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Scandinavian Folktale Sayings
Proverbial summaries of tales - people resort to such things.

Folk Tales Matters

This page consists of back-up maxims of Scandinavian folktales; some 140 teachings attuned to ninety types of Norwegian folktales are here.

The fables of Aesop and Phaedrus and others of antiquity contain instructions or morals, or maxims. Most of these "lessons" were added to them as centuries went by. These so-called moral lessons reflect attitudes; some despotic or cynical. Proverbial fable lessons and maxims are still used to teach young ones life lessons for good or bad or in between - it depends on the lessons and how welcome they might be in any case.

The types of Norwegian (Scandinavian) folktales are referred to just by their AT numbers on this page and the next few pages. AT numbers are a classification device. Here is a survey of the AT numbers that Norwegian folktales have been allotted. To each type of tales is attached some moral abstract or other sayings - and quite in tune with how very many traditional fables have got some tail statements in the course of centuries.

The "tails" of tales may work soundly if put right after the tales themselves. Be that as it may, here they are, detached from their source tales, just as many well-known proverbs in Europe once were taken away from the fables they commented on, and still live on as proverbs in many cultures.

So, on the following few pages are maxims. They contain teachings that are embedded in Scandinavian folk tales.


Helped by Tools and Things (Equipment)

A witchcraft flight suggests a need to be transmuted and still recognized in order to be married well. Future family life depends in part on that. (AT 313 - The girl as helper in the hero's flight)

When a woman helps someone from the ogre, she could have in mind to marry him. (AT 313 - The girl as helper in the hero's flight)

The smith cannot copy the devil and Lord. (AT 330 - The smith outwits the devil)

The outcome of outwitting the devil seems rather uncertain. (AT 330 - The smith outwits the devil)

To be refused hell, is it good or bad or something very different? (AT 330 - The smith outwits the devil)

Tools for climbing poles serve man very well occasionally. (AT 425 - The search for the lost husband)

Finding a bride, freeing her from unsuitable attachments and the like, is by use of special things, and for some there is ill-treatment. (AT 507A - The monster's bride)

There are some who have chosen to get deep-frozen in the hope of another resurrection than what the Biblical faith talks for. (AT 507A - The monster's bride)

What works like magic is at times little-understood equipment. (AT 507A - The monster's bride)

Through specialization and joint efforts some find a way to gains still. (AT 513 - In The Helpers)

The hankerings on sloven farm fields may not be for boats as for planes - cars and roads were developed. (AT 513 - In The Helpers)

Comfortable and fast transportation is a deep need of humans. (AT 513 - In The Helpers)

Means of transport and able friends makes it possible to rise socially, so that one has what it takes to get married and further. (AT 513 - In The Helpers)

Very good materials developed for space trips (kevlar etc.) are used as bullet-proof vests nowadays. (AT appendix - The Raven Helper)

One has to fight to derive benefits. Peter and Paul of folklore may swerve from it, unlike the fairy tale hero. (AT appendix - The Raven Helper)

Weapons and shields go together. (AT appendix - The Raven Helper)

Valuable objects may be hard to get, and they are liked by many. Some of them steal one way or another, so they are hard to deal with. (AT 560 - The Magic Ring)

There is a need to protect one's assets once they are got and not trust anyone a lot. (AT 560 - The Magic Ring)

Farmers of old found fences necessary. (AT 560 - The Magic Ring)

Farm animals can be useful, but not a hopeless or moneyless slut. (AT 560 - The Magic Ring)

Wishing-rings are plenteous in Arab tales too. (AT 560 - The Magic Ring)

Wedding rings [are], wishing rings - (AT 560 - The Magic Ring)

The fit fiancé and wife will even kill crooks for the one she loves. (AT 561 - Aladdin)

Rather pleasant aspects of the "magic lamp" have arrived, so we have electrical lighting, auto-charging lights for garden walks, the driveway, crystal lights for fun for window panes, etc. (AT 561 - Aladdin)

A helping, young woman of high class is nothing unusual in Arab tales. (AT 561 - Aladdin)

A cloth giving food, a goat that evacuates gold, a purse that never runs dry, these are strong wishes, and as such indicate such poverty that it should be dealt with. (AT 563 - The table, the ass, and the stick)

To have valuable things increases the need to take care of them, in particular among greedy ones. (AT 563 - The table, the ass, and the stick)

"Speak softly and carry a big stick" is a Western African proverb often attributed to Teddy Roosevelt. (AT 563 - The table, the ass, and the stick)

Stun guns come close to the effect of the folk tale stick. (AT 563 - The table, the ass, and the stick)

Folk tales tend to reflect the wishes of people of former days, when such things as salt and sugar were craved a lot, but often were hard to get. (AT 565 - The magic mill)

Equipment that can work for very long and do a lot, has to be turned off in time. (AT 565 - The magic mill)

One has to be able to defend valuable assets, or they can be stolen. (AT 569 - The knapsack, the hat and the horn)

The more valuable assets, the harder it may get to keep them. (AT 569 - The knapsack, the hat and the horn)

Having soldiers in a box is not very far from having soldiers "stored" in barracks, surrounded by guards and high fences and barbed wire - locked up quite like a herd of animals to be able to preserve our peace later, hopefully. (AT 569 - The knapsack, the hat and the horn)

One may have to venture far to arrive at the valuable thing or asset. (AT 569 - The knapsack, the hat and the horn)

The dog's whistle with sounds well above 20.000 Hz could have had its forerunners. (AT 570 - The rabbit-herd)

Some forms of music have a good reputation for influencing the emotions of folks. (AT 570 - The rabbit-herd)

The "magical axe" has been devised already: The chain saw was made to fulfil the need to chop down trees faster, better, and with more ease. And caterpillars with built-in saws, cranes and truck bodies for the timber go still further. They are in use. (AT 577 - The king's tasks)

Steam shovels and other counterparts to the "magic pick" abound nowadays. It's a technological age. (AT 577 - The king's tasks)

The nut of freshwater has not been devised yet. (AT 577 - The king's tasks)

To make women warm and giving seems to require strong magic. (AT 580 - Beloved of women)

The sheer amount of wonder gadgets needed for it, indicates how hard it was to rise in social class earlier. (AT 580 - Beloved of women)

We have "electrical-magic" scissors today, but not clothes that produce food. Sewing machines and knitting machines are at work, though. (AT 580 - Beloved of women)

Cheap beer can be had, but not free beer (there is no such thing as a free lunch). (AT 580 - Beloved of women)

Some progress has been made on the way of transform daily life into a fairy tale life by way of contraptions. (AT 580 - Beloved of women)

The exploits of the walking and taking pot look like some that can be done by robots today. (AT 591 - The thieving pot)

When we need help from a magic pot to survive and get richer by stealing, we have gone down a lot for it. (AT 591 - The thieving pot)

Robots may be devoid of conscience, and those who depend on robots may become so too, in time (Possible Brave New World perspectives) (AT 591 - The thieving pot)

The fiddle that people have to dance to, indicates a wish to be liked and to steer what happens. (AT 592 - The dance among thorns)

An outré need for revenge shows up rather wishful tales where many "good citizens" are killed. (AT 592 - The dance among thorns)

The self-filling purse indicates poverty and a need to be wealthy, and for thousands of years weapons that hit well and never fail have been desired. (AT 592 - The dance among thorns)

The weapon industry has hatched out rockets that find their targets automatically, advanced sights on guns, means to see and aim and shoot in the night, and much else. (AT 592 - The dance among thorns)

A modern correspondence to the dancing fiddle is the loudspeaker-adapted band that threatens the hearing. (AT 592 - The dance among thorns)

He who lives as a servant, has to do some ostentatious and great-looking deeds in order to be counted among the well off, those with privileges far and wide (AT 594* - The magic bridle)

For thousands of years humans have got it much better by taming some animals and making good use of them. Halters have their uses within that scenario (AT 594* - The magic bridle)

A destructive needle, it could be a poisoned one, for example the end of the Bulgarian umbrella (AT 594* - The magic bridle)

Often repeated desires for good guns in tales reflect on the one hand that some people, especially hunters, lived on game, and game is shy, which in turn increases the need to hit well, even from afar (AT 594* - The magic bridle)

Even excellent handling of farm animals rests on something natural that has been broken down in part. Man lives on top of that, through exploitations of various sorts and degrees. (AT 594* - The magic bridle)

A "folk recipe" could work well if we find trolls and get magical objects from them (AT 611 - The gifts of the dwarfs)

When a poor guy heals the daughter of a king, his pay could well be to get the girl in marriage, for the art of healing was highly thought of in former days, when ill persons became terribly ill and desperate for the lack of the plethora of modern medicines (AT 611 - The gifts of the dwarfs)

When a poor guy heals the well off, he may in turn afford marrying his first love (AT 611 - The gifts of the dwarfs)

Many great healers have become respectable ones, partly despite their origins (AT 611 - The gifts of the dwarfs)

Some want to tame and kill, others want to heal and thrill: there are differences among people. (AT 611 - The gifts of the dwarfs)

Who went astray, will probably accept much money-ridden yarn (the golden ball of yarn). (AT- - The princess with the golden ball)

The desire to be accepted finds outlets in several folk tales too. (AT- - The princess with the golden ball)

Road maps and compasses and satellite navigation systems makes it easier for some to find their way.. (AT- - The princess with the golden ball)

The hazel has a splendid reputation in folklore from the Celts, and is credited with a miracle-working power in Grimm tales too. Normally the hazel is valued for edible nuts, though, and that is a fact. (AT- - The magic hazel stick)

In hospitals patients with failing hearts are "shocked" back to life at times. (AT- - The magic hazel stick)

One old dream was a scythe that does not get blunt. Today, where farming has become mechanised, the mowing machine (reaper) appears to have driven away the need for such a scythe and such dreaming. But in poor countries the dream should live on - (AT- - The man who competed with the devil in mowing the grass)

People with lawn mowers hardly ever dream of magic scythes, or what? (AT- - The man who competed with the devil in mowing the grass)

Ever since the time of Greek stories, where evils were put into Pandora's box, boxes may contain so many strange and interesting things (AT- - The three brothers)

The need to get stunningly rich and thereby accepted as a son-in-law, does not show one is well married. To the contrary, assumedly (AT- - The three brothers)

He who thinks he has to get stinking rich before he can confront parents and siblings as a prince, hardly comes from a good family, poor thing. (AT- - The three brothers)

According to Freud, boxes, bags, trunks and boxes represent the female organs. (AT- - The three brothers)

The purse that brings forth fifteen soldiers at a time, is needed in rough times, and in between they need to be "tucked away" quite a lot. Some rich and influential persons have counterparts to sackfuls of soldiers: they gather bodyguards, cell phones and maybe they put some trust in the police too (AT- - The three riders who wanted to go to Paris)

Criminals need to be exposed; merely wanting to punish them will not do (AT- - The three riders who wanted to go to Paris)

Living as a rentier can be pleasant, very much like having a purse (account) that will not run dry. (AT- - The three riders who wanted to go to Paris)

Farsight training has some documented effects. - Some seem to have viewed far-away happenings without recourse to TVs and cell phones for the feat. (jf. Jessica Utts 1995) (AT- - The three riders who wanted to go to Paris)

Some play to attract others, others play to send others away. The first is not the easier of the two (AT- - The wonderful player)

Both animals and children enjoy good music. Music speaks to the heart, and both animals and children have it (AT- - The wonderful player)

Nowadays there is equipment to scare off vermin - moles and undesired birds by vibrations of sound. (AT- - The wonderful player)

Times are tough when the task to do be done requires miracle items (AT- - The young Alv)

Some are halfway pressed into using novel technology, for example old ones. (AT- - The young Alv)

To rise to the top there is a need to be tough, perhaps tougher than all the rest (AT- - The young Alv)

There is something hard about the luck that is rooted in shooting and killing. (AT- The young Alv)

Grateful persons may try to help the considerate young ones still (AT 480 - The spinning women by the spring)

Animals and birds may solve well-nigh impossible tasks in return for favours done - that is the hope of many fairy tales. Many animals are splendid advisors too - in folklore. In the socialization processes that folk tales were included in, disobedient ones were punished (AT 480 - The spinning women by the spring)

When fine and hearty folks are helped on and up it feels good, as an instance of "poetic justice" (AT 480 - The spinning women by the spring)

The tale that makes children feel good, may work for socialization, primarily. (AT 480 - The spinning women by the spring)

When you stake your future on supernatural dogs, you are really far out (AT 562 - The spirit in the blue light)

Some tales indicate that animal brutality had become the one really working way. Compare the proverb "As the dog is, so is his master" (Aasen 1881, 63-64). (AT 562 - The spirit in the blue light)

Lighters and matches of today work better than the tinder-boxes of yore. (AT 562 - The spirit in the blue light)

Wonder apples are found in Norse mythology, Celtic mythology and further (AT 590 - The prince and the arm bands)

Today, some athletes try to get aided by drugs to get strong as lions or whatever, and fail. (AT 590 - The prince and the arm bands)

The aim of not a few folk tales is to get wed to someone who is really well off. That seldom happens to boys, and if it happens, common envy has to be warded off as well. (AT 306 - The danced-out shoes)

When others are hypnotized, drugged or fainted, one counts for invisible among them. (AT 306 - The danced-out shoes)

NOTE: Legends and Tales Intertwine

Some fairy tales entertain by presenting magical objects. Others entertain by them and special animals. And still other fairy tales entertain by animals only. Legends give us insight in group fantasies, says Birgit Hertzberg Johnsen. Legends and folk tales intermingle.

The Norwegian legend "Gullfebla" shows a yearning for better cattle, cattle that produces more and fatter milk. Selective breeding has brought forth much improved farm animals far and wide. "The giant and Johannes Blessom" is a legend - a Swedish variant exists too - that hints at an urge to ride like birds. Leonardo was into it, and the brothers Wright among others.

From Tales of Healing

The skin of a wolf to cure a lion (humorous). Rheumatic people resort to cat skins and other skins, even though solid research into the effect may be wanting. (AT 50)

The supreme ointment brings dead folks back to life. See Norse myths (AT 311)

Sordid witchcraft is linked to healing in some tales. (AT 432)

To heal a suddently muted princess, a toad - possibly placebo - would do. (AT 461)

The age-old wish not to get aged has called forth particular wells, water-sources - including the fountain of youth in the swamps of Florida. In Norse mythology the goddess Idun had wonderful healing apples. (AT 551)

Some plants are for healing, others work in the opposite direction. Expert knowledge of these things is a great boon, and it has taken thousands of years and massive efforts to sort things out so far. (AT 566)

"Little, but good," said the wife, she milked her cat (Lite, men godt," sa kona, ho mjølka katten sin). (Norwegian proverb). Cf. (AT 590)

Magic apples occur in Celtic myths (and other) myths too. (AT 590)

A healed princess helps her healer in gratitude. (AT 611)

Cures for blindness have been eagerly sought. Prevention of blindness is usually better. (AT 613)

Specialists need to take extra care so that their skills are not thwarted and made fun of by common people. (AT 660)

Many poisoned gifts and poisons can be hard to detect and cure. (AT 709)

What surgery accomplishes today, comes close to miracles and stories in earlier times. (AT 753)

In some religious tales God and apostles do the healing. (AT-)

Some tales make fun of "academic and religious-ceremonial soap" of former times. (AT 924)

There can be risks in laser surgery of the eyes, but the risk is not great. (AT 1135)

Not all who say they are experts are good people. (AT 1137)

Not all who claim to be helpers, mean well. (AT 1137)

Some gains that can be got by empty, formal qualifications only. (AT 1641)

The desire to diagnose unborn babies is nothing new. (AT 1641)

As long as dynamite cures the dying patient, there should be something of value in it - (AT 1843)

Humorous tales may take some fear out of the "Black Art" of healing. (AT 1845)

Mismatches fail, at times in unforeseen ways. (AT-.)

Where there is profit in healing, quacks may enter the scene too, unless hindered. Suggested Lessons of Norwegian Animal Tales

He who is served by watchdogs tends to need assertiveness. (AT 300)

The stiffened and bad sides of humans (be it the witch of infamity or a sex troll), may be torn by the natural animal. (AT 312)

Since the strengths of various farm animals were put to use; a tamed horse or donkey may help his owner on and up remarkably well. (AT 314)

He who breeds an ox, needs much space in relation to neighbours. (AT 511A)

Great horses need to be well shod for things to work well. (AT 530)

Good horses may greatly assist one's ascent in life. (AT 530)

Horses in the wild fight greatly. (AT 531)

Really helpful horses help their owners transmute themselves socially. (AT 531)

The cat that kills the stony heart of the troll can bring a surplus. (AT 545B)

There should be a connection between finding the golden bird and marrying a delicious virgin. (AT 550)

To find the elixir of youth in the country of youth you need to employ animals in quite unheard-of ways. (AT 551)

One has to be prepared for it: In order to beat one's rivals, some use dirty tricks. (AT 554, 559)

Wonderful fruits do not help everybody. (AT 566)

Where trolls turn human hearts into stone, the bear may be the brother of the cat. (AT 552 and (AT-)

Where the bride is a transformed bear, reckon with deep desperation. (AT-)

If things are to go well when you marry a bear, it probably needs to be transformed first -. (AT-)

The polar bear that killed the mother-in-law, indicates a deep wish to get rid of her. (AT-)

To those without means to shoo interlopers from one's property: Both fierce, big bears and dogs may give unwelcome visitors many a shocking experience. (AT 1161)

The cat is for wealth, the Dick Whittington's tale type suggests. (AT 1651)

To be well trained is a boon. (AT-)

If helpful birds make the boy an animal, he has developed such libido sides, is one guess. (AT 325)

Where the aim is fear, to get slippery, cold fish in one's bed at night may do all right. (AT 326)

A magical bean can grow into heaven; thus you discover a princess harp and a hen that lays gold eggs, and should do your best to keep both of them. (AT 328)

If the old tree tells of treasures, listen well. Much depends on listening well. (AT-)

Getting rich and thereby happy is a fine goal.
(There are many sorts of riches, and on many levels too.) (AT-)


Folkloric maxims, teachings in Scandinavian folktales, comments, Literature  

Aarne, Antti. The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography. Translated and Enlarged by Stith Thompson. 2nd rev. ed. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia / FF Communications, 1961.

Ashliman, D. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language. New York: Greenwood, 1987.

Hodne, Ørnulf. The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

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