Ten Lesser-Known Mythological Beings Found in Scandinavian Culture
Scandinavian mythology consists of a variety of different Northern European traditions and beliefs, primarily in the areas of modern-day Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, and the Faroe Islands. The Scandinavians and Northern Germanic tribes who used to inhabit this section of the world practiced Norse religion around the late 8th century to the 11th century. Tribes such as the Franks, Angles, and Saxons all practiced similar variations of this religion, and many common creatures as well as stories are found across these beliefs. These creatures have been derived from the few remaining texts scattered across Iceland and Northern Europe, primarily works such as the Prose Edda, Poetic Edda, and the Heimskringla, all written by Snorri Sturluson.
Beliefs were also spread by the word of mouth, which also makes it hard for historians to retrieve information about the Scandinavian people. The influx of Christianity into Europe also affected the Scandinavians' culture. Many tribes were completely wiped out or were forced to convert to Christianity, abandoning their previous customs. Many of their written texts were destroyed during these invasions. Fortunately enough for researchers, the few texts remaining provide a good insight into the culture, history, and folklore found in Northern Europe during these times. This list compiles the more gruesome, twisted, and unfamiliar creatures that the Scandinavian peoples recognized.
In Sweden, infanticide was a fairly common crime amongst poor mothers. The reasoning behind it was either the family was not wealthy enough to afford feeding another child or the mother had conceived the baby outside of marriage. Adultery was frowned upon and drove people to take extreme measures such as murdering their own infant. Mothers would abandon the babies in secluded areas, where they would never be found. Mylings were also supposedly denied baptism, which was why they could not rest in peace, and were forced to haunt the living.
They would lurk in forests or brooks, waiting for wanderers to torment. In some beliefs, Mylings would haunt through an excruciating wailing sound, that would drive villagers crazy. Mylings were also known to deliberately jump onto peoples' backs and force them to carry them to the nearest graveyard, so they could finally rest in peace. Once the duo reached the graveyard, the Myling would demand them to dig a grave and bury them properly, something they were denied when they were alive. If the unlucky victim was unsuccessful, the Myling would kill them in a furious rage.
9. The Brook Horse
The Brook Horse was a majestic, pale white horse that dwelled in Scandinavian lakes, rivers, and brooks. The beauty of the horse would draw people—mainly children—towards it, and the Brook Horse would then proceed to persuade the admirer onto its back. If the person was foolish enough to climb aboard, the horse would begin sprinting towards the body of water at an unnatural speed, and the rider would be unable to jump off. The Brook Horse would then dive into the water, drowning the rider. In other tales, the horse would be depicted on standing in its hind legs, which creates an even more terrifying image of the beast. The motive behind this legend was to scare children away from the water, preventing them from drowning.
8. The Night Raven
The Night Raven was a nocturnal enormous bird that was always linked with death and calamity. It was found to have no eyes, and if one was unfortunate enough to gaze at its face, they would immediately die. The Night Raven had an extremely sharp beak that could pierce through almost anything, and had dozens of holes scattered along its wings. If one was to look through these holes, they would fall ill to an unusual disease or illness. Tales state that the Night Raven would abduct children who were out at night, take them back to its nest, and devour them brutally by tearing apart their limbs while they were still alive. Similar to the Brook Horse, this story was designed to prevent children from wandering out at night or straying too far from home.
7. The Church Grim
The Church Grim is a very little-known and mysterious creature, but also one of the most feared creatures in Scandinavian folklore. The Church Grim were said to be guardians of a particular church, and would feed off the church’s energy to stay alive. It would also feed off of people’s hopes, dreams, as well as fears. The Church Grims would wear dark cloaks to enclose its exposed heart, creating an even more frightening image of the beast.
They aren't exactly the eeriest of creatures, but their duties were very mysterious and dark. The Valkyries played a large role in Norse culture, and were the female helping spirits of Norse God, Odin. Their name translates into “Choosers of the Fallen,” which accurately describes their job on the battlefield. They rode out on horses after any major battle ceases and chose exactly half of the fallen and took them back to their home city, Valhalla. The remaining half who were not chosen immediately travel to Hel, the Underworld.
In Valhalla, the warriors who were chosen were apparently worthy of living with Odin. The dead who resided here enjoyed a glorious afterlife. They were able to fight one another in battle, and at the end of the day, all their wounds were magically healed. They then continued to feast on heaps upon heaps of royal food and wine. Unfortunately, Valhalla was only marvelous for a short period of time. The reason the warriors were sent to Valhalla to train so hard was because Odin would eventually use all of his forces in a fierce battle against Fenrir, a ravenous wolf Odin constantly lost to. Odin could not accept defeat, and constantly returned to battle him over and over again. In every battle, the warriors would die gruesome deaths (again), and would proceed to the Underworld.
Finfolk were a race comprised of dark sorcerers and wizards, and people were extremely wary of them. Finfolk would drift down rivers, streams, lakes, and the seas, rowing in their small rafts. The reason people were frightened by these shapeshifters was because they would abduct mortals. They would capture people and throw them into their boat and row away. The missing people were never seen again, but were believed to become the husband/wife with the finfolk.
The Giants are a very well-known piece of folklore that are commonly found in a variety of religions and beliefs. In regards to Scandinavian Mytholgy, the Giants resided on the world of Jotunheim, a world with many similar features to Midgard (Earth). They lived off the fish and animals found in their vast, dense forests, and do not farm due to the fact that their lands are infertile. Their name is derived from the Proto-Germanic and it translates to “devourer”, not hinting at an enormous size. Some people believed that the Giants were of enormous size, while others believed they were the equivalent size of mortal humans. Due to the fact that they were capable of farming and hunting, maybe people have been mistaken and “Giants” are actually not giants at all.
According to Scandinavian folklore, fairies would steal young, unbaptized children from homes, and instead leave a non-human child known as a Changeling. Fairies would leave their ugly, weak, frail children and take healthy, mortal children for their own. Changelings were typically deformed and ill, but knew how to talk and were extremely wise. Mothers would often figure out that the new being was not their child, and the fairy would be forced to return the actual child.
Also known as the “devil whale”, the trolual was found in the Northern Atlantic Ocean surrounding Scandinavia. Troluals had features similar to whales, and were extremely large, towering over large ships. Sometimes ships would come across sleeping troluals, and the crew would believe it was a small island. They would land there, and when the trolual woke up, it would submerge in the water, drowning everyone. Other times, troluals would purposefully attack ships by crushing it or turning them over. Many sailors feared to navigate the seas due to this menacing, dangerous creature.
Fortunately for the sailors, there were tactics used to distract the trolual, and would allow the ship to get away safely. In some tales, troluals would be dazed by the sound of trumpets. The trolual would be startled by the sudden noise, and get confused about where its target is. Also, crews would throw barrels and cargo overboard to distract the trolual.
1. The Huldra
Deep in the Scandinavian forests lurked the Huldra, known as the spirit guardian of the forest. The Huldra watched over the wildlife. In folklore, she is typically depicted as a beautiful, young woman, but this figure is not at all her true appearance. She hid her true form from the world, and only showed it whenever she was about to kill. The Huldra would lure men into the forest by playing a beautiful song, luring them farther and farther from civilization. Once she had them secluded and alone, she would either murder him or wed him, depending on how she felt about the specific man. Her actions made her an unusual and confusing character, as she was known to be very lonely and depressed.
Which Scandinavian Creature is the Most Frightening?
All sources used throughout this article can be found here.
© 2017 S Dominick