A huldra is a seductive forest creature found in Scandinavian folklore. The hulder is a stunningly beautiful naked woman with long hair, and has an animal’s tail. In Norway, she has a cow’s tail, and in Sweden she may have one that of a cow or fox. Further in the north of Sweden, the tail can be entirely omitted in favor of her hollow or bark-covered back.
Associated with Christianity, a tale recounts how a woman had washed only half of her children when God came to her cottage; ashamed of the dirty ones, she hid them. God decreed that those she had hidden from him would be hidden from mankind; they became the huldrer.
The hulder has long been associated with hunting; she might blow down the barrel of a huntsman’s rifle, causing it never thereafter to miss a shot. Some men are not so lucky, or perhaps skilled, and escape her only after surrendering their sanity.
Relations With Humans
A hulder, although mostly malevolent, can be kind if treated with respect.
A boy in Tiveden went fishing, but he had no luck. Then he met a beautiful lady, and she was so stunning that he felt he had to catch his breath. But, then he realised who she was, because he could see a fox’s tail sticking out below the skirt. As he knew that it was forbidden to comment on the tail to the lady of the forest, if it were not done in the most polite manner, he bowed deeply and said with his softest voice, “Milady, I see that your petticoat shows below your skirt”. The lady thanked him gracefully and hid her tail under her skirt, telling the boy to fish on the other side of the lake. That day, the boy had great luck with his fishing and he caught a fish every time he threw out the line. This was the hulder’s recognition of his politeness.
Hulders are said to kidnap men and lure them into the underworld. In some traditions, they seduce men into the forest to engage in lust and kill the ones that do not satisfy them, or reward them if they do. She sometimes steals human infants and replaces them with her own ugly huldrebarn (changeling huldre children). In some cases, the hulders force men to marry them, and sometimes represent their unintended child they had together. Stories of such relationships were common in Norway a long time—an elderly man from Valdres claimed he had a child among the hulderpeople on Norwegian Radio Broadcasting.
In some stories, the huldra marries a local farm boy, but when this happens, her beauty is lost when the priest lays his hand on her, or when she enters the church. Sources state that marriage to a Christian man will cause her to lose her tail, but not her looks. However if she is treated badly by the husband, she will remind him that she is far from weak, often by straightening out a horseshoe with her bare hands, sometimes while it is still glowing hot from the forge or even lift up a tree trunk.
If betrayed, a hulder can punish the man severely, as in one case from Sigdal, when she avenged her pride on a young braggart she had sworn to marry, on the promise that he would not tell anybody of their secret relationship. The boy instead bragged about his bride for a year, and when they met again, she beat him around the ears with her cow’s tail. He lost his hearing and his wits for the rest of his life.