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!

The Secret Language of Trees

Yggdrasil

Trees have always played a very crucial part in Nordic Mythology and Culture. The first sacred tree we hear about is “Yggdrasil” the cosmic world tree in Norse Mythology. Yggdrasil is an enormous Ash Tree, with roots extended into the many worlds and branches reaching into the Heavens. Yggdrasil means “the horse of the terrifying one”, which scholars have interpreted to mean Odin’s Horse. Odin is the greatest of the gods in Asgaard the abode of the gods, he is the grandfather who rules the worlds.

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Norse Mythology also claims that the first humans called Ask (Ash Tree in Norwegian) and Embla (Elm Tree in Norwegian) were fashioned from tree trunks. Odin was the one who breathed life into them.

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In Scandinavia it was, and still is, the custom to plant a tree outside on the farmyard called the “Tuntre”. The Tuntre would stand watch over the farm for generations and was considered to be a great protector of the farm. The tree was much respected and cared for and often even worshipped. Especially in Finland these trees were given great importance. The Tuntre could also give warnings about the future, if the tree looked sick or unhealthy a great disaster would most likely come to the farm.

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The origin of the tuntre comes from the belief that a holy tree would grow where the “haugbonden”, a magic elf residing over the farm was buried. The tree would protect the grave from bad luck and witchcraft.

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Oak

The great Oak tree is considered to be the King of the Trees according to ancient Norse culture. It symbolizes strength and endurance and is considered to be the Norse god Thor’s tree. It is often referred to as the Tree of Thunder. Anyone can seek protection and shelter under the oak and Thor’s sacred power will keep them safe. The Oak is also said to be the keeper of ancient wisdom as it is the tree that lives the longest. You can seek out this tree to obtain this old and mystic wisdom and the tree will bless you forever.

Birch trees in a summer forest

Birch

The Birch tree might be one of the most feminine of trees in the forest. It is said to hold the portal between this life and the afterlife. The Birch holds the light, and it will light your path through even the deepest of the dark. It looks quite angelic lighting up the forest in the night. This tree is able to grow and thrive almost anywhere as long as it has access to water.

Ask

Ash

The Ash tree is an important tree both in Nordic Mythology and in Celtic mythology. It is said to be the abode of fairies and holds the portal to Fairyland. As we have learned the great Yggdrasil is an Ash Tree and the first man was fashioned out of the trunk of an Ash Tree. Odin writes the ancient knowledge in runes on the trunk and branches of the Ash Tree. Ash is a very auspicious tree to keep close to your house because it will bless the house and all the people living close to it, but only if it is treated with respect and care. Ash is a protective tree, especially for sailors and in the ancient North people used charms made of ash to prevent sailors from drowning and give them safe passage over the seas.

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Hazel

The Hazel Tree is Thor’s tree. It is said to protect people against lightening. In ancient Norse Culture it was said that if you stood under a Hazel Tree in a thunderstorm Thor would protect you and you could not be struck by lightening. Hazel tree is also known in Celtic mythology to be the Fairy Tree. It is loved by all fairies, and if you go out looking for fairies you should start with the Hazel Tree. Hazel Tree was also used by the Celtic druids to make themselves invisible. The Hazel is the tree of Fairy Knowledge.

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Spruce

The Spruce, or the Norway Spruce, is the traditional Christmas Tree in Norway. It is the most common tree in most parts of Norway, but especially in the south. It is an evergreen tree symbolizing endurance, courage, long life and positivity.

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Alder

Alder is a tree associated with fire. People rarely wanted to build houses near an Alder tree as they were afraid the house would easily catch fire. Witches were said to make flutes out of Alder to come in contact with the North Wind. Alder is a sturdy tree and symbolizes vitality, good health and strength in difficult circumstances.

Alm

Elm

Elm is the tree which the first woman Embla was fashioned out of. Elm is a female tree associated with female qualities. Elm is used in many herbal medicines and is therefor considered to be a great healing tree. Elm is also very nutritious and can be used in cooking to give extra strength. Elm is a very auspicious tree to live close to as it provides protection, nutrition, medicine and healing.

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Rowan

Rowan is another tree associated with the Norse god Thor. It is said to have protected Thor against a great flood. Rowan is perhaps the most magical of the trees, believed to be the tree of witchcraft and fairy magic and frequently used in magic potions. It is also said that if you burn rowan twigs in your house then the smoke it creates will chase away ghosts and evil spirits. Rowan can also be used in divination, as it will help you to look into the future and have clairvoyant dreams.

Animals of the North

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Animals have always played an important part in our lives, especially in ancient cultures when people lived more close to, and in harmony with, nature and the natural world. In these old cultures, like the Sami Culture, the Native American culture, the Aboriginal culture and the Celtic Culture animals symbolized powers that we as a humans could posses if we listened and learned from the animals. In the Norse Culture of Scandinavia animals were seen as messengers from the spirit world trying to guide us through life. So let us take a closer look at these animals of the north and try to understand what message it is that they are trying to convey.

Bear

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Bear was seen as the forefather of man. The Norse Gods Thor and Odin often took the shape of a bear to visit the human world. The bear stands for strength, healing, inner wisdom and balance between the seen and the unseen world. The female bear was the symbol for the feminine aspect and principle and the male bear was the masculine principle. Similar to the Chinese Yin and Yang.

Polar Bear

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The polar bear, or Ice bear as we say in Norway, is the animal that will unblock suppressed emotions so that they can flow freely. The polar bear helps us to overcome difficult challenges and to be flexible.

Moose or Elk

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The moose, or the elk, is known in Norway to be the King of the Forest. He carries within his spirit the deep knowledge and mysteries of the forest. The elk will help us to find this inner wisdom and inspire us to be more confident and appear with grace.

Roe Deer

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The Roe deer is the animal that carries within the power of the Goat willow or the selje as we say in Norway. Selje means victory. The ancient mystique Rune associated with Selje is Saille:

S-Saille

The Roe Deer remind us of our spiritual growth. It tells us that we have a soul that longs to grow and expand beyond our body.

Lynx

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The Lynx is the guardian of deep secrets and hidden knowledge. This animals symbolizes the power to see beyond what is right here in front of us. It reminds us to explore the depth within ourselves and see what is hidden in our hearts.

Hare

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The Hare is a moon animal. It carries intuitive messages, and tells us to listen to our intuition.

The hare is associated with the Common Gorse and the mystique rune is Onn:

O-Onn

Red Deer

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The Red Deer carried a lot of meaning to the Norse people. In Norse Mythology we hear about Dunøyr, Duratro, Dvalin and Dain, three Red Deer who graze in Yggdrasil, the tree of Life. The Red Deer is associated with the healing touch and the resurrection of the spirit. It is the messenger between our world and the otherworld.

Horse

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Horse is associated with the Oak tree and the mystique rune for horse is Duir:

D-Duir

The horse had a deep significance to the old Norse people. We find strong horses in Norse Mythology, like Odin’s horse Sleipner:

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Skinnfakse and Rimfakse were the two horses who pulled the wagon of Day and the wagon of Night across the sky. Svadilfari was the stallion who built Asgaard.

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The horse is the animal of strength, vitality, nobility and intelligence. It is a Sun Animal and symbolizes endurance and faithfulness.

Wolf

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The Wolf is an animal of protection. The wolf is a Moon Animal associated with renewed energy and wisdom through connecting with our inner child. In Norse mythology we hear about Odin’s wolves Freke and Gere who bring him news from Earth.

Raven

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The Raven is Odin’s animal. Odin has two ravens called Hugin and Munin. Hugin is thought and Munin is memory. These ravens help Odin to rule the realms and give him wisdom.

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Eagle

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The Eagle is associated with the Birch Tree and its rune is Beith.

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In Norse mythology we find Vidofnir, an eagle sitting in Yggdrasil, the world tree. The Eagle is Odin’s animal and associated with him. The Eagle is a Sun Animal symbolizing Light conquering darkness, justice, victory, spiritual power and magic. The Eagle helps us to see hidden spiritual truths.

Hawk

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Verfolne is the name of the hawk that sits between the eyes of the eagle Vidofnir in Yggdrasil the world tree. Hawk is a sun animal and is the messenger between worlds.

Owl

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The owl is associated with Hawthorn and the mystique rune is Huathe.

H-Huath

The owl is the guide to the underworld, it helps us to see in the spiritual and actual dark, and it shows us how to look inside the darkness in ourselves and find a way out of it.

The Mountain Goat

mountain goat

The Norse God Thor has two male goats Tanngrisner and Tanngnjost pulling his wagon across the sky. We also hear about the goat Heidrun grazing on the roof of Valhall.

Tor norron-mytologi info

The male goat symbolizes the creational force of nature and the seeking of truth. The female goat symbolizes the fertility of the earth.

All the images have been sourced at Google.no

Norwegian Fairy Tales

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Norway has a rich history of storytellers, folk tales told on little farms in the darkness of winter evenings with only a blazing fire for light and warmth. These tales were full of trolls, elves, nisse folk, witches and other creatures lurking in the darkness of the deep forests. In the tales these creatures are either wicked, luring people into harm, or wise and helpful aiding humans through challenges and helping them solve mysterious riddles and seemingly impossible tasks.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Typical for Norwegian fairy tales is that the hero is always the underdog, the youngest son or daughter, the one who is humble, honest, kind, helpful, quiet, and often a little different than others. The villain, often a troll or a witch is the opposite, dumb-witted, loud, greedy, and selfish.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

The hero of the tale has to go through different challenges or tasks to prove himself worthy of the prize or reward promised to the one who solves the quest. This prize is often the princess and half the kingdom. The challenges include tests of the hero’s kindness, cleverness, perseverance, humility and bravery.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Our favorite hero is the “Ashlad”, who bears similarities to Cinderella. He is the youngest son of three brothers, he sits by the hearth poking the fire with a face full of soot and ash. He is unappreciated by his family who often judge him as a little stupid and a “good-for-nothing” kind of lad. He is the eternal dreamer, never caring much about money or material possessions.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

Norwegian fairy tales also features talking animals, like polar bears, foxes, brown bears, hares, mice and birds. Some of the most famous fairy tales are: Soria Moria Castle, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the Polar Bear King or White-bear King Valemon.

TheodorKittelsen-KvitebjørnKongValemon(1912)
Art by Theodor Kittelsen

The Norwegian fairy tales are full of folk humor, and they are not as romantic and fantastical as many of the other fairy tales from more southern countries. Many of the tales are made to solve everyday problems or explain things in nature. The tales belong to the people, and rather than celebrate kings and queens, they honor the ordinary folk, farmers and cottagers. People who live ordinary lives but who have extraordinary things happen to them.

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Art by Theodor Kittelsen

It was two men called Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe who, during the national renaissance in the middle of the nineteenth century, decided to embark on the gigantic task of collecting these folk tales, tales that up till now had only been perserved orally, told to children by parents and grandparents through generations, into one big volume. The first volume of Norwegian folk tales, collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe, was published in 1848.
The book became so popular that Asbjørnsen and Moe ended up publishing several additional volumes of tales.

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Jørgen Moe. Image credit: skoletorget.no

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Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. Image credit: skoletorget.no

One of the most popular as well as loved illustrator of Norwegian fairy tales is the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen. He is still the most popular fairy tale illustartor today, even 100 years after his death.

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Theodor Kittelsen

Asbjørnsen and Moe’s volumes of Norwegian folk tales can be found in almost every Norwegian home, and Norwegian children still grow up with these magical tales of trolls, elves, witches and brave kind heroes who always win the prize at the end of the tale, not just because they are the hero of the tale, but because they have proved themself worthy by showing extraordinary kindness, wit, and generosity.

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An old volume of fairy tales

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A modern collection of the same folk tales. Image credit: dagbladet.no

All the images, unless informed otherwise, are sourced from wikimedia

The Scandinavian Nisse

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Art by Kjell E. Midthun

Did you know that the way Santa Clause looks like today; his boots, top hat, coat and even his long beard is inspired by the ancient legends of the Scandinavian nisse?
You see, nobody had really seen santa clause, so when they wanted to put his picture on Christmas cards and in books they had to use their imagination and try to imagine what he looked like. To spark their creativity they looked towards Scandinavian folklore for inspiration. And there, hidden among trolls and elves and various underlings, they found the little Scandinavian nisse.

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Art by Svein Solem

The Scandinavian nisse, or tomte, as he is called in Sweden, is quite different than Santa Clause. He is very tiny, and lives either in the forest or on a farm, or sometimes even in the mountains.

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Art by Svein Solem

The forest nisse lives under the roots of trees or in hollow trees. You might sometimes spot these forest nisse abodes in nature, you might see a tiny opening leading underground, or a little hidden pathway into the hollow of a tree trunk. The forest nisee gathers berries, nuts and fruits in the autumn to fill his pantry for the harsh winter. The forest nisse’s purpose is to take care of the little animals in the forest and to help them if they are hurt or if they can’t find food in winter. Sometimes the forest nisse can be mistaken for a mouse and be caught by an eagle, an owl or a fox, but when they discover that it is in fact a nisse and not a mouse they have caught they immediately let the nisse go and apologizes sincerely.

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Art by Svein Solem

The farm nisse lives on people’s farms. He helps take care of the farm animals. If the farmer is nice and gives the nisse rice porridge topped with lots of butter, sugar and cinnamon on Christmas Eve,
the nisse helps him take care of the farm. But if the farmer doesn’t believe in the nisse and consequently doesn’t give him his rice porridge, the nisse may play a prank on him, like stealing his washing from the cloth line or switch the sugar with salt, or he might even leave the farm if he gets angry enough. Every Norwegian knows that if you want to run a successful farm you’ve got to have a happy nisse helping out!

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Art by Svein Solem

There is a third kind of nisse, the mountain nisse, but very less studies have been done about this particular nisse. It is only recently the stories of this very shy nisse has come out in daylight and been told to children. Some say that the mountain nisse’s top hat is blue instead of red like the farm nisse and forest nisse. This is probably to blend in more with the mountains. The mountain nisse’s life purpose is to make sure that the air is clean and crisp, as well as to make the blue hour, the hour before sunset and sunrise, during the winter season.

K. Midthun
Art by Kjell E. Midthun

The nisse can live as long as 300 years. He marries if he falls in love, something that only happens once in a lifetime for a nisse, and it is not always the nisse girl chooses him!

Nisse Couple - Svein Solem
Art by Svein Solem

In Norway children grow up with stories of the forest nisse, the farm nisse and the mountain nisse. So instead of giving Santa Clause milk and cookies on Christmas Day, children in Norway prepare rice porridge for the nisse and leaves it for him outside the house on Christmas Eve. And of course the porridge has to be topped with lots of butter, sugar and cinnamon.

The legends of the nisse dates back to ancient pre-Christian times, even before the Vikings, and is a treasured part of Norway’s and Scandinavia’s rich cultural heritage and folklore.

To know more about the artists, please see these links:
Svein Solem: http://www.sveinsolem.com/nisser.html
Kjell E. Midthun:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Galleri-Midthun/111736875585437