Barneblad: Spirits and witches and trolls, oh my!

A monthly feature to share with kids and grandkids


Image: pxhere
In the thick green forests of Norway, it’s easy to let your imagination run free.

Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall

Thick green forests, rugged mountains, rushing blue waters: this is Norway’s magical landscape. It’s no wonder that a country so dramatically beautiful would be rich with fairy tales. Looking at Norwegian nature, it’s easy to let your imagination run free: trees turn into maids of the forest; big rocks loom high in the sky like trolls; one can easily be pulled down into a rushing stream by a water sprite…

The Huldra is a beautiful forest spirit from Norse mythology. This lovely nymph with long, flowing hair lives in the mountains of Norway. She will reward those who come under her spell, but if a man fails to please her, she will put him to death. Either way, any man who goes with her will never be seen again. The Huldra can only be recognized by her cow tail, which she hides under her skirt, so beware when you see a beautiful young woman wandering in the woods!


Illustration: Theodor Kittelsen
The Huldra.

There are many trolls in Norway: all you need to do is look around! They live in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, and they are rarely helpful to human beings. Some trolls are ugly and slow-witted, while others look and behave just like human beings. But a word of caution: they have been known to gobble up human beings. One thing for sure is that trolls do not like sunlight. If they get even the smallest glimpse of it, they will turn to stone. There are many famous landmarks in Norway that are said to be trolls who have suffered this terrible fate.


Illustration: Theodor Kittelsen
A a very old troll.

The Nøkk, sometimes called Nykk, is not so nice. He is a beautiful water sprite who lives in solitude in the lakes and streams of Norway. He plays his violin, luring women and children to water. His songs are so sweet that innocent ones will be drawn down below the water lilies and drowned, unable to resist the enchanting melodies. Sometimes Nøkk takes the shape of majestic white horse. Anyone who climbs onto his back will never be able to get off and will drown when he jumps into the river. Nøkk loves the light summer evenings and is particularly active on Midsummer’s Eve, so please be careful!


Illustration: Theodor Kittelsen
The Nøkk.

Yes, there are even witches in Norway, but most are not so dangerously wicked. They are the ugly troll hags, trollkjerringer, the mothers and wives of the trolls. A trollkjerring has magical powers that will allow her to shift into another shape to play a trick on someone. Some have also been known to lead a band of black cats or even fly on a broomstick, and occasionally, they steal milk from the farm. These days, you might want to hang a kitchen witch somewhere near your stove: she’ll keep your pots from boiling over!


Illustration: Theodor Kittelsen
A trollkjerring.

The Nisse is a much more familiar and friendlier creature. He is a short little fellow with a long white beard, always wearing his bright red cap shaped like a cone. His home is in the barn or in one of the outbuildings on the farmstead, and if he is treated well, he will take care of the farm. But Nisser have bad tempers, and if one is treated badly, he might play some naughty tricks on you. Every Christmas Eve, Nisser wait for a big bowl of sweet porridge topped with a pat of butter, and bring presents to all good children.


Illustration: Julius Holck
The Nisse.

Remember that these spirits, witches, and trolls are only make-believe. These beliefs reminded folks to be careful when out in nature.

You can learn more about these beings by exploring the world of Norwegian folk tales. Books of fairy tales are available from your local library. Happy reading in the magical world of Norwegian fantasy!
This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

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