavilion Books. ISBN 1-86205-558-0.
  2. ^ Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0394409183.
  3. ^ Tongue, Ruth (1970). Forgotten Folk-Tales of the English Counties. Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 24–26. ISBN 0710068336.
  4. ^ Briggs, Katharine (1978). The Vanishing People: Fairy Lore and Legends. Pantheon Books. p. 81. ISBN 0394502485.
  5. ^ Lindow, John (2014). Trolls: An Unnatural History. Reaktion Books. p. 40. ISBN 9781780232898.
  6. ^ a b Kerven, Rosalind (2008). English Fairy Tales and Legends. National Trust Books. pp. 120–123, 186–188. ISBN 1-905400-65-9.
  7. ^ Arrowsmith, Nancy (2009) [1977]. Field Guide to the Little People. Llewellyn. p. 56. ISBN 9780738715490.
  8. ^ Buchanan, Robert Williams (1884). The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan. Chatto & Windus. pp. 201-204.
  9. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline, and Stephen Roud (2000). A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press.