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Creatures of Folklore

Who are served by gnomes and other beings of folklore?

Theodor Kittelsen. Nøkken, 1904. Section
Theodor Kittelsen. The Nix, 1904. Section.

A simple question may not be easily answered. Film makers may earn lots of money on folklore beings like the bogeyman. And less clear-cut, perhaps, so could many who listen to stories about the bogeyman, or read about him and form mental images of it. And parents and teachers who capture the attention of the dear ones by a tale or three, gets goodwill!

A good scare is sought for if the scaring is not overtaxing one's id (libido, life zest, and so on).

There are also life lessons in stories where folklore beings figure. In step with Norse thinking, they are at least in part personifications - of nature's moods, forces, Stimmungen, and further. (Munch 19xx:xx)

If we consider the creatures of folklore that humans inhabit nature with, they look like projections of dark forces inside humans - id-projections onto landscapes in the form of giants or trolls, for example. There are other ways to look at folklore beings too. Some ways seem more valid than others.

Back to the question of who profit from gnomes and nixes and similar beings. So far we may say definitely that Steven Spielberg seems to have earned a fortune on those creatures, old and new ones. Some write books about them, others make cartoons and so on. Stories about them easily capture the imagination of children, young folks and adults, and may help in making story-makers well liked too.

To get a wider range of views, Wikipedia articles may do some good. There are articles named "Fairy", "Neck (water spirit)", "Gnome", "Mermaid" "Leprachaun", "Pixie", "Nymph", "Sylph", "Huldra", and and much else in this street, for in folklore such mystical beings abound. If you ask, "Only there?" then consider movies with spectres in them, and also consider how far actors "on the screen" are simulated light dots with added soundtracks - simulacra (likenesses, similarities in a word by the French theorist and commentator Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007). [Wikipedia, s.v. "Simulacrum", Jean Baudrillard]

Airy Beings Abound Too

Birgit Herzberg Johnsen (now: Birgit H. Kaare) writes about supernatural beings in the Norwegian tradition:


Many of the legends are connected with the sea. There are many about the sea monster . . . Otherwise there are tales about various creatures of the sea, the most common being about the sea ghost, Draugen. He is considered to be the ghost of someone who has drowned or the personification of all who have died at sea. Draugen is [very often] described as a headless fisherman dressed in oilskins. He sails the seas in half a boat and wails when someone is about to drown.

In inland lakes and rivers lives the river sprite or Nixie. He . . . tries to lure people into the water with him. Like Draugen, he also gives warning of when someone is about to drown. He represents what is dangerous and unpleasant about water . . .

Specifically Norwegian traditions are legends about the spirit which plays the fiddle, (Fossegrimen), who lives in waterfalls and who can teach would-be fiddlers how to play . . .

Great numbers of mythical creatures inhabit the mountains and forests, and legends about landmarks created by troll exist all over the country. Sometimes the trolls themselves remain standing in stone . . . The pixies, (haugfolket), or the subterraneans, (de underjordiske), undoubtedly play the biggest role in Norwegian legend. They consist of a large group of supernatural beings (vetter). They have many names . . . Legend has it that these people are the descendants ofthe children that Eve hid from God . . . Another legend tells that those who live underground were angels whom the Lord had expelled from paradise.

Those who live underground are usually considered as being of a lesser order than humankind, and they are envious of the people who are able to live out in the sunlight (i solheimen). They are often smaller than humans, and they dress in blue or grey. Their world is much like the world of humans . . . they live underground or inside mountains, and many legends tell how one can hear them from inside the mountain or about coming across them above ground, seeing their flocks or similar stories. Henrik Ibsen used material from such legends in his "Peer Gynt". The huldre-people can enter into our world and so can the things they own . . .

Of the house spirits which follow the clan or the farm, the gnomelike nisse is the focus of a rich tradition of stories. He fights nisser from other farms . . . [◦Link]

To derive as much benefit as possible from tales of supernatural beings of folklore, one may consider they represent repressed sides to humans, each in their own particular ways. At any rate one is free to interpret them figuratively, or as emblems of libido.

Two ways of imagery:

  1. The creatures in the woods are deep urges or desires in the mind.
  2. The creatures in the sea are similar urges or desires in the deep waters of the mind.

What do the creatures of folklore express or give vent to? Libidinous urges and ways of wish-fulfilment of various kinds, and more too. I suggest they represent the id and some traditional ways of dealing with it. That is suggested from a psychoanalytical angle. In such a light, the alluring wood siren, the hulder, represents erotic attraction fairly often, because young sirens are presented as attractive females. Norwegian hulders, however, have a cow's tail, which they seek to hide in meetings with humans. Moreover, hulders in Norway have a hollow back in many tales, but not all of them. Tips:

  • A hollow back spells not substantial enough to count.

  • The cow's tail means something animalistic is involved, possibly repressions, and so on. The expression "Thinking with one's behind (buttocks)" - (projecting, etc.) reminds of low-levelled mental functioning anyhow.

These are not absolute truths or verities; only suggestions to follow up tentatively, ad lib. In some legends the hulder is stout and able-bodied, a fine wife and mother - so people did not conceive of these being in the same ways in places far apart. Take that into account too.

What is more, the folklore of such beings goes a long way back in history. Sirens appear in Homer's Odyssey. It is a poem from the 9th or 8th century BCE.

Sirens and other freaked-out, dangerous beings, like nixies and the like, are rather often made use of for substantial entertainment nowadays, such as in movies. In earlier times they might have served control and development. Some tales can still do. (Brudal 1984). You may say, "Who cannot deal with the trolls of his mind, is not so very smart," for example adding: "Don't go near the water's edge, or the nix may get you," may have serves as a child-attuned scare or a way of reducing the risk of drowning.

And the main thing is to enjoy oneself. - Then go on to see things better, clearer, if that can be done and appeals to you - genuinely, that is.

The Draug

In more recent Scandinavian folklore, the draug is a sea creature and a sign of trouble at sea. The word, Draugen,, comes from Norse "draugr", ghost. Draugen is supposed to be the ghost of a man who died at sea. If so, there might be tens of thousands of draugs in the sea off the coast of Norway - huge and monster-like, rowing in half-boats and erupting terrible screams when they appear, drowning sailors and fishermen, and sinking their boats and ships.

There is a story of a man who once ran from Draugen and into a churchyard, where he shouted for the spirits of the dead to protect him. The day after, all the graves were open, and the churchyard was covered in seaweed.

It was Christmas Eve, and Ola went down to his boathouse to get the keg of brandy he had bought for the holidays. When he got in, he noticed a draug sitting on the keg, staring out to sea. Ola, with great presence of mind and great bravery (it might not be amiss to state that he already had done some drinking), tiptoed up behind the draug and struck him sharply in the small of the back, so that he went flying out through the window, with sparks hissing around him as he hit the water. Ola knew he had no time to lose, so he set off at a great rate, running through the churchyard which lay between his home and the boathouse. As he ran, he cried, "Up, all you Christian souls, and help me!"

Then he heard the sound of fighting between the ghosts and the draugr, who were battling each other with coffin boards and bunches of seaweed.

The next morning, when people came to church, the whole yard was strewn with coffin covers, boat boards, and seaweed. After the fight, which the ghosts won, the draugr never came back to that district. [◦ A source]

The origin of the tale is French ◦The Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea) is a very comprehensive collection of legends. It was likely compiled around the year 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine. It was widely read in late medieval Europe. The text was added to over the centuries.

In the mediaval collection, the legend (above) takes place in Paris, and was told to make people remember their departed ones in their prayers. The legends is found in other places and with the same motif and moral, such as Hildesheim in Germany and Durham in England.

Fantasy creatures of folklore, Literature  

Brudal, Paul. Det ubevisste språket. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984. ⍽▢⍽ The first part shows how aggressive and destructive feelings in children may be lived out on a non-dangerous fantasy level through listening to apt folk tales with a happy ending. The psychologist author next goes into research and theories on folk tales from folklore, psychology and psychiatry.

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