Nordic folklore

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Nordic folklore is the folklore of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. It has common roots with, and has been mutually influenced by, folklore in England, Germany, the Low Countries, the Baltic countries, Finland and Sapmi. Folklore is a concept encompassing expressive traditions of a particular culture or group. The peoples of Scandinavia are heterogenous, as are the oral genres and material culture that has been common in their lands. However, there are some commonalities across Scandinavian folkloric traditions, among them a common ground in elements from Norse mythology as well as Christian conceptions of the world.

Among the many tales common in Scandinavian oral traditions, some have become known beyond Scandinavian borders – examples include The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body.

Faroe islandsEdit

The Faroe Islands are a small archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean, between Iceland and Norway. The islands have a long and rich history, dating back to at least the Viking Age. The Faroese people are descended from the Vikings, and their culture and folklore reflect this heritage.[1] Faroese folklore is a rich and varied tapestry, woven from a variety of sources. The Vikings brought their own myths and legends with them to the Faroes, and these were later supplemented by stories from other cultures, such as the Celts.[2] The Faroese people also have a strong oral tradition,[3] and many stories have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth.[3]


Some of the most common folk traditions in the Faroe Islands:

  • Kvæði (Ballads): Kvæði are Faroese ballads, which are typically long and epic in nature. They often tell stories of Faroese history, mythology, and folklore.
  • Rúnir (Runes): Runes are a type of writing system that was used by the Vikings. Runes are still used in the Faroe Islands today, and they are often used to decorate objects such as jewelry and furniture.
  • Føroyskur dansur (Dance) The dance in itself only consists in holding each other's hands, while the dancers form a circle. When more and more dancers join the dance ring, the circle starts to bend and forms a new one within itself, and if the number of dancers is high enough and the space in the room allows it, a new one will form within that, too – but of course still in one unbroken circle or chain. This means every dancer must follow these curves of the chain, and soon is in the outer circle, then in the middle of the chain. The dancers thereby pass each other face-to-face twice in each round.
  • Grindadráp (Whaling) This traditional whaling practice is deeply rooted in the cultural history and mythology of the Faroese people and has been a significant part of their way of life for centuries. The Grindadráp is associated with various customs, beliefs, and rituals, including the importance of communal cooperation and the sharing of resources. However, the Grindadráp is also a contested and controversial practice in modern times, with concerns about its impact on animal welfare and sustainability.


Faroese cuisine is a unique blend of Nordic, Celtic, and Norse influences. The islands have been inhabited for centuries, and their cuisine has evolved over time. Faroese food is known for its use of fresh, local ingredients, and its simple, hearty flavors. Some examples of local dishes include:

  • Ræstur fiskur is a type of fermented fish that is a staple of Faroese cuisine. It is made by salting and drying fish for several weeks, and then allowing it to ferment. Ræstur fiskur has a strong, salty flavor, and it is often eaten with potatoes and butter.
  • Slátur is a type of traditional Faroese sausage that is made from a variety of meats, including lamb, pork, and beef. It is often smoked and cured, and it has a strong, savory flavor. Slátur is typically eaten on special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter.
  • Fiskir og hvørt is a type of Faroese stew that is made with fish, potatoes, and vegetables.
  • Rúgbrauð is a type of Faroese rye bread that is a staple of the Faroese diet. It is made with rye flour, water, and salt, and it has a strong, hearty flavor. Rúgbrauð is often eaten with butter, cheese, or meat.


Traditional folk architecture of the Faroe Islands includes:

  • Grass-roofed houses: Traditional Faroese houses often have grass roofs, which are made by layering turf on top of a wooden frame. The grass helps to insulate the house, keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.[4]
  • Rundkirke (Round Church): The Faroe Islands are home to several unique churches, including the Rundkirke in the village of Funningur. Built in the 11th century, this church is one of the oldest wooden churches in Europe and features a distinctive circular design.[4]
  • Boat houses: Given the Faroe Islands' strong maritime culture and fishing industry, boat houses are a common sight along the coast. These buildings, which are often painted in bright colors, are used to store fishing boats and equipment.[4]
  • Traditional Faroese warehouses: Known as "hjallur" in Faroese, these buildings are used for drying and storing fish. They are typically built on stilts over the water and feature distinctive black tarred wooden walls.[4]


  • Tróndur was a powerful Viking chieftain who lived in the Faroe Islands during the 9th century. According to legend, Tróndur was killed by a Christian missionary named Sigmundur Brestisson, who had come to the islands to spread Christianity. Tróndur's legacy lives on in Faroese folklore, where he is often portrayed as a tragic hero.
  • The Selkie is a mythical creature that is part-human and part-seal. According to legend, Selkies can shed their seal skins and transform into humans. There are many stories in Faroese folklore about Selkies falling in love with humans and leaving their sea life behind to live on land.
  • The Huldufólk are a race of fairies or elves who are said to live in the mountains, hills, and rocks of the Faroes. They are said to be similar in appearance to humans, but they are much smaller and have pale skin and long, dark hair. The huldufólk are generally benevolent creatures, but they can be mischievous if they are angered.[5]
  • Risin and Kellingin are a pair of giants who are said to live on the island of Eysturoy. They are said to be very large and strong, and they are often depicted as being angry and destructive.[6][7]
  • The dreygur is a legendary creature from Faroese folklore. It is said to be a type of undead being that inhabits the mountains and hills of the Faroe Islands.[8] The dreygur is typically described as a large, strong creature with pale skin and long, dark hair. It is often depicted as being cannibalistic.[9]



  • Þorrablót is an annual mid-winter festival that celebrates traditional Icelandic cuisine. The festival is named after the month of Þorri, which falls in January or February, and features dishes such as fermented shark, dried fish, and smoked lamb. The festival also includes music, dancing, and other cultural activities.
  • Ásatrú is a revival of the pre-Christian Norse religion, which was practiced in Iceland before the country converted to Christianity in the 11th century. Ásatrú is based on the worship of the old Norse gods, such as Odin, Thor, and Freyja, and includes rituals and ceremonies that celebrate the natural world and Iceland's Viking heritage.[10][11]
  • Jólabókaflóð or "Christmas book flood," is a unique Icelandic tradition that celebrates the country's love of reading. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Icelandic publishers release a flood of new books, and Icelanders give books as gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. The tradition dates back to World War II, when restrictions on imported goods led to a surge in domestic publishing.
  • Íslendingasögur (Icelandic Sagas or Sagas of Icelanders) are a series of prose narratives about events that took place in Iceland in the 9th, 10th and early 11th centuries.[12] They are mostly based on historical events, but they also contain elements of fiction. The sagas tell the stories of the early settlers of Iceland, their families, and their descendants.[13] Íslendingasögur are considered to be some of the finest examples of medieval literature.[14] The sagas were originally written down in the 13th and 14th centuries, but they are believed to have been passed down orally for many years before that.[15]


Icelandic cuisine has been shaped by the country's harsh climate and isolation, with many dishes featuring preserved or dried ingredients. Here are a few examples:

  • Hákarl is a traditional Icelandic dish made from fermented shark meat. The meat is buried in the ground for several months to ferment, then hung to dry for several more months. The result is a pungent and chewy meat that is considered a delicacy in Iceland.[16]
  • Harðfiskur, or "hard fish," is a dried fish snack that is popular in Iceland. The fish is typically cod or haddock and is dried in the sun or by artificial means until it is hard and crispy. It is often eaten as a snack with butter or dipped in a variety of sauces.
  • Hangikjöt is a smoked lamb dish that is traditionally served at Christmas. The lamb is cured with salt and sugar, then smoked over birch wood for several days. The resulting meat is tender and flavorful and is often served with boiled potatoes and a white sauce made from flour, milk, and the cooking liquid from the lamb.[17]


  • The Yule Lads, or Jólasveinar in Icelandic, are a group of 13 mischievous spirits who are said to visit children in the 13 nights leading up to Christmas.[18] Each Yule Lad has his own unique personality and behavior, with names like Door-Slammer, Sausage-Swiper, and Spoon-Licker.[18]
  • The Raven Banner is a legendary flag that was said to have been flown by Viking chieftains in Iceland during the 9th and 10th centuries. According to legend, the banner was made of black silk with a raven depicted on it, and it was said to bring victory in battle to those who flew it. Scholars debate the veracity of these claims.
  • The four landvættir (land wights) of Iceland are four protective spirits associated with the cardinal directions: Dreki (dragon) in the east, Gammur (eagle) in the north, Griðungur (bull) in the west, and Bergrisi (giant) in the south. They are often depicted on the country's coat of arms and currency, and are believed to be benevolent spirits who will bring good fortune to those who respect the land.[19][20]


  • Þingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important historical sites in Iceland. It is the site of the Alþingi, the oldest parliament in the world, which was founded in 930 AD.[21]
  • Skógafoss is a waterfall located in the south of Iceland. The waterfall is home to a number of folk tales, including one about hidden treasure that is said to be buried at the base of the waterfall by Þrasi Þórólfsson.[22]
  • Reynisfjara is a black sand beach located in the south of Iceland. It is known for its towering basalt columns and its sea stacks.[23] The beach is also home to a number of folk tales, including one about a pair of trolls who were turned to stone by the sun.[24]

Folklore figuresEdit

A large number of different mythological creatures from Scandinavian folklore have become well known in other parts of the world, mainly through popular culture and fantasy genres. Some of these are:


Mother Troll and Her Sons by Swedish painter John Bauer, 1915.

Troll (Norwegian and Swedish), trolde (Danish) is a designation for several types of human-like supernatural beings in Scandinavian folklore. They are mentioned in the Edda (1220) as a monster with many heads. Later, trolls became characters in fairy tales, legends and ballads. They play a main part in many of the fairy tales from Asbjørnsen and Moes collections of Norwegian tales (1844). Trolls may be compared to many supernatural beings in other cultures, for instance the Cyclopes of Homer's Odyssey. In Swedish, such beings are often termed 'jätte' (giant), a word related to the Norse 'jotun'. The origins of the word troll is uncertain.

Trolls are described in many ways in Scandinavian folk literature, but they are often portrayed as stupid, and slow to act. In fairy tales and legends about trolls, the plot is often that a human with courage and presence of mind can outwit a troll. Sometimes saints' legends involve a holy man tricking an enormous troll to build a church. Trolls come in many different shapes and forms, and are generally not fair to behold, as they can have as many as nine heads. Trolls live throughout the land. They dwell in mountains, under bridges, and at the bottom of lakes. Trolls who live in the mountains may be rich and, hoarding mounds of gold and silver in their cliff dwellings. Dovregubben, a troll king, lives inside the Dovre Mountains with his court, as described in detail in Ibsen's Peer Gynt.


Ängsälvor, "meadow elves", (1850), painting by Nils Blommér

Elves (in Swedish, Älva if female and Alv if male, Alv in Norwegian, and Elver in Danish) are in some parts mostly described as female (in contrast to the light and dark elves in the Edda), otherworldly, beautiful and seductive residents of forests, meadows and mires. They are skilled in magic and illusions. Sometimes they are described as small fairies, sometimes as full-sized women and sometimes as half transparent spirits, or a mix thereof. They are closely linked to the mist and it is often said in Sweden that, "the Elves are dancing in the mist". The female form of Elves may have originated from the female deities called Dís (singular) and Díser (plural) found in pre-Christian Scandinavian religion. They were very powerful spirits closely linked to the seid magic. Even today the word "dis" is a synonym for mist or very light rain in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Particularly in Denmark, the female elves have merged with the dangerous and seductive huldra, skogsfrun or "keeper of the forest", often called hylde. In some parts of Sweden the elves also share features with the Skogsfrun, "Huldra", or "Hylda", and can seduce and bewitch careless men and suck the life out of them or make them go down in the mire and drown. But at the same time the Skogsrå exists as its own being, with other distinct features clearly separating it from the elves. In more modern tales, it isn't uncommon for a rather ugly male Tomte, Troll, Vätte or a Dwarf to fall in love with a beautiful Elven female, as the beginning of a story of impossible or forbidden love.


The Huldra, Hylda, Skogsrå or Skogfru (Forest wife/woman) is a dangerous seductress who lives in the forest. The Huldra is said to lure men with her charm. She has a long cow's tail, or according to some traditions, that of a fox, which she ties under her skirt in order to hide it from men. If she can manage to get married in a church, her tail falls off and she becomes human.[citation needed]


In Scandinavia, there was the Nattmara. The Mara (or, in English, "nightmare") appears as a skinny young woman, dressed in a nightgown, with pale skin and long black hair and nails. After turning into sand, they could slip through the slimmest crack in the wood of a wall and terrorize the sleeping by "riding" on their chest, thus giving them nightmares. (This appears to describe "apparitions" commonly seen and/or felt during episodes of sleep paralysis.) The Mara traditionally rode on cattle, which would be left drained of energy and with tangled fur at the Mara's touch. Trees would curl up and wilt at the Mara's touch as well. In some tales, like the Banshee, they served as an omen of death. If one were to leave a dirty doll in a family living room, one of the members would soon fall ill and die of tuberculosis. ("Lung soot", another name for tuberculosis, referred to the effect of proper chimneys in 18th through 19th century homes. Inhabitants would therefore contract diseases due to inhaling smoke on a daily basis.)

There was some discrepancy as to how they came into being. Some stories say that the Maras are restless children, whose souls leave their body at night to haunt the living. Another tale explains that if a pregnant woman pulled a horse placenta over her head before giving birth, the child would be delivered safely; however, if it were a son, he would become a werewolf, and if a daughter, a Mara.[citation needed]


Theodor Kittelsen's Nøkken from 1904

Nøkken, näcken, or strömkarlen, is a dangerous fresh water-dwelling creature. The nøkk plays a fiddle to lure his victims out onto thin ice on foot or onto water in leaky boats, then draws them down to the bottom of the water where he is waiting for them. The nøkk is also a shapeshifter, who usually changes into a horse or a man in order to lure victims to him.


Storsjöodjuret (The Great Lake Monster) is a lake monster said to live in the 90-metre-deep (300 ft) lake Storsjön in Jämtland in the middle of Sweden, the same time as the Loch Ness Monster from Scotland.


Selma is a legendary sea serpent said to live in the 13-kilometre-long (8-mile) Lake Seljord (Seljordsvatnet) in Seljord, Vestfold og Telemark, Norway.


The Kraken is a legendary sea-monster, resembling a giant octopus or squid said to appear off the coasts of Norway.


An illustration made by Gudmund Stenersen of an angry nisse stealing hay from a farmer

The Nisse (in southern Sweden, Norway and Denmark) or tomte (in Sweden) is a benevolent 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 and he himself also takes care of his family, farm and animals. If the nisse is ignored or maltreated or the farm is not cared for, he is likely to sabotage the work instead to teach the farmer a lesson. Although the nisse should be treated with respect, some tales warn against treating him too kindly. There's a Swedish story in which a farmer and his wife entered their barn early in the morning and found a little, old, grey man sweeping the floor. They saw his clothing, which was nothing more than torn rags, and the wife decided to make him some new ones; when the nisse found them in the barn, however, he considered himself too elegant to perform any more farm labour and thus disappeared from the farm.[citation needed] Nisser are also associated with Christmas and the yule time. Farmers customarily place bowls of rice porridge on their doorsteps to please the nisser, comparative to the cookies and milk left out for Santa Claus in other cultures. Some believe that the nisse brings them presents as well.

In Swedish, the word "tomten" (definite form of "tomte") is very closely linked to the word for the plot of land where a house or cottage is built, which is called "tomten" as well (definite form of "tomt"). Therefore, some scholars believe that the wight Tomten originates from some sort of general house god or deity prior to Old Norse religion.[citation needed] A Nisse/Tomte is said to be able to change his size between that of a 5-year-old child and a thumb, and also to have the ability to make himself invisible.

A type of wight from Northern Sweden called Vittra lives underground, is invisible most of the time and has its own cattle. Most of the time Vittra are rather distant and do not meddle in human affairs, but are fearsome when enraged. This can be achieved by not respecting them properly, for example by neglecting to perform certain rituals (such as saying "look out" when putting out hot water or going to the toilet so they can move out of the way) or building your home too close to or, even worse, on top of their home, disturbing their cattle or blocking their roads. They can make your life very very miserable or even dangerous – they do whatever it takes to drive you away, even arrange accidents that will harm or even kill you. Even in modern days, people have rebuilt or moved houses in order not to block a "Vittra-way", or moved from houses that are deemed a "Vittra-place" (Vittra ställe) because of bad luck – although this is rather uncommon. In tales told in the north of Sweden, Vittra often take the place that trolls, tomte and vättar hold in the same stories told in other parts of the country. Vittra are believed to sometimes "borrow" cattle that later would be returned to the owner with the ability to give more milk as a sign of gratitude. This tradition is heavily influenced by the fact that it was developed during a time when people let their cattle graze on mountains or in the forest for long periods of the year.

The circhos is a sea creature that looks like a man with three toes on each foot.[25][26] Its skin is black and red. It has a long left foot and a small right foot which drags behind, making it lean left when walking.[27]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Howell, Catherine Herbert (2016). People of the world : cultures and traditions, ancestry and identity. K. David Harrison, National Geographic Society. Washington, D.C. ISBN 978-1-4262-1708-1. OCLC 936532505.
  2. ^ Wylie, Jonathan (1987). The Faroe Islands Interpretations of History. Lexington, Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-8568-8. OCLC 1241873034.
  3. ^ a b Leonard, S. P. Faroese skjaldur : an endangered oral tradition of the North Atlantic. ISBN 978-0-9566052-0-7. OCLC 751703430.
  4. ^ a b c d Proctor, James (2019). Faroe Islands : the Bradt travel guide. Chalfont St. Peter, England. ISBN 978-1-78477-632-9. OCLC 1085193855.
  5. ^ Maurer, Konrad (1860). Isländische Volkssagen der Gegenwart... (in German). J. C. Hinrichs. Archived from the original on 28 April 2023. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  6. ^ Hammershaimb, V. U.; Jakobsen, Jakob (1891). Faerosk anthologi. S.L. Mollers bogtrykkeri. OCLC 954234796.
  7. ^ "The giant and the witch". Archived from the original on 30 April 2023. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  8. ^ Langeslag, P.S. Seasons in the literatures of the medieval North. ISBN 978-1-78204-584-7. OCLC 1268190091.
  9. ^ Smith, Gregg A. (2008). The function of the living dead in medieval Norse and Celtic literature: death and desire. Mellen. ISBN 978-0-7734-5353-1. OCLC 220341788.
  10. ^ Modern paganism in world cultures : comparative perspectives. Michael Strmiska. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. 2005. ISBN 978-1-85109-613-8. OCLC 659831812.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ Strmiska, Michael (1 October 2000). "Ásatrú in Iceland: The Rebirth of Nordic Paganism?". Nova Religio. 4 (1): 106–132. doi:10.1525/nr.2000.4.1.106. ISSN 1092-6690.
  12. ^ "Njáls saga", The Icelandic Family Saga, Harvard University Press, pp. 291–307, 31 December 1967, doi:10.4159/harvard.9780674729292.c30, ISBN 9780674729292, retrieved 1 May 2023
  13. ^ Bredsdorff, Thomas (2001). Chaos & love : the philosophy of the Icelandic family sagas. Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen. ISBN 87-7289-570-5. OCLC 47704862.
  14. ^ L., Byock, Jesse (28 April 2023). Feud in the Icelandic saga. ISBN 978-0-520-34101-2. OCLC 1377666414.
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  16. ^ Osimani, Andrea; Ferrocino, Ilario; Agnolucci, Monica; Cocolin, Luca; Giovannetti, Manuela; Cristani, Caterina; Palla, Michela; Milanović, Vesna; Roncolini, Andrea; Sabbatini, Riccardo; Garofalo, Cristiana; Clementi, Francesca; Cardinali, Federica; Petruzzelli, Annalisa; Gabucci, Claudia (2019). "Unveiling hákarl: A study of the microbiota of the traditional Icelandic fermented fish". Food Microbiology. 82: 560–572. doi:10.1016/ hdl:2318/1699363. ISSN 0740-0020. PMID 31027819. S2CID 133168464.
  17. ^ Toldrá, Fidel (27 October 2014). Handbook of fermented meat and poultry. ISBN 978-1-118-52267-7. OCLC 881875998.
  18. ^ a b "The Icelandic Yule Lads and their evil mother Gryla". Guide to Iceland. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  19. ^ Meylan, Nicolas (1 September 2013). "La (re)conversion des esprits de la terre dans l'Islande médiévale". Revue de l'histoire des religions (230): 333–354. doi:10.4000/rhr.8121. ISSN 0035-1423. Archived from the original on 27 February 2023. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  20. ^ Eyvindr Finnsson Skáldaspillir (8 April 1976), Turville-Petre, G. (ed.), "(b) "Snýr á Svǫlnis váru"", Scaldic Poetry, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00258899, ISBN 978-0-19-812517-4, retrieved 1 May 2023
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  23. ^ Gudmundsson, Agust (2017). "The Glorious Geology of Iceland's Golden Circle". GeoGuide. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-55152-4. ISBN 978-3-319-55151-7. ISSN 2364-6497. S2CID 134322667.
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External linksEdit