Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Andreas Faye: The Draug

Two translations for the price of one here. In 1833, Andreas Faye published the first volume of Norwegian folklore that had been collected for the purpose of publication. P. A. Munch wrote a scathing review of the book, characterizing its style as “as dry as tinder”. The review, which has since been called “one of the most serious ‘axe murders’ perpetrated upon any Norwegian author,” more or less killed the book off. Eleven years later, Faye published a revised version, under the title, Norsk Folke-Sagn.

Below are my translations of the texts concerning the draug from each book: first the 1833 version, thereafter that from 1844. There are a number of differences, most noticeably the removal of the epigraph in the later version, as well as the inclusion of a further reference (Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks).

My purpose in translating this material is as a means to an end of writing about the draug. “Why not share what I am reading, and working on?” I thought to myself.

 


The Draug (1833 version)

Fölgin liggr hins fylgdu
Fleistr vissi that meistar
Deidir dolga trudar
Draugr, theimsi haugi
1

— Runestone in Karlevi on Öland, Sweden

The public implicitly differentiates between the fylgje and the draug, which is sometimes an agent that predicts the end of a person. The name appears to merely be another term for a death-warning fylgje; however, the draug follows the doomed wherever he goes, often as an insect, which in the evening gives off a whistling sound; or it dwells, as in Sunnmøre, by the boathouses, and shows itself as a fisherman in fisherman’s clothes. The appearance of the draug itself, as well as its spittle (a kind of foam that is sometimes seen in the boats) warns of an impending death.

Note: In the Old Norse language, it is called draugr. One of Harald Wartooth’s warriors showed himself as a draugr for the Icelander Thorstein Skelk, a contemporary of Olaf Tryggvason, as if it had come from hell itself, roaring terribly; but it sank down into the earth when it heard the sound of church bells. He is called in that place, “Dolgrimm.”2 (Fornmanna sögar, III, §200.)

Odin is praised in Ynglinga saga [§7] for being able to waken the dead in the earth, and is therefore called “drauga dróttinn” [ghost-sovereign]. Further in the saga, the draugar are spoken of as the ghosts [gjenferd] of heroes, which remained buried in the mounds. (Compare Hrómundar saga Gripssonar §4.)

The draug therefore appears to be one’s fylgje that conveys the dead to the grave itself.

— Andreas Faye. Norske Sagn, 1833.


  1. The epigraph has been sloppily transcribed, or taken from a sloppy source. The original is a portion of a longer inscription, and may be translated as:

    “Hidden lies he whom the greatest deeds followed, as most know, a violent [tree?] of Þrúðr, his revenant in this mound”
     

  2. Dolgrimm”: This word appears to be a compound of “dolg” (foe) and “grimm” (fierce); however, I have not been able to find it in transcriptions of the original, nor in Danish translations of “Þorsteins þáttr skelks” (“The Tale of Thorstein Skelk”) in the Fornmanna sögur (Sagas of the Ancients). I can only speculate that Faye has somehow mistaken the Old Norse “draugrinn,” which is merely an inflected form of “draugr,” for a new noun. 


The Draug (1844 version)

The concept of the draug varies. South of the mountains1 it is widely considered to be a white ghost [gjenferd] or as a fylgje that forebodes death, which accompanies the doomed where he goes. And sometimes it shows itself as an insect, which in the evening gives off a whistling sound. In Herjusdalen in Hvitesø, at the place where Herjus Kvalsot was murdered, the “draug” haunts, which one Christmas Eve came to his home and cried:

Better to walk at Kvalsot on a newly-swept floor
than to lie in Herjusdalen in unconsecrated ground.2

North of the mountains, on the other hand, the draug is nearly always to be found on or by the sea, and to some extent it thus replaces the neck. The fishermen from Nordland have many dealings with the draug. They often hear a fearsome scream from the draug, which sounds like: “h—a—u”, and also, “so cold,” and then they hurry to land, as the scream forebodes a storm and misfortune at sea.

The fishermen often see him, and describe him as a man of average size, who is dressed in the typical clothes of a seaman. Most folk from Nordland say that he has no head. Folk from Nordmøre, on the other hand, admit him a tin plate on his neck, instead of a head, with burning embers on it for eyes. Like the neck, it can take on different forms. It prefers to haunt the boathouses, where it most often dwells. In these, and in the boats, the fishermen sometimes find a kind of foam. This is assumed to be the draug’s vomit, and the belief is that it warns of a death.

Note: In the Old Norse language, it is called the draugr. For the Icelander Thorstein Skelk, a contemporary of Olaf Tryggvason, the draugr of one of Harald Wartooth’s champions roared most gruesomely, as if from Hell, but sank down into the earth at the sound of the church bells. It is also called at that place “Dolgrimm.”3 (Fornmanna sögur, III, §200.)

Odin is praised in Ynglinga saga [§7] for being able to waken the dead from the earth, and was therefore called “draugr dróttinn” [ghost-sovereign]. In Hervarer saga [Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks] the draugar are spoken of as the ghosts [gjenferd] of the heroes that dwelled in the burial mounds (compare Hrómundar saga Gripssonar §4). The draug thus appears to be one’s fylgje, which leads the dead to the very grave.

— Andreas Faye. Norske Folke-Sagn, 1844.


  1. Norway is sometimes divided horizontally at the Dovre mountains in Gudbrandsdalen. 

  2. Herjus Kvalsot: Faye gives no source for this legend; the place names are also difficult to locate accurately. 

  3. Dolgrimm”: This word appears to be a compound of “dolg” (foe) and “grimm” (fierce); however, I have not been able to find it in transcriptions of the original, nor in Danish translations of “Þorsteins þáttr skelks” (“The Tale of Thorstein Skelk”) in the Fornmanna sögur (Sagas of the Ancients). I can only speculate that Faye has somehow mistaken the Old Norse “draugrinn,” which is merely an inflected form of “draugr,” for a new noun.  

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Draug and the Fisher–Farmer

A fisherman noticed that the oars of his boat were turned around every single day, so that instead of lying with the blades aft and the handles forward, they were always the other way around. Such things happen more often when one of the boat’s crew is sjøfeig, i.e. shall soon die at sea, and the draug is assumed to be the source of the prank. The fisherman mentioned lay in full oilskins beneath the boat, which had been pulled up into the boathouse, and armed himself with his fisher’s shears.

Through the open boathouse door at around midnight, he saw a headless figure fully clothed in oilskins, and with white mittens, come up out of the sea. It dragged itself up across the rocks, and into the boathouse. It then crawled up into the boat that the fisherman lay beneath. First the draug sat on the forward thwart, turned the oars around, and cried in its terrible draug-tongue, which is said to sound like a howling scream: “One to take with me?1 This one will not do!” With that, it sat on the aft thwart, with the same words, and also there it turned the oars around. Finally, it sat down on the sternsheets, where the skipper usually has his place, and said: “This one will do!”

“It will do me, too!” said the fisherman, and he stabbed the draug with his fisher’s shears. But he stabbed handle first, for he knew very well that, had he stabbed blade first, he would have stabbed himself.

The draug cried: “Stabbing and pulling out is the farmer’s wont!”

The fisherman replied: “Farmers also stab and leave it in!” He left the knife sitting in the draug and went home.

The following morning, he found the knuckle of a human bone on the end of his fisher’s shears, and from then the draug left his boat in peace.


  1. The original reads: “Hu te té ta mæ!” Assuming this to be a dialect of Vefsn, I have no idea what it means, and so I have made an informed guess. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Hairblow Who Home Will Never Go

There was once upon a time a woman who had a boy and a goat. The boy was called Espen, and they called the goar Hairblow. But they were not proper friends, and did not see eye to eye, these two, for the goat was trying and difficult, such as goats are, and she would never go home at the proper roundup time in the evening.

Then there was a day Espen was out, and would have her come home, and when he had walked a while, he saw Hairblow high, high up on a mountain outcrop. “It’s time for roundup today; I’m hungry, and want some food,” he said.

“No,” said Hairblow, “not before I have chewed that tuffet, and that tuffet, and that tuffet, and that tuffet!”

“Well, then I shall complain to mother about you,” said the boy.

“You do that, and I shall eat in peace,” said Hairblow.

So Espen complained to his mother.

“Go to the fox, and bid him bite Hairblow,” said his mother.

The boy to the fox: “My dear fox! Fox, bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food,” said Espen.

“No, I will not shame my snout with swine bristles and goat hair,” said the fox.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the greyshanks,” said his mother.

The boy to the greyshanks: “My dear greyshanks! Greyshanks, tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No,” said the greyshanks, “I will not wear my paws and teeth on a dry fox carcass,” he said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the bear, and bid him strike the greyshanks,” said his mother.

The boy to the bear: “My dear bear! Bear, strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the bear; “I will not wear out my paws for that.”

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the Finn,” said his mother, “and bid him shoot the bear,” she said.

The boy to the Finn: “My dear Finn! Finn, shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the Finn; “I will not shoot off all my bullets for that.”

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the pine,” said his mother, “and bid it fell the Finn,” she said.

The boy to the pine: “My dear pine! Pine, fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the pine; “I will not break off my branches for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the fire,” said his mother, “and bid it burn the pine,” she said.

The boy to the fire: “My dear fire! Fire, burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the fire; “I will not burn myself up for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the water,” said his mother, “and bid it quench the fire,” she said.

The boy to the water: “My dear water! Water, quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the fire; “I will not spill myself for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the bull,” said his mother, “and bid him drink up the water,” she said.

The boy to the bull: “My dear bull! Bull, drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the bull; “I will not burst myself for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the collar,” said his mother, “and bid it choke the bull,” she said.

The boy to the collar: “My dear collar! Collar, choke the bull; the bull will not drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the collar; “I will not break myself apart for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the axe,” said his mother, “and bid it cleave the collar,” she said.

The boy to the axe: “My dear axe: Axe, cleave the collar; the collar will not choke the bull; the bull will not drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the axe; “I will not spoil my edge for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the smith,” said his mother, “and bid him forge the axe,” she said.

The boy to the smith: “My dear smith! Smith, forge the axe; the axe will not cleave the collar; the collar will not choke the bull; the bull will not drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the smith; “I will not burn up my charcoal and wear out my hammers for that,” he said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the rope,” said his mother, “and bid it hang the smith,” she said.

The boy to the rope: “My dear rope! Rope, hang the smith; the smith will not forge the axe; the axe will not cleave the collar; the collar will not choke the bull; the bull will not drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the rope; “I will not pull myself apart for that,” it said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the mouse,” said his mother, “and bid her gnaw the rope,” she said.

The boy to the mouse: “My dear mouse! Mouse, gnaw the rope; the rope will not hang the smith; the smith will not forge the axe; the axe will not cleave the collar; the collar will not choke the bull; the bull will not drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“No, I will not,” said the mouse; “I will not gnaw my teeth apart for that,” she said.

So the boy complained to his mother.

“Well, then go to the molly,” said his mother, “and bid her bite the mouse,” she said.

The boy to the molly: “My dear molly! Molly, bite the mouse; the mouse will not gnaw the rope; the rope will not hang the smith; the smith will not forge the axe; the axe will not cleave the collar; the collar will not choke the bull; the bull will not drink the water; the water will not quench the fire; the fire will not burn the pine; the pine will not fell the Finn; the Finn will not shoot the bear; the bear will not strike the greyshanks; the greyshanks will not tear the fox; the fox will not bite Hairblow; Hairblow will not come home at the proper roundup time today; I am hungry, and want some food.”

“Well, give me a little milk for my small kittens, and —” said the molly.

Yes, this she could have.

So the molly bit the mouse, the mouse gnawed the rope, the rope hanged the smith, the smith forged the axe, the axe clove the collar, the collar choked the bull, the bull drank the water, the water quenched the fire, the fire burned the pine, the pine felled the Finn, the Finn shot the bear, the bear struck the greyshanks, the greyshanks tore the fox, the fox bit Hairblow — and Hairblow ran; she flew home, beneath the barn wall, and broke both thigh and shin.

“Maa—a—a!” said the goat… There she lay, and if she be not dead, then still she hops around on three legs. But Espen said that it served her right, for she would not go home at the proper roundup time in the evening.

 

Norwegian source: Hårslå som aldri hjem vil gå.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Parson’s Mother

There was once upon a time a parson and a sexton, as there are in many villages. The sexton was rich, but the parson was poor, and despite his being a learned man, he never knew what to do; but the sexton always knew what to do in every situation, and he had a head for business like both crow and magpie.

In that village they had a customary sausage fest in the autumn, at the time of slaughter. The parson did not think he could afford to hold it, but he did not know how he should avoid it, either, and therefore he sent for the sexton, to ask him for advice.

“This is no matter at all,” said the sexton. “Just say that thieves have come along the livestock path, father, and have left with your pigs, and then you will avoid the whole sausage fest.”

The parson thought this was good advice; but during the night the sexton himself broke into the pig sty and stole all the parson’s pigs. When the parson discovered that the pigs had been stolen and were gone, he did not know what to do but send for the sexton, and he did not keep him waiting.

“What is going on now, father?” he said, when he came in to the parson.

“Oh, God comfort and help me, an unfortunate man,” said the parson. “Now what we spoke of has happened!”

“What was that?” asked the sexton.

“My pigs have been stolen away,” said the parson.

“Well, well,” said the sexton, “in that case you will get out of the sausage fest, as I said.”

“No, no, not like that! It really is true. There have been thieves here; they have broken into my pig sty and have taken my pigs, really stolen them away!” said the parson.

“That’s right, father,” said the sexton, “keep saying it, just like you are telling me, so folk believe it to be true, and then you will get out of holding the sausage fest.”

“No, listen now: it is truthfully true, what I am saying, it is not some fancy!” said the parson. “There have been thieves her —”

“Yes, yes, God bless you, father; you don’t need to curse, I know well enough; we are not going to have a sausage fest; I hear you,” said the sexton, carrying on. And no matter how the parson told him and assured him, he received no other advice from the sexton, and he received no other answer, either.

A while afterwards, the parson began to reflect on how the sexton could be so rich, even though his incomes were small, and how he himself was poor, who took in much more in tithes and offerings of all that was good. He could by no means comprehend it, but he began to think both one thing and another, and perhaps he had heard something about the sexton eating pork more often than other folk. That was enough, and he had a great desire to discover the truth of it, and so he found that he should tell the sexton that he had to travel away, and that in the meantime, he would leave his money chest with him. That there was no money in the chest, that is easy to understand; there was merely the parson’s old mother, a crusty, hunchbacked woman who lay down in it, gnawing on a crust of cheese, and she should take care to listen and see whether the sexton had a money poppet, or how things hung together with his riches.

Well the chest was put in the parlour. In the evening, the sexton’s children began to scream for food.

“Do you have time to wait until I can make something?” said the sexton’s wife.

“Can we not have some of the parson’s pork then, mother?” the children screamed.

When the parson’s mother heard this, she opened the chest a crack and looked out for the pork. The sexton marked it well, but he affected to neither have heard nor seen anything. But in the night, when the others slept, he got up, took with him an axe, lifted the lid of the chest, struck the parson’s mother on her forehead with the heel of the axe, shoved the crust of cheese down her throat, and closed the lid again.

The following day, the parson came and said that he had had second thoughts; he would postpone his journey until another week; he drove the chest with him, and when he had properly come home, he opened it up and asked: “Mother, did you notice anything about whether the sexton has taken my pork?” His mother did not reply, but lay gaping with the cheese crust in her mouth, and the parson grew sorrowful, for he thought she had suffocated in the chest because he had not drilled any holes that she could breathe through, and he had also forgotten to give her anything to drink. Now he had to send for the sexton again, and asked him if he would bury her quietly.

“Has she been ill used, then?” asked the sexton.

“No, she has not,” said the parson; but he thought it so sorrowful that she had died so suddenly, and therefore he would rather give him ten dollars if he would agree to bury her quietly.

Well, when he got the ten dollars, he would bury her, but he said to himself: “Now you shall be repaid for the prank you had thought of playing me.” Then he took the woman, put her in a sack, and went off with her. On his way home, he saw that a merchant lay sleeping on a sunny bank, and a large merchant’s chest lay beside him. The sexton was not slow in opening the chest and pressing the parson’s mother down into it.

A while afterwards, the merchant came to the sexton’s farm and asked if they should do some trade. “No,” said the sexton, “I have nothing to buy for; but the parson is rich, you should go to him.” He went to the parson, and the parson was soon ready to trade. But when the merchant opened up his merchant’s chest, and they saw the dead woman, they were so afraid that they almost lost their wits and understanding, the both of them, and the parson did not know what to do other than send for the sexton again.

“But how did you do? Did you not bury mother?” asked the parson, when the sexton had come in.

“Of course I buried her,” replied the sexton; “but she has probably been ill used, since she is going a-haunting like this.”

No, she was not, said the parson, but he took heed of it, and said he thought it unfortunate that she should haunt, and so he would give the sexton twenty dollars if he would bury her in all quietness. Yes, the sexton would do this; so he put the woman in a sack, and went off with her on his back again. But he had heard that they should bake a cake at the parsonage, the following day. He went back again with the woman during the night, therefore, and stole in to the baking cabin. And early in the morning, when the womenfolk came in to bake, the parson’s mother stood with both fists in the dough trough, as if she were kneading. They screamed beyond measure, and were so afraid that they lost both wit and understanding, and the housekeeper sprang straight into the parson’s bed chamber and screamed and cried that they dared touch neither the flour nor the dough, until he came and conjured the old woman away, no matter if she should go up or down.

The parson did not know what to do before he spoke to the sexton.

“But listen, how did you do? Did you not bury mother?” said the parson when the sexton had come in.

“Of course I buried her,” said the sexton.

“But now she stands out kneading dough in the baking cabin,” said the parson.

“Well, well, she has obviously been ill used, since she walks and carries on and haunts so,” said the sexton.

“Hm, hm,” said the parson, shuddering. And then he thought it unfortunate for her to be walking and carrying on and haunting so; he would rather give the sexton thirty dollars if he would bury her quietly, he said. The sexton said she must have been ill used, but that it was the same to him; when he got thirty dollars, he would surely bury her. Yes, the money he got, and off he set with the woman again. But in the night, he took her with him in to the parsonage barn and cut the head off the parson’s big bull. When he had done that, he set the bull up in the stall, sat the woman on its back and put a scythe in her hand, as if she had killed it.

In the morning, when the milkmaid saw this spectacle, she was so appalled that she went straight into the parson’s bed chamber and screamed: “Father, father, our old mother is sitting on the big bull in the barn, and she has sliced him to death. I don’t dare go there to feed the cows before father goes with me and conjures her away.”

The parson would not believe it, but when he came to the barn, he saw that it was true, and then he did not know what to do before he sent for the sexton.

“But listen, how did you do? Did you not bury my mother?” said the parson, when the sexton had come in.

“Yes, God preserve me, I buried her,” said the sexton.

“But now she sits on the big bull, and has sliced it to death,” said the parson.

“She must have been ill used, since she carries on and haunts so,” said the sexton.

“Hm, hm,” said the parson, shuddering. And then he said he thought it unfortunate that she should carry on and haunt so; he would rather give the sexton forty dollars if he would bury her in all quietness. The sexton insisted that she must have been ill used, but when he got forty dollars, he would bury her, both well and good. And so he put the woman in the sack, threw it over his shoulder, and set off again.

The following day, the parson was to travel on parish business, and the sexton should go with him, for afterwards they should go to the filial parish. The parson readied himself in the evening and set off early, before the light of morning. On his way, he dropped into the sexton. He rode on a nursing mare, and in the darkness he had not noticed that the foal had followed along. Now he would have it stabled at the sexton’s. Yes, that would be possible, said the sexton, taking the foal. He asked his farmboy to stable it, but at the same time, he whispered in his ear that he should put the great dragoon’s sabre in parson’s mother’s hand, tie her fast on the foal, and release it when they had come a little way from the house, and the parson’s nursing mare began to whinny. When he had said this, he mounted his horse, and rode across the field to the parson. And he had not reached him before the nursing mare began to bray and carry on, as it missed its foal. Straight away the foal brayed back, for it missed her, and it came charging with the woman with the sabre on its back so that she lolled wildly from side to side. When the parson saw this, he was so afraid that he screamed in terror, and spared neither crop nor spurs in getting away. But the woman came after him as if she would cut him down. The parson did not know what to do, and he begged and blessed the sexton, that he should see her into the ground.

“No!” said the sexton. “The old mother has been ill used, or she would not continue with such carrying on and haunting. She has no peace, and I will not bury her before father tells how everything hangs together.”

“Very well, then!” screamed the parson. “I will give you fifty dollars, and the mare and the foal besides, if you will only leave me in peace and get her into the ground, both quickly and well.”

But it has never been asked how things did or did not turn out: whether the sexton buried her or she still rides after the parson; whether the sexton was hanged or beaten, or whether he lived well and good like other big pranksters. Perhaps you may ask, as you go from village to village, and ask after the parson who never knew what to do, and the sexton who always knew what to do in every situation.

 

Norwegian source: Prestens mor.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Faithful and Unfaithful

There were once upon a time two brothers; one was called Faithful and the other Unfaithful. Faithful was always honest and good, but Unfaithful was wicked and full of lies, so they could never trust what he said. Their mother was a widow and had little to live on, and when her sons were grown up, she had to have them leave her, so they could earn their own bread in the world. She gave each of them a small knapsack of food, and then they went on their way.

When they had walked until evening, they sat upon a windfall in the forest and took out their knapsacks, for they were hungry for having walked the whole day, and now they thought that a bite to eat would taste good. “If you want to do the same as I, then we shall eat from your knapsack first, for as long as there is something in it, and afterwards we can eat from mine,” said Unfaithful. Yes, Faithful was content with this, and so they ate; but Unfaithful made sure to put all the best in him, while Faithful merely got the crusts and the burnt bits of lefse and the pork rinds. In the morning they ate again of Faithful’s food, and at dinnertime, too, but then there was no more in his knapsack.

When they had walked until evening, and should have some more food, Faithful would eat from his brother’s knapsack; but Unfaithful said no, and said that that food was his, and that he had no more than what he had need of himself.

“Well, you had to eat from my knapsack, as long as there was something in it,” said Faithful.

“Yes, when you are such a fool, and let others eat up for you, then you have yourself to blame,” said Unfaithful; “and now you can sit there, drooling,” he said.

“Oh yes, Unfaithful are you called, and unfaithful are you, and have been all your days, too,” said Faithful.

When Unfaithful heard this, he grew angry, ran straight at his brother, and stabbed out both his eyes. “You will see if folk are faithful or unfaithful, now, you blind buck,” he said. And with that, he left him.

Faithful, the poor thing, he went there, stumbling his way forth in the midst of the dense forest; blind and alone was he, and he knew not which way he should take. But then he caught hold of a great linden tree, and then he thought that he would climb up and sit there overnight, on account of the wild animals. “When the birds begin to sing, then it is day, and then will I try to stumble onwards,” he thought; and so he climbed the linden.

When he had sat there a while, he heard that someone had come, and had begun to cook and clear beneath the tree, and soon there came others, and when they greeted one another, he heard that it was the bear and the greyshanks, the fox and the hare, who had come to hold their Olsok lek1 there. They began to eat and live well, and when they were finished with that, they sat down and began to speak together.

Then the fox said: “Shall we not now tell a little each, while we sit here?”

Well, the others thought well of this; it could be fun, they said, and so the bear began—for he was the foremost.

“The king of Engeland has such bad eyes,” said the bear, “that he can hardly see six inches in the air; but if he came up into this linden in the morning, and took the dew and smeared his eyes, then he would receive his sight again, as well as ever he had it.”

“Yes,” said the greyshanks, “the king of Engeland has a deaf–mute daughter, too; but if he knew what I know, then he would soon know what to do. Last year when she went up to the altar, she spat out the bread, and a great toad came and ate it; but if they but dug beneath the floor, they would find the toad—she sits right beneath the altar rail—and the bread still sits in its throat. When they cut open the toad and take out the bread and give it to the king’s daughter, then she will be as other folk again, both to hear and to speak.”

“Yes, yes,” said the fox, “if the king of Engeland knew what I know, then he would not have the trouble of watering his king’s farm. Beneath the large stone in the midst of his courtyard is the clearest spring water anyone could want, if only he knew to dig there.”

“Yes,” said the hare, “the king of Engeland has the most beautiful fruit orchard in the whole country, but it does not bear so much as a scrump apple, for a huge gold chain lies three times around the orchard. If he had it dug up, then it would become the finest orchard in the whole of the kingdom.”

“But now it is far out into the night, and we should return home now,” said the fox, and they went on their way, all of them.

When they had gone, Faithful fell asleep where he sat up in the linden; but when the birds began to sing in the morning, he awoke again, and then he took some dew from the leaves of the tree and smeared his eyes with it. Tthen he saw as well as he had before Unfaithful had stabbed them out of him.

Then he went straight to the king of Engeland’s courtyard, and asked to go into service, and he was allowed at once.

One day, the king came out on to the courtyard, and when he had walked out there for a while, he would have a drink from his water post, for it was warm during the day and he had grown thirsty. But when they ladled up some water for him, it was both muddy and thick and nasty. The king was simply angry at this.

“I do not believe there is a man in the whole of my kingdom who has as bad water on his farm, and even so I have to bring it a long way over mountains and valleys!” said the king.

“Yes, but when you let me have folk break up the great stone that lies here in the midst of the courtyard, then you shall have both plentiful and good water,” said Faithful.

Yes, the king was soon ready for this, and they had hardly brought the stone up and dug for a while before the spout of water stood in the air, as clear and as thick as if it had come from the spigot of a barrel; and clearer water was not to be found in the whole of Engeland.

Some time afterwards, the king was down in his courtyard again; then there came a great hawk flying after his hens, and everyone began to clap their hands and cry: “There he flies! There he flies!” The king took hold of his gun and began to aim, but he could not see so far. Then he was distraught. “God help me, can someone give me advice for my eyes! I think I shall soon be blind,” said the king.

“I shall tell you,” said Faithful, and then he told him what he had done, and the king went to the linden the same evening, you may be certain, and he grew well again, as soon as he had smeared himself with the dew that lay on the leaves in the morning.

From that time there was no one the king held so highly as faithful; he had to accompany him wherever he went or stood, both at home and away.

Then there was a day they walked in the orchard together.

“I do not understand how it goes,” said the king; “there is no man in Engeland who affords so much on his orchard as I do, and even so, I cannot get a single tree to bear so much as a scrump.”

“Well, well,” said Faithful, “if I can have that which lies three times around your orchard, and folk to dig it up, then your orchard shall bear.”

Yes, this the king would like; Faithful got the folk, and they began to dig, and so finally he got up the whole gold chain. Now was Faithful solidly wealthy man, much richer than the king himself, but even so, the king was well satisfied, for now the branches hung all the way to the ground, and such sweet apples and pears had no one ever tasted.

Another day, Faithful and the king walked, talking together; then the king’s daughter walked past them, and the king grew sorrowful when he saw her.

“Is it not a shame that such a beautiful king’s daughter as mine should want a tongue in her head?” he said to faithful.

“Yes, but there is a remedy for it,” said Faithful.

When the king heard this, he grew so glad that he promised him the king’s daughter and half the kingdom, if he could make her well again.

Faithful took a couple of men away to the church, and dug up the toad that sat beneath the altar rail, cut her open and took out the bread and gave it to the king’s daughter. Then she became like other folk again, and began to speak that very hour.

Now should Faithful have the king’s daughter, and they arranged a wedding, for it should be held so that it was heard and asked about over the whole kingdom.

While they were dancing at their wedding, a poor boy came, begging a little food, and he was so ragged and pathetic that everyone crossed themselves at the sight of him; but Faithful recognised him at once, and saw that it was Unfaithful, his brother.

“Do you recognise me?” said Faithful.

“Oh, where would I have seen such a great gentleman, then?” said Unfaithful.

“Nevertheless, you have seen me,” said Faithful: “it was I whose eyes you stabbed out, a year ago today. Unfaithful are you called, and unfaithful are you. I have said it, and I still say it; but you are still my brother, and therefore you shall have some food; and then you can go to the linden tree I sat in last year. If you hear something that will prove your fortune, then it is well.”

Well, he need not tell Unfaithful twice. “Has Faithful had such advantage from sitting in the linden tree that he has become king of half of Engeland since last year, then—” he thought; he set off on his way to the linden, and climbed it.

He had not sat there long before all the animals came to eat and drink and hold their Olsok lek beneath the tree again. When they had finished eating, the fox would that they should tell each other stories, and it may well be that Unfaithful lay listening so that his ears were ready to fall off him. But the bear was angry and grumbled and said: “Someone has gossiped about what we told last year, and therefore we shall now hold our peace with what we know.” And then the animals bade good night, and left one another, and Unfaithful was just as wise.

That is because he was called Unfaithful, and was unfaithful.


  1. Olsok is St Olav’s Wake, observed on 29th July. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Draug

In a fishing village, far out by the sea, lived Kristian Westerval. He is dead and gone now, but many will perhaps remember him. He ran a trading post out there, and was held to be a moderate man, but also a strange one, one whom no one could quite figure out. There was always something weighing upon him, something sorrowful. Otherwise, he was a heavy-set man, with cropped snow-white hair and pale, inanimate features—as kind and as soft-hearted as a child, but also as obstinate as a buck, when in a pinch.

He was known as an unusually capable skipper at sea. But twice had he sailed his boat out of his depth, and folk said that he had been told that the third time would see him remain there. It was therefore just as well he had grown so careful recently, for he hardly ever went in a boat any more.

The house he lived in was one of the strangest one can think of. To ease the traffic of the fishermen, one side of the building was built against the smooth mountain, whilst the other side stood on beams, overhanging the sea itself. A host of steps and ladders led from the opening in the floor, down to the sea, and some fishermen always lay down there, fiddling in their boats. The wharf followed the house along the mountainside, and was full of hanging stockfish. Here one had to go up through a square hole, whilst the boat lay moored to the ladder beneath the planks of the wharf.

In the main building there was also a warehouse with doors and lifts. Here lay flagons, sacks of flour, rope, barrels of pitch, and stockfish stacked in great heaps. Barrels full of eiderdown stood around about, and on the wall hung hundreds of auks, puffins, eiders, gulls, and terns. Away in a corner lay some sea eagles and a couple of snowy owls, and just above these were nailed a number of otter and cormorant skins with the fatty side out.

Westerval kept a lively trade going with the fishermen; he had as good as all of them in his pocket. And they came to him with everything—conches, corals, strange fish, and star fish, and they got got coffee and tobacco for their trouble.

Westerval lived alone in the house, together with his housekeeper. She probably thought it miserable and bleak out there; but Westerval did not—he loved the sea and the solitude.

His bedchamber was the strangest place in the strange house. Westerval seldom slept for more than a couple of hours, and never before the morning came. He had so many heavy thoughts come upon him, he said, that he could not rest at night. He had nailed a tray for a lamp on the headboard of his bed, and so he lay reading novels throughout the night. The walls were hung with old wallpaper in great folds and loops. Inside the folds, the rats scurried and squeaked, so that he had enough fun during the night; during the summer they were so lively, he said, that the folds rose and fell like hammocks. The chamber was small and over-filled of all sorts of things. The table and window sill was full of tobacco, pipes, pipe-cleaners, empty bottles, stones with coral on, and much else. On the wall hung a large bookshelf, stuffed full of old books. Around about stood crates and chairs, away in a corner an old sofa with curly fibres poking out of, and just by it hung six or seven pendulum clocks, large and small, that made a terrible din; there was such company in them, said Westerval.

Then there was one night Westerval lay abed, puffing on his pipe; he was in the middle of an interesting chapter of an old novel. The weather outside was blowing up a storm, so that the old weathercock up on the roof spun around like a windmill, squeaking and creaking. The house groaned, the wind whistling through every crack, and the old wallpaper on the wall bowed itself to the air pressure.

Suddenly there was a great blow to the floor just beneath the bed. It sounded as if someone was had struck a large wet mitten against the floor, and the windows rattled for so long afterwards that it was simply uncanny. Westerval was a brave man, but even so, he grew a little paler than usual. He heard the sea beneath—gulp after gulp, it rushed between the blocks of stone down there, and with small intervals there came a huge wave, resounding against the mountainside. As day came, he slept his regular two hours. In the morning, he went down through the hatch beneath the house. The sea was still in violent uproar; the waves jumped noisily, foaming down there. A great heap of seaweed had collected beneath the floor—otherwise there was nothing to see.

The storm had certainly let itself go; day by day it grew worse. But there was nothing better to expect, so late in the autumn. So, Westerval sat alone, one pitch-dark evening, just after he had closed up shop after a busy day. The fishermen had huddled together in there all day; the prints of their seaboots could still be seen on the wet canvas floor. Westerval was fiddling with the cashbox, counting and summing up with a pencil on a piece of butter paper. Then he cut up some tobacco for the following day, into small pieces, and rearranges something or other on the shelves.

“Oh yes, just like that! Now today is done, too, in God’s name,” he said.

Someone by the door started. By the light of the candle stump, Westerval saw a huge fellow in full oilskins, with his sou’wester well down over his eyes. His face looked to be nothing but a bushy beard, he thought.

“What do you want? You came through a closed door—where do you come from?” asked Westerval.

“The way I came, I will return. But this time all I want is an oarlock for my boat,” replied a hollow voice away in the corner, and then he gnashed his teeth so that Westerval shuddered. And now he also understood whom he had before him. It was certainly the same fellow who had struck the his floor—he who had taken his nightly sleep from him these many long years. A wild defiance rose up in him. The old, white-haired man sprang right over the counter and straight into the fellow. He grasped him by the beard, with both fists, and screamed:

“I tell you in God’s holy name, I am not afraid of death! Down to the seabed with you, you cursed corpse-eater!”

Two green eyes glowed like seafire beneath the sou’wester. The fellow pressed his back against the door so that it flew open like a rag, and tumbled out among the crates and barrels, then he grasped the hatch in the floor, and flung it into the air. Then he dived into the sea.

“You have a bold mouth on land, Westerval, but you will mellow well enough your third time!” it mocked.

—·—

Then came the memorable day when a hurricane tore the church down, so that stumps and wreckage flew across the graves. The fishermen sailed for their lives, out there on the sea; the storm had come upon them as if loosed from a sack. From one boat they saw the other overturn. Some of them came up on to the hull, managed to stab their knives fast, and scream in fear. Then there came large foaming seas, and swept them away. One saw his brother, another his father die right before his eyes; but there was no thought to try to help.

Farthest out, a beautifully sleek-built boat cut through the sea, so that the foam flew about it. It was Westerval, who was sailing his third time. He sat as skipper by the helm, pale of face, but wearing a defiant expression. He would show the corpse-eater that he was not afraid.

Old Jens Glea sat right by Westerval, and he has since told this story. Suddenly Johan Persa, who sat forward, screamed: “Lord Jesus! Ola and Lars are lying on their hull!”

Then Westerval cried, his face as pale as chalk: “Grab them! We are upon them!”

And upon their upturned boat they were, so that it scoured and scraped their keel. Hands were reached out on both sides. Lars they got a good hold of, and up he came; but Ola was too heavy. He clung fast to the gunwale and screamed terribly. The boat flew at such speed that the seafire glittered aroud Ola, and round about, the sea was high, and foaming white.

“Take the tiller, Jens!” roared Westerval. He bowed himself over the side, grabbed down into the water to take hold of Ola and pull him up with tremendous strength. And Ola hung fast to him with the strength of despair.

At the same moment, a huge fist shot up from the water and grabbed Ola and pulled him down again. Then another fist grabbed hold of Westerval’s shoulder, and he had to go, as well.

The Draug by Theodor Kittelsen, 1887. (Click for full image.)

Old Jens by the tiller watched with horror as the three of them tumbled in the water in a wild fight. Suddenly one of them grew into a gigantic fellow in oilskins, and grabbed Westerval by the throat. That was the last they saw of him, and all three sank, and the boat flew on like an arrow.

Then they understood that it was the draug who had taken Westerval.

“He was a kind man. Our Lord has left the door of grace open to worse sinners than he,” said old Jens.

— Theodor Kittelsen. “Draugen” in Folk og Trold. Minder og Drømme, 1911.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Giske

There was once upon a time a widower. He had a housekeeper who was called Giske, and she wanted him, and hung over him all the time, as if he should marry her. But in the end, the man grew so weary of it that he did not know what he should do to be rid of her.

Then it was between the mowing and the harvest, when the hemp was mature and they should reap the hemp. Giske went around now, thinking she was so beautiful, and so competent and clever, and so she pulled up hemp until she was light-headed from the strong fragrance, and fell over and stayed sleeping in the hemp field. While she slept, the man came with some shears and cut her skirt off her, and then smeared her, first with grease and then with chimney soot, so she ended up looking worse than the devil.

When Giske woke up and saw how terrible she was, she did not recognise herself. “Can this be me, then?” said Giske. “No, it cannot be me, for I have never looked so terrible; it must be the devil himself.”

But now she wanted to know how this had happened, and so she went over and knocked on her farmer’s door, and asked: “Is your Giske home today, father?”

“Yes, cross me! Giske is home,” said the man; he wanted to be rid of her.

“Well, then, I cannot be his Giske, then,” she thought, and stumbled off; and glad was he that he was rid of her.

When she had walked a distance, she came to a great forest; there she met two thieves. “I shall fall in with them,” thought Giske; “since I am the devil, then perhaps it is fitting for me to be among thieves.” But the thieves did not think so; when they saw Giske, they ran as quickly as they could, for they thought the evil one himself was after them. But that did not help them much, I would not think, for Giske had long legs and was swift afoot, and she was after them before they knew it.

“If you are going out a-stealing, then I want to come along to help,” said Giske, “for I know my way about in the village.”

When the thieves heard this, they thought her good company, and were no longer afraid.

They should go to steal a sheep, they said, but knew not where they should find one.

“Oh, that is no problem,” said Giske, “for I have served for a farmer across the forest here for such a long time that I could just as well find his sheepfold in the pitch darkness.”

This the thieves thought was grand, and when they came thither, Giske should go into the sheepfold and chase one out, and they should receive it. The sheepfold stood tight by the cabin wall, where the man lay asleep, and Giske therefore went quietly and carefully into the house; but when she had come well in, she cried out to the thieves: “Do you want a ram or a ewe? There are enough here to take of!”

“Hush! Hush! Just take one that is good and fat,” said the thieves.

“Yes, but do you want a ram or a ewe? Do you want a ram or a ewe, for here are enough to take of,” cried Giske.

“Hush! Hush!” said the thieves. “Just take one that is good and fat, and it does not matter whether it is a ram or a ewe.”

“Yes, but do you want a ram or a ewe? Do you want a ram or a ewe? Here are enough to take of,” said Giske, and she insisted.

“Will you shut up, and just take one that is good and fat, whether it is a ram or a ewe,” said the thieves.

Meanwhile, the man awoke in the cabin, from the shouting, and came out in only his shirtsleeves, to see what was going on. The thieves took to their feet, and Giske went after them, knocking the man over.

“Wait, fellows! Wait, fellows!” she cried.

The man, who had seen nothing but the black beast, grew so afraid that he hardly dared to get up again, for he thought it was the devil himself, who had been in the sheepfold. He knew no more than one thing to do; he went and woke all his folk, and sat to read and pray, for he had heard that they could read away the devil.

Then it was the second night. The thieves go out to steal a fat goose, and Giske should show them the way. When they came to the goose coop, Giske should go in and send one out, for she knew her way around, and the thieves should receive it.

“Do you want a goose or a gander? Here are enough to take of,” cried Giske, when she had gone into the goose coop.

“Hush, hush! Just take one that is good and heavy,” said the thieves.

“Yes, but do you want a goose or a gander? Do you want a goose or a gander? There are enough to take of here,” cried Giske.

“Hush, hush! Just take one that is good and heavy, and it does not matter whether it is a goose or a gander, and shut your face!” they said.

While Giske and the thieves shouted about this, one of the geese began to squawk, and then another began to squawk, and just like that, they squawked at each other, all of them. The man came out to see what was going on, the thievesran off as quickly as they could, and Giske went after them, so quickly that the farmer thought it was the black devil, for long-legged was she, and her skirt did not slow her down.

“Wait a little, fellows!” cried Giske. “You could have had what you wanted, whether it was a goose or a gander!”

But they did not have occasion to stop, they thought; and on the farm they began to read and pray, both big and small, for they thought the devil had surely been there.

As the evening came on the third day, they were so hungry, both the thieves and Giske, that they did not know what to do with themselves; so they decided to go to the stabbur of a rich farmer who lived on the edge of the forest, and steal themselves some food. Yes, they went there, but the thieves did not dare, so Giske should go in to the stilted hut, and send things out, and they should stand outside and receive it.

When Giske now came inside, it was full of everything, both meat and flesh and sausages and pea bread. The thieves hushed her and bade her just throw out some food, and remember how things had gone the two previous evenings. But Giske insisted, she did: “Do you want meat or flesh or sausages or pea bread?” she cried so that it rang; “you can have what you want, for here is enough to take of, here is enough to take of!”

The man on the farm woke from all this quarreling, and came out to see what was going on. The thieves ran off as quickly as they could. Just like that Giske too came running, as black and as terrible as she was: “Wait a little, wait a little, fellows!” she screamed, “you can have what you want, for here is enough to take of!” When the man saw the ugly beast, he too thought that the devil was loose, for he had now heard what had happened on the previous two evenings, and he began to both read and pray, and they did so, everybody on all the farms in the whole village, for they knew they could read away the devil.

On Saturday, the thieves should go out again, to steal a fat buck for their holiday fare, and they could need it, for they had starved for many days; but then they did not want Giske with them, for she brought and made trouble with her mouth, they said.

While Giske went waiting for them on Sunday morning, she grew terribly hungry; she had not had much in her belly either for three whole days, and so she went up a turnip patch and took up some turnips and ate. When he got up, the man on the farm the turnip patch belonged to, he was very uneasy, and thought he had better go out to look at his turnip patch on a Sunday morning. Well, he put on his trousers and went down to the bog that was below the bank the turnip patch was on. When he arrived, he saw something black that went snatching and snatching up on the turnip patch, and he was not long in believing it to be the devil either. He made sure then to come home as quickly as he could, and said that the devil was in the turnip patch. They were fairly terrified on the farm, when they heard this; but then they thought it best that they send for the parson, to get him to bind the devil.

“No, that is no good,” said the woman, “to go to the parson today; it is Sunday morning, after all; he will not come now, for he is not up so early, and if he is, then he is reading his sermon.”

“Oh, I will promise him a juicy veal steak, I will, and I am sure he will come,” said the man.

He set off for the parsonage, but when he came there, the parson was not yet up. The maid asked the man to go into the parlour in the meantime, and went up to the parson, and said that this farmer was downstairs and would speak with him. Well, when the parson heard that it was such a good man who sat downstairs, he pulled on his trousers and came at once in his slippers and nightcap.

The man told him of his errand, that the devil was loose up in his turnip patch, and if the parson would go with him, to bind him, then he would send him a juicy veal steak.

Well, the parson was not unwilling, and he called for his boy and bade him saddle his horse while he dressed.

“No, father, that will not do,” said the man, “for the devil does not stop for long, and one cannot tell where one will catch up with him, when he has been slipped loose. You will have to come straightway.”

The parson went with him as he stood and walked, in his nightcap and slippers; but when they came to the bog, it was so soft that the parson could not cross it in his slippers. The farmer then put him on his back and should carry him across. He stepped carefully enough on a stump here and a tuffet there, but when they got to the middle, Giske saw them, and she thought that it was the thieves returning with the buck.

“Is he fat? Is he fat? Is he fat?” she screamed so that it rang in the forest.

“The devil if I know if he is fat or lean,” said the man, when he heard it; “but if you want to know, then you may come and feel for yourself,” he said, and he grew so afraid that he threw the parson into the midst of the bog, and ran away. And if the parson has not got up, then sure enough, he lies there still.

 

Norwegian source: Giske

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Gullfebla

There was once upon a time a farmer’s wife at Solheim in Hallingdal who was so miserly there there was no end to it; she starved both folk and livestock; her own children were even yellow-grey from hunger, and when they could manage to get a little food, either from the stabbur or from strangers, they grabbed it to themselves like wolves, or as if they had not tasted food in eight days.

The children had to accept being hungry; they dared not say anything; they dared not weep so that she saw it, either, or they would receive the birch switch that hung beneath the beam of the roof; but when they went out, they ran down to the tenant’s wife in Glitreplassen—she was called Ragnhild—and they wept and complained of their want, and she shared the crumbs she had between them and her own small ones, the unfortunate things. She had but one cow, and she looked after and groomed it well. Occasionally, she or her husband went with the sled up into the mountains in the winter, for a load of moss for it, and the cow did well, and gave so much milk that they all almost had enough.

But mother Solheim’s cattle did not do so well; in the winter they had nearly nothing for food, other than spruce boughs and horse manure, and it was like a holiday when they got a patch of cow- or reindeer moss; but she was recompensed by the milk. It was so bad and thin that there was no cream in it, and it was good for nothing but mixing into gruel or boiling beer-cheese1 from. The cattle could say nothing to her; but they looked at her, yes, they looked at her with their large, deep eyes, and it would have gone to her heart, had she had one, and they licked her hands when she came into their stalls, with their broad tongues; this was perhaps because she did not starve them completely to death. But in the spring, you should have seen them when they came out. Then there was nothing left but skin and bones, and so sickly and famished were they that their legs would not carry them. They could not stand the fresh air, but staggered around like drunkards.

Ragnhild certainly told her how irresponsible it was to treat folk and livestock in this manner, but she did not care about that, for Ragnhild was just a tenant’s wife, and she did not think she should heed her, whatever she said.

But then they should raise a barn one year, for the old one was rotten and close to falling down, and it was so open that it both rained and the sun shone right through it. They had a joiner to build the new one, and he was called Per. He was good at his job, and a good worker must have rich food, but he got little, and bad was what he got. She gave him nothing but herring and gruel. But he did her no favours either; she could hardly speak to him without his telling her how tight she was. And he was always so sharp that finally the woman hardly dared to speak to him.

When he had joined many boards together and set them up high, the Solheim woman went past one day. “You are pulling yourself up, Per,” she said.

“Oh yes,” he said—he was grumpy—“I try to pull myself up, I do, but the herring and the gruel pull me down.” By that he meant that if he had had better food then his work would be done more quickly.

One Sunday, Per sat leafing through and reading the almanac. “What does the almanac foretell noe, Per?” asked the woman. Of course, she meant what kind of weather it foretold. But Per replied:

“It foretells of nothing but herring and gruel and gruel and herring and herring and gruel.” The woman said nothing to this, but from that time, she was not quite so tight with the food; it was not because she thought it wrong, but she noticed it gave Per a bad mouth, and she was afraid that he, who travelled widely as a joiner, would expose her as a niggard before folk.

When the summer came, and there was greenery and flowers, and the birds sang in every bush, the Solheim woman travelled to pasture, but she did not know how fragrantly the flowers smelled; she did not hear the birdsong, for both she and the cattle dog and her girls had enough to do, keeping the cattle together. At home, they had gone, gnawing until the ground in the paddock was nearly all black earth, and every time they saw a green patch, or some straws of grass or fresh, leafy bushes on the banks, they wanted to go over and taste it; the calves and the cows ran around and kicked backwards so that it was a pleasure to watch how cheerful they were; they were probably looking forwards to the lush mountain grazing.

They arrived late at the pasture, and when they had tended to the animals, one of the girls came in and said there was a large strange goat out on the pasture mound, and she had gilded horns and she gleamed, as if her coat were of silk, said the girl.

“Has anyone heard such talk!” said the woman, and would go to see the goat; but she could not see that it had gilded horns, and its coat looked no different from her own goats, Lokk and Strant.

But as she stood there, she heard such beautiful singing from away in the mountain:

Will you swap with me now,
Gullfebla for a cow?
Will you swap with me now,
Gullfebla for a cow?

But the woman grew angry, as you can imagine. She thought it was one of her neighbours, who would tease her and make fun of her because she was so miserly. She screamed and swore that she did not have a cow that was so bad that she would swap it away, even if they offered a whole dozen shaggy goats, and so she chased the goat off the pasture mound, and far away through the scrub.

Then it began to call, away in the mountain:

Come home, come home,
You, my little Gullfebla.
Come home, come home,
You, my little Gullfebla.
Gullfebla!

And then it blew so beautifully on a lur, far away, and it resounded from all the mountains and mounds, until the last sound rang, far, far away in the tall mountain where the snow lay.

A while afterwards, the Solheim woman went home, and then Ragnhild Glitre was allowed to travel to the pasture with her blue-flanked cow; she should be allowed to stay there, to help the girls tend to the pasture. And that was something they could do well, for no one was better than Ragnhild at that. When she was at the pasture, it was as if everything went by itself and made itself, and never did they get yellower butter and lighter cheese than what Ragnhild churned and made.

But one evening, when she and the milkmaids sat milking, the cattle grew quite mad; they kicked and bucked as if a horse fly was after them, and they would not at all stand still as before. The big red-sided bull began to to bellow, and suddenly it charged the gate and let out a terrible roar. Ragnhild looked up immediately; she thought she clearly saw someone fly over the skigard,2 but she could not tell what it was that flew so quickly; to her eyes it looked like a bit of an animal skin. But a ribbon was suddenly bound around the neck of Ragnhild’s blue-sided cow. They quickly took it off, but everyone thought the hulder had put it on; and that it was she whom Ragnhild had seen spring over the fence; they firmly believed this. While the girls were inside with the milk, Ragnhild heard someone calling to her: “Ragnhild,” it said.

“Yes, here I am,” replied Ragnhild.

Will you swap with me now,
A goat for a cow?
Will you swap with me now,
Gullfebla for a cow?

it said from the face of the mountain.

I will lose the cow anyway, since you have tied a ribbon around it, thought Ragnhild; therefore it is best I say yes and swap.

“Oh yes,” she said, “I will swap!”

Early, early in the morning, before the sun rose, Ragnhild came out on to the mound. There lay Gullfebla up on a big stone against the clear morning sky, with gilded horns, and she was so beautiful and fine that her like was not to be found in the whole of Hallingdal, and so large that she was almost as big as a small cow, and there was little difference between the amount of milk it gave and that of a small heifer. When Ragnhild travelled home from the pasture, she took the goat with her home for her small children, and they were certainly happy, because they should have goat’s-milk gruel. They both danced and sprang. But an even greater joy was there for them because that should have a goat, and that a goat with gilded horns and a coat as fine as silk. They built a small house for her and plucked a lining both of leaves and bark and spruce boughs and moss, so that they would have something to give her in the winter. During the day, Gullfebla was out in the forest, and found leaves and bark, and in the evening she came home with her udder full of the finest and fattiest milk.

But when it drew on towards Christmas, Gullfebla had two kids, and then Ragnhild’s children were even gladder than before. They took them in to the parlour and decorated as well as they could, and when the goat kids climbed up on to the table, on to the mantlepiece, or stood with all four hoofs on a bed-post, then they laughed and clapped their hands in joy. Finally the goat had so many kids that Ragnhild could sell them and buy herself both cow and horse, for it was the best breed of goat that had ever been in Hallingdal; and the children, they lived both well and good, and if they are not dead, then they are alive yet.


  1. Beer cheese, in its simplest form, is a drink that is made from boiled beer and boiled milk that are mixed before drinking. It was often drunk for breakfast. 

  2. A skigard (roundpole fence) is a fence constructed from boards of rough timber that are set at a non-perpendicular angle to the ground. 

 

Norwegian source: Gullfebla.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Honest Penny

There was once upon a time a poor woman who lived in a miserable cabin far away from the village. She had little to bite on, and nothing to burn, and so she sent a small boy she had into the forest to gather firewood. He jumped and sprang and jumped, to keep himself warm, for it was a cold, grey autumn day; and every time he gathered a branch or a root into his bundle, he had to beat his arms together against his shoulder blades, for his fists were as red as the tufts of lingon berries he walked past, just from the cold.

When his wood bundle was full, and he should return home, he came upon a wood stack. There he saw a rough white stone. “Oh, you poor old rock, so white and pale you are—you must be freezing terribly!” said the boy. He took off his tunic and put it on the stone.

When he now came carrying the bundle of wood, his mother asked what this should mean, his wearing his shirtsleeves in the cold of autumn. He told her that he had seen a rough old stone that was pure white and pale from the frost; this he had given his tunic. “You silly!” said the woman. “Do you think stones freeze? But even if it was freezing so that it was shivering, then everyone is closest to himself. It costs enough to put clothes on you, without you hanging them on stones in a wood stack.” And then she chased the boy back for his tunic.

When he came to where the stone lay, it had turned around and had lifted one edge up from the earth. “Yes, that is because you got the tunic, you poor thing!” said the boy. But when he looked a little better at the stone, there stood a money chest beneath, full of gleaming silver coins. “This is certainly stolen money,” thought the boy; “no one puts money he has come by in a honest fashion beneath a stone away in the forest.” So he took the chest and carried it down to a tarn close by, and emptied the whole chest into it. But a penny floated on the surface. “Yes, that is honest, for the honest never sink,” said the boy. He took the penny, and went home with it and his tunic.

Then he told his mother how it had gone with him, that the stone had turned, and that he had found a chest of silver money that he had turned out into the tarn, for it was stolen money. “But an honest penny floated, and I took that because it was honest,” said the boy.

“You are a fool!” said his mother; she was perfectly angry. “If nothing was honest but what floated on water, then there would not be much honesty in the world. And even if the money you found had been stolen ten times, you found it, and everyone is closest to himself. If you had taken the money, then we would have been able to live well and good for the rest of our days. But, fool that you are, and fool that you will be, now I do not want you as a tiresome burden around here any more. Now you must go out and earn your bread.”

The boy had then to go out into the wide world, and he walked far and wide, and asked to go into service. But wherever he came, folk thought him too small and feeble, and so they could not use him for anything. Finally, he came to a merchant; there he was allowed to be in the kitchen, and he should carry wood and water for the cook.

Once, when he had been there a long time, the merchant should travel on a long voyage to a foreign country, and so he asked all his servants what he should buy, to bring back for each of them. When all had now said what they would have, the turn of the boy who carried wood and water for the cook came. He held out his penny.

“Well, what shall I buy with this, then?” asked the merchant. “It will not be such a large purchase.”

“Buy what I can have for it; it is honest, that I know,” said the boy.

The master promised to do so, and then he sailed.

When now the merchant had unloaded and loaded in the foreign country, and bought what he had promised his servants, then did he come to remember that the cook’s boy had sent a penny with him, that he should buy something with. “Shall I now go up to the town for the sake of a penny? One has nothing but misfortune from undertaking such trouble,” thought the merchant.

Just then a woman came walking, with a bag on her back.

“What do you have in your bag, mother?” asked the merchant.

“Oh, it’s nothing more than a cat; I cannot afford to feed it any longer, so I have thought to throw it in the sea and get rid of it,” replied the woman.

“The boy said I should buy what I could with his penny,” said the merchant to himself, and then he asked the woman if she would take a penny for her cat.

Yes, the woman was not slow to agree, and thus the deal was struck.

When now the merchant had sailed a distance, there came a dreadful storm upon him, with such an unearthly tempest that there was no respite, and he drove and drove and knew not where he was headed.

Finally he came to a country he had never been to before, and there he went up to the town. At the guesthouse, where he went in, the table was set with a switch for each person who should sit at it. This the merchant thought was wondrous, for he could not understand what they should do with all the switches; but he sat down, thinking he would see what all the others did with them, so he could do likewise. Well, when the food came to the table, he saw what the switch was for, sure enough: then there swarmed forth thousands of mice, and each person who sat at the table had to use their switch and wave it and strike it about them, and there was nothing to hear other than that one struck his switch harder than the other. Once or twice they hit each other in the face, and then they had to take the time to say, “excuse me!”

“It is hard work to eat in this country,” said the merchant. “But why do people not keep cats here?”

“Cats?” they asked; they did not know what they were.

So the merchant had the cat fetched, which he had bought for the cook’s boy, and when the cat came on to the table, the mice had to go into their holes, and the folk had not had so much peace at the table for as long as anyone could remember. They begged and blessed the merchant, that he should sell them his cat. After a long, long time he promised to leave it, but a hundred dollars would he have for it; they gave it, and thanked him, too.

The merchant sailed again; but hardly had he made the deep sea before he saw the cat sitting up in the mainmast, and soon there was a storm and a tempest again, even worse than last time, and he drove and drove, until he came to a place he had never been before.

The merchant went up again into the guesthouse, and here too was the table set with switches, but they were much stouter and longer than those where he first had been. And they were needed, for here were even more mice, and all of them were twice the size of those he had seen before.

So he sold the cat again, and this time he got two-hundred for it, and that without haggling.

When he had sailed from there, and had come a distance out to sea, the cat sat up in the mast again, and soon the tempest began again, and again, after a long, long time, he was this time driven in to a country he had never been to.

He again went up to the guesthouse; there also was the table set with switches, but each switch was one-and-a-half cubits long, and as thick as a small besom, and the folk said that the worst burden they had was to sit and eat, for here there were thousands of great ugly rats; it was a close thing for them to get a bite of food into their mouths once in a while, such work it was to keep the rats away. So the cat had to come up from the ship again, and then the folk had peace to eat. They begged and pleaded the merchant to sell them his cat; for a long time he said no, but finally he promised that they should have it for three-hundred dollars. This they gave, and their thanks and blessings, too.

When now the merchant came out to sea, he thought of how much the boy had earned on the penny he had sent with him. “Yes, he shall have some of the money,” said the merchant to himself, “but not everything; it is I he has to thank for the cat I bought, and everyone is closest to himself.”

But as soon as the merchant thought this to himself, there was a storm and a tempest, so that everyone thought the ship would be lost. Then the merchant understood that there was nothing else for it than that he should promise that the boy should have everything. Hardly had he made this promise than that the weather turned fair, and he had fine conditions all the way home. When he made land, he gave the boy the six-hundred dollars, and his daughter beside; for now the cook’s boy was as rich as the merchant. And then the boy lived in glory and happiness. His mother he took in to himself, and did well by her; “for I do not believe that everyone is closest to himself,” said the boy.

 

Norwegian source: Den rettferdige firskilling

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Virgin Mary as Godmother

Far, far away in a great forest, there once lived a couple of poor folk. The wife was confined and bore a child, a beautiful daughter. But they were so poor that they did no know how they should bring the child to her Christening. The husband had to go out one day, to look for sponsors who could contribute; he walked the whole day, both to one and to another, and everyone said they would like to be sponsors, but none thought he had enough to be able to contribute. When he was walking home in the evening, he met a beautiful lady who was so finely dressed and who looked so inwardly kind and good; she offered to bring the child to her Christening, but afterwards she would have it. The man replied that he would have to ask his wife what she thought, but when he came home and told her, his wife just said no.

The second day, the man went out again; but no one would be sponsor if they had to contribute, and it did not help, for all his asking. As he walked home again in the evening, he again met the beautiful lady who looked so content, and she again made the same offer. He told his wife what had happened to him, and she said that if he could not find sponsors for the child the next day, then they should let the lady have it, since she looked so kind and good.

The third day the man went out, he still could not find any sponsors, and when he met the lady again in the evening, he promised her the child when she had it Christened and gave it Christendom. In the morning, she came to where the man lived, together with two menfolk, took the child, went to church with it, and there it was Christened. Then she took it home with her, and there the little girl lived with her for several years, and her foster mother was always kind and good towards her.

When the girl had grown so big that she had learned to understand, her foster mother got ready to travel away. “You have permission to go where you will,” she said to the girl, “just not into the three chambers that I will now show you.” And then she travelled away. But the young girl could not leave off opening one of the chamber doors a little, anyway, and WHOOSH! Out flew a star. When her foster mother returned, she grew sad, and threatened to chase her foster daughter away; but the child wept and begged until finally she was allowed to stay.

After a while, her foster mother should travel away again, and so she forbade the girl from going into the two chambers he had not been in. She promised to control herself, but when she had been alone for a while, and thought and wondered what might be in the second chamber, she could not help but open the door a crack, to look inside, and WHOOSH! Out flew the moon. When her foster mother returned, and saw that the moon had been let out, she grew sorrowful, and said that she now could by no means have her with her any more; now she had to go. But the girl wept so heartily, and pleaded so beautifully, and so she was allowed to stay this time, too.

A time afterwards, her foster mother should travel away again—the girl was half-grown by this time—and so she laid upon her heart that she must not by any means go into, or even look into the third chamber. But when her foster mother had been away for a while, and the girl had been alone for a long time, and had grown both weary and bored, she thought, “No, it would be fun to look a little into the third chamber!” She thought at first that she would not do it, for the sake of her foster mother, but when she thought of it for the second time, she could not prevent herself; she thought she should and would go to look into the chamber. She opened the door a crack, and WHOOSH! Out flew the sun. When her foster mother returned now, and saw that the sun had flown out, she was simply aghast, and said that now she could by no means be allowed to stay with her any longer. The foster daughter wept and pleaded even more beautifully than before, but it did not help.

“No, now I must punish you,” said her mother, “but you may have the choice: either you will be the most beautiful of all, yet not be able to speak; or you will be the ugliest of all, yet be able to speak. But you must go away from me.”

“Then I would prefer to be beautiful,” said the girl. And that she was, too; but from that time, she had no voice.

When she had come away from her foster mother, she walked and wandered through a great, great forest; but however she walked, there was no end to it. When it drew towards evening, she clambered up a large tree that hung over a spring, and sat to sleep through the night. Close by lay a castle, and from it, in the morning, came a maid, who should fetch some tea-water from the spring for the prince. The maid saw the beautiful face in the spring and thought it was herself; so she threw down the water butt, ran home again, and struck her neck, saying: “I am so beautiful that I am too good to go carrying water.” Then another should go for the water, but it went the same way with her; she came back, too, saying that she was too beautiful and too good to go after water for the prince. So the prince went himself, for he wanted to see how all this hung together. When he came to the spring, he also saw the image, and he immediately looked up; and then he became aware of the beautiful maiden up in the tree. Be beckoned her down, and took her home with him, and eventually would have her as he queen, for she was so beautiful. But his mother, who yet lived, would not. “She cannot talk,” she said; “and it may well be a troll-person.” But the prince did not give in until he got her.

When they had lived together a time, she was with child, and when she should give birth, the prince set a strong guard around her, but at the hour of delivery, they all fell asleep, and when she had given birth, her foster mother came, cut the child on its little finger, and smeared the queen around her mouth and on her finger with its blood, and said to her: “Now shall you be as sorrowful as I was when you let out the star.” And then she disappeared with the child. When they had awoken, those who stood guard, they thought that the queen had eaten her own child. And the old queen would have her burned; but the prince held her so dear, and finally he pleaded her free from punishment, but it was a close thing.

The second time the young queen should be confined, the guard was twice as strong as the time before. But it went exactly the same way, except that her foster mother said: “Now you shall be as sorrowful as I was when you had let out the moon.” The queen wept and pleaded—for when her foster mother was there, then she could talk—but it did not help. Now the old queen would certainly have her burned; but the prince pleaded for her to be freed this time, too.

When the queen for the third time should be confined, the guard around her was tripled. But it went the same way: her foster mother came while the guard slept, took the child and cut its little finger, and smeared the queen around her mouth with its blood; and then she said that now the queen should be as sorrowful as she herself had been shen she had let out the sun. Now could the prince by no means save her; she had to and should burn. But just as they led her up on to the pyre, they saw her foster mother, who came with all three children; she led two by the hand, and carried the third in her arms. She went over to the young queen and said: “Here are your children; now you shall have them back. I am the Virgin Mary, and so sorrowful as you now have been was I when you had let out the sun, the moon, and the star. Now you have suffered punishment for what you did, but from now on you shall be able to speak again.” So glad the queen and the prince grew can anyone easily imagine, but no one can say; they were ever happy afterwards, and the prince’s mother also held the young queen dear from that time.

 

Norwegian source: Jomfru Maria som gudmor.