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MYTHICAL CREATURES IN NORWEGIAN FOLKBELIEF

COMENIUS PROJECT II - KIRKEBYGDEN SKOLE

VÅLER IN NORWAY 2001/2002


In Norway we have defined mythical creatures as the ones we find in fairytales and legends, not the ancient Norse gods of the Vikings. In our country these creatures have played an important part in daily life of peasants and country people  up to as late as the last part of the nineteenth century. But also the urban population believed in the abilities of ghosts and the importance of performing protectional rites in connection with seasonal work, life passages, etc. 

The landscape and the economic bases  of our long country differs greatly from the North to the South, from the East to the West. You will find sea monsters and creatures connected to sea and fishing along the coast, forest gnomes and lake creatures in the southern  and mid-Norwegian inland and the special Sami traditions in the northernmost parts. We have tried to describe the creatures you meet in our video plus some “extras”, but we assure you: There are many more!  

The creatures are mostly described in present term; that doesn’t mean that these beliefs are parts of Norwegian life and culture today!

NØKK  (river sprite)

This creature is also a water being, but it’s found in lakes and rivers – not in the sea. It can turn up as a handsome young man playing the fiddle or the harp so beautifully that people go into the water without recognising that they can’t swim, and then they drown.  Other times he shows himself as a white horse, walking invitingly near the river- or lakeside, but if you try to ride this horse, he will jump directly to the bottom of the water with you. He can also be seen as a ghastly head with glowing eyes, easily taken for a small island with red lights. Guess what happens if you try to enter the ”island”!  

Traditions all over the country, but mostly found in the forest areas and agricultural districts of Eastern Norway

DRAUG (sea monster, ghost of the sea) 

A skeleton dressed in oilskins and sou’wester, sailing in a halfboat. If fishermen or sailors see him, they know that they’re almost certain to drown. Some times he’ll go ashore and try the thwarts in newly built boats. People sitting on a thwart where the draug has been seated are bound to drown. Before the ship goes down, the halfboat will turn up and sail along with the ship and lead it into dangerous waters.

 Most traditions found in Northern Norway.

TUSSER (goblins) 

These are small beings living under the ground, and they can do damage to people who don’t clean their stables or cow-stalls properly, or if you unawarely trample on their “roofs” when walking in the woods. They will try to get revenge by claiming to marry “the prettiest girl on the farm” or go up in the mountains to lonely dairy farms and threaten the dairymaid to marry them. If the girl does so, they promise her family prosperity and silver and wellfed herds of cattle. If not, she will die an ugly maiden and her family will die in poverty. Tusser are old, ugly and look as a mixture of bones, moss and twigs. They are not easily seen, but you can hear them titter maliciously!

 Traditions all over the country.

HULDER (wood nymph)

 The hulder (huldra) belongs to the underground people. She is a beautiful young girl with long blonde (or dark) hair, walking around in the woods, trying to seduce young men and lure them to marry her and move under ground with her. She is often seen herding cattle - cows which are exceptionally fat and full of milk, and the leader cow has a bucket with little silver bells on its horns. She is dressed in a national costume or a white blouse and a skirt, and her chest is decorated with silver and gold. But you recognise that she’s a hulder if she turns her back to you: She has a cow’s tail!

 Traditions found mostly in forest areas and agricultural districts.

TROLL

Probably the best known creature from Norwegian fairytales and folk traditions. Trolls in wood, textile, plastic, etc., etc.  has been important souvenirs for more than fifty years. Our trolls can have more than one head (up to 12!), just one single eye in the middle of its forehead and it’s HUGE! To show how big it is, it is sometimes drawn with trees growing on its nose or telling us that “how can such a small thing hurt so much” when it gets a fir cone in its eye. But though its big and extremely strong, it’s not very intelligent. It doesn’t see very well and you can fool the troll quite easily. They make a lot out of themselves when they’re around, but they can be kind if you do them a favour, and we are quite fond of our trolls.

Traditions found all over the country. 

NB!Something all these creatures have in common: They are scared away by the cross or other Christian items, and if you throw steel after them ( a knife, a piece of a knife or the likes) they will disappear.

CREATURES YOU FIND IN MOST OF THE COUNTRY (but don’t meet in the video):

 NISSEN (the fogey)

Nissen is a small man dressed in grey clothes and with a red stocking cap on his head. He’s got only four fingers; the thumb is lacking.He usually stays in the barn or the stables where he is tending to the cattle, making sure that they are well treated. If the people on the farm mistreat their animals he will punish them severely. He can make himself invisible and beat them till they’re blue all over, or he can make you stumble and spill your milk or fall into the manure heap. But if you are nice to the animals, he will help you in every way. And you must ALWAYS remember to put out a bowl of porridge in the barn for him on Christmas Eve!

NB!During the last 75 – 100 years our nisse has been assimilated with Santa Claus, so in Norway it’s “nissen” who comes with the gifts at Christmas.

  


UTBURDEN (the out-carried child)

Utburden is a child that the mother has born secretly and isn’t able to keep. She kills it and buries it somewhere or just leaves it in the woods to be killed by wild animals. This child will haunt its mother until she confesses her crime or let some remains of it be buried within the churchyard. Sometimes the child walks around crying, naked and miserable, and if anybody hears or see it they can try this formula:

                                    Eg døyper deg på ei von,

                                    anten Kari eller Jon

                                   (I baptise you at random, either Kari or Jon)

 Then the child will find peace.


BYTTINGEN (the changeling)

If people got a child with a handicap or a child that screamed a lot , they would believe that the underground people had taken their child and changed it with one of their own. To make them take the child back and give you your own child you could

-         treat the changeling so badly that the underground mother came to get her baby

-         try to baptise it

-         smear soil from a grave on the child’s forehead

etc.

“Bytting” is still used as a term of abuse to people you disgust!


STALLO (the sami wizard) 

The Sami traditions up North differ a bit from other parts of Norwegian traditions. You will find troll and draug and some other creatures as well, but the Stallo is purely Sami. He can change into all kinds of beings,; animals, human beings, plants, insects, bird – anything. He can also “turn” the landscape so you miss your direction or change it so you don’t recognise familiar surroundings. Stallo is very rich and smart, he owns silver and reindeers galore, but he always wants more. To get what he wants he tries to trick the Samis into traps, and the most popular Sami stories tell how people manage to fool Stallo.

NB! Don’t mix Stallo with the noaide! He is a real wizard who people still believe in!

 

Norway April-2002