Taken by the Trolls

Erik Werenskiold

In all Scandinavian languages there is a word which literally means 'taken to the mountain', now often used in the sense 'bewitched' (bjergtaget, bergtagen). An English equivalent is ”taken by the fairies”.

In old days it was common belief that when a person had disappeared, he/she had been taken by the trolls/giants/elves and were now kept prisoner in the mountain/hill. Until the beginning of the 17th century Swedish church records even mentioned this as a reason for people disappearing or people who had temporarily lost their memory and did not remember a certain period in their past. The priest had a useful role when someone had been taken by the troll - By making the church bells ring very loud and long or praying/singing outside the mountain the troll sometimes became very ill and his prisoners could escape. But when he said 'get out', you should wait a little, because just at that moment he would try to stab you with his spear. Of course some captives tricked their way out and escaped with a lot of gold - a myth probably based on the gold coins or bracelets that farmers sometimes dug up in the soil.

The theme of being taken to the troll mountain has always been very popular in literature and art.

The changeling myth also belongs to this group of stories, though in this case the trolls replace the person they have stolen. The common feature acc. to folklorists is that the stolen people are in a particularly vulnerable phase. Trolls steal children that have not yet been baptised. Adults are particularly at risk of being taken at certain periods in their life when they are ”unpure” – eg. after giving birth and before going to church again (an extra factor being that they have milk to breastfeed the trolls’ children) or before their wedding (and wedding night). Brides-to-be should be particularly careful not to walk alone. Other potential victims are people working far from home, eg. shepherds in the mountain, children picking berries in the forest or young people whose thoughts revolve too much around the other gender and therefore are easily tempted by a pretty troll girl. Basically, anyone who is taken and lives to return will never be completely the same again, but somehow strange, even mentally disturbed or simply dumb. This myth thus also helps explain the unexplainable in human behaviour that the church had no explanations for and science was just figuring out.

There were, however, ways to protect oneself against this danger. Pregnant women or women who had just given birth could protect themselves by wearing their husbands’ trousers or shirt.

Here is a story from Denmark about the abduction of a young man:

Not far from Ebeltoft in Jutland a farmer boy was guarding the cattle. Then a beautiful girl appeared, asking him if he was hungry or thirsty. But he noticed that she took great care that he could not see her back, so he understood it must be an elf girl as their backs are hollow. He therefore decided to avoid her. But as she saw this, she offered him her breast to make him drink. She made everything seem so enthralling that he could not resist her. Having given in, he lost his powers and it was therefore very easy for her to abduct him. For three days he was gone.
Meanwhile the parents were grieving at home as they understood what had happened to their son. But on the fourth day the father saw his son reappearing in the horizon and immediately bid his wife to cook some meat. Soon after the son came through the door and sat down at the table without a word. The father also stayed silent but pretended everything was as usual.
Then the boy became hungry and when he had tasted the meat he ate greedily and then fell in a deep sleep. He now slept for as many days as the enchantment had lasted, but never regained his senses.

NOTE: Unlike fairytales, the stories of folklore have no clever plots and happy endings, but are almost always in the form of an explanation or warning.

So, the only question left is: who would you rather be abducted by - a beautiful troll maiden or an Alien? Well, most Americans seem to prefer the latter.

Stolen brides is another common story in Scandinavia. In some stories the bride stays happily with her new subterranean groom, even letting her family visit, and in others she escapes or is rescued by her human groom-to-be or family.

Here is a story from Dølor in Lunne County in Norway:

A girl was preparing to marry, but then one day she disappeared. They couldn’t find her anywhere. Her father was completely at a loss. Then one day, when he was out looking for her, he thought he heard someone cry and moan inside a mountain and thought he could recognize his daughter’s voice. He ran home as fast as he could and got his gun and then shot over the mountain side. Then suddenly his daughter stood in front of him in her wedding dress which was covered with silver. He immediately understood that she had been taken by the trolls and on that day was going to marry an old troll. That was the reason why she had been crying and moaning while the trolls were dressing her. When they were finished, they had said: ”Now we just need to turn her eyes” but in that moment the shot from her father’s gun had sounded and thus she was saved. The trolls came out and asked if they could have the silver back that she had been decorated with, as they had borrowed it, but the girl’s father said no and took it home. ”Well, then you will not get much pleasure from it,” the trolls replied. The father hid the silver in the loft, but one day the loft and everything in it burnt. The silver melted and ran down a rock along the loft, and still today one can still see where the melted silver once ran.

A troll could be killed if a Christian person shouted their name. This is the reason why they never told their name, but sometimes people could find out by tricking them.
In the Dunkera Mountain in Fosen lived a mountain troll called Dunker. Once he fell in love with a young maiden whom he caught and brought into the mountain. There she sat crying while he prepared the wedding ceremony.
The night before the wedding Dunker was in a very good mood. He drank merrily and became quite exhilarated. For many days the maiden had tried to make him tell her his name but in vain. But now she saw an opportunity and made the mountain troll put his head in her lap. Then she started stroking him. He became so happy that he jumped up, danced and sang: Hey Hey Dunkerydee! Tomorrow for the first time Dunker takes the bride in his arms!
Then the maiden exclaimed happily: "No, poor Mr Dunker!"
Then he burst and fell so heavily that the mountain collapsed so the young maiden could walk out and home.


Search The Troll Blog