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Friday, 16 July 2021

Death as Godfather

A poor man had twelve children, and had to work day and night just to be able to give them dry bread. When the thirteenth came into the world, he no longer knew how to provide for himself in his need, so he ran out to ask the first and best who met him to be the child’s godfather.

The first to meet him was gracious God, who already knew what was on his mind, and said to him, “You poor man; I feel for you. I shall carry your child to baptism and take care of it so that it may be happy on earth.”

The man replied, “Who are you?”

“I am the Lord God.”

“I do not want you to be godfather, for you give to the rich and starve the poor.” The man spoke thus because he did not know how wisely God distributes wealth and poverty on earth.

He turned away from God and walked on.

Then the devil met him and said, “What do you seek? I am the your child’s godfather, and I shall give it gold and all the glories of the world.”

The man asked, “Who are you?”

“I am the Devil.”

“Then I do not want you to be godfather, for you deceive and seduce mankind.”

And he walked on.

Then death staggered to meet him and said, “Take me as godfather.”

“Who are you?” asked the man.

“I am death who makes everyone equal.”

Then the man said, “You are the right one; you fetch the rich and the poor without distinction, you must be the godfather.”

Death replied, “I shall make your child rich and famous in the world; he who has me as a friend shall lack nothing.”

So the man said, “My son shall be baptized next Sunday; make sure you come at the right time.”

Death came, as he had promised, and carried the child to baptism.

As the boy began to grow up, his godfather once came to him, took him out into the forest, and when they were all alone, said: “Now you must receive your godfather’s gift. I am making you a famous physician. When you are called to someone who is sick, I shall always show myself to you. If I stand at the patient’s feet, then say boldly that you shall make him well again. Then just give him a certain herb, which I will show you, and he shall recover his health. If, on the other hand, I stand by the patient’s head, then he is mine, and you shall say that all help is in vain, that he must die.” Then death showed him the herb and said, “Beware of using it against my will!”

It was not long before the physician was famous across the world. “He merely has to look at the sick, before he knows whether they shall recover or die.” Such was his name that folk came from far and wide to fetch him, and gave him as much money as he demanded, so that soon he possessed great wealth.

Now, eventually it happened that the king also fell ill. They then sent word for the famous physician to attend, and determine whether or not the king should die. As soon as the physician approached his bed, he saw death standing at the patient’s head, meaning that no help would prevail.

But the physician thought to himself: “Perhaps you can trick death; he won’t take it so badly, since he’s your godfather.” Then he took and turned the king around in his bed, so that death came to stand at his feet, and gave him some of the herb, whereupon the king recovered his health.

But death now came to the physician, put on a very grave face, and said: “This time it must be forgiven you, for I am your godfather, but if you take it upon yourself to deceive me once again, then it shall be upon your own head.”

Shortly afterwards, the king’s daughter fell ill, and no one could help her. The old king wept day and night until he was close to going blind. At length he announced that whosoever could save her from death would receive her hand as a reward, and inherit the crown.

Our physician attended too, and death stood by her head. And when the physician beheld the beauty of the king’s daughter, and considered the king’s promise, he forgot all warnings, and ignoring death’s terrible glare upon him, he turned the patient around and gave her some of the herb so that she began to recover.

When death saw himself cheated of his property a second time, he went to the physician and said, “Now you shall come with me, friend!” Then he grasped him with his icy hand and led him to an underground cave, where many thousands of candles burned in innumerable rows. Some were long, some half-long, and some short. Every moment some were extinguished and others lit, so that the flames seemed to jump here and there.

“You see,” said death, “these are the candles of human lives. The long ones belong to children, the half-long to married folk in their best years, the short ones belong to old folk; however, children and young folk also often have but short candles. If they burn out, then their lives are over, and they belong to me.”

The physician said, “Show me my candle, now!”

Then death pointed at a very short stump that was just about to go out, and said, “Do you see?”

The physician was horrified, and said: “Oh my dear godfather, light a new one for me, so that I may first enjoy my life, become king and the husband of the beautiful king’s daughter!”

“I cannot,” replied death. “One must first be extinguished before a new one is lit.”

“Then put the old on a new one, which can burn immediately when it’s over,” said the physician.

Then death feigned to fulfill his wish and brought forth a new, long candle. But as he was to put it underneath the old one, he fumbled – in order to take revenge – and the old piece fell down and went out. Then the physician also sank, and fell into the hands of death himself, for he had abused the gift entrusted to him.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

The Boy and the Fox

There was once upon a time a small boy who was on his way to church. As he passed through a clearing in the woods, he saw a fox lying asleep on a slab of glimmerite. But the fox didn’t notice that the boy saw him.

“When I now take the life of this fox,” said the boy, picking up a big stone, “and sell its skin, I shall have some money. With that money I shall buy some rye, and I shall sow the rye on father’s strip of field back home. When then the church folk come, they shall say:

“‘Oh what nice rye that boy has!’ And I shall say to them: ‘Don’t tread down the rye, I say!’ But they shan’t listen. Then I shall scream at them: ‘Don’t tread down the rye, I say!’ But still they shan’t listen. Then I shall scream at them as loudly as I can: ‘Don’t tread down the rye, I say!’ And then they shall listen.”

But at the boy’s screaming, the fox awoke and ran off into the forest, and so the boy did not get so much as a tuft of its hair.

No, it is better to take the opportunity that presents itself; one ought never to boast of what has not been accomplished, they say.

— Gabriel Djurklou (1829–1904). Sagor och äfventyr (1844).
Illustration: Theodor Kittelsen (1857–1914)

Monday, 28 June 2021

The Princess Who Should Commit Fornication and Murder

There was once upon a time a king and a queen. When the queen lay in her maternity bed, a wife came in to her, went over to the cradle, and looked the child over. “Yes, you are pretty,” she said, “but no matter how pretty you are, you shall commit both fornication and murder, and be sentenced to death. And your mother shall live no longer after this candle has burned out.”

The queen heard all this and woke the nurse. She had to get up and snuff out the burning candle. The queen wrapped it in some paper and laid it among her gold jewellery. Then she lit another.

The child grew and got bigger.

Once, when the king and queen should go driving on a visit, they got another little maiden to keep the princess company. The king’s daughter wanted to show the other maiden all the glories in the castle. She found the cabinet key the queen had hidden, and wanted to show all the jewellery her mother owned. She pulled out a drawer and found a roll of paper inside. “I wonder what mother has here,” the princess said. In the paper was a candle. “Mother has certainly forgotten all about this; we can burn it tonight,” she said.

They did so.

As the candle burned lower, the queen’s pain grew. She felt for it, and realised that she had forgotten the key to the cabinet. She bade the king drive home as swiftly as he could, grasp hold of the candle, and snuff it out. But it was too late. As the candle burned out, the queen died.

After a time the king remarried. Then, some time later, he should go out to war. So he had built a castle, and he placed his daughter there so that the new queen would not see her. The princess was to remain in that castle, and not come out, so that she should not commit fornication and murder. But the queen got to know that he had a daughter and what had been predicted. There was only one single person who knew where the princess was, and if he should reveal it, he would lose his life. The king also had a lion. The one who dared to kill the lion would also be sentenced to death.

The queen spoke with he who knew where the princess was. If he didn’t tell the queen, then he would be killed. So he told her. The queen fetched the princess home, saying, “I know what was predicted about you when you were still in your cradle, but if you will trust me, then I shall help you so things may still go well.”

Indeed, the princess would do so. The queen gave her a ball of yarn. She should roll it before her, and where the ball of yarn rolled before, she should go after.

Then came she to a man who stood burning pitch. “Do you stand here, old man, burning pitch,” the princess said.

“Yes, I have stood here for a hundred years, and now I am glad I am finished.”

The ball of yarn rolled up his back, and she went after and tipped him into the cauldron of pitch so that he died.

The ball of yarn rolled on, and she followed. She came to a king’s farm, and there the ball of yarn rolled right into the prince’s chamber and up into his bed.

The princess lay there that night.

When the prince got up in the morning, she was gone. He began to search for her, and went far, and farther than far.

When the king came home, the queen had locked the lion in, and forbidden everyone from speaking of it. They should only say that his daughter had killed the lion. The king asked first after the lion. Then the queen said that his daughter had killed the lion. So she had to be sentenced for it.

But when she was to be taken to her execution, the queen said that the lion was safe and unharmed. And then came the prince who had been searching after her, and then there was a wedding.

AT 934E (the magic ball of thread)
Location: Bygland, Agder
Collector: Jørgen Moe
Informant: Kari/ Karen “Præstedatter” Ni(e)lsdatter
Date: 1847

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Our Lord’s and the Devil’s Animals

After Our Lord had created all the animals, he chose the wolves as his dogs, but overlooked the goats. Then the devil puffed himself up and also went out creating, and formed the goats with long tails. Now when they went grazing, their long tails stuck fast in thorn bushes, and so the devil had to go out and spend a lot of time loosing them. At length he grew wroth, and bit the tails off all the goats, leaving only stumps, as one may see even to this day.

Now he could let them graze alone, but it happened that our Lord saw how they could gnaw on a growing tree or devour other, delicate plants. He was moved by this, so in his grace and mercy, he set his wolves upon them, which soon tore the goats asunder.

When the devil noticed this, he approached the Lord, saying: “Your creatures have torn mine asunder.”

The Lord replied: “Why have you created them to do harm?”

The devil replied: “I had to do so, for as my mind can only conceive of harm, what I create cannot have any other nature. You must compensate me for what your creatures have done.”

“I shall compensate you,” said the Lord, “when the leaves have fallen from the oak trees. Return then and you shall have your compensation.”

When the leaves had fallen from the oak trees, the devil came and made his demand.

But Our Lord said, “Before the church in Constantinople stands a tall oak which yet has all its leaves.”

In fury the devil flew off to seek out the oak, but he wandered the desert for six months before he found it. When he returned, all the other oak trees were full of green leaves, and so he had to give up his compensation. But in his wrath he put out the eyes of all the goats, and put his own in their place.

This is why goats have devil eyes and short tails, and why the devil assumes their form.

Jens Melgaard. “Vor Herres og Fandens Dyr” in Tyve udvalgte Eventyr for Børn. Skien: J. Melgaard, 1845 (p. 90–92).

Monday, 22 March 2021

Shoemaker Henrik

Shoemaker Henrik was born in Norway, but howsoever it may or may not have happened, he wandered around for so long that he found himself Russia. There he sat one day, making shoes as he was eating. He accidentally spilt a drop from his bowl, and immediately a number of flies gathered around it. Henrik grabbed a strip of leather and swiped at the swarm, swatting fifteen flies in one go. He thought this was a great feat, so he took a scrap of paper and wrote it down. He wrote that he had slain fifteen at one stroke. He fastened the scrap of paper on the outside of his cobbler’s bag. People who read it thought that here was a deadly warrior fellow, and they stepped aside out of respect for him. Eventually Henrik came into the service of the emperor, and the respect and reverence due to such a great war hero – as they thought he was – wasn’t lacking.

Now the emperor owned a great forest, and a unicorn had come into this forest and ravaged terribly there. Almost no one dared to travel through the forest for fear of the beast. Well, Henrik wasn’t one of those folk whose words alone were fine, nor was he particularly shy; he promised to fell the unicorn. The emperor was more than happy for him do so and offered a crowd of folk to go along and help. But no, Henrik wanted to go alone. It was no worse a beast than he could handle alone, he said. If he couldn’t go alone, he wouldn’t go, he said.

Well, in that case he should be allowed to go alone. But it was one thing to be so brave while he was still at home in the king’s farm, and quite another when he was to go out and do it. As soon as he got so far into the forest that no one could see him, he grew so scared that he thought only about how he could escape unseen without meeting the unicorn.

But as he stood loitering there, the unicorn came towards him. And I tell you, he wasn’t slow getting up into the biggest tree he saw. A unicorn is a beast that has a single horn in the middle of its forehead. When it saw Henrik clamber up, it began to butt the tree. And at length it rammed its horn so far into the tree that it couldn’t get it out again, and couldn’t go anywhere. Then Henrik regained his courage, climbed down the tree, and killed the unicorn with his big knife.

Then he returned to the emperor’s castle, and said that now he had hunted the beast for so long that it had rammed itself into a tree, and there he had killed it. And so it may well be that he was celebrated for his valour.

But soon after, an even worse beast came to the same forest. It was a great belligerent bear. And so they wanted Henrik – he who had killed the unicorn – to kill the bear, too. He would have as many men as he wanted. But Henrik said now, as he had previously, that if he should go, he should go alone, otherwise he wouldn’t go.

So it was then that he got to go alone. And as soon as he got out of sight, he was so scared that he thought of nothing but about how he was going to get away without meeting any belligerent bear. But just as he went lurking there, the bear came charging straight towards him.

Now, there was a deep hole in the ground close by, and a hatch had been prepared for its opening. This hatch stood open, and Henrik ran as quickly as he could and crouched behind the hatch to hide himself. As the angry bear no longer saw anything of the one who had disturbed his peace, he thought that the fellow must have run straight into the hole, and so the bear followed. But as soon as the bear had gone down, Henrik wasn’t slow in slamming the hatch shut and locking it tightly.

Then he went to the emperor’s castle and said that now he had hunted the bear for so long that it had run down into the hole; if they wanted him, they could fetch him there. He, for his part, cared no longer about it, he said. The emperor then sent a whole host of hunters and soldiers to take the life of the trapped bear. But the one who received honour and praise was Henrik the shoemaker. He was invited to the court and was seated at the same table as the emperor.

Immediately after, the emperor went to war against the Turks, and Henrik was commissioned as a captain of the entire Russian army. Now Henrik had certainly never seen a war, and hadn’t the least idea of how things were done, but folk thought he was so brave that it should be a matter of course that he should lead the army. Henrik himself was ill at ease. Leading an army was something he had never considered, much less had any experience of. The only weapons he was practised in were the awl and his cobbler’s knife.

But here something might be done. He ordered every man to dress stark naked. The soldiers had it from the emperor himself that they were to obey Henrik in every detail, and they dared do nothing but obey such orders, and soon the whole army stood there naked, without a thread on their God-given bodies. Then Henrik ordered them to find fatwood sticks, set them alight, and run towards the enemy as they swung the burning torches above their heads.

When the Turks came to fight them, Henrik swung his burning torch above his head and stormed straight ahead. The soldiers did the same as their captain, and followed after him. When the Turks saw all these men, stark naked, with flames above their heads, they thought an army of spirits was coming on, and they cried out in great fear, and took flight as swiftly as their feet would carry them. Henrik and his army stormed after at a quick march, and the Turks didn’t dare look behind them before they had arrived in the midst of Turkey. Henrik’s spoils, and those of his men, were greater than great. And since then, the Turks have never dared attack the Russians.

  • ATU-1640 (the brave tailor)
  • Location: Bø, Leirfjord
  • Collector: Knut Strompedal
  • Informant: Jens Hansen

  • The Tzar: Alexander II (1818–1881)
  • The war: the Russo (Eastern Orthodox Coalition) - Turkish (Ottoman) War (April 1877–March 1878)
  • Casualties: >550,000, all told.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

When the Hen Went to the Giant’s and Took Back Her Husband

There was once a giant who came and stole the cock from the hen, and the hen felt lost without her husband, you see. So she took a potsherd for a sleigh and a mouse for a horse, bridled it, and began to drive on her way.

When she came onto the road, she met a fox, and he asked her where she was off to.

“I’m going to the giant’s, to get my husband back,” she said.

“May I have a lift from you?” said the fox.

“My horse is small but my sleigh is steady. Cast your lot with me! Cast your lot with me! Don’t spare the mouse! Jump on!” said the hen. And then she drove both here and there. She was in a hurry, you see; she was going to get her husband back.

Then they met a wolf, and he asked her where she was off to.

“I’m going to the giant’s, to get my husband back,” she said.

“May I have a lift from you?” said the wolf.

“My horse is small but my sleigh is steady. Cast your lot with me! Cast your lot with me! Don’t spare the mouse! Jump on!” said the hen. And then she drove both here and there. She was in a hurry, you see; she was going to get her husband back.

Then they met a bear, and he asked her if he could have a lift.

“My horse is small but my sleigh is steady. Cast your lot with me! Cast your lot with me! Don’t spare the mouse! Jump on!” said the hen. And then she drove both here and there. She was in a hurry, you see; she was going to get her husband back.

When they came to the giant’s, she let the bear into the cowshed and the wolf into the goat barn and the fox into the sheepfold, and they began to kill the giant’s livestock. The hen herself went into the giant’s parlour, laid an egg in the firepit, and stuck a darning needle in the long bench.

When the giant heard his livestock from the barns, he thundered:

“Bring me my trotting trousers, woman!”

When he had his trousers on, he went to the firepit to blow up a light, but the egg burst in his eyes.

He stumbled over to the long bench, so that he could sit down and rub his eyes, but he drove the needle so far up into his arse that it stuck there.

Then the hen took back her cock. He was perched on a ledge by the front door.

Location: Ålvundeid, Møre og Romsdal
Informant: Marit Haugen
Collector: E. Langset
Date: 1915

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Gyger of Landegode


In the olden days, there lived a great gyger [a troll wife] out on Landegode. As she thought it was far too lonely to live so alone on the desolate island out in the sea, far away from other trolls and gygers, she called to the blueman, who lived in the mountains within Saltenfjord, and asked if he didn’t want her to wife, because she so wanted to get married. Yes, he certainly would, but only on the condition that she should first take Landegode and carry it to Blåmannsfjell; for he had been annoyed for many long ages that the neighbouring mountain of Sulitjelma), was so much higher and prouder than Blåmannsfjell, in which he lived. If she could get his house as high as Sulitjelma, he would marry her, any day of the week. Well, it could easily be done, the gyger thought, and so she set to work. But when she had Landegode tied well to her back, the sun shone, and then she turned into a huge rock, which you can still see standing out on Landegode, and which people call “Landego-gjuri” [literally, “Landegod-udder,” as two peaks on the island are fancied to resemble a woman’s breasts]. And the blueman, he stood for so long, looking for his sweetheart, that he forgot to pack himself back into his mountain, and so he also turned to stone. To this day he may be seen standing in the mountains, with his skis on his feet; the tips of his skis protrude from the snow that covers the top of the mountain.

– Legend from Skjerstad, as told by schoolteacher A. Vesterlid.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Guri Gullkrans

There was once a girl named Guri. She had long golden-yellow plaits, and they were tied in a wreath around her head, and so they called her Guri Gullkrans.1 She was the most beautiful girl in seven church parishes and certainly even farther. As soon as she was grown up, many suitors came to her, but she wanted none of them. In disappointment, she refused even the richest and best farmers’ sons.

Her parents didn’t like this at all. They wanted to see her well married, you know, and one day they took Guri aside and spoke to her about it. But Guri Gullkrans just threw her head back in laughter, saying: “The right one hasn’t yet come!”

Then her father grew heartily wroth, and solemnly promised that the first one who came and offered himself as a suitor, he would have her for wife, whether he was the right one or not! Indeed, even should it be a werewolf, he said.

In the twilight of the evening that same day, there was a howl outside, and a scraping at the door. The man went out to look, and there was a huge greyshanks.

“May I have your daughter?” said the greyshanks.

The man was astonished, and regretted that he had used such harsh words towards his daughter. But a man’s words are a man’s honor, he said, and he could by no means sleep off something he had promised so dearly. Guri Gullkrans had to make herself ready immediately and go with the greyshanks, even though she both wept and cried!

“Sit on my back, you, and hold on tight to my skin,” said the greyshanks to her. And she did so, even though she trembled like an aspen leaf.

The wolf ran and ran; the road was dark and long, but at last they came to a great stone scree. There he snuck into a large spacious cavern.

“Just go farther in, you my sweetheart, for here shall we live, you and I,” said the grey wolf. When Guri came to the end of the cavern, there was a door. She opened the door, and inside she saw both a bed and a table and various kinds of seats, rose-painted and beautiful all. Well did she wonder!

At the end of the room there was another door; but as soon as she wanted to peep inside, the greyshanks came as quickly as he could to meet her. The wolf said that there was nothing to look at inthere. And so the girl had to be content.

Guri Gullkrans now remained living with the greyshanks, and some time passed. The wolf was out during the day, but as evening arrived, he came padding home to the scree.

At bedtime every evening, when darkness fell, the wolf gave the girl a sweetly drink from a golden horn, and this drink was such that the girl fell immediately asleep, and didn’t waken before the day could be seen in the sky. By then the greyshanks had already padded on his way.

Guri Gullkrans was free to walk around the scree outside the cave, but she could come no farther. It was steep down and it was steep up, and it was just as steep and as slippery smooth on both sides, and she didn’t at all understand which way she had come when she rode in on the wolf.

She also had something else or other to wonder about.

First there was the third chamber, which she wasn’t allowed into. When the greyshanks was out, the door to the room was locked, and she had no idea where the key was. She searched high and low, and upturned everything she came across, wanting to find the key, but it was futile.

Then there was another thing: One night when the wolf gave her her drink from the golden horn, she spilt most of it down her front. The greyshanks didn’t see, and she ignored it, but she didn’t fall asleep as soon as she lay down, as before.

And just as she lay there, she saw very clearly that a man lay beside her. She reflected and thought over this.

Now, Guri Gullkrans sat in the sunshine outside the cavern one day. Just as she sat there, a hare came hopping along in long leaps, with a fox in tow behind. When the hare saw the girl, he jumped, not knowing at all which way he should escape. But Guri Gullkrans said: “If you know what’s best for you, my little grey puss, then hurry to me and let me save you!” Immediately the hare came right up to her, and the fox skulked off on his way.

“Thank you for wanting to help me; perhaps I can help you!” said the hare to Guri Gullkrans. It was difficult for her to believe, but still she told of the greyshanks she lived with, and how strange everything was.

“Do you see the little red flower that grows there between the stones?” asked the hare.

Yes indeed, she saw it!

If she picked it and ate it all up completely, she would be able to see all the secret things she could wish to and want to. What she wanted most, she would see best, and it was as true as it was told, said the hare.

Guri Gullkrans wasn’t slow to pick the red flower and eat it. Then she thought with all her might of the key to the chamber that she wasn’t allowed into. Immediately she saw where the key was, lying in the outermost room of the cavern, under a stone flag. She then hurried to retrieve the key, and then she unlocked the door to the third chamber, as quickly as she could, all the while trembling in excitement.

One wall was hanging full of stately clothes and lethal swords, and on the other wall hung long rows of greyshanks skins. She found nothing else, and nothing more, and she didn’t have much time to look for it either, for now the evening began to grow dark. She could expect the greyshanks to return home at any moment. She hurried to put the key back underneath the stone flag. But she forgot to lock the door in her haste

The key was hardly back in place before the wolf came panting.

“Has anything special happened?” he asked.

“Of course not! How can you think it might have? Nothing special will ever happen here!” replied Guri Gullkrans.

“I felt inside that I had to hurry home! I don’t suppose you’ve been into the third chamber, have you?” he asked, glaring at her.

She merely answered: “Do you think I know where the key is, then?”

“No, how could you know that?” admitted the wolf. And with that said, he calmed down.

But just Guri Gullkrans sat there with her wishes and thoughts, and looked straight at the greyshanks, she looked right through the wolf skin, and she saw the most handsome boy she could ever have dreamed of in her life.

“What are you sitting staring at?” the greyshanks growled.

“No, I’m just sitting here in thought” Guri Gullkrans replied.

Late that night, the greyshanks came with the golden horn as usual, and desired her to drink.

“Yes, thank you,” said Guri Gullkrans, taking the horn. “But put a log on the fire, will you? I’m freezing so!” she said.

Of course, the greyshanks would do so. And he had hardly turned away from her before Guri Gullkrans emptied all the drink in the horn into a corner. But when the wolf looked at her again, she made as if she were drinking.

“Oh, I’m so sleepy, I am,” she yawned over the empty horn.

“Just go to bed, you,” replied the greyshanks. “Now it will soon be warm enough here, I should think,” he said.

So the girl went to bed, but she kept her eyes half-open, and saw now in the glow from the fire how the wolf wrested off the skin and raised himself up on two, like the handsome boy he was.

The girl had the sense to lie on the outside, and then let the boy step over her to lie inside. And as soon as he was asleep the girl crept out of bed, took the wolf skin and threw it on the fire. It sputtered and crackled, and the boy was woken by the sound.

“Oh dear, what are you doing now?!” he cried sleepily.

“I’m burning your ugly skin!” she replied.

Then the boy tumbled sleepily out of the bed and went out to the first chamber; he had to find the key. But Guri Gullkrans suddenly remembered that she hadn’t locked after herself when she was in the third chamber. So she hurried in, gathered all the greyshanks skins that hung there, and threw them all together on the fire. When the boy came running with the key, they were all aflame!

“Can you now be like a proper human being, and let this greyshanks nonsense go?” asked Guri Gullkrans.

“Yes, now you have saved me, even if you have done so a month ahead of time!” he said.

“What do you mean by that?” she asked.

“Well, if you had put up with living with me as before for a month longer, then I would have thrown the skin on the fire myself,” he replied.

Then he told her that he was an enchanted prince. Some miserable troll-hag had done some troll-work, thrown the wolfskin on him, and given him a the mind of a wolf. Only at night when he slept, was he allowed to be human. And so should it be until a beautiful girl with golden hair had lived with him for seven months. But now she had been there for six!

“If you now want me free from my wolf nature for the month that is to come, then sacrifice all your golden hair. If you don’t do so, I shall pad about as a human wolf in the heaths for another whole month,” said the prince.

Then the girl said at once that she would shear off her hair, and asked for a pair of scissors. As soon as she got them, her wreath of hair fell. How it gleamed!

Now the prince was as happy and as free as he could be, and now he seriously wanted to make Guri Gullkrans his wife.

“What do you say to that?” he asked.

And what could the girl say other than: “Yes!”

“Whatever happens, let it happen, for now I see that you are the right one!” she said.

Then they travelled together away from the scree, and the prince found a path, no matter how hopeless it seemed. He was dressed in the finest garment among those that hung in the third room – and he had a sword in its scabbard, too!

First they went home to her parents and made them happy. Then they went straight to the king’s farm where the prince came from. There they lived together in joy and in gladness! - And if you want to know any more, then you can ask grandfather, - I expect he knows a lot more than I do!


Torvald Tu. Gullfuglen: og andre eventyr. A. Steinsfjord (ill.). Oslo: Fonna, 1944.


  1. Guri Gullkrans = Guri Golden-wreath 

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Old Christmas Customs

Jul or Jol, which is said to really mean “noise” or “clamour,” was solemnly celebrated by our pagan ancestors on the 12th of [December], which was regarded as midwinter’s day, which is why the midtvinterblot or midwinter sacrifice was also held on that occasion.

When Christianity was introduced, the heathens also had to move their jul to the 25th of December. Despite the fact that nearly a thousand years has passed since then, several superstitions that have their roots in the worship of the heathen gods have survived until recently among the common people.

Thus the belief in the skreie or the julereie, in some places called the asgårdsreie, which in Ulvik at least is said to storm through the village on Christmas Eve. This wild host was originally the mighty ás-god Thor and his company, originally the friend and protector of mankind, but since the introduction of Christianity nothing more than a vengeful, horrible spirit that storms through the air with fire and smoke and destruction in its wake.

Åsgårdsreien, Peter Nicolai Arbo.

On Lussinotti [Lussi night], the longest night of the year, it was thought that “Lussi” came to the farm as an ugly foul woman. Others knew to tell of “Lussi’s wake,” a dangerous procession of flying creatures, half dragon, half human. This, however, was probably the same as the Asgårdsreie, just that the notion of these as two different objects has become obscure and confused.

Finally, we had the julesveiner [Yule swains] who also appeared on Lussi night and resided on the mantel above the old-fashioned smoke ovens; they remained mostly calm, however, until some time past Christmas, when they disappeared as quietly as they had come.

In many places there was also a creature called the Garssvore or the defender of the farm; he lurked around the farm the whole time and was big and ugly, but he wandered around by himself and left others alone. But for him to maintain peace, and defend the house and farm and folk and livestock from nuisance and violence and the hulder folk and other enchantments, he required a nicely made bed in the attic and a bowl of beer and a dish of sour-cream porridge put out in the farmyard or out in the fields every Christmas Eve. If he had this, he was satisfied.

From Lussi night until past Christmas, none of the folk in the house were to go out late or spend the night in an outhouse; they shaould all move into the cabin, even carrying in food and drink so they could avoid going out to the stabbur in the evening. Otherwise they might be taken by the evil spirits which were thought to have taken possession of all the outhouses during this time. If you were so unfortunate to be taken by the reie, you were thrown on a device that was said to look like an inverted harrow, and driven over sticks and stones until you were seriously injure or completely knocked to death.

In some places the reie stopped to have some food. The great cabin then had to be tidied, the occupants moved out, and the table abundantly covered with the best Christmas fare available in the house. If anyone dared to stay behind, he fared badly; he was either put on the inverted harrow and driven off the farm, or he was punished in his mind by becoming a numbskull or a fool for the rest of his days.

There was once a boy who no longer believed in the reie and such. He loaded his rifle and placed himself behind the stove on the evening the Julereie, was expected, to see if anyone really came. He was strongly warned against staking his life and health, but the boy wanted to stay in place anyway. As it passed midnight, a great rumbling and banging was heard, and a number of people entered the house and sat around the well-spread table. The were all dark, sooty, disguised figures. One of them sat down in the high seat and bade the others eat; he was bigger and uglier than the others and seemed to be some manner of leader for them. The boy behind the stove then raised his rifle and shot a bullet through the leader’s forehead. He fell to the floor with a roar, while the others hurriedly took flight through the door. Shortly afterwards, however, two of the men returned and pulled out their dead chief, after which they all disappeared. But from that day on the Christmas reie never came to that farm again. And here is what was most mysterious: one of the neighbors was found dead that very night, in his house, with a broken head. He was a bold, careless man.

Another time it happened that a stranger came to a farm on Christmas Eve and asked for a place to stay. He was told that not even they had a house that night, for they expected the julereie to arrive, and thus had to flee so they would not be trampled and disgraced.

Oh, nothing more, thought the man who had a tame white bear with him; if only he and the white bear would be allowed to sleep in the house, there would certainly be a curious dance with the julereie. So the man gave him leave to sleep there. He went in to the laid himself in the room or chamber next to the parlour, and left the door ajar, while the white bear lay down in the corner by the firepit. As it drew on towards midnight, a large company of folk – men, women and children – came in, sat down at the table and began to eat the fare that the people of the house had set out according to their old habit. However, one of the children had caught sight of the white bear, which it thought was a big white molly, took a piece of meat on a fork, and went to the corner, wanting to give it to the bear. But the bear did not want this meat, so the child stuck the fork in the animal’s nose. As a result, the white bear turned furious, and chased out the whole swarm.

On Christmas Eve the following year, the man standing in the farmyard heard someone call to him, asking if he still had the white molly. Yes, replied the man, he still had the cat, and she had had 7 kittens now, which were even worse than their mother. No more was asked, but the julereie never came to that farm again.

To protect themselves from the Lussiferd, the juleskreie or the julereie, hulder folk &c. they used to paint tar crosses above every outer door. Thus, they thought, that they would stride on past.

A pitch cross on the door lintel of a cabin in The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Bygdøy.

On Christmas Eve, boys and girls could see their future spouses by leaving the table in the middle of the meal, taking a piece of Christmas fare in their hands and going to the barn, where they took off their shoes and then ran three times around the house in their bare socks. The third time they returned, their prospective spouse would be standing in their shoes. If, on the other hand, you were to die unmarried, an unknown person would stand in your shoes, holding a spade and a shovel in their hand.

– “Gamle Juleskikke.” Th. S. Haukenæs. Natur, Folkeliv og Folketro i Hardanger: belyst ved Natur- og Folkelivsskildringer, Eventyr, Sagn, Fortællinger osv. fra ældre og nyere tid. 3: Ulvik. Hardanger: Th. S. Haukenæs, 1885 (p. 175-179).

Thursday, 26 November 2020

The Princess Who Was SO Ugly

There was once upon a time a princess who was not as beautiful as ordinary princesses tend to be. On the contrary, she was so immeasurably ugly that no one wanted to marry her. No one considered how kind and good she was because she was so ugly to look at.

Both the princess and the king her father were very disappointed that no prince wanted her, for he had no son who could inherit the kingdom after him, and he wanted very much to have a son-in-law. So the princess said one day: “Dear father, let me go out into the world and see if I can’t find a prince who wants me.” The king was reluctant to let her go, but she begged him for so long that she was finally allowed.

She walked for several days, then, and at night she was allowed to lie in the parlours of the poor. Everyone was kind to her, for she herself was so kind, and she paid well for herself – the king had given her a large purse of gold so that she would not suffer any want.

On the fifth day, as it was getting dark, she grew exhausted, but she found no shelter. So she sat down on a rock and began to weep, and then came a great black dog to her, and asked her why she was weeping.

“Oh, I’m so tired,” said the princess, “but I have found no room in which to sleep tonight.”

“Don’t weep about it, you,” said the dog. “I know a cave nearby where you can sleep well; I will lie down and watch guard over you, and we shall have food, too. But tell me: who are you, and where are you going?”

“I am a princess,” she replied, “but, as you can see, I am so terribly ugly that no prince will marry me, and that disappoints my father so, for he has no one to inherit the kingdom when he dies. That’s why I have gone out into the world now, to see if I can find a prince who will want me anyway.”

“I’m sure there’s some advice for that,” said the dog, “if you will follow me and do as I say.” The princess certainly would. So they slept in the cave for the night, and when the dog merely blew a whistle, then they had the finest food they could wish for.

In the morning the dog said that the princess should sit on his back, so they might arrive all the more quickly. She did, and now they went as quickly as if she were sitting on the finest of horses. After they had travelled for many days, the dog said that they would soon come to a troll’s castle, and that the princess should go in as he remained outside. But she needn’t be afraid, for the troll was out on a long journey; there was just an awfully big red cat at home, but she needn’t be afraid of that either, for it would do her no harm. She should just lift it on to her lap and pat it and stroke it and get it to tell her where the golden bird had its nest, whose chicks the cat ate every day. And after she found out, she should come out to the dog at once. Then they would travel on. Yes, the princess promised to do everything the dog said, and then they arrived at the castle.

The princess got off the dog and went into the castle. It was so very fine inside that immeasurable amounts of gold gleamed everywhere. But she did not see a single person, though she walked through many chambers, the one finer than the other. At last she came into a chamber in which everything was made of silver, and there lay the great red cat on a bench, looking at her through eyes as big as bowls. The princess grew immensely fearful, but she took courage and went to the cat and patted it. Then she sat down on the bench, and lifted the cat on to her lap, stroking and caressing it and saying: “Are you here alone, you beautiful little cat? Have you had any food today, then?”

“Meow,” said the cat, “I have only had a paltry little golden bird today, for the mother bird told me that no more had hatched.”

“Where does this bird live, then?” said the princess. “Tell me, and I’ll go there and see if what she said was true, and I’ll bring you a bird.”

“Meow,” said the cat. “If you will do that, then I’ll tell you where she lives. After you have travelled for an hour, you’ll come to a large forest, and in the midst of it stands a tree that is larger than the others; at the top of it is its nest. If you can pluck a feather too, then you shall be able to go wherever you want to, as quickly as you desire.”

The princess said thank you for the advice, bade farewell to the cat, and hurried out to the dog. She sat on its back, and told it what the cat had said.

They now rode for an hour, and then came to the big tree in the forest. It was awfully high, and the dog said that the princess now had to climb up it, and take an egg and a feather for him. She did so, and as she was good at climbing, she soon came to the top. But it was more difficult to get anything out of the nest, for the golden bird was so angry that it pecked and bit her hands, so that it was scarcely possible for her to take an egg and a feather. She could not get any chicks, but had to hurry down again before the bird pecked out her eyes.

When she came down to the ground, she was so weary and frightened that it was all she could do to give the dog the egg before she collapsed. When she came to herself again, the dog had gone, and before her stood the most handsome prince in glittering armour.

“Well, where have you come from?” said the princess.

“It was I who was the dog,” said the prince. “But when I ate the egg, the enchantment left me, and I am extremely grateful for your help. If you will, we’ll go to your father’s and hold a wedding.”

“What, will you have me, then” said the princess.

“When I was a dog, I said that I would get you a prince. And that’s me.”

“But you’re so handsome, and I’m so ugly,” said the princess.

“I don’t care about that when you have a heart as good as I know yours to be. Now: we wish to go to your father.”

Then they passed through the air over both forests and mountains and over great waters, and then immediately they were at home with the king. There they held a wedding. And since then the prince has inherited the kingdom, where he still reigns today, if he be not dead.

- Tante Tora. Tolv eventyr for barn. Rudolf Krog (illus.). Kristiania: P.F. Steenballes boghandels eftg., 1906.