folketro

There are a couple of words in Heathenism that exist simultaneously yet independent of one another in Scandinavia and America as well as other areas, and which can be quite frustrating to keep straight for people who have only heard it from one of the sources. The first sort of pair is Folketro and Folkish. Folketro (or the appropriate variant thereof) simply means “Folk belief,” and is a very common term for pagan practice in mainland Scandinavia, particularly that which draws upon regional lore. Folkish, which does not really exist in common use in Scandinavia, is a term for Heathens who believe that only those of Germanic ancestry (really just meaning white because you can be a fair-skinned, full-blooded Italian and be fine) can practice Heathenry. This mindset is usually laughed at in Scandinavia.

The second pair is made up of two identical terms, both being Traditionalist. In Scandinavia, Traditionalist tends to be the alternative to Reconstructionist, and Traditionalists make more prevalent use of the term Folketro. While they may incorporate some Old Norse/Eddic lore into their practice, local folk beliefs and customs are given much more attention, and often god names such as Oden, Tor or Freja are used primarily for ease of discussion rather than essential identifiers. Traditionalism in America, England and other places, however, tends to distinguish a Heathen who still thinks that women belong in the kitchen and pumping out babies, white people are in danger of being wiped out and need to isolate themselves and that homosexuality is evil; and needs a religious justification for it.

Hopefully this can clear up any misunderstandings that people may have had in discussions or reading.

Berbùi - mountain dweller

Meinvœttir - harm-wights

Þursasprengir - thurs-burster

Trollaukin - troll-augmented

Tryllt orðinn - enchanted into a troll

Trylla - a troll, or to be trolled, made into a troll, enchanted, mad or possessed

Tryllskr - to be a troll or a witch

Trolldómr - magic

Trollskap - magic

Väru trllyd mjök bæði - were both greatly betrolled


Common phrases concerning trolls:

  • Trolls take you!
  • Trolls have you!
  • Troll weather - persistent drizzle
  • Troll mist - dark fog
  • Trysser sem tröll - trusty as a troll

Plants associated with or used in the invocation of trolls:

  • Lousewort
  • Red rattle
  • Pedicularis sylvatica
  • Thistle
  • Ironwood
  • Pine

Buttered stones sometimes feature in blóts to trolls.

Crushing a thistle is a means of driving out “wights of woe”. This was traditionally done at the end of harvesting.
The word þistil, written or spoken, could be used to give a man power over another, or to bring fearful things upon an enemy.
Folk belief has it that lightening seeks out trolls and giants and, as such, invocations of Thor and the sounds of drumming are useful in keeping them away.
Also, in Scandinavian folklore, trolls are able to transform into cats.

Traditionally, the people most vulnerable to trolls/being enchanted into a troll/slipping into the other world were:

  • Children before baptism / name-giving
  • Young men and women who were engaged but not yet married
  • Women who had given birth but had not yet been “churched”
  • People spending great lengths of time in wild places by themselves

  • People spending time only in small groups of their own gender

Oskoreia/Åsgårdsreia

My translation. Everything in italics taken from Mytiske og andre sagn by M. B. Landstad, a collection of folk tales and other material gathered by Landstad in the region of Telemark, Norway. My notes in square brackets.

Åsgård-reiden [the ride or hunt of Asgard] is pronounced Åsgår-reie or Åsgår-reia; the people from Hjartdal and those who live further afield say Osgo-reia. [It is worth keeping in mind that Landstad wrote in a period where thoughts on folk culture were heavily influenced by romantic nationalism. The Romantic suggestion of “Åsgård” as the etymon of “osgo”/”osko” is one of many possible explanations. Another is öskurligr, meaning terrible.] 

Here we will quite simply relate the talk of the people, without mixing in our own views. Either it is the gods of Asgard themselves who are out riding with their heroes or einherjer, or also it may be the ride of the fallen heroes to Asgard in the company of the valkyries who fetch them. The latter seems most plausible. For here we meet the old heroes Sigurd Fåvnesbane and his mistress Gudrun, and Gunnar. Brynhild, who should not be missing from this company, I have nevertheless not heard mentioned.

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Icelandic Magical Staves

Hulinhjalmur

Hulinhjalmur (“Helm Of Disguise”) is a sigil that allows the user to become invisible.

The complex task of creating the ink to make this sigil is done by collecting three drops of blood from the index finger of one’s left hand, three from the ring-finger of one’s right hand, two from the right nipple and one from the left nipple. Then the blood must be mixed with six drops of blood from the heart of a living raven and melted with raven’s brains and pieces of human stomach.

Once that is done the sigil must be drawn out in this ink on brown coal (lignite) and then pressed into the brow, activating this visual magic to prevent your enemies from being able to see you.

- hedendom

Maran

Maran (singular mara, roughly translated as “nightmare”) are terrifying female beings that haunt people at night. They crawl upon the victim’s chest while they sleep, suffocating them and sucking out their life force. If you wake up, you will be breathless and feel as if you have been smothered.

Maran can enter a victim’s home through the smallest of opening, so to prevent this one can sing hymns, blessing as much cow hair as possible and place it in the window. If a mara attempts to enter, she must first count all the individual hairs before entering, leaving her little time to attack before the victim wakes. Alternatively, flax seed can spread around the bed before sleeping and if a mara comes she will compulsively have to count all the seed.

Maran are also known to attack horses which will be found in their stall in the morning appearing to have been ridden very hard. Symptoms will include exhaustion, foaming at the mouth and a matted mane. Hanging a dead bird of prey or painting a hexagonal marker on the stall of the horse will scare the mara away.

Maran are said to be the souls of unmarried women who have died and returned to take the warmth and essence away from the living. It is also possible for any woman to become a mara at night if she is cursed. The curse comes about if a mother attempts to prevent the pains of childbirth using sorcery. A daughter will be cursed as a mara and a son will be cursed to live as a werewolf.

The transformation into a mara starts with a thick smoke that appears to come from the woman’s body, takes it’s terrifying shape and then flies off into the night. The curse can be broken if someone tells her she is a mara the moment she returns to her body in the morning but the timing must be perfect because the woman may lose a finger or toe if the curse is lifted too soon and the body has not fully transformed back to normal.

Artwork by Johan Egerkrans

Havsrå

Known as the “Sea Wife”, the Havsrå is the oceanic equivalent of the Huldra and is the keeper or warden of the seas. Passing sailors can get her good graces by offering a coin, food or gloves (in cold weather) as a gift. In return, she may reciprocate the gesture with a warning of any any approaching high winds, storms or icy conditions. She may also help fishermen who show her such favour with information about how and where they can land a big haul.

Havsrå can take many different forms but usually appears as an incredibly beautiful woman with long, flowing hair that she is often seen combing atop rocks. Sometimes her back is hollow (as with the Huldra) and she has many aquatic features such as a fishes tail where her legs would be. She may also transform into the guise of seals, sea birds or other marine animals.

There are also Havsmän (“Sea Men”) but it is not know if they are connected to the Havsrå. Some believe that the two are sexual partners and this is how their existence continues but others say they are solitary creatures (much more like the Nøkk). The Havsmän can often be seen walking or waterskiing on the ocean waves just before a storm.

The Havsrå lives at the depths of the ocean in an underwater castle on the seabed with enormous halls, each one finer than the one before, where she lives with her children and other aquatic vættir. Under favourable weather conditions a sailor may catch a glimpse of her palace which has given rise to tales of sunken castles out at sea.

It has been known for a handsome sailor to stumble upon a Havsrå castle and that he be taken in to live with her forever and lose all memory of their home and life back on land.

Sometimes, if a fisherman happens to pull in a remarkable catch, he may find in his nets a Havsbarn (“Sea Child”), a child of the Havsrå. If he takes such a child home and raises it as his own, the Havsbarn will grow up to be the greatest of fishermen and possess a mystical connection to the sea that others lack, despite living out their life as a normal person. One day, when they have reached adulthood, the Havsbarn will hear a call from their mother, the Havsrå. They will then reveal their true nature to their adopted parents and thank them before sailing out to sea and jumping in, never to be seen again. Many Scandinavians who come from remote islands and seafaring families claim that their ancestor was such a Havsbarn.

It has been known for a Havsrå to stop a passing ship and offer to buy it’s cargo. It is wise to be polite and take the deal, as the Havsrå pays very well and rewards the kindness with good wind in the sails and fine conditions. On the other hand, refusal or rudeness will invoke her wrath and the ship may soon feel her power, sinking down to the murky depths.

Funeral Of Baldr

The fairest, the finest, beloved by all,
Banished from Breidablik, the most beautiful hall,
In death given Draupnir, in Hringhorni to hel,
Words whispered by the wisest that we never will know,
A blind man, a brother, a game gone wrong,
A mistletoe arrow didn’t swear to no harm,
A tricksters deceit, bound to settle the score,
Baldr will return as the earth rises once more.

Words by hedendom
Artwork by galhad

5

Norse Mythology, Scandinavian Folklore and Viking inspired artwork by Jake Powning

1. This digital painting depicts the stanzas of Runatal in which Odin hangs himself from Yggdrasil as a sacrifice to himself to gain the secret of the runes.

2. Three brothers - Fáfnir, Ottar and Regin.

3 & 4. Imaginative visualisations of the Viking Age warrior inspired by “The First Law” trilogy novels by Joe Abercrombie

5. The Shadow Tomten rides the Night-Warg. Inspired by Harald Wiberg’s illustrations (from the “Tomten” book series) this drawing takes the concept of the friendly Tomten and flips it in reverse! He is the Shadow Tomten who comes from his deep lair to hunt by the moonlight. He takes care of the wild creatures and dreams of blood on the snow and the scent of prey.

The day which Heathens traditionally considered New Year was sundown on the night of the first full moon after the midwinter solstice. On this night, it was believed that the barriers between the realms were at their thinnest. It was a night when many would attempt to commune with the powers and attempt rituals that required crossing between planes of existence. Such rituals would include Årsgång (Year Walking), Spådom (Premonition), Trolldom (Nordic Folk Magic) and doing positive things that would help set a precedent for the coming year!

The artwork comes from an 1875 book and depicts someone partaking in Årsgång.

Icelandic Magical Staves

Veldismagn

Where many would think to use Ægishjálmur (particularly in tattoo’s as I have seen), it would often be more appropriate to use Veldismagn.

Where Ægishjálmur must be carved in metal and placed between the brows (acting as a visual magic), Veldismagn is drawn out in blood and placed on the chest. Since tattooing draws blood this might actually activate this overlooked sigil and in doing so create a charm so that nothing evil can harm you and you will return healthy and without sickness from any journey.

- hedendom

Gast

There are many different varieties of ghosts and spirits in Scandinavian folklore, such as spøkelse, gjenganger, draugen, utburd, gjenferd, skrømpt, gespenster and more, and all are born from different strange occurrences in death. Some really just want to find peace - solving the crime that led to their death, unfinished business or seeking forgiveness for a sin they committed in life.

Gast (or Deildestgast as they are also known) are a different matter all together. They are the spirit of a truly bad person, as full of hatred as one can be, such that even their name is despised and feared after their death and they return to terrorise the living as a Gast.

Usually they remain invisible but can transform to a visible state once they have lost all remnants of their humanity and turned into something much nastier than the sinners they once were. They are monstrous figures, often with sharp claws and teeth, and they are so black they appear to be sentient, moving creatures composed of darkness itself. In some cases they may be gigantic and have been described as tall as a tree.

If one happens upon a Gast at night then they will be sure to suffer, as the Gast latches onto them and sucks the life-force from it’s prey. It often occurs that the Gast will attack and eat people though, for the most part, only those involved in his or her death or their relatives.

If a Gast cannot return to it’s lair (usually a tree or cairn near a graveyard) before sunrise then it must remain frozen on the same spot until night falls once again. It could be very dangerous to accidentally walk into the Gast in this state. In the times when most travelled by horse and carriage, sometimes the rig suddenly became so heavy that the horse could hardly drag the load. This was a sure sign they had encountered a temporarily frozen Gast who would then be seen sitting on the carriage weighing it down. The Gast may even screw off the wagon’s wheels at the most untimely moment causing death and destruction should the carriage to crash.

Artwork by Johan Egerkrans

Vittra

Among mountains and pastures in northern Scandinavia are the Vittra, a small humanoid race that get along well with humankind as long as they are respected and left in peace. They live in large families and are rarely found alone.

Vittra look almost exactly the same way as most people do, though they are smaller in size. Unlike Goblins who wear earth gray costumes, Vittra are red-robed and extremely clean and tidy. They are often seen in traditional costumes, much like the ones people wear on special occasions. Sometimes they can take other forms, such as small striped worms or larvae. Anyone who happens to tread on such a Vittra will experience a pain in the foot and will become seriously ill.

Vittra’s lives do not differ significantly from those of men. They tend to their own cows (called vitterkor) which are all white and very beautiful, but small in stature. They wear bells of silver with a mysterious melodic sound. Its small size notwithstanding, they provide much more milk than human cattle. It could happen that a fäbodjäntor (pasture lass) would stumble across a vitterkor when she herded her own cattle. If she was quick and she threw a knife over the vitterkor then she could keep it as her own. That evening she would be visited by Vittra, who put certain conditions on her ownership. She would be allowed no more than one bucket of milk per day, otherwise the vitterkor would die, and all calves the vitterkor may bare would belong to the Vittra.

The Vittra would criss-cross the landscape with their cattle along vittervägar (Vittra roads). Sometimes it happened that people carelessly built their homes in the way of these vittervägar and because of this they could get no peace in the house at night. The only ways to solve the problem was to either move house or to sleep with the doors open so the Vittra can pass straight through.

Vittra are also experts at milking men’s cows, which they would abduct for up to three days, and when the cows were returned to the owner they now had the ability to give more milk as a sign of gratitude.

Some Vittra prefer to live in lakes, known as vitterjärnar. If you throw a silver coin into the water before a fishing trip you can expect to get a good catch.

Artwork by Johan Egerkrans

Norwegian Pirog aka “Troll Snacks”

These savoury pies, made with fillings such as Jarlsberg cheese, ham and other Norwegian regional favourites, are known as “Troll snacks” in and around Gudbrandsdalen, Norway.

The region is recorded in folklore as the setting for the famous folk tale of Per Gynt, who takes on many great adventures, rescues dairy maids from trolls and defeats the giant worm-troll, Bøyg!

It is said that by offering a few of each batch that you bake you will stop unwanted attention from trolls and stop them interfering with your home and family.