etc

2006

A typical Danish troll story collected by J. M. Thiele

The Midwife and the Troll


A short version of a folk-tale in J. M. Thiele's Danske Folkesagn (Danish Folk-tales) with illustrations by J. Th. Lundbye



On her way home from a succesful birth, the midwife Gertrud sees a frog with a silk thread wrapped around one of its leg and she immediately understands it is pregnant and happen to say that she will also help the toad give birth when the time is ready.



A few months later it knocks on Gertrud's door one night. Outside is a little but broad-shouldered man with a big head, wearing a grey suit and a grey cap which are different from the clothes worn by the peasants in this part of Denmark. He introduces himself as Celte and tells her it was his wife, she promised to help give birth. Gertrud now understands she is dealing with trolls and the only way she can get well out of this is by keeping her word, so she follows Celte to the troll hill, where he leads her into a dark cave formed by soil and big stones where Celte's troll wife is close to giving birth.



Celte gives Gertrud a small bottle and tells her to put it on the baby's eyes the moment it is born. She does so but is curious about what is in the bottle and puts a little on her own right eye. She can now see that the cave is a beautiful shining hall with walls made of thousands of gemstones. The troll woman now tells Gertrud to escape as quickly as possible, as trolls do not like to let go of Christian folk once they have them inside their troll cave. The troll wants to pay her for her services but Gertrud refuses and runs away as quickly as she can.



She will, however, meet Celte once more when she helps her neighbours harvesting and spots Celte removing sheaves from the field and taking them into a hill nearby. When she has seen him do this three times, she asks him what he is doing. Can you see me, Celte replies surprised. Close your left eye, can you still see me? Yes, she replies. Close your right eye, can you still see me? No, she replies and feels that she loses her right eye and from that day onwards she never saw the hill people anymore. Neither did she ever again help this farmer as he was paying taxes to the troll (the sheaves) and thus must be an ungodly man.

The End.

Notice that Lundbye's troll looks like his alterego, the troll Sindre mentioned here. In the age before Kittelsen and Bauer, trolls still looked like today's pixies or dwarfs.

Also note that similar stories are told elsewhere in the world. In Palestine you find a similar story where the troll is replaced by a djinn.

Regional Danish Troll Stories

Every region of Denmark has its own troll tales. Here is one from South Eastern Jutland reminding us to treat the supernaturals well:
In the village of Viuf was 5 hills, each occupied by trolls, and when they partied, the hills all stood on glowing poles. One night a farmhand who worked nearby, passed the hills and suddenly felt like teasing them so he threw a stone into the hole on top of one of the hills. The troll came out of the hill and shouted: "Tell Finnkee that little Kee is dead". The fact was that the farmhand had killed a little troll child with the stone.
The farmhand did not understand anything of this but when he came home, he told the others about the strange incident. There actually was a troll named Finnkee living on the farm, but the people did not know that. When he heard that little Kee was killed, he cut the throat of the farmhand and then left the farm never to return.

The island Bornholm in The Baltic Sea was once the home of the legendary Bonavedde, who was the son of a farmer (bona) and a mermaid (vedde - vætte) and who unlike other humans could see the trolls and other supernaturals and who was constantly trying to rid the island of them. One night, when he rode past their hill standing on glowing poles, a troll tried to offer him a potion that would bring him under the trolls' control but he poured it on the back of his horse so it became much faster, and now they could not capture him. In a big stone in the church in Pedersker one can still see the footprint of the horse as Bonavedde escaped the trolls.

Lundbye Danish Dolmen
Dolmen by J. Th. Lundbye

A well-known type of troll stories in Denmark tells about Wattis and Attis (it also found elsewhere in Scandinavia with different names) where someone passing by a troll hill suddenly hears a voice saying: "Tell Attis that Wattis is dead". When the human comes home and tells his family or others what he has heard but doesn't understand, the hidden farm trolls or the cat (thus revealing itself to be a troll cat) immediately leave the farm with the words "Is Wattis dead? Then I have to go home at once". It reminds us again that trolls can be anywhere and that they have strong family ties.

More to follow.

Skalle - a troll story

Here follows a summary of a troll story from Axel Olrik's Danish collection of traditional fairytales, Danske Sagn og Æventyr fra Folkemunde (1913), illustrated by Niels Skovgaard (1922):

Skalle




There was a farm in Eskildstrup, Denmark, which for a few years had had many owners. Either they died shortly after moving there or they became indebted and were thrown out by the local squire. Then came a new man. That evening when he entered the gates of the farm, he said "Good evening, Skalle" ("Flakey"), because the farm looked very bare. "Evening," a voice said from above the gateway. The unmarried farmer replied: "If there is someone here whom I cannot see, then I invite that person to be my guest on the night before Christmas Eve.

On the night before Christmas Eve the troll came just as the farmer had finished tending to his animals in the stable, but still had not lit the candles in the house. "Evening and a merry feast," said the troll. "Who are you," asked the farmer? "I am the one you invited to be your guest tonight." "Then please sit down and have some food." The troll sat down and started eating. "Now I will ask you to be my guest on the night before New Year's Eve," said the troll. "That is fine, but where do you live?" "Just go outside your stable door and you will find me."



On the night before New Year's Eve the man went outside the stable door and followed the troll down to his home. It looked nice and pretty, he thought. Now the troll begged him to eat. He sat down and they started eating their rice pudding. But just as they were eating, the troll snatched the plate off the table. The farmer was a little surprised and asked: "Why did you do that?" "Don't you see that something is dripping down on the table, it comes from your stable. That is the reason why no-one can stay for long on this farm. But if you move the stable to another farm wing, then you will prosper here." The farmer followed the troll's advice and since then everything went well for him.

(Translation @Trollmoon)


Note: Similar stories are told about the Nisse/Tomte/Vætte. Trolls are not commonly associated with farms, but in real folklore these creatures are quite interchangable, especially in Southern Scandinavia.

Slattenpatte



Woodcarving of Slattenpatte placed right underneath the priest's podium in Vejlø Church, Southern Sealand, Denmark (c.1670).

A particular female troll is Danish Slattenpatte who also appears under other names elsewhere in Europe and is part of a particular class of stories about ghostlike horsemen hunting at night - esp. female devils or trolls.

In Denmark stories are told of King Volmer hunting the last troll woman in the realm. Someone out walking late at night encounters this ugly troll woman, who is always characterised as having long saggy breasts (thus the name - Slatten-Patte or Saggy Breasts), then a little while later a rider appears. He introduces himself as King Volmer and asks if the late-night walker has seen the ugly troll woman he is looking for. Soon after there is the sound of a arrow followed by a scream. In some versions he soon reappears with the dead troll thrown across his horse. The stories of the nocturnal hunters are usually set at Christmas time and have been related to the belief that the dead ancestors return to participate in the celebration of Christmas. But the troll woman Slattenpatte is also related to a common Germanic creature with long breasts used to scare children (German Langtüttin, Tittenwief). Is this scary troll woman like later times' witches simply symbols of patriarchy's fear of post-menopausal women? It is anybody's guess...

The Sea Troll

Similar to Nøkken, but known both from inland waters and the sea, esp. in a wider European folksong tradition as a sacrificial myth (maybe dating back to prehistory) where human brides marry the Sea Troll (German Wasserman). A famous folk ballad called Agnete and the Sea Troll tells about how the sea troll disguises himself as an handsome man who comes to her home to court her. He wants to marry her immediately without waiting for her parents' permission. For unknown reasons (maybe bewitched by him) she accepts and he leads her to the shore where she (in the Nordic version of this common European story) is saved in the nick of time by a man. Elsewhere in Europe she drowns. This tale is supposed to date back to pre-Christian sacrificial traditions. Like in the stories of Nøkken/the Nix, the sea troll expects a bride or at least a human sacrifice at regular intervals. This would explain why people drown.


Woodcarving by Povl Christensen (Denmark)

Also see the sea trolls by Kaare Espolin Sørensen and Th. Kittelsen.

A related troll is the "man in the well", the "well troll" or "well nix" that was supposed to live in wells and be the cause of illnesses. In a documented court case from Denmark in the 17th century a so-called "wise woman" explained how she got money from her ill patient, went to the well, threw a rock into it to awaken the well man and then dropped some money into the dark water, so that this creature would lift the curse on her patient.

More to follow.

Trolls and Diseases

There are many links between the creatures of folklore and illnesses. Before the age of medical science diseases were thought to have been caused by ill-willed creatures/demons. The most important example in a troll context is the changeling myth where a number of diseases have been suggested as the origin of the myth, eg. Downs' syndrome and Rachitis (caused by undernourishment) and Atrepsi. The so-called "Brøndmand" or "Well Man" residing in farm wells has also been seen as related to poisoned water causing various diseases. In Norwegian language troll traditionally also refers to various diseases (e.g. lumbago) that in folklore was assumed to have been inflicted by magic.
To be continued.

Mosekonen (the "Bog Woman")

Also known as the Mossakärringen or Bergkãrringen in Swedish and Bergmuttter in German. Whenever mist banks appear along a stream in the morning or evening, the Mosekonen is said to be brewing her magical potion. No stories exist about her, so she is probably only a saying. Other creatures like the Danish elfgirls (ellepiger) are however associated with morning or evening mist. Here are two Danish versions of her by Arne Ungermann and Lorenz Frölich:




Finnish Troll movie to appear in 2007

A Finnish animated feature film, Röllin sydän (Rölli's heart) is in production. It is about a troll called Rölli that has no basis in Finnish folklore (stories of trolls only appear in the old Swedish-speaking regions), but maybe the Finnish moviemakers hope to cash in on the Troll dollar (the trollar?). Anyway, Rölli looks like this. The inspiration from Uderzo's Asterix seems obvious and this may be the first troll ever with a moustache:



Finnish PhD in Trolls

In 2005 Master of Philosophy Camilla Asplund Ingemark defended her PhD about the Swedish troll tradition in Finland. The complete title of the dissertation was The Genre of Trolls. The Case of a Finland-Swedish Folk Belief Tradition.

Here are a few quotations from Helsingin Sanomat's journalist Säde Nenonen (you can read the full article here):

"An atmosphere of threat and fear is present in troll tales. In the countryside in particular, loved ones have been kept on the right path in life by frightening them with trolls. According to the beliefs, a troll could also appear in the form of a beautiful woman, or give stolen goods as presents.
      If a villager disappeared in the woods, others would say that the trolls had taken him. If he returned home, there was nothing to fear from trolls at that time: the spell evaporates immediately if one manages to escape the trolls.

Bauer troll mother
John Bauer
     
The people of old transferred the fear of trolls to the framework of Christianity. According to Asplund Ingemark, it is important to remember that troll tales have been told even in Christian surroundings. Written documents show that people understood the troll tales and the stories in the Bible in the same way.
      Both Christian and pagan stories described the relationship between man and supernatural forces. Folklore and Christian tales and sermons influenced each other.
      "I chose trolls as the subject of my research because I suspected that troll tales could reveal something about the relation between folk beliefs and Christianity. I am interested in that relationship."
     
Asplund Ingemark used intertextual theories in her research. She compared the style and content of folklore and the stories of the Bible.
      The world of the trolls resembles the paradise of the Garden of Eden. Trolls live without needing to work, and without a care in the world, the researcher reports.
      In the time period under study, the Christian message played a significant role in the life of ordinary people. It was heard in sermons, songs, and by confirmation students. Christian literature was widely read. People discussed what new things they had learned with their family members.
     
In past centuries, the Lutheran church scoffed at the people’s belief in trolls. Priests sent out the message that belief in trolls was the opposite to Christianity. Priests regarded the traditional beliefs with animosity.
      "I have also grown increasingly interested in how folk beliefs describe everyday life and living circumstances, and what significance folk beliefs had in the life of ordinary people", Vaasa native Asplund Ingemark muses. She has lived in Lund in Sweden for the past several years."

(Copyright Helsingin Sanomat / Säde Nenonen)

Here is the Swedish press release from Åbo Akademi.

Giants

First a beautiful John Bauer illustration of a giant as big as a church tower and with a fist as strong as hard rock.



Jætte/Jätte/Jotun (related to the verb 'to eat', meaning 'big eater') or Rise (related to the German word riesig (enourmous) or Kæmpe/Kjempe, similar to the Norwegian bergtroll (mountain troll). These giants inhabited Scandinavia before the arrival of the humans and many natural phenomena were attributed to their actions. Deep holes in the mountain were called 'jættegryder' (Da. for "giants' pots") and the megalithic tombs one finds all over Denmark were called "jættehøje" (giants' hills). Big rocks near a church had always been thrown by some giant, but the fact that it never hit, supposedly showed the power of the Christian faith. One giant, Finn, even helped build the cathedral in Lund, Skåne, but often these giants tried to cheat their employers, eg. by not finishing the work after being paid.

louis moe giant ragnarok
(From Louis Moe's Ragnarok)

Acc. to Norse mythology the giants were the enemies of gods and humans and lived in Jotunheim, a northern part of Utgård, at the end of the world. To the east was the Iron Forest where a giant woman, Hyrrokin, gave birth to giants in wolf shape, Hate and Skoll, who chased the moon and sun to eat them. To the West on an island in the ocean lived the giant Ægir with his wife Ran who created disasters on the sea. The whole world had been created from body parts from the giant Ymer whose flesh became the soil, blood became the sea and lakes, the teeth became the mountains and the hair the forests.


Loke and Giants by H. E. Freund

Many stories exist of giants and trolls throwing enormous stones at each other or at churches - esp. the sound of church bells seemed to annoy them. Looking at stones like the one below from Denmark, left by the retreating glacier at the end of the last ice age, one understands why people in old days must have speculated about how such stones came to lie in the middle of a forest or a field far from any mountains:



And finally a drawing by Ivar Arosenius of what can happen when giants and humans meet:


(I. Arosenius, The Giant's Footprint)

Like trolls (esp. Icelandic ones), Giants could turn into rock, for example when exposed to the sun. Here is one painting of such an event when the giant loses his struggle:

svarstad giant loses struggle against the sun
(Anders Castus Svarstad (1869 - 1943), The Giant who in his Struggle against the Sun froze to a Mountain)

Elves

The word is related to Norse alfar who can be good or bad.

According to Ebbe Schön very dangerous creatures indeed! If you happen to see them dance or even join them, you risk going mad or get seriously hurt. In the Middle Ages they were believed to be dead people who had led sinful lives. They can look like puppetlike figures or smaller animals. They are often dressed in white. As a rule, however, they are invisible and one only hears them speak or sing. They live in hills or meadows or in swamps. Fogbanks early in the morning or late in the evening are often seen as dancing elves.


In this painting by Norwegian Einar Gjerssing they are dancing in a cementery:


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