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11 creatures from Scandinavian folklore you should know

The Scandinavian people have a rich set of traditions and stories, dating all the way back to the age of the Vikings.

Depending on where you visit, from Norway to Denmark, you’ll discover a host of incredible tales about fairies, goblins, and other mythical creatures.

Among children and adults alike, Scandinavian folklore stories are a beloved part of the culture, and something that many families hold dear.

While some of the Scandinavian creatures that appear in these stories are good, others are much creepier — representing the forces of evil.

In the early days, some Scandinavian monsters were even intended to scare children into behaving.

Today, however, many of the more unnerving parts of the stories have changed to become more family-friendly.

Although, you can still track down some traditional books that tell older tales, like the Vaesen guide to the Monsters of Scandi folklore.

Today, we’re going to introduce you to some of the top creatures from Scandinavian legend that you should know about.

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1. The Huldra (Tallemaja)

The Huldra, or Tallemaja in Swedish, is a troll-like female known for living in the woods.

Although the Huldra often has a beautiful appearance, she’s also wild and has the tail of a cow which she will often hide behind her back when meeting with a human.

The tale of the Huldra has a connection to the story of Adam and Eve. When Eve and Adam had many children, she was giving them all a bath when God came to visit.

Eve hid the children that were still dirty and lied to God about there whereabouts. God said that the hidden children should remain hidden, and they became the “Underjordiske” — lost souls living under the earth.

Although Huldra was one of those hidden children, she managed to stay above the ground, and often appears as a young and flirtatious girl. You can learn more about the Huldra in John Bauer’s book on Swedish folk and Fairy tales.

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2. The Nisser

The Nisser or (Nisse), are still valuable parts of Scandinavian culture, and even have some connections to Christmas. According to Scandinavian folklore, every home has its own Nisse who lives in a barn or the countryside near your house.

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Scandinavian legend has it that the Nisse looks over your household, but it can be a prankster too.

Around Christmas, the Nisser will bring children and their family’s gifts, if they know how to befriend them. There’s an adorable Christmas book called “The Christmas Nisse” by Patrick Nielsen, which shares more of the story.

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3. Dwarves and elves

Dwarves and elves are some of the better-known Scandinavian mythological creatures, thanks in part to the growing popularity of books like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. These Scandinavian creatures actually originate from North Mythology.

According to legend, the dwarves lived in their own region of Midgard, hidden from humans. They were smaller people with long beards who were masters at smithing.

Elves, on the other hand, lived in the castle of Froy. These fair and beautiful creatures are often peaceful in Scandinavian stories and usually have long lives which made them wise.

You can find some stories about dwarves and elves in the Nordic Tales book by Ulla Thynell.

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4. Vette or Vættir

From peaceful Norse creatures, to Scandinavian monsters, the Vættir are spirits and supernatural beings. The Mare is one of the better-known spirits in Scandinavia, often associated with bad dreams.

Apparently, she sits on people when they sleep and fills their mind with nightmares.

Mare is a common part of Germanic folklore, but she does have different names and shapes depending on where in Scandinavia you visit. In Swedish, the name for Mare is Mardom, which means “mare-ride” or “mare-dream”.

If you want to get deeper into folktales and legends from Norse times, check out Reimund Kvideland and Henning Sehmsdorf’s book here.

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5. Fossegrimmen

Otherwise known as “Grim”, Fossegrimmen is a water-based Scandinavian creature. This attractive young man sits naked under waterfalls, often playing music on a fiddle.

According to Scandinavian legend, Fossegrimmen plays the music of nature, creating the sounds of the trees, and water.

He can also teach humans how to play if they bring him a stolen piece of meat.

In Norway, there was once a musician called Torgier Augundsson who was so good that many people said he had exchanged his soul for Fossgrimmen’s skills. Torgier is still the most famous fiddle player to this day.

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6. Trolls

Trolls are another Scandinavian folklore creature that has made its way into western culture. Coming from Norse mythology originally, the troll is apparently inspired by cruel giants that were enemies of the gods.

These giants lived in the mountains of Utgard and maintained a human-like appearance, though they were large and ugly.

Most of the stories about trolls in Scandinavian legend talk about how stupid they are. In older tales, they lived in castles and high mountains, as well as in deep forests.

When Christianity arrived in Scandinavia, many of the stories changed, and Trolls were suddenly able to smell the blood of Christian men.

You can read about Scandi trolls in the Clara Stroebe et al book, Scandinavian tales.

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7. Pesta

The black death was a significant tragedy for all of the countries of Scandinavia. In Norway, almost half of the population was lost, and Denmark lost a third of its people. The plague eventually created a Scandinavian monster of its own, called Pesta.

Pesta is a figure of illness, often appearing in the form of an ugly old woman dressed in black.

Pesta travels from farm to farm in her story, carrying a rake and a broom and spreading the plague. If she was carrying a rake, then some of the people at the farm might survive.

However, if she was carrying a broom, everyone in the family would die.

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8. Nokken

The Nokken is another creature from Scandinavian folklore often associated with water. He resides in lakes, deep ponds, and fresh-water locations.

Coming from Norway, this Scandinavian monster is said to have deep dark eyes that lurk just above the surface.

The Swedish also have a version of the Nokken, but they describe him as a beautiful man who tricks women into jumping into the water, then drowns them.

The Nokken is a shapeshifter who can become a white horse and let children ride on his back. A lot of stories also refer to the Nokken as a great violin player. To protect yourself from this creature, you could throw an iron cross or needle into the water.

However, if he attacks, the only way to overpower him is by saying a riddle of protection.

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9. Draugen

The Draugen is a Norse legend that Scandinavian people warn sailors of. The ghost of a man that drowned at sea, the Draugen is a huge and terrible Scandinavian monster, covered in seaweed, and often sitting in a rowing boat.

He screams when he appears from the water, and legend says that you can see the Draugen during stormy nights, drowning fisherman.

There’s a story in Scandinavian folklore of a man who ran from the Draugen into a churchyard, and the spirits of the dead were called to protect him.

Today, the Draugen is still associated with anything mysterious out at sea.

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10. The Kraken

The Kraken is a Scandinavian monster that you’re probably pretty familiar with from Clash of the Titans and Pirates of the Caribbean.

According to Scandi folklore, the Kraken comes from the cold Norwegian sea, where people have been telling tales about it since the 1700S.

The first detailed description of the beast came from a Danish writer named Erik Pontoppidan.

Many Scandinavian stories say that the Kraken was the shape of a huge crab, or the size of a small island. Other descriptions say that the Kraken is more like a giant octopus that drags ships to the depths.

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11. Valkyries

Another better-known creature from Scandinavian folklore, Valkyries come from Norse mythology.

These creatures are a tribe of female warriors that decide who should go to Valhalla after they die. Valhalla is the heaven promised to Vikings.

The warriors that fought with ambition and courage on the battlefield are usually the ones chosen to fight with the gods in Valhalla.

Various movies and novels have created new versions of the Valkyries today, but the women are often described as beautiful and strong.

The faces of Scandinavian folklore

Scandinavian legend is rich with countless unique creatures, many of which have made their way over into Western culture in the form of novel characters and movie representations.

Although some of the Scandinavian creatures have changed over the years, many of the traditional stories are still mentioned today throughout the Scandi countries.

If you’re looking for a bedtime story to tell your little ones, make sure you double-check whether you’ve got the traditional Scandinavian folklore or not.

Some of these tales can be a little creepier than their later iterations.

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