Post by Joanna on Apr 21, 2016 5:24:24 GMT -5
Norse Gods, Fairies and Creatures
Scandinavian folklore was born from a fear of nature. The unknown depths of the fjords, the unexplored mountains, the dark northern forests … anything strange or unknown was open to speculation of sea monsters, evil spirits or mighty gods. Originating from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, these epic tales of Norse mythology have lasted throughout the ages. A modern resurgence of popularity, in large part because of recent Hollywood movies, has revived interest in Scandinavian folklore.
The most famous tales from Scandinavian folklore are those of good versus evil and sinister creatures disguised as beautiful mortals. The 10 most famous of the Norse legends evoke images of mighty battles, forces of nature and wicked beings.
Trolls. Scandinavian trolls (above) were described as stupid and slow, much like a bear in temperament; perhaps this is why trolls were rumored to keep bears as pets. Their simple lifestyle was one of peace unless they felt threatened, in which case they would respond with savage violence. It was said that any courageous human could outwit a troll, even besting him in one-on-one combat if the human had strong faith. Hoarding their gold under bridges, high in the mountains or at the depths of lakes, trolls were said to be hideous in appearance with multiple heads and huge hairy bodies.
Thor. Long before he became a Hollywood character, Thor was a mighty hammer-wielding god of thunder and lightning, a symbol of strength and a protector of mankind. Legend held that he had flashing eyes, a fierce red beard and was husband to the goddess Sif. The son of Odin, Thor was entrusted with Mjölnir, a hammer that was the source of his mighty power. His ability to make thunder was one of the reasons he was so admired by the people because it was believed thunder would frighten away evil trolls. His popularity is evident in the use of his name, such as Thursday ("Thor's day").
Loki. Loki (above) is often described as an outcast amongst the gods of Norse mythology, playing the role of troublemaker or partner according to his fluctuating purposes. His chief skill is said to be his ability to shape-shift, assuming the form of humans, fish, animals and even insects at times. In addition to his general mischief-making, Loki was held responsible for the death of Baldr, the Norse god of purity and light, which resulted in his being ensnared by the innards of his own son as decreed by the remaining gods.
Dwarves. A race of master blacksmiths charged with producing high quality armor for the gods, dwarves (above) lived in an underground city, where they practiced magic and avoided exposure to the sun. It is believed the legend of the dwarves originally came from a form of Indo-European ancestor worship, which is the reason they were said to be pale and “ghoulish” in appearance. Over time, their physical appearance changed so that they were eventually described as short men with long scraggly beards. Their underground home was located within Midgard, a realm no human has ever found.
Elves. There is a saying in Sweden that “the elves are dancing in the mist,” a result of their ethereal beauty and grace. More often portrayed as female, elves were said to inhabit the meadows and forests of Scandinavia, where they were sometimes portrayed as tiny fairies, transparent spirits or almost human. Despite their portrayal in movies as eternally good and just, in Scandinavian folklore, they could be either good or wicked. Some elves were said to bewitch hapless humans and steal their life force, whilst others were characters in tales of forbidden love.
Odin. Known by the titles “Allfather” and “Ruler of Asgard,” Odin was one of the principal gods associated with war, battle and victory. He was also known for his wisdom, magic and famous son, Thor, the god of thunder. Originally, Odin fulfilled the role of shaman, the god who inspired poetry among humankind and predicted the outcome of future events. As Norse cultures changed, Odin’s role became less poetic and he began to be portrayed mainly as a battle-scarred leader of war and the champion of the gods.
Mara. The Scandinavian folklore version of the werewolf, the Mara (above) is a Nordic peasant women who participated in an ancient ceremony that would prevent her feeling pain during childbirth. As a result of this ritual, however, the Mara would slowly transform every midnight into a terrifying wolf monster, a process that was slow and brought agony to the Mara as her body contorted, her teeth lengthened and her nails sharpened. As a lasting legacy, the children of the Mara would also be affected, with daughters inheriting the she-werewolf curse and sons becoming shamans.
The Kraken. As one of the most legendary Norse mythology creatures, the Kraken has terrified Norwegian sailors for centuries. Described as resembling a giant octopus that grows to epic proportions the Kraken was also blamed for many natural occurrences that were later attributed to volcanic activity, such as treacherous currents, the appearance of new atolls and violent bubbling water. The devourer of ships, the Kraken was the subject of dramatic Norse legends involving disappearing ships, lost sailors and terrifying forces of nature. The horrifying descriptions of the Kraken have made it the subject of numerous works of fiction.
Huldra. A vicious temptress said to reside in the Scandinavian forests, the lovely Huldra would lie in wait for her mortal victims, enticing men into her forest lair in order to steal their souls. Although beautiful, the Huldra was said to have a long tail, similar to that of a cow, which she attempted to hide by tying it under her skirt. If Huldra can convince a mortal man to marry her in a Christian church, her tail will fall off and she will become human, but she will also lose her famed beauty.
Nisse. The Nisse is one of the mythical characters that still play an important role in Scandinavian culture today. According to Norse tradition, every family has a nisse living in their barn, which acts as the family’s guardian and fulfils the role played by Santa Claus in western Christmas tradition. Described as only three-feet-tall, the nisse has a long white beard and wears a colorful knitted caps, making him similar in appearance to a common garden gnome. These creatures are famous for their juvenile pranks, as well as their custom of delivering presents to the family on Christmas Eve. The Swedish name for nisse-type beings is “tomte.”