Scandinavian folklore

Scandinavian folklore, i.e. the folklore of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, has evolved from Norse mythology, but represents a later development. The transition from the first to the second term is marked by the Christianization of Scandinavia around the 10th century. Iceland is not a part of Scandinavia (although it is a Nordic country) but should nevertheless be regarded as Scandinavian in this aspect. The folklore of Finland and of the Sami people has been much influenced by Scandinavian folklore, but has retained an independent character. Because of their common Germanic origin, Scandinavian folklore shows a large correspondence with e.g. the folklores of England and Germany.

In Scandinavian folklore, belief in the old gods in one form or another has all but disappeared, with a few exceptions (Odin (Oden) is e.g. said to lead the Wild Hunt; Thor (Tor) still chase trolls with his thunder). However, the 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. The stories about the livings and doings of these beings, and their interaction with humans, constitute the major part of Scandinavian folklore. They represent different ideas about man's fight with, or rather lack of power before nature. Even the helpful tomte 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).

Perhaps most abundant are the stories about the race of trolls, a cunning but 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 can't stand the sound of church bells) typically in the mountains (The fjells).

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.

Elves are usually 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". She has a male parallel in the nix (näcken or nøkken), a water spirit who was also believed able to transform into a predatory kelpie (bäckahäst).

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 appears to be most plentiful, although a famous specimen is also said to reside in the Swedish lake Storsjön. The coasts of Norway are reportedly also haunted by the terrifying Kraken, as well as the ghastly draugen.

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.


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