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Monday, April 8, 2019

The Hulder

When the Almighty had chucked Adam and Eve out of paradise, they didn't have much to rejoice. But they loved each other, and lived well together, and had a lot of children. Then one day, the Almighty told Eve that he would come and see her offspring. Eva thought it was embarrassing to show our Lord how many children she had, so she only presented half of them – those who were pretty and clean. As the Lord gazed at the children, he wondered where the others were at?

“These are all my children,” Eve answered.

“Is that so,” said the Almighty. “Then let those who are hidden, remain hidden.”

And hidden and invisible they stayed, taking their abode in rocks and mountains, as their children and children’s children. Only once and awhile they could show their true nature to the world of men.
The hulder as a milkmaid. Illustration by Norwegian artist Hans Gude (1879)

Mermaids, nøkk, utburd, kraken, elves, nisser and dwarves... There are many names of the beings in the folk tradition. Not seldom however, the traits of all of these creatures are blended into one being: the enchanting and mysterious hulder.

In the eastern regions, the female hulder is rarely mentioned. If they are, they emerge as the spirits of people who lost their lives in drowning accidents, and therefore reside in water. Eastwards, as far as Russia, it is the male hulder whom is most present in the legends. Usually, this beings has long hair and a great beard, and is referred to as miehtshozjin – the forest landlord – and the echo is his voice. In Poland, we find stories about dziwozony, wild women. These are very feminine and sensual forest creatures with long, fluttering hair and breasts so long that, when she runs, are thrown over her shoulder to prevent them being in the way. The male and female hulder are largely attributed the same characteristics. They are cunning, sly, sensuous, and alluring. Many have been lured astray by wood nymph – and many are those who have been helped to find the way back home, in Russia as well as in Scandinavia.

Malczewski Jacek (1887–88), Topielec w uściskach dziwożony, obraz z cyklu Rusałki

Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków

For, as the nisse and the dwarves, the huldrefolk are safeguarding and helpful to those who respect them. In the inuit folklore, the subterreanian creatures atliarusek and ingnersuït reside in the cliffs along the shore, together with the inuit guardian spirits. On the Kola Peninsula, the Sámi have a male being, which they call tava or tavaj, ensuring luck and fortune related to hunting and fishing. Also the Southern Sami tells of such a creature, the female sàjva, whom is attributed the same characteristics. Sájva was previously believed to be a sacred being, and was previously a part of the Sami religion. In the younger popular belief however, a more traditional conception of the hulder have replaced these notions, although holding on to the sàjva-name.

The creature generally referred to as the hulderfolk thus reflects the nature of the landscape in each country – in in the UK and Denmark they are therefore most often referred to as creatures of the meadows than of the forest. In England, the most common name for them are fairies, consisting of an entire population of tiny men, women and children residing in rocks and hills.

In Norway and Sweden, the hulder bears many similarities, and remain to this day perhaps the most enigmatic and famed creature of the folklore. A common notion is that the hulderfolk have mastery over certain ponds and lakes scattered across the lands; many little tarns are by that reason named after huldra, beings characterized by having a "double bottom"; at the lowest point, there are troll fish swimming about; they are only set free two days a year. In the South Sami folklore, among others, such legends exist; in Velfjord in Nothern Norway, there is such a lake, called Engavatnet.The water disappears from time to time into the subsoil so that the bottom is dry, for then to return with just as many fish as before. Although modern science has characterized this phenonemon as a turlough, the idea that some invisible force of nature is making it difficult for man to extract more of its riches than absolutely necessary, is a tad more compelling.

Appearing frequently as a beautiful alluring female, with long, golden hair, huldra lives in the mountain or in the forest. Although a delight to behold, the Norwegian hulder is most known to - in fact - have a cow’s tale. Originally, it was said, the tale was used to keeping flies of bay. Later, it more or less become a bother, the buttocks hanging and dragging in the ground. When interacting with people, she pulls it up and hiding the tale under her clothes, anxious that people might see it. If a hulder were to marry a man of our world, her tale would fall off in front of the altar. Also in Sweden, the hulder, or skogsrå, up front resembles a beautiful woman; when she turns around however, she is all hollowed out like a trough. It is the most prominent distinction between Swedish and Norwegian huldre. 

Theodor Kittelsen, Huldra. llustration for the book Trollskab (1892)
A number of stories recount the experience of encounters with these beings, leaving deep traces in the human mind. Many legends tell about a lonely guy at the shieling, in the forest shanty or at coal mine, encountering the supernatural, the alluring and bewitching hulder. She may very well appear as the man's wife's or fiancé, if he has any, and often her visit leads to sexual relation. If the creature is rejected, she turns ugly, angry and downright unpleasant. But a night with the wood nymph had consequenses. There are notions of the meeting between man and hulder leading to marriage, and if the man treated her well, happiness and prosperity came with it. If he was spiteful and mischievous, she could retaliate, making him mightily sorry.

When reading the tales and legends from the pre-industrial Scandinavia, it is easy to assume that people mostly carried a constant fear and anxiety for the subterranians and other metaphysical beings. This is not the case. Adding up all the creatures communicated within the folk tradition, it does not create a fullblown, complete image of the folk belief, but rather a catalog of stories. The legends belong in different contexts, in which they they become meaningful. To what extent people were truly devoted in such notions, trusting them, also varied widely, from strict belief to ambivalence to skepticism and disbelief. To let oneself be carried away by a good story, however, anyone would be able to experience.

We can imagine that the hungry and frozen shepherd or milkmaid downright longed to be admitted to the hulderfolk in the mountains. Labor in the old community was hard, involving long days in all kinds of weather, and rumors were that inside the mountain, there were an abundance of good food and drink, precious things and fine clothes. Who wouldn't want to visit? When first entering the mountain, voluntary or not, making good use of the hospitality of their hosts, they often stayed there forever. If they refused to accept anything - food or drink - they were gladly thrown out. It was rude to refuse, a mockery of the one who was offering. Usually, young people were taken into the mountains, and to get the girl or boy out, the community chimed the bells of their local church, a some times also succeeding. Now and then though, the captive do not want to be saved, and pray for nothing more than to stay in the mountains with the hulderfolk.

In short one might say that such legends has originated as psychological refelctions of the forces of nature, as tangible expressions of the experience of the majesty of nature, and how small one became in comparison. Respect for nature and respect for its invisible creatures might be regarded as two sides of the same coin.

Theodor Kittelsen. The disappearence of the hulder 
Water colour painting (1908)

    • Heide, Eivind (1971). Huldra og annen trollskap. Oslo: Aschehoug
    • Christensen, Olav (2000) Bergteken. Nye veger til gamle sagn. Aschehoug
    • Ellingsen, Vigdis (1994) De usynlige. Brønnøysund bokhandel

      Sunday, March 3, 2019


      Through his fairytales, Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) managed to give children, not only in Denmark, but in the whole world, a voice. His stories granted him a reputation which no Danish poet, either sooner or later, has achieved. He possessed a unique ability to engage in the child's conceptual world, to understand their thoughts and express them.

      As is the case with one of his most well-known tales to date; Thumbelina.

      First published in 1835, the story of Thumbelina is about a wife who so desperately wishes for a child, that she goes to a witch for help. For twelve silver shillings, the woman recieves a seed, which she plants, and inside the booming flower, sits the tiny Thumbelina.

      There is, as in all of Andersen's tales, a fundemental yearning making its mark. In this tale, the darkness of Thumbelina's ordeal is (the child is unmistakably kidnapped, and attempted forced into marriage), contrasted with the beauty and brightness of summer. The idea of spending her life under ground, never being able to see the sun, almost gets the best of her. Yet, hope remains, even in the darkest of times.

      As Andersen himself put into words; just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
      There was once a woman who wished very much to have a little child, but she could not obtain her wish. At last she went to a witch, and said, “I should so very much like to have a little child; can you tell me where I can find one?”
      “Oh, that can be easily managed,” said the witch. “Here is a barleycorn of a different kind to those which grow in the farmer’s fields, and which the chickens eat; put it into a flower-pot, and see what will happen.”

      “Thank you,” said the woman, and she gave the witch twelve shillings, which was the price of the barleycorn. Then she went home and planted it, and immediately there grew up a large handsome flower, something like a tulip in appearance, but with its leaves tightly closed as if it were still a bud. “It is a beautiful flower,” said the woman, and she kissed the red and golden-colored leaves, and while she did so the flower opened, and she could see that it was a real tulip. Within the flower, upon the green velvet stamens, sat a very delicate and graceful little maiden. She was scarcely half as long as a thumb, and they gave her the name of “Thumbelina,” or Tiny, because she was so small.
      Illustration for Thumbelina, 1835, by Danish artist
      Vilhelm Pedersen
      A walnut-shell, elegantly polished, served her for a cradle; her bed was formed of blue violet-leaves, with a rose-leaf for a counterpane. Here she slept at night, but during the day she amused herself on a table, where the woman had placed a plateful of water. Round this plate were wreaths of flowers with their stems in the water, and upon it floated a large tulip-leaf, which served Tiny for a boat. Here the little maiden sat and rowed herself from side to side, with two oars made of white horse-hair. It really was a very pretty sight. Tiny could, also, sing so softly and sweetly that nothing like her singing had ever before been heard. One night, while she lay in her pretty bed, a large, ugly, wet toad crept through a broken pane of glass in the window, and leaped right upon the table where Tiny lay sleeping under her rose-leaf quilt. “What a pretty little wife this would make for my son, said the toad, and she took up the walnut-shell in which little Tiny lay asleep, and jumped through the window with it into the garden.

      In the swampy margin of a broad stream in the garden lived the toad, with her son. He was uglier even than his mother, and when he saw the pretty little maiden in her elegant bed, he could only cry, “Croak, croak, croak.”

      “Don’t speak so loud, or she will wake,” said the toad, “and then she might run away, for she is as light as swan’s down. We will place her on one of the water-lily leaves out in the stream; it will be like an island to her, she is so light and small, and then she cannot escape; and, while she is away, we will make haste and prepare the state-room under the marsh, in which you are to live when you are married.”

      Far out in the stream grew a number of water-lilies, with broad green leaves, which seemed to float on the top of the water. The largest of these leaves appeared farther off than the rest, and the old toad swam out to it with the walnut-shell, in which little Tiny lay still asleep. The tiny little creature woke very early in the morning, and began to cry bitterly when she found where she was, for she could see nothing but water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the land. Meanwhile the old toad was very busy under the marsh, decking her room with rushes and wild yellow flowers, to make it look pretty for her new daughter-in-law. Then she swam out with her ugly son to the leaf on which she had placed poor little Tiny. She wanted to fetch the pretty bed, that she might put it in the bridal chamber to be ready for her. The old toad bowed low to her in the water, and said, “Here is my son, he will be your husband, and you will live happily in the marsh by the stream.”

      “Croak, croak, croak,” was all her son could say for himself; so the toad took up the elegant little bed, and swam away with it, leaving Tiny all alone on the green leaf, where she sat and wept. She could not bear to think of living with the old toad, and having her ugly son for a husband. The little fishes, who swam about in the water beneath, had seen the toad, and heard what she said, so they lifted their heads above the water to look at the little maiden. As soon as they caught sight of her, they saw she was very pretty, and it made them very sorry to think that she must go and live with the ugly toads. “No, it must never be!” so they assembled together in the water, round the green stalk which held the leaf on which the little maiden stood, and gnawed it away at the root with their teeth. Then the leaf floated down the stream, carrying Tiny far away out of reach of land.

      Tiny sailed past many towns, and the little birds in the bushes saw her, and sang, “What a lovely little creature;” so the leaf swam away with her farther and farther, till it brought her to other lands. A graceful little white butterfly constantly fluttered round her, and at last alighted on the leaf. Tiny pleased him, and she was glad of it, for now the toad could not possibly reach her, and the country through which she sailed was beautiful, and the sun shone upon the water, till it glittered like liquid gold. She took off her girdle and tied one end of it round the butterfly, and the other end of the ribbon she fastened to the leaf, which now glided on much faster than ever, taking little Tiny with it as she stood.
      Vilhelm Pedersen, illustration for Thumbelina, 1835
      Presently a large cockchafer flew by; the moment he caught sight of her, he seized her round her delicate waist with his claws, and flew with her into a tree. The green leaf floated away on the brook, and the butterfly flew with it, for he was fastened to it, and could not get away.

      Oh, how frightened little Tiny felt when the cockchafer flew with her to the tree! But especially was she sorry for the beautiful white butterfly which she had fastened to the leaf, for if he could not free himself he would die of hunger. But the cockchafer did not trouble himself at all about the matter. He seated himself by her side on a large green leaf, gave her some honey from the flowers to eat, and told her she was very pretty, though not in the least like a cockchafer. After a time, all the cockchafers turned up their feelers, and said, “She has only two legs! how ugly that looks.” “She has no feelers,” said another. “Her waist is quite slim. Pooh! she is like a human being.”

      “Oh! she is ugly,” said all the lady cockchafers, although Tiny was very pretty. Then the cockchafer who had run away with her, believed all the others when they said she was ugly, and would have nothing more to say to her, and told her she might go where she liked. Then he flew down with her from the tree, and placed her on a daisy, and she wept at the thought that she was so ugly that even the cockchafers would have nothing to say to her. And all the while she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine, and as tender and delicate as a beautiful rose-leaf. During the whole summer poor little Tiny lived quite alone in the wide forest. She wove herself a bed with blades of grass, and hung it up under a broad leaf, to protect herself from the rain. She sucked the honey from the flowers for food, and drank the dew from their leaves every morning.
      So passed away the summer and the autumn, and then came the winter,- the long, cold winter. All the birds who had sung to her so sweetly were flown away, and the trees and the flowers had withered. The large clover leaf under the shelter of which she had lived, was now rolled together and shrivelled up, nothing remained but a yellow withered stalk. She felt dreadfully cold, for her clothes were torn, and she was herself so frail and delicate, that poor little Tiny was nearly frozen to death. It began to snow too; and the snow-flakes, as they fell upon her, were like a whole shovelful falling upon one of us, for we are tall, but she was only an inch high. Then she wrapped herself up in a dry leaf, but it cracked in the middle and could not keep her warm, and she shivered with cold.
      Near the wood in which she had been living lay a corn-field, but the corn had been cut a long time; nothing remained but the bare dry stubble standing up out of the frozen ground. It was to her like struggling through a large wood. Oh! how she shivered with the cold. She came at last to the door of a field-mouse, who had a little den under the corn-stubble. There dwelt the field-mouse in warmth and comfort, with a whole roomful of corn, a kitchen, and a beautiful dining room. Poor little Tiny stood before the door just like a little beggar-girl, and begged for a small piece of barley-corn, for she had been without a morsel to eat for two days.

      “You poor little creature,” said the field-mouse, who was really a good old field-mouse, “come into my warm room and dine with me.” She was very pleased with Tiny, so she said, “You are quite welcome to stay with me all the winter, if you like; but you must keep my rooms clean and neat, and tell me stories, for I shall like to hear them very much.” And Tiny did all the field-mouse asked her, and found herself very comfortable.

      “We shall have a visitor soon,” said the field-mouse one day; “my neighbor pays me a visit once a week. He is better off than I am; he has large rooms, and wears a beautiful black velvet coat. If you could only have him for a husband, you would be well provided for indeed. But he is blind, so you must tell him some of your prettiest stories.

      But Tiny did not feel at all interested about this neighbor, for he was a mole. However, he came and paid his visit dressed in his black velvet coat.

      “He is very rich and learned, and his house is twenty times larger than mine,” said the field-mouse.

      He was rich and learned, no doubt, but he always spoke slightingly of the sun and the pretty flowers, because he had never seen them. Tiny was obliged to sing to him, “Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home,” and many other pretty songs. And the mole fell in love with her because she had such a sweet voice; but he said nothing yet, for he was very cautious.
      A short time before, the mole had dug a long passage under the earth, which led from the dwelling of the field-mouse to his own, and here she had permission to walk with Tiny whenever she liked. But he warned them not to be alarmed at the sight of a dead bird which lay in the passage. It was a perfect bird, with a beak and feathers, and could not have been dead long, and was lying just where the mole had made his passage. The mole took a piece of phosphorescent wood in his mouth, and it glittered like fire in the dark; then he went before them to light them through the long, dark passage. When they came to the spot where lay the dead bird, the mole pushed his broad nose through the ceiling, the earth gave way, so that there was a large hole, and the daylight shone into the passage. In the middle of the floor lay a dead swallow, his beautiful wings pulled close to his sides, his feet and his head drawn up under his feathers; the poor bird had evidently died of the cold. It made little Tiny very sad to see it, she did so love the little birds; all the summer they had sung and twittered for her so beautifully. But the mole pushed it aside with his crooked legs, and said, “He will sing no more now. How miserable it must be to be born a little bird! I am thankful that none of my children will ever be birds, for they can do nothing but cry, ‘Tweet, tweet,’ and always die of hunger in the winter.”

      “Yes, you may well say that, as a clever man!” exclaimed the field-mouse, “What is the use of his twittering, for when winter comes he must either starve or be frozen to death. Still birds are very high bred.”

      Tiny said nothing; but when the two others had turned their backs on the bird, she stooped down and stroked aside the soft feathers which covered the head, and kissed the closed eyelids. “Perhaps this was the one who sang to me so sweetly in the summer,” she said; “and how much pleasure it gave me, you dear, pretty bird.”

      The mole now stopped up the hole through which the daylight shone, and then accompanied the lady home. But during the night Tiny could not sleep; so she got out of bed and wove a large, beautiful carpet of hay; then she carried it to the dead bird, and spread it over him; with some down from the flowers which she had found in the field-mouse’s room. It was as soft as wool, and she spread some of it on each side of the bird, so that he might lie warmly in the cold earth. “Farewell, you pretty little bird,” said she, “farewell; thank you for your delightful singing during the summer, when all the trees were green, and the warm sun shone upon us. Then she laid her head on the bird’s breast, but she was alarmed immediately, for it seemed as if something inside the bird went “thump, thump.” It was the bird’s heart; he was not really dead, only benumbed with the cold, and the warmth had restored him to life. In autumn, all the swallows fly away into warm countries, but if one happens to linger, the cold seizes it, it becomes frozen, and falls down as if dead; it remains where it fell, and the cold snow covers it. Tiny trembled very much; she was quite frightened, for the bird was large, a great deal larger than herself,- she was only an inch high. But she took courage, laid the wool more thickly over the poor swallow, and then took a leaf which she had used for her own counterpane, and laid it over the head of the poor bird.
      The next morning she again stole out to see him. He was alive but very weak; he could only open his eyes for a moment to look at Tiny, who stood by holding a piece of decayed wood in her hand, for she had no other lantern. “Thank you, pretty little maiden,” said the sick swallow; “I have been so nicely warmed, that I shall soon regain my strength, and be able to fly about again in the warm sunshine.”

      “Oh,” she said, “it is cold out of doors now; it snows and freezes. Stay in your warm bed; I will take care of you.”

      Then she brought the swallow some water in a flower-leaf, and after he had drank, he told her that he had wounded one of his wings in a thorn-bush, and could not fly as fast as the others, who were soon far away on their journey to warm countries. Then at last he had fallen to the earth, and could remember no more, nor how he came to be where she had found him. The whole winter the swallow remained underground, and Tiny nursed him with care and love. Neither the mole nor the field-mouse knew anything about it, for they did not like swallows. Very soon the spring time came, and the sun warmed the earth. Then the swallow bade farewell to Tiny, and she opened the hole in the ceiling which the mole had made. The sun shone in upon them so beautifully, that the swallow asked her if she would go with him; she could sit on his back, he said, and he would fly away with her into the green woods. But Tiny knew it would make the field-mouse very grieved if she left her in that manner, so she said, “No, I cannot.”

      “Farewell, then, farewell, you good, pretty little maiden,” said the swallow; and he flew out into the sunshine.

      Tiny followed him with her eyes, and the tears rose ran down her cheeks. She was very fond of the poor swallow.

      “Tweet, tweet,” sang the bird, as he flew out into the green woods, and Tiny felt very sad. She was not allowed to go out into the warm sunshine. The corn which had been sown in the field over the house of the field-mouse had grown up high into the air, and formed a thick wood to Tiny, who was only an inch in height.

      “You are going to be married, Tiny,” said the field-mouse. “My neighbor has asked for you. What good fortune for a poor child like you. Now we will prepare your wedding clothes. They must be both woollen and linen. Nothing must be wanting when you are the mole’s wife.”

      Tiny had to turn the spindle, and the field-mouse hired four spiders, who were to weave day and night. Every evening the mole visited her, and was continually speaking of the time when the summer would be over. Then he would keep his wedding-day with Tiny; but now the heat of the sun was so great that it burned the earth, and made it quite hard, like a stone. As soon, as the summer was over, the wedding should take place. But Tiny was not at all pleased; for she did not like the tiresome mole. Every morning when the sun rose, and every evening when it went down, she would creep out at the door, and as the wind blew aside the ears of corn, so that she could see the blue sky, she thought how beautiful and bright it seemed out there, and wished so much to see her dear swallow again. But he never returned; for by this time he had flown far away into the lovely green forest.

      When autumn arrived, Tiny had her outfit quite ready; and the field-mouse said to her, “In four weeks the wedding must take place.”

      Then Tiny wept, and said she would not marry the disagreeable mole.

      “Nonsense,” replied the field-mouse. “Now don’t be obstinate, or I shall bite you with my white teeth. He is a very handsome mole; the queen herself does not wear more beautiful velvets and furs. His kitchen and cellars are quite full. You ought to be very thankful for such good fortune.”

      So the wedding-day was fixed, on which the mole was to fetch Tiny away to live with him, deep under the earth, and never again to see the warm sun, because he did not like it. The poor child was very unhappy at the thought of saying farewell to the beautiful sun, and as the field-mouse had given her permission to stand at the door, she went to look at it once more.

      “Farewell bright sun,” she cried, stretching out her arm towards it; and then she walked a short distance from the house; for the corn had been cut, and only the dry stubble remained in the fields. “Farewell, farewell,” she repeated, twining her arm round a little red flower that grew just by her side. “Greet the little swallow from me, if you should see him again.”

      “Tweet, tweet,” sounded over her head suddenly. She looked up, and there was the swallow himself flying close by. As soon as he spied Tiny, he was delighted; and then she told him how unwilling she felt to marry the ugly mole, and to live always beneath the earth, and never to see the bright sun any more. And as she told him she wept.

      “Cold winter is coming,” said the swallow, “and I am going to fly away into warmer countries. Will you go with me? You can sit on my back, and fasten yourself on with your sash. Then we can fly away from the ugly mole and his gloomy rooms,- far away, over the mountains, into warmer countries, where the sun shines more brightly- than here; where it is always summer, and the flowers bloom in greater beauty. Fly now with me, dear little Tiny; you saved my life when I lay frozen in that dark passage.”

      “Yes, I will go with you,” said Tiny; and she seated herself on the bird’s back, with her feet on his outstretched wings, and tied her girdle to one of his strongest feathers.

      Then the swallow rose in the air, and flew over forest and over sea, high above the highest mountains, covered with eternal snow. Tiny would have been frozen in the cold air, but she crept under the bird’s warm feathers, keeping her little head uncovered, so that she might admire the beautiful lands over which they passed. At length they reached the warm countries, where the sun shines brightly, and the sky seems so much higher above the earth. Here, on the hedges, and by the wayside, grew purple, green, and white grapes; lemons and oranges hung from trees in the woods; and the air was fragrant with myrtles and orange blossoms. Beautiful children ran along the country lanes, playing with large gay butterflies; and as the swallow flew farther and farther, every place appeared still more lovely.

      At last they came to a blue lake, and by the side of it, shaded by trees of the deepest green, stood a palace of dazzling white marble, built in the olden times. Vines clustered round its lofty pillars, and at the top were many swallows’ nests, and one of these was the home of the swallow who carried Tiny.

      “This is my house,” said the swallow; “but it would not do for you to live there- you would not be comfortable. You must choose for yourself one of those lovely flowers, and I will put you down upon it, and then you shall have everything that you can wish to make you happy.”

      “That will be delightful,” she said, and clapped her little hands for joy.

      A large marble pillar lay on the ground, which, in falling, had been broken into three pieces. Between these pieces grew the most beautiful large white flowers; so the swallow flew down with Tiny, and placed her on one of the broad leaves. But how surprised she was to see in the middle of the flower, a tiny little man, as white and transparent as if he had been made of crystal! He had a gold crown on his head, and delicate wings at his shoulders, and was not much larger than Tiny herself. He was the angel of the flower; for a tiny man and a tiny woman dwell in every flower; and this was the king of them all.

      “Oh, how beautiful he is!” whispered Tiny to the swallow.

      The little prince was at first quite frightened at the bird, who was like a giant, compared to such a delicate little creature as himself; but when he saw Tiny, he was delighted, and thought her the prettiest little maiden he had ever seen. He took the gold crown from his head, and placed it on hers, and asked her name, and if she would be his wife, and queen over all the flowers.

      This certainly was a very different sort of husband to the son of a toad, or the mole, with my black velvet and fur; so she said, “Yes,” to the handsome prince. Then all the flowers opened, and out of each came a little lady or a tiny lord, all so pretty it was quite a pleasure to look at them. Each of them brought Tiny a present; but the best gift was a pair of beautiful wings, which had belonged to a large white fly and they fastened them to Tiny’s shoulders, so that she might fly from flower to flower. Then there was much rejoicing, and the little swallow who sat above them, in his nest, was asked to sing a wedding song, which he did as well as he could; but in his heart he felt sad for he was very fond of Tiny, and would have liked never to part from her again.

      “You must not be called Tiny any more,” said the spirit of the flowers to her. “It is an ugly name, and you are so very pretty. We will call you Maia.”

      “Farewell, farewell,” said the swallow, with a heavy heart as he left the warm countries to fly back into Denmark. There he had a nest over the window of a house in which dwelt the writer of fairy tales. The swallow sang, “Tweet, tweet,” and from his song came the whole story.
      Vilhelm Pedersen, illustration for Thumbelina, 1835

      ℹ️ Translation of Thumbelina retrieved from

      Friday, February 1, 2019

      The Mare

      Once upon a time there was a man, whom every night found himself ridden by a mare. He could not for the life of him understand how she managed to get in, but eventually he discovered a hole in the wall, and immediately after which stuffed a cork in it.

      When he woke up the following morning, he saw a naked woman crouching on the floor. He bought clothes for her, and as she was a beautiful woman, he got her christened and married her. They had six children and lived happily together for eight years.

      Then, a Christmas Eve when the man had had a little too much to drink, he started asking questions about her folks. She replied that she had neither a father nor mother. "Well, I don't know your family, but I'll show you where you came from," said the man, and then he took the cork out of the hole. At the same moment, his wife slipped out through the hole, and he never saw her again.
      This legend from the county of Telemark does not tell if the man grieved when his wife disappeared. Nevertheless, he was probably happier than many others who were subjected to the evening rides of the mare. One unfortunate wretch who simply died due to an encounter with her, was the Swedish king Vanlande whom Snorrir tells about in the Ynglinge saga. One time the king went on one his many voyages, he had promised his wife, Driva, to come back to her before three winters were over. But when he did not come on time, his abandoned wife hired the sorceress Huld for her to kill her husband. Vanlandi had scarcely gone to sleep when he complained that the nightmare "rode him;" when the men held the king's head it "trod on his legs" on the point of breaking, and when the retinue then "seized his feet" the creature fatally "pressed down on his head." 

      The Nightmare (1800) by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard, 
      Danish painter and professor of painting, mythology, and anatomy at the 

      The work of Snorri Sturlasson may have been written in the 13th century, but the notions of demons who sought people at night, clinging to them, strangling them, "riding them to torment”, date all the way back to the Sumerians, 3000 years before Christ. Now, there were rational souls - even in the old days - thinking that nightmares could be caused by more everyday things, such as eating too much hot porridge in the evening, sleeping on your back or breathing in stuffy air. Such diplomacy however, was most likely seen as heresy.

      In Norwegian and Danish, the words for "nightmare" are mareritt and mareridt respectively, which can be directly translated as "mare-ride". The Icelandic word martröð has the same meaning (-tröð from the verb troða, "trample", "stamp on", related to "tread"), whereas the Swedish mardröm translates as "mare-dream".

      In the folk tradition, mara apparently emerges as an ordinary being, but at night her soul flies out in search of someone to afflict, people and animals alike. Through holes and other tiny openings, she enters people’s homes. The person in question is unaware of the shape-shift she endures.

      The mare could take many forms; a desirable woman who hinged upon young boys and men, casting upon them erotic fantasies, or an old, ugly, even deceased hag, in desperate search for a roll in the hay. It also happened that she appeared in animal shape, whereas dog, cat or toad are among the animals most often mentioned in the tradition.

      Why were some women cursed in such a manner? Many notions seem to blame the mother. If she tried to alleviate and ease her child birth by using magic tricks - say crawling through the fetus of a foal or through a horse’s harness (!) – her newborn baby girl might be cursed to be a mare. If she had a son, he would become a werewolf. (It was said that werewolves were especially looking to harm pregnant women). Both father and mother could otherwise be held responsible for the fate of their children. In case of adultery, their daughters became mares, their sons became werewolves. 

      Lithographie by German artist Ernst Barlach (1912)

      Der Nachtalb

      The notions about mara are also in posession of religious traits, as the creature was seen as Satan himself. Anyone possessing evil thoughts was in danger of being haunted by mara. According to older Christian law, those who "nightly rode men and livestock" should be heavily penalized, and during the time of the witch hunts, the mare, according to the notions, played a significant role in joining man and demon.

      Luckily, help was close at hand. To guard against mara, one could resort to a little bit of everything, from hanging up growths of old birch twigs, to putting a knife with leaf in the bedstead with the blade turned up. It was also advisable to put the tips of the shoes facing outwards under the bed, or switching the right and left shoe. If the livestock had become ill of the nightly mares, the so-called “mare’s prayer”, told in different variations throughout Norway. In Nordland the wording was this:
      Mare, mare of mine,
      if inside you are old Bessie, you must go out,

      With cane and stone,
      With iron and with bones,
      Then comes saint Olaf with his sword,
      Strikes your back -
      You are going on a hell of a journey
      be aware, Mare, Mare of mine.
      For those who were more on the sober side however, regularly readings of the Lord's Prayer would do. 


      • Valebrokk, Eva (1995) Trollpakk og andre vetter. Boksenteret: Oslo