Birds and their meaning in Nordic Folklore


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

Long before human beings had ever dreamed of entering the sky realm birds were considered to have otherworldly abilities letting them fly as messengers and communicators between heaven and earth. Birds became important as a way for humans to read signs from the spirit realm, and they were held in awe and even feared. Different birds communicated different warnings and auspicious messages.

The Raven


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

The raven is probably the bird with the most spiritual significance in the Nordic countries. The raven was Odin’s bird, or rather birds, he had two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who resided on his shoulders occasionally flying down to the earth realm to be Odin’s eyes on earth. The Norse people considered Raven feathers to be magical, they could among other things pick any lock, perhaps even the lock to someone’s heart.

Another Norse legend tells us of a small pebble that could be found in a raven’s nest, and if you could get hold of this pebble you could, by putting the pebble in our mouth, turn invisible. This pebble was especially sought after by warriors. But if you misused the pebble to do mischief you would be turned into an owl, the least auspicious birds according to the Norse belief, so it came with a fair warning to be used with extreme caution.

If two ravens were seen fighting while a wedding was taking place this warned of a bad marriage, and the wedding could be stopped. If a chieftain saw seven ravens fighting in the sky this meant that war was coming and he had to start preparing his warriors. These signs were taken seriously and followed, without question, by the Norsemen.

The Eagle


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

Another significant bird in the Norse symbolism was the eagle. The eagle in most cultures is a symbol of freedom and strength. To the Norsemen the eagle was even more significant. Odin, the king of gods, could turn himself into an eagle in order to fly to earth to drink the elixir of life that kept him immortal and forever young. So if you saw an eagle in the sky you could never really know if it really was Odin in disguise, and accordingly you were on your best behavior around eagles, trying to display honor, courage and bravery. The symbol of an eagle was therefor often used to inspire bravery in warriors.

The Cormorant


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

The Cormorant was, to the old Nordic people, the messenger between the “Folk of the Forest” and the humans. They brought warnings to people from the Folk, such as “danger is coming”, this the Cormorant demonstrated by unfolding their wings and holding them up in a protective gesture before the people the warning was meant for. This also gave them the status of being a protector. They could also warn the fishermen of bad fishing by flying against the boat when the men were on their way out to sea.

The Wood Grouse


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

The Wood Grouse was nicknamed the trollbird by the old Nordic people. The reason for this was that they thought the wood grouse actually was a troll woman turned into a bird. She was someone to be careful around because she could be unpredictable and moody, sometimes choosing to do good while other times she was full of mischief luring young men into the woods to seduce them and kidnap them. But if you found a feather of a wood grouse you were very lucky because it had healing properties, especially for “womanly” ailments.

The Swan


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

There is an old Norse legend that tells of the origin of the Nordic Lights. The legend states that there was a flock of seven swans who were too late to migrate and got stuck in the ice on a lake. Their frozen wings blazed over the sky and turned into beautiful green and blue lights. So whenever the Nordic Lights appeared on the sky it was the seven frozen swans fluttering their wings.

The Dipper


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

The Dipper is the Norwegian National bird, maybe because of its mystical past in the Norse culture. The Dipper, who spends most of its time on the ground near waterfalls, was in close contact with the underlings, the fey folk living underground. These underlings were considered to be hostile towards humans who tread on their homes, and the Dipper could plot with the underlings taking revenge of anyone who disturbed their nest or young ones. So the Dipper was a bird who were left alone and avoided at all cost.


Art by the Norwegian Fairytale artist Theodor Kittelsen.

As we can see, birds have a long and mystical history in the North. Most of it is now forgotten and just considered to be old superstition, but many people still swear by birds when it comes to telling the weather or whether or not the fishing is good. Birds do have a deep connection to nature and the elements, and can still be a valuable messengers and teachers when it comes to changes in nature. Besides, some claim that the symbolism around birds is still important today as it points to deeper truths about ourselves and about life.

What do you think?

Trollhunter

Trollhunter is a Norwegian indie film from 2010 directed by Andre Øverdal. This film has already been given a Cult status in Norway. Mind you, this is not a movie for children, even though I would have loved it as a child, but its target audience is teens and adults.
It is filmed in a mock documentary style, a little like Blair Witch Project, and is a presentation of footage filmed by a group of young journalists. The actors in the film are all unknown, except for the trollhunter himself, and it adds to the feeling of it being a documentary. The film is not really scary at all, it’s more funny, especially if you have some pre-knowledge about Norwegian culture and Norwegian trolls. And the trolls themselves are just awesome!

The movie is about a team of students studying to become journalists who set out to make a documentary about this crazy man who claims that he is a trollhunter. The trollhunter is fed up by the government who conceals all traces of trolls, and he wants the public to know what is really going on in the Norwegian forests. Following is a hilarious and brilliant chase, where we get to know a lot about trolls and how they can still be alive!

What I love the most about this film is how thoroughly all the facts are explained, like why the trolls burst in sunlight, what they eat and how they live, all explained by a veterinarian troll expert! I love the descriptions of the different types of trolls, and I love how amazingly brilliant the trolls actually look on screen.

This movie might not be everyone’s cup of tea, as it is VERY Norwegian, but if you like to learn more about other cultures, folklore and the supernatural, then this movie is definitely for you, and I highly recommend it! I would say the movie can be seen by kids from 13 and up, but it depends on the child. I would not have found this movie disturbingly scary as a child, but all children are different. I’d say, if the child enjoys Jurassic Park, he or she can definitely watch this movie. 😊

Of course, five out of five stars! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For younger kids, or for all kids of all ages, I would recommend the Dreamworks/ Netflix Series “Trollhunters”. It is an animated series that is, I can’t help but think, slightly inspired by the Norwegian Trollhunter. The storyline is brilliant and the animation awesome!

Dancing Fairies


Art by August Malmstrøm

Imagine rowing quietly over a lake a summer night. You are in the north and the sun is betwixt dusk and dawn, still giving off a mellow gleam of pale yellow and grey light. Above the water a mist has gathered, twirling in slow motion in the stillness of the night. And that is when you see it. Is it just a formation of white vapor gracefully leaping in the air? Or is it something else, something you thought only existed in your imagination?


Photo by: Ingolf Endresen

Ever since the first people came to Norway, they have been asking themselves this question. Of course, fairies are not supposed to exist, but how can mist move so intently and musically without even a breath of air? The tales speak of fairies coming out to dance in the mysterious light of the summer night, disguising themselves in the glamour of white mist upon water.

What do you believe? Perhaps you are not so easily convinced of the existence of fairies, but if you were there, rowing quietly over a lake a summer night…you would perhaps not be so sure…

Image credit: The beautiful photo is taken by the very talented Ingolf Endresen. You can see more of his incredible photos here: https://blog.ingolfendresen.com/

Midsummer Madness


Midsummer Bonfire by Nikolai Astrup, 1909

It is the end of June and school is finally out. Kids and parents pack their picnic baskets and head for the nearest meadow or beach, or as the last resort; a gravel football court, where a huge bonfire has been standing tall, composed of old branches and throw-away furniture, since the first day of summer. For some, this is the day they pack their cars or boats, and head for their summer getaways. But the bonfire is certainly not to be missed. Will the witch adorning the top of the driftwood tower fall over before she is licked clean by the building flames this year, or will she collapse at the first touch of smoke like last year?

The witch is the main character of this suspiciously pagan Nordic holiday. She, and her sisters, will be on the prowl on midsummer night, looking for eligible bachelors to kidnap, and god help the girl who tries to stand up for her lover! So the inhabitants of each village try to scare her away by burning replicas of her on a huge bonfire. Since the witches normally fly quite high in the sky, this tend to work fine. At least it has for centuries now, with a few exceptions, so do NOT forget the witch on top of the bonfire tonight!

Since this is a night steeped in magic, more than just witches may be heard from or even seen. The fairies will be out and about too. And it is said that, because of this, if a young girl picks seven different types of flowers from a meadow at midnight and puts them under her pillow when she sleeps, she will dream about the man she is going to marry!

When I was little, midsummers were spent at sea with my family. There would be a huge bonfire on a rock in the sea close to land, and it would burn far into the night. We would grill sausages on a smaller fire and tell each other stories about ghosts and witches. With me always being the main narrator. Sometimes I would scare my two younger siblings half to death!

If you want to learn more about our Nordic Midsummer Madness, you can read the beautiful book which is the inspiration for this post: ” Moominsummer Madness” by the Finnish author Tove Jansson. In this delightful children’s book you will encounter a floating theatre, electric ghosts, private property protests, and wild orphans who dream of seeing a real play.

Midsummer is a time for fairy magic, for fun and for family and friends. It is one of those delicious festivals that dates back to ancient times when it was the turning of the sun that marked the passing of the year, and gave cause for celebration. So no matter where you are, please have a magical Midsummer, and be sure to sprinkle a bit of Midsummer Madness in there.

Happy Midsummer!

Her Majesty

Her Majesty is a New Zealand family/children’s film from 2001. The story is set in the 1950s and is about a young girl who loves Queen Elisabeth and dreams about meeting her, and an elderly Maori woman who is passionate about keeping her Maori legacy alive. When the two meet a magical friendship starts to blossom.

This film, which is inspired by true events, is a beautiful story about identity, belongingness, loyalty and friendship. It is about learning to appreciate our earth and the people who came before us.

I absolutely loved this sweet movie! I loved learning a bit about the Maori traditions, and I loved the way the story and the characters evolved. I could easily identify with the 12 year old Elisabeth and her courage and big heart when she stands up for her Maori friend Hira. I could also relate to the curiosity Elisabeth has for the deeply spiritual ways of the Maori people and how she learns to appreciate and even adopt some of these traditions. love the friendship between the two, and how genuine and respectful it is, despite the age difference.

I absolutely recommend this magical film to children, teenagers and adults alike! It is rare to come upon such a gem of a movie in these highly commercial times.

Of course, five out of five stars! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Call of the Nighter

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If you hold your breath amongst the leaves
And trees a’hushing by
A quiet whiff of lover’s smoke
Somewhat misty-eyed.
A wild wind rushing in your sleep
And you, a little girl upon the moor
Enchanted by the twisted chimes
Pulling at your feet.
Step then upon the trail
Follow the allure, a lass
A’ wreathed by burning sprigs
And a handsome troubadour.
But the gloom still deepens as we speak
And the lilies hastily swim ashore
And the innocence of Summer
Must hearken to the fall.
Stop then your tread, little girl, and
Observe, you’re drowning in his pond
For straying maids must always heed
To the Nighter’s loving call.

* Note: The Nighter, or the Nykk/Nøkk as he is called in Norway, is a dark faerie creature from Norwegian folklore. He is said to live in woodsy ponds and lakes and his aim is to find a bride as he is very lonely. He takes on the form of a handsome young man and sings and plays music to lure young unmarried girls into his domain, of course, to the Nighter’s great frustration, the girl drowns as soon as she has entered the water. The Nighter is the Irish “translation” of the word Nykk, the English one is Nix.

The Art of Storytelling

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Art by Albert Anker

I have always been fascinated with the art of storytelling. I was a storyteller before I was a writer. My favorite thing to do when I was little was to go on walkabouts with my two younger cousins making up stories about oddly shaped rocks, twining trees and little lakes, as we wandered through changing landscapes of forests and mountains. Perhaps this talent came from my mother. I will never forget the storm-torn tree with the roots reaching for the skies. It was a magical gateway to another world. A world only my mother knew about. And now me. A miniature world of trolls and elves. And I, with the magical eyes of childhood, saw it all. Or perhaps it was my grandmother who taught me to tell stories. I could not get enough of the stories she told about a wonderful land called Yesteryear. Or her folktales, always with a wicked modern twist to make me laugh.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

When I learned how to write, my writing was first and foremost a way to record my stories. Whenever I wasn’t busy playing you could always find me scribbling something in a notepad or sketching odd characters and fantastical sceneries in a drawing book.
Some of the stories turned into movies which my big brother shot with my father’s old fashioned video camera.

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Art by Theodor Kittlsen

When I was eight I started writing poetry. I learned the magic of words. Poems were little stories about emotions. And these stories outshone the longer narratives in my teens. Today my writing is a mixture of storytelling and creative poetic writing.

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The tradition of storytelling is old. Older than recorded history. Storytelling was the way to record history in ancient times. It was a way to teach moral, explain natural phenomena, carry on culture and traditions, and of course, to entertain. In the Norse part of the world, we had the Skald. The skald was a poetic storyteller, often working for the king. He composed actual events into epic heroic sagas, creating heroes and adding valor to kings. Our most famous Skald is Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet who composed the epic Prose Edda. This Prose is still taught in schools today, and is a valuable source to understand ancient history and traditions in the Norse world.

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Art by Theodor Kittlsen

Other famous storytellers in Norway are Asbjørnsen and Moe. During the National Romanticism in Norway in the late 18th century, there was a general revival and interest for the old Norwegian traditions and culture. This was also true for the Norwegian folk tales and fairy tales. These tales had been told on farms and around bonfires for many many years, but had never been written down. Asbjørnsen and Moe took it upon themselves to collect these folk tales and publish them in two volumes. They traveled around the country from farm to farm listening to stories and writing them down. They were also known for re-telling the different stories to the children they met on their journeys. The two volume of folk tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe have never been out of print since they were first published in 1841, and rarely will you find a Norwegian home without one version or the other of this Fairytale collection.

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The Iron Age Farm, Stavanger, Norway

I was so lucky as to meet one of the more modern storytellers in Norway, on the Iron Age farm in Stavanger. Nina Næsheim is a professional storyteller who specializes in Norse myths and legends. It was a very special moment sitting inside the ancient stone farmhouse with the rain tapping on the roof and candles swaying in the draft listening to Nina Næsheim telling stories about the Jotne, Thor, Freya and Odin’s Ravens. Seeing a professional storyteller performing a narrative is something completely different than listening to a book being read out loud. It is then you understand that storytelling truly is an art.

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Inside the Iron Age Farmhouse, Stavanger, Norway.

I met another such contemporary storyteller in Galway, Ireland. Ireland, with its Celtic heritage, has a rich tradition of storytellers, or seanchaí as they are called in Ireland.
The stories often include the mythical Fey Folk, or faeries as we call them today. But these faeries are very far from the Disney fairies we see on screen today. The Irish Faeries were cunning and mischievous and often downright wicked, stealing babies and luring bachelors into Faerierings.
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Eddie (Edmund) Lenihan is a famous contemporary Irish storyteller who specializes in tales about the Faerie folk. Eddie is featured in the film ” The Faerie Faith”, and claims that the Faeries actually exist. His stories are often modern and stars people who have actually had encounters with this mythical folk. I met Eddie Lenihan in Galway during the yearly storytelling festival. His performance was exceptional, and he captivated his audience, young and old, with his dreamy deep voice, his shape shifting facial expressions and his faerie like body language.

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Eddie Lenihan by Valerie O’Sullivan

The Irish seanchas were not only the bearers of Faerie Lore, they were also essential in the Druid tradition. Druids were Celtic priests, or wise men, who were called upon to perform weddings and funerals. They were also the holders of the secret knowledge and were considered to be wise and knowledgeable. They often shared and distributed this knowledge in the telling of stories, symbolic tales conveying hidden messages for the listeners.
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I met a Druid priest on the island of Inish Mor in Ireland. He was a former catholic monk, but had converted to the old faith in recent times. He spent his days studying ancient knowledge and mysteries, and some of this knowledge he shared with me,standing in the stone ruin of an old monastery facing the boisterous Atlantic Ocean, his tales came alive before my very eyes as the skies and seas shifted and roared and spat out the secrets the Druid called upon.

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Inish Mor, Ireland

We all tell stories. Perhaps funny anecdotes from our own lives, or perhaps stories we’ve heard told about someone else’s misfortune or success. We are made up of stories, memories, moments of learning, experiences, our stories make us who we are. Humanity has always had a fondness for gossip, for eavesdropping, just look at today’s reality shows and social networking. Sharing our story becomes important, it is how we leave our mark on this world, it is how we prevent the sea from washing out our footprints.

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Art by the brothers Hildebrandt

Whenever I go through something difficult, as we all must do in life, I think of my life as a story, a quest, a heroic tale, something that will grow in interest, excitement and richness, the more adversary I go through. For after all, what is a story without a plot, what is a tale without a quest, what is a saga without a hero? Or in the words of Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings:

“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. ”

* All the images have been sourced from Wikimedia or Wikipedia

Further reading:

Nina Næsheim: http://fortellernina.no/node/1
Eddie Lenihan: http://eddielenihan.weebly.com/