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Scandinavian folklore

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Scandinavian folklore

Post by CJWatso on December 20th 2008, 11:36 am

Scandinavian folklore is the folklore of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Swedish speaking parts of Finland.

In Scandinavia the term 'folklore' is not often used in academic circles, instead terms such as Folketro (folk belief (older Almuetro)) or Folkesagn (folk tales) have been coined. In common speech, it is simply referred to as den Gamle Tro (the old belief), or perhaps sæd skik og brug (customs, the way). It evolved from Norse paganism, and it is in technical terms, labelled low-mythology, while the norse mythology is called high-mythology. High-mythology builds on low-mythology in its parts. The Christianization of Scandinavia around the 10th century meant that the high-mythology more or less phased out of use. This process may have been quite rapid because these never were the beliefs of the lower classes. Iceland and the Faroe Islands are not a part of Scandinavia (although they are Nordic countries) but should nevertheless be regarded as Scandinavian in folkloric terms. The folklore/religion of Finland and of the Sami people are clearly related to Scandinavian folklore/religion, but have retained an independent character. Because of their common Germanic origin, Scandinavian folklore shows a large correspondence with folklores elsewhere, such as in Canadian folklore, England and Germany among others. Most of what has survived there might be found, of a similar nature, in the Baltic countries.

In Scandinavian folklore, belief in the old gods still exists, but not in the form they show in high mythology. Some of the ones known in both forms of mythology are Odin (Oden), who is said to lead the Wild Hunt; Thor (Tor) who still chases trolls with his thunder, both in this context regarded as "jægere" (hunters), and we see also Ull (as Ul) and Hœnir in this role. Loki, as a housegod of the housefire, and sometimes Freyja, show up. A large number of different mythological creatures (or rather races, since few of them can be considered animals) from Norse mythology continue to live on, surprisingly little affected by Christian beliefs, even though the wicked ones at times find an ally in the Devil or had problems with Christian symbols. Nothing was surer, though, to scare these beings than a piece of steel, such as a strategically placed pair of scissors or a knife, or with salt and fire. The stories about the livings and doings of these beings, and their interaction with humans, constitute the major part of Scandinavian folklore. Even the helpful tomte, nisse, gårdbo or gårdbuk could turn into a fearsome adversary if not treated with caution and respect. Many of them blend into each other when their morals and/or place of residence are similar, and equally when one moves from one region in Scandinavia to another (the same is true for Norse mythology).

Beings of Scandinavian folklore
Imaginary view of the Kraken.

Perhaps most abundant are the stories about the race of trolls, a cunning and deceitful people, living in the forestlands. Trolls are generally not fair to behold, even though the female trollkonor could appear quite attractive until you spotted the tail. When large, they are interchangeable with giants (jotner, jättar or jætter), who live even farther from society (since they cannot stand the sound of church bells) typically in the mountains (The fjells). In older tales, it becomes clear however that the word troll/trold simply means someone who eats human flesh etc. and engage in the worst crimes in society such as rape.

The race of dwarves (or dark/black elves) live on as wights (vättar or huldrefolk), although with somewhat different characteristics. Wights live underground, often right next to human settlements, and are commonly a menace to their ground-dwelling neighbors. The tomte or nisse is a good wight, who takes care of the house and barn when the farmer is asleep, but only if the farmer reciprocates by setting out food for the nisse. If the nisse is ignored or maltreated, he can sabotage a lot of the work on the farm. More correctly maybe, is it to say that many of the terms in Nordic beliefs can be used broadly about many different set of beings, and one first know for sure what there are meant, when seen in context - fx can an Elver be labeled dværg (dwarf) in some contexts, but only because they in common lore are a head smaller than common people, and the same applies with the nisse, because they are no taller than a 5 year old child. Vætter can be used as a loose word about nearly all beings in the old belief, as well as "Underjordiske" " (the hidden ones).

Elves are in some parts mostly described as female, beautiful residents of forest and meadows, skilled in magic and illusions. Particularly in Denmark, they have merged with the dangerous and seductive huldra or skogsrå, the "keeper of the forest", here often called hylde.

Water spirits can be found in, among others, the nix (näcken or nøkken), a water spirit who was also believed able to transform into a predatory kelpie (bäckahäst or bækhest).

In Scandinavian folklore, dragons are commonly known as lindworms, and are monstrous serpents with or without hind legs. In Norway and Denmark, they typically live in the ocean, and here, tales of marine monsters appear to be most plentiful, although a famous specimen is also said to reside in the Swedish lake Storsjön. The Norwegian lake Seljordsvatn is also famous for its claimed inhabitant, a serpent known as Selma. The coasts of Norway are reportedly also haunted by the terrifying Kraken, as well as the ghastly draug.

The myling is the ghost of a child left to die in the wilderness, and the mara is a wraith said to cause nightmares and sleep paralysis. Stories also recollects of will o' the wisps (irrbloss, lyktgubbar or lygtemænd), often assumed to be the spirits of people who had drowned in lakes and marshes. According to some stories, they could lead a lost wanderer to a death similar to their own; according to others, they could lead him home.

These are only a few of the beings, and only shortly explained.
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