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Norwegian Folk Narrative in America
By Ella Valborg Røvaag (Volume XII: Page 33)

Folklore is a term which is used to indicate the customs, practices, beliefs, legends, traditional songs, and folk or fairy tales which have been transmitted from generation to generation through long periods of time. In order that such traditions shall develop there must be certain outward conditions- a settled community, with a homogeneous population and culture. These beliefs and superstitions have arisen through countless centuries in an effort on the part of the people to explain natural phenomena, or to build up a series of rules for living that will help them meet the problems of daily life or help them overcome difficulties. Many customs and practices are carried on long after their meaning has been lost or the reason for doing them has been forgotten, merely because human beings are intrinsically conservative creatures, who continue to do things the way their fathers did, and because they have found no better way of satisfying their needs. Occasionally new ideas seep in from the outside, and new sets of customs are adopted or merged with the old. Likewise, in the course of time and through communication with other cultures, some customs and beliefs are lost or replaced by new.

But custom, practice, and belief are only a phase of folklore. The narrative elements -- the ballad, the fairy tale, and the legend -- represent another side of folk tradition. Of these, the fairy tale and the ballad, whose primary purpose was entertainment, have had the hardest struggle for existence. There has with the passage of time come so much new in entertainment, that the old folk tradition, whether in verse or prose, has lost its hold on people, and thus on its audience, and will likely never regain it. But legends, which are narratives that seek to explain customs and beliefs or which are interpretations of actual happenings, have deeper roots in the consciousness of the people.

Of all the types of folk literature, the legend is the most difficult to define. The material of which it is composed may vary from the most matter-of-fact to the most fantastic of tales. Perhaps the legend can best be defined by naming a few of its most outstanding characteristics. First of all, the action of the legend is claimed to have happened at a given time and place. "My grandmother told me, and she knew the woman who saw it" is often the way such a narrative ends, or "and I have seen the silver brooch which she got from the hulder, so I know it is true." Second, the legend, as contrasted with the fairy tale, is not told primarily for entertainment, though, of course, no one will deny its entertainment value. But the legends are accounts of interesting or unusual events and experiences, or, even more important, they are told to instruct or explain some of the beliefs and customs of a community. There are numerous legends, for example, which tell why people had to give warning when they threw out water after dark, or why it was necessary to be quiet in the evenings. Some legends attempt to explain certain phenomena of nature -- the color of a peculiar red stone might be explained by a story which tells how human blood was once shed on it. Other stories may be object lessons: to tell how to act when confronted by some unusual situation -- what to do when one meets ghosts or spirits, for example.

The first actual collection of legends made in Norway was published in 1888 by Andreas Faye. He was fully aware that such a collection had a greater and more scientific value than mere entertainment, and attempted to present his stories as simply and artlessly as they were told among the people. That he was not quite successful in this was less his fault than that of the spirit of the times. Others, however, were following in his footsteps. Asbjørnsen, Moe, and Landstad all wrote down the legends they heard.

Asbjørnsen was the first to retell the legends in a manner both authentic and realistic. He was able to present the individual legends against a background of Norwegian countryside and in a framework that has made them beloved generation after generation.

In the years since Asbjørnsen was gathering material, a great deal of work has been done in collecting folklore. The greater part of this mass of tradition which has been gathered is now to be found in Norsk Folkeminnesamling, housed in the university library in Oslo. It would be of no particular interest to mention here any of the main collectors or the results of their work. But it is important to note that the material already collected is probably only a very small part of what is still to be found and represents only a very few districts at all completely. This is true because the collector is of greater importance to the work of collection than a district rich in material. The ministers in Setesdal, for example, reported to Andreas Faye that in their parishes there was nothing of interest to the collector, but a keen and interested man such as Johannes Skar found a great amount of material in those same communities.

We are now most familiar with the folklore of Telemark and Setesdal, and to a lesser extent with that of the great eastern valleys of Østerdalen, Gudbrandsdal, and Valdris. Even less known are the upland districts, notably Hedmark. In several upland communities, especially Land and Vardal, a systematic plan for collecting folklore materials has been started, and the results show how rich in traditions these places were -- and still are. The Østfold districts and Romerike are little known to the folklorist, Vestfold even less. In Trøndelag very little has been collected, and it is only in the last decades that people have become aware of how rich Nordland is in folklore. And yet, even with the growing interest in the work of collecting, there are a number of districts in Norway from which no legends have been written down, and there is every reason to believe that this is true only because no one has been able to undertake this work. For it is certain that they must exist there, as elsewhere.

It is generally conceded that traditions are less likely to live in new or frontier communities, for one of the prime requisites for their development and growth is a settled, more or less homogeneous society. Consequently, new settlements have not been considered a good field for the collector of folklore. Yet, it seems that the Norwegian immigrants must have followed the same customs and practices in America that they did in the Old World; and certainly it is likely that stories and legends must also have been brought with them and told in their leisure hours. O. A. Buslett has a story of a pioneer settlement in which legend after legend is told or referred to, and, judging by the customs and beliefs that we learn of in this one short story, they were just as much alive in America as they had been in Norway. {1} Certainly the pioneers must have had experiences which would call to mind stories "from home." Another piece of evidence is the following quotation from an article appearing in Valdrislagets magazine, Samband, entitled "Christmas in the Manitowoc Woods."

At Christmas time many stories were told about all the old things "at home." People told about jolesveiner, about rokkemænd, and all sorts of beliefs--what you were supposed to do, and what it might be dangerous to do. Fairy tales were told about the underjordiske and trolls, and there were stories about different kinds of superstitions. {2}

Whether or not the tellers of these tales believed them, it is difficult to say. Of course, in a few instances, people relate that as children they saw hulder and their cattle; and some use a traditional belief as an explanation for some mysterious experience, which they could not otherwise explain. {3} A young woman in Madison, Wisconsin, says that her parents and their neighbors, who lived in a logging community of northern Wisconsin, placed steel objects or painted crosses over the doors and windows of the farm buildings to keep the spirits out. Perhaps their attitude was similar to that of an aunt of mine in Norway. She was teasing her husband for maintaining that he had seen a hulder woman. He turned to her in the course of the argument and asked her if she had not put the hymnbook and a piece of steel under the mattress of the cradle when the children were small. "Well, yes,"--she had to admit that she had. Why did she do that? Her answer: "Well, it didn't hurt any, did it?" She did not really believe in spirits or hulder, she claimed, but it never hurt to be on the safe side; so she did as her grandmother and great-grandmother had done

Since with very few exceptions in this study access has been had only to printed sources, it is difficult to say whether people believed the Norwegian legends that were told in this country or not. But the legends in this country probably took the same place in the minds of the people as the fairy tales and ballads did in Europe. They were told or sung for entertainment, and usually no one was asked to believe them.

E. N. Remme, writing in Samband about Christmas among the pioneers, seems to be of the opinion that people who came to this country did not bring their belief in the invisible people and spirits with them. He puts it this way:

These invisible creatures have not been able to settle here in America; so I do not think that they exist among us here . . . . As proof, I can say that people do not . . . paint crosses with tar or place steel objects over all the doors on the farm, or say magic formulas for everything they do at Christmas time as they did at home. Those things are not done over here. {4}

Folklorists usually divide legends into two main groups or classes -- the supernatural and the historical. It is to be understood, of course, that all the legends, both the supernatural as well as the historical, are historical insofar as they report something that has actually happened. Sometimes the so-called historical legends lie outside the bounds of what we in modern times believe to be possible. That is true because our conception of the possible is far different from that of the legend narrator. When one speaks of historical legends, then, one does not necessarily mean that they are actually true, but that their main emphasis is on something historical-- an event, a famous personage, or a definite place. Supernatural elements may, and often do, play a part.

The other large group of legends -- the supernatural -- deals with a meeting or contact of human beings with the other, invisible world and its inhabitants, which according to earlier beliefs lay very close to the real and visible world. The supernatural creatures that appear in these narratives are inhabitants of the air, the sea, or the woods and mountains; and the legends, therefore, may be classified according to the nature element in which the creatures in them appear. {5} The stories which are used herewith to illustrate the types of legends were, for the most part, brought to this country and retold here.

The creatures of the air include the sgrdsrei (known also as jolaskrei, lussiferdi, trettanrei, and, in some districts, as julesvender). These were dangerous creatures who appeared in the Christmas season. They usually followed a prescribed and traditional route, and could be heard in the late afternoon and evening, thundering over the rooftops in great crowds. They stole the farmers' horses and rode them so hard that they ruined them or killed them; if they could get into the storehouses or cellars, they drank up all the Christmas brew; and they often kidnapped humans, who were then taken with them on wild rides. Some people believed that these riders were the souls of the dead who had not been bad enough to get into hell, nor good enough to get into heaven.

O. I. Flaten tells this story of the Christmas riders: Ingrid was employed on a farm somewhere in Valdris. She always worked noisily, and talked and laughed a great deal. One Christmas Eve, she and her mistress went out to milk, and the mistress fell on the ice outside the door. Ingrid made a great deal of to-do, banging and clattering the utensils, and then she stormed into the house to tell of her mistress' misfortune. Later in the evening she began to feel ill; she claimed that invisible hands were trying to push her outdoors. The people of the house realized that julesvendene were after her, but they could not explain why. The household tried all sorts of cures--burning and making the sign of the cross. The man who told the story to Flaten was, at the time of the incident, a young boy working on the same farm. He was sent up to the next place to get the girl's sweetheart to help hold her. Toward morning she was somewhat better. But she had "spells" for a long time afterward. She claimed that a man, who was visible to her only, was after her, and when he came to her she could not move until someone in the household spoke to her. This went on for some time, but finally a wise old woman told Ingrid that the julesvender were angry with her because she had been so noisy, and advised her how to break their spell. Finally Ingrid recovered completely. {6}

Another creature that appeared in the air was the dragon, the guardian of great hidden treasures in the mountains. The dragon has no longer any large place in Norwegian folklore, but was the central figure in many of the older stories. The last time one is supposed to have appeared in Norway was just before the war in 1814, when it was seen under Gamle Akers Kirke in Oslo. Thus far no stories of the dragon have been found in American sources.

The second group of legends deals with the creatures of the sea or inland waters. The sea serpent is the frequent subject of stories. In the most common type of story a group of fishermen land on what seems to them an island, but they discover, after they have lighted their fires, that they are sitting on the back of a huge creature of the sea, which disappears from beneath them with a great surging of water. The serpent is usually believed to come down from the mountains and grow to great size in a lake or river, before moving on to the sea. The most famous legend is one about the serpent seen in Mjøsa about {1522. But there is one from more recent times, told by I. A. Bakkene, in the magazine Hallingen.} {7} According to the story, a woman was watching her cattle on a seter in Hallingdal. Suddenly the cattle became restless and started running away.

Then she was aware of a large beast, like a serpent, coming down the river. It had eyes as large as plates, which glowed like coals, and it was so big that it could not follow the bends of the river but traveled cross-country, sometimes in the water, and sometimes on land, barking the trees and crushing the bushes in its way. It finally disappeared into Strandevand, where it caused disturbances for some time. Sometimes it could be seen sunning itself on a sandy bank on the bottom of the lake. One summer when some of the men of the district were trying to hunt and kill the beast, it threw itself into deep water and crossed to Langneset, where it raised itself up -- to twice the height of a tall man -- and then disappeared forever from the lake. It was said to have been seen later in the season down the river at Øine in Hol. Whether this is the same serpent later killed by Aavestrud is not known, adds the storyteller, but most old people think that the one from Strandefjord went out to sea and disappeared.

Unfortunately, the collection of stories connected with the sea and life in or on the sea was begun comparatively late, but tradition tells us of several ocean creatures that have more or less resemblance to human beings. The mermaid is perhaps a younger element in Norwegian folklore, but there are stories in Old Norse literature of feminine sea trolls, half fish and half human in appearance. A masculine sea creature is the marmæl, which is supposed to have the appearance of a human about the size of a one-year-old child. He is said to give warnings of storms to fishermen who have done him a good turn.

The draug, found mostly in northern Norway, is the most terrifying of all the sea creatures. His appearance is usually an omen of drowning or trouble at sea. He is described as being a headless fisherman, dressed in oilskins and riding through the storm in half a boat. He often hangs around the boathouses, and has the ability to disguise himself -- usually as a large seaweed-covered rock. But, though the draug usually presages death, there is an amusing account in Nord-Norge of a Nordlending who managed to outwit him. It was Christmas Eve, and Ola went down to his boathouse to get the keg of brandy he had bought for the holidays. When he got in, he noticed a draug sitting on the keg, staring out to sea. Ola, with great presence of mind and great bravery (it might not be amiss to state that he already had done some drinking), tiptoed up behind the draug and struck him sharply in the small of the back, so that he went flying out through the window, with sparks hissing around him as he hit the water. Ola knew he had no time to lose, so he set off at a great rate, running through the churchyard which lay between his home and the boathouse. As he ran, he cried, "Up, all you Christian souls, and help me!" Then he heard the sound of fighting between the ghosts and the draug, who were battling each other with coffin boards and bunches of seaweed. The next morning, when people came to church, the whole yard was strewn with coffin covers, boat boards, and seaweed. After the fight, which the ghosts won, the draug never came back to that district. {8}

Nøkken and fossegrimen live in the rivers and lakes. The nøkk attempts to entice humans into the water, and, like the draug, his appearance may be a warning of death by drowning. Fossegrimen is the spirit of the waterfalls, and is particularly well known for his musical ability. For a proper remuneration he will teach a human the art of playing on the violin. If he is not satisfied with the gift, he will teach only how to tune, and not how to play, the instrument.

The legends in Norwegian folklore which deal with the haugfolk (hill folk) or underjordiske (those who live underground) constitute the largest group. These creatures are said to inhabit a hidden world, but they most often appear to men and women in the woods or on the mountains. Occasionally they also visit in the homes of their human neighbors, or people have glimpses into their hidden world; and it is the records of these contacts that make up the great body of legends and lore of the hulderfolk, or the hidden people. They are known by a great variety of names, which are used more or less interchangeably. Thus we have hulderfolk, hulder (and all the variations of this name, such as ulera, ulerygga, and hollra), haugfolk, bergfolk, underjordiske (and the contractions diska or disken which are used in some northern districts), tuftefolk, tusser, torefolk or simply tore, vette or vettefolk, hittfolket, and dei hypiske or simply dei. As so many of these names indicate, these creatures are thought of as a race of people, living in the woods, or in the mountains, or underground. Since they are believed to be so much like humans, people in the inland districts believe the hulderfolk are farmers with houses and barns and with large herds which have to be sent to the mountain pastures to graze. Near the coast the hidden people are seamen and fishermen. There, too, like their human neighbors, they also have their houses and barns, but fishing is their main occupation, and, in the olden days, they made yearly trips to Bergen to sell fish and to buy provisions.

How the belief in these spirits has grown up is a question that cannot be discussed at length in a paper of this kind. Norwegian scholars seem to favor the theory that the belief in hulder and haugfolk is in some way connected with the primitive ideas of the soul and of life after death. Some scholars think of them as a development of the belief in nature spirits. There may be arguments for both theories. But the people themselves have found ways of explaining the origin of these hulderfolk. Some believe that the hulder are the angels who were expelled from heaven. Others think that these creatures are the children of Lillith, Adam's other wife. And still others explain their origin in this way: The Lord, while out walking one day, visited Eve. Some of her children were all cleaned up, but the rest were dirty, and these she hid. She showed off those who were neat and clean, and, when the Lord asked if these were all the children she had, she said, "Yes." Well," answered the Lord, "let that which is hidden remain hidden." And so those children and their descendants were forever hidden from the world of man.

It is difficult to tell exactly what these people are supposed to look like, for their characteristics vary from district to district and from storyteller to storyteller. In some stories they are described as small, good-looking, and dressed in blue or gray. In other instances, they are deformed, with long noses and long teeth. {9} One story describes an old hulder couple as having round, pale faces, with large mouths and flat noses, {10} But the hulder woman seen at the seter with her flocks is often described as large, well proportioned, beautiful, and with long, flowing hair. The most distinguishing feature of the huldra (that is, the feminine of the species) is her tail, which is also the bane of her existence since it always reveals her identity. Before she began to use clothes, says one storyteller, her tail was used for chasing flies, but since then it is merely a bother to her. {11} Ordinarily the tail hangs down and sweeps the ground, but, when she is with humans, she carries it rolled up under her skirt and is very much worried for fear people will see it. In some districts, the huldra was described as having a hollow back, which resembled a wooden trough or a rotten tree.

By and large, the hulderfolk are thought of as ageless, though there are stories about death and funerals in their world. People who visit them often find everything topsy-turvy -- humans, it is said, have to have their eyes twisted or their pupils slit in order to see things in the hulder world as the inhabitants themselves see them. The hulder people are supposed to be visible or invisible to humans at will; they have the ability to disguise themselves; they throw no shadows and leave no footprints; and they are eager to move into the human world and live like humans. It seems that the only way in which they can achieve that is by marriage with a human, or by taking someone into their world. (This to some extent explains why small children are kidnapped and changelings left in their places.) They are very thankful when human beings show them consideration and respect, and they are very revengeful when they think that their rights have been slighted.

Next to the belief in ghosts, the belief in hulder and the hidden world has remained strongest among the people. Professor Liestøl suggests that we have to go no farther back than a generation to find people who can tell about personal experiences with the hulder. It is not necessary, however, to go that far afield to find someone claiming to have seen underjordiske. My uncle says he has seen a hulder woman, and one of my cousins also claims to have seen one. I am told that my great-grandfather had second sight and knew how to find people who had been taken into the mountains. But one does not have to go to Norway to find people who have proof that hulder still exist. It is said that the hulder moved to Wisconsin along with the first settlers from Valdris. At least there is this amusing story about the hulder in America. A family which had emigrated from Norway to Wisconsin built a home in the woods far from their nearest neighbor. One evening as they were sitting around the fire, they heard steps on the floor, and a man's voice asked if he might borrow a spinning wheel. They saw no one, but they set the wheel out and saw it lifted up and carried away into the woods. Several days later the door opened again, and the wheel was carried in and set carefully on the floor, though no person was in sight. The same man's voice thanked them for the use of the spinning wheel, and added, "Mø kom'kji te ta røk mæ us, d mø reistø" (We didn't take the spinning wheel with us when we left!) {13}

A Norwegian American, Halvor Langslet, writing in Hallingen, reports an interesting experience which he maintains is hard to explain if one does not believe in hulder. He tells a story, which he heard when he was a boy, about haugfolk who were reported to live near the seter Myking, in Hallingdal. Three small but steep hills or mounds around a little pool were supposed to be inhabited by a hillman named "Hurragutten "---so the hills were sometimes called "Hurrahaugene." One summer when a girl was herding goats on these hills, Hurragutten came over to her, took one of her billy goats away from her, and carried it into the hill with him. Ever since, it is said, one can hear the sound of the goat bleating inside the hill. Langslet says that he herded goats there himself in 1895, but that he heard nothing then. In 1921, when he was back on a visit to the place, he went up in the hills again, and then he clearly heard the goat, though there were no goats in sight. The sound came from inside the hill! And he adds that though he was thoroughly Americanized, he was certainly tempted to believe in the hulder. {14}

Since the hulder world supposedly lies so close to the human world, it is only natural that people must respect the wishes of their neighbors if everything is to go well. There are many legends of how people had bad luck when they were not on friendly terms with the hulder or failed to show respect for their rights. It was believed that the hulder moved to thc seter in the autumn, as soon as the people took their herds home to the farm. Therefore, it was unwise for people to delay moving home. O. I. Flaten tells this story from his native valley of Skakadalen: Gamlesynnev had stayed at the seter beyond the normal time one autumn, because much rain had delayed the haying on the home meadows. She heard a great deal of noise and disturbance around the seter, at night, especially, and the cattle were beginning to get very restless and unmanageable. But Gamlesynnev knew what to do; she went out at dawn one day, and said in a loud, clear voice: "Er der nogen her s nær at de kan høre meg, s vilde jeg gjerne f tale et par ord med dem." (If there is anyone about, I would like to have a word with you.) Suddenly her vision cleared, and near by she saw a large, well-built woman, who sat on a chair and held a distaff in her hand. Gamlesynnev explained why the moving had been delayed, sought forgiveness, and begged to be permitted to stay a few days longer. The hulder nodded three times, waved her hand, and then disappeared. There was no disturbance on the seter after that. {15}

To be on the safe side, there were certain ceremonies that were performed when the people moved back to the seter in the spring. Ingrid, a seter girl in Valdris, told that, when she was small, she often went to the seter with her grandmother. When they came to the house, the old woman would carefully and quietly open the door, put her head in, and say: "No lyt eg bea um stane her ei tid lang, sia skal de f vera her leine." (I beg to be allowed to stay here a while. You may have the place to yourselves again, later.) {16}

This same grandmother always insisted that the children and the others at the seter should be quiet, and not shout or laugh aloud, especially toward evening and after dark. "The haugfolk want it quiet," she would say. At some seters, the dairymaids even went so far as to muffle the bells on the cattle in the evening.

People at the seter, too, had to take precaution when they threw out water, particularly hot water. They had to give some word of warning, so that the hulder could get out of the way or move their children out of the way. There is the story of Andrews who thought that it was silly to take all these precautions, so he threw out water without giving warning. When he went out later in the evening he was knocked down, and soon thereafter he got such a bad infection in his leg that he finally had to use a peg leg. The hulder were angry because the hot water that he had thrown out had scalded the head of one of their children, and they avenged the injury. {17}

But if the humans had to be considerate of their invisible neighbors, the hulder were also considerate and helpful in turn. There are countless stories of how they aided herders in finding lost cattle, or helped dairymaids with their work in the evenings. There is a story about Ingrid, who claimed that she had often seen and talked to the haugfolk. One day she was herding in the mountain, and, because it was warm, she sat down on a stone to rest and soon fell sound asleep. In her sleep she could hear her name being called, but she did not seem to be able to open her eyes. The call was repeated a second and a third time, but she did not respond. Then she was awakened by a box on the ear, and, looking up, she saw a handsome man dressed in a blue suit with many silver buttons. At first she was angry with him for striking her, but, as he walked away without saying a word, she realized that her cattle had wandered away and that he had awakened her so that she would find them. {18}

Another story relates that a young man was staying at the seter after the others had left in order to finish cooking the prim. {19} He, too, fell asleep and was awakened when a woman called to him that his kettle was boiling over. Anders thought at first that it was a woman from the neighboring seter, but, when he looked again, he saw that she was a stranger, with a beautiful herd of brindled cattle. She was dressed in a black skirt, a red damask bodice, and a snowy-white blouse, and she was singing a lovely song to call her cattle. Anders learned the melody of the song and afterward played it on his mouth organ.

Thor Raggebust was a good hunter and fisherman, to whom the haugfolk brought good luck, because he was on good terms with them. They allowed him to stay at the seter nearly all winter. At first they wanted to be alone during Christmas, and warned him when there were only two or three days left. But later they allowed him to stay up on the mountains even during the holidays. One Christmas morning he decided that he would like to go to church. He went outside the door and asked in a loud voice if anyone had a horse and sleigh to lend him. "Yes," was the answer. So he went inside and got ready. When he came out again, he found a fine black horse and a beautiful sleigh standing before the door. He returned to the seter the same evening, and, as he got out of the sleigh, he called out his thanks. When he looked out the window a few moments later, both horse and sleigh had disappeared. The hulder also helped Thor in time of danger. He was fishing on the ice one day when he heard a cry which was repeated several times. A voice was saying, "Thor! Kjip sko, lab i leisto!" (Throw your shoes, run in your stocking feet.) But he paid no attention. Suddenly he looked up to see a flock of wolves coming over the ice toward him. He started to run, and then he remembered the advice he had received. He stopped to pull off his shoes and then ran on, sure-footed, in his stocking feet. He managed to keep ahead of the wolves, though one of them grabbed his shirttail as he dashed through the door of his cabin. {20} cattle. Anders learned the melody of the song and afterward played it on his mouth organ.

It is said that islands, farms, and small objects from the world of the hulder have, on occasion, been permanently brought into the human world, most often because of a spell east on them by steel or metal objects. There are a number of legends from the coastal districts which tell how cattle with iron nose rings have put such a spell on islands, so that the hulder could never regain them. The island of Sklinna, off the coast of Namdalen, is said to be the old legendary hulder land of Sandflesen. {21} Other legends reveal how hulder buildings were brought permanently into this world, because a man set his ax into what appeared to him an old log, but which was in reality the doorstep of a hulder building. One of the oldest and most popular motifs in this legend group is that of the Hahaug or Vallarhaug horn. The oldest version of this particular story was noted in 1595 in the travel diary of Bishop Jens Nielsen of Telemark. But my example is a story told in America about a haugman in Gol, Hallingdal. There was a hill behind the Viko grd which was called Hahaug. Late one night, as a man rode past the hill, a haugman came out and offered him a drink from the horn. The man took the horn, but emptied the contents behind him. A few drops fell on the horse and singed off its hair. The haugman was angry, and prophesied that for this impoliteness all sorts of bad luck would follow the man, and that for seven generations the members of his family would bear deformities of body or mind. And so it was. The man, however, rode away as fast as he could, taking the horn with him. The angry haugman pursued him, but fortunately he had to give up at sunrise, and the man was saved. The storyteller saw the horn that the man had carried off with him. It was large and ornately decorated with silver. Although it was quite an ornamental piece, he added, there was a peculiar and unpleasant odor about it, which persisted in spite of thorough scrubbings. {22}

Another frequently repeated theme is found in the stories of boys who manage to carry off gold and silver objects from hulder weddings. The following story from Nordland is typical of this kind. Two young men, Ole and Per, were in love with the same girl. They had been good friends, but, though the girl really liked Ole best, she was holding him off because Per was a better match. Consequently, there developed a strained relationship between the two boys. In spite of this, they went off together on a summer fishing trip to Froholmen. As they were getting ready to leave the barren island in the fall, Per asked Ole to go back to the cabin to look for his gun. As soon as Ole was out of sight behind the rocks, Per sailed off, leaving his companion behind without food or clothing, and with nothing in the line of equipment but the gun. Toward evening, Ole noticed a boat coming and hurried down to the shore, but, when he heard women's voices, he ran to hide in the cabin. The people were a company of hulder, he soon realized, who brought much treasure and food to the hut, and prepared a feast to celebrate a wedding. The bride was very beautiful, and this little jingle was used in the description of her: "Og nr hun gik s dart det, og nr der dart s draup det, og nr der draup so singla der, og nr der singla st ringla der, akkurat som nr du slæpp en søvtolvskilling i et messingkrusfat." (When she walked they [her silver ornaments] trembled, and when they trembled they twinkled, and when they twinkled they tinkled, and when they tinkled they jingled just as when one drops a silver sixpence into a brass dish.) The hulder soon noticed the smell of a Christian, but one of them set the minds of the rest at ease by remarking that, of course, the fishermen had left that very day, and in time the cabin was so full of hulder that they no longer were disturbed by the smell. All of a sudden, Ole, who had been hiding in the loft, shot off the gun, and the hulderfolk dashed away, leaving Ole plenty of food and drink and a great deal of treasure. During the night he dreamed that the bride came to him and begged him to return the keys she had lost in her flight. She asked him not to touch them, but to lift them off the floor with a stick and put them outside the door. Ole was about to comply when he remembered that she might be able to help him. He said that he would do as she wished provided she would furnish him with a boat so that he could leave the island. The next morning, after he had done his part, he went down to the shore and found a splendid boat. He took the food, clothes, and those pieces of silver and gold which he had already handled and sailed home. When he arrived there, he learned that Per had fallen overboard on his way home and drowned. So Ole married the girl, and they lived happily on the hulder riches. {23}

The hulder brides furnish another popular theme for stories. Just as with objects, the people of the hulder world are said to become bound to this world when a human throws a piece of steel over them, or shoots over them. Asbjørnsen tells of a soldier who tried to keep a beautiful hulder girl by shooting over her head. Unfortunately, as soon as he shot, she began to change in appearance, becoming as ugly as she had before been beautiful. But an old man washed her in a magic brew, and she became somewhat less ugly, while her nose, which had assumed the proportions of a pistol holster, diminished a little in size. Though the soldier was not happy over the prospect of marrying her now that she was no longer beautiful, he was forced to do so, and they lived fairly happily together--particularly after she showed him how supernaturally strong she was.

There was one large, well-to-do family in Reinli in Valdris that was supposed to be descended from a hulder woman who had been permanently bound to the upper world. She, too, had great strength, a characteristic of hulder women who went into the upper world. It is said that she straightened out a horseshoe with her bare hands. {24}

The stories of visits by humans to the hulder world, whether voluntary or involuntary, make up another large group of hulder legends. A fisherman in Nordland tells of what happened to him when he once attempted to explore an underground passage. As he entered the cave, he relates, he heard music. Proceeding through a narrow passage, he saw a light ahead, and stealthily entered a large, brilliantly lighted room where a hulder wedding was in progress. The hulder were dancing, eating, and drinking. One of them came toward him with a silver goblet of wine, but, when he took out his knife and tried to capture the beaker, it suddenly got dark, and it was only with great difficulty that he found his way out. {25}

Another common variation of this theme is contained in stories of boys who are taken by the underjordiske and shown the great farms and treasures which will be theirs if they will take the beautiful hulder daughters as brides. In one such story a boy sat down at a table laden with food and began to say grace. Then there was a great fuss, and he was taken by the scruff of the neck and thrown out of the door. An old woman sitting by the door threw a red-hot iron after him, but he had sense enough to duck out of the way. {26}

A visit to hulderheimen resulted in a double wedding in this story from Ringerike. We are told that two young men were in love with the same girl, Sylva, but that she played with their affections, flirting outrageously and encouraging both of them. An old woman prophesied that neither would marry the girl. Shortly after she had spoken, the ground opened, and the young men were both taken into a hulder home. They came into a beautifully furnished room, in which an old, white-haired man lay on a bed. Two girls appeared to wait on him. The old man offered the two girls to the boys as brides -- they were the last of a great hulder family. When the boys saw them, they completely forgot Sylva. Within two weeks the young men married their hulder brides, who brought much good fortune and property into the two families. {27}

In some stories the humans are on such good terms with their hulder neighbors that they visit back and forth. There is a story of a little girl who was invited to attend a hulder wedding. She went to her mother one day saying that, when she crossed the brook, she came to a large farm, and that a little girl there had invited her to a wedding. She asked her mother to prepare the usual gift of food for her. But the mother did not believe her story, and so, instead of giving her the spekelr that the little girl asked for, she wrapped up a piece of wood, and the child set off. When Kari's new friend opened the package and saw the wooden slab, she was very much disturbed and said, "We thought it would be fun for you to come to us for a day, and we meant no harm. But since your mother has insulted us in this way, you will have bad luck." Little Kari suddenly found herself alone by the brook, and never again was given an opportunity to see the hulder farm. From that day she and her mother had bad luck -- they had to give up their farm, Kari made a very unhappy marriage, and things kept going from bad to worse for them both. {28}

Sometimes humans are asked to come into the mountain to help the hulder. Particularly popular is the motif of the woman who goes into the hulder world to act as midwife. All who are familiar with Asbjørnsen's Huldreeventyr will recall the story of Ekebergkongen, who appeared to a woman who lived near Ekeberg, and reminded her of her promise to help his wife. The same theme with slight variations is found in many parts of Norway, and was retold in this country.

People believed that the hulderfolk had large, well-kept farms with great herds of brindled or all-white cattle, as well as much treasure. The hulder who lived on the coast were supposed to have very fine boats with beautiful sails; while the mountain hulder owned fishing waters with double bottoms, where the fish were abundant. On occasion humans got fleeting glimpses of these and were sometimes permitted to use them.

A man who came from Ringerike to America tells that, when he was about ten years old, he was out walking in the woods with his grandmother. Suddenly they came to an opening in the woods that they had never seen before, and in the clearing stood a group of beautiful, red farm buildings. They were both surprised, but the grandmother began to pray, and, as soon as she mentioned the name of Jesus, the clearing and the buildings disappeared, and they were left standing alone in the thick woods. They never again got a glimpse of the riches of the hulder. {29} Another story relates that once, when a Nordland boy was on his way to visit the neighbors, it suddenly darkened all about him. When it got light again, he saw a strange farm where there were large, beautiful buildings. Down by the shore were three fine boats. {30} Another purported visitor to a hulder farm tells how he was taken around from room to room, and from house to barn and storehouse, to see what wealth and riches there were. A Nordlending in America tells of seeing a hulder bridal procession when he was a boy, and he recounts how the golden crown of the bride gleamed in the sunlight before the procession disappeared into the side of the cliff. {31}

One young man, it is reported, happened to be on an island alone one day when he heard talking; so he crept up behind a rock to listen. Though he saw no one, he heard two voices discussing where they should fish the next day. Picking up his courage, he asked if he could fish with them. He was given permission, and the next morning he appeared at the appointed time and place. The hulder, this time in the guise of three gulls, led him to a fishing bank. He and his companion filled their boat in a short time, and after that they always had good fishing. {32}

At times the hulder people wish to exchange cattle with their human neighbors, and anyone who has made such a trade has never been known to regret it. A man tells about an exchange that his grandmother made. She was sleeping late one morning when she heard someone calling her. She did not answer at once, but, when the windowpane fell on the floor, she became wide awake and then she heard: "Don't you hear, you lazy sleeper, I want to exchange animals with you. Six goats for one cow." The grandmother indicated her willingness, and soon she heard the same voice calling the goats, naming them one by one in this little rhyme:

Bokkø, bokkø, melle, langt uppaa fjælle;
Tønge og Tila, Draaninge Mila;
Rose o Løkka, Danømark o Søkka;
Stakkar, kom du Spanjor, du Frigjit mi!

When the grandmother came outside, she saw six large, white goats waiting to be milked, and one of her best cows was gone. She had very good luck with the goats and soon had the finest herd in the valley. {33}

When the hulder were after human beings there was no end to their persistence, and very stringent measures had to be taken against them. Sometimes, however, it seems that it would have been just as well not to stand in the way of the courtship and marriage between a human girl and a hulder, for, when he did not get her, he often cast a spell on her so that she became sick and died. The dairymaid was often left alone at the seter during the summer except on Saturdays and Sundays, when someone came up from the farm to bring provisions and to carry home the butter and cheese. One of O. I. Flaten's stories is about such a seter girl. A blue-clad stranger came to visit her when she was alone, and she assumed that he came from a near-by seter. Finally after a number of visits, he asked her to marry him. She inquired why he did not come to see her oftener. He answered that he tried to but that she had "the habit of praying and crossing yourself in the evenings, and it is only when you forget that I can come." Of course, at this she was frightened and cried out, "Gud fri og bevare mig i Jesus Navn -- hvem er du?" (God bless me, who are you?) At this he began to moan. ", joje meg, joje meg. Now you will never see me again," and he disappeared at once. After that the girl faded and seemed queer, and finally she became very ill. In the spring she died after giving birth to a handsome boy child. When the child grew up, he became the notorious thief, Huldrebakken. {34}

In many of the stories, the hulder suitor is discouraged in his attentions by a magic formula which he is tricked into telling. An old woman who knew more than others of magic advised a girl to ask her unwanted suitor to tell her how to cure a cow that was being bothered by the hulder. He told her to gather certain grasses and tie them on the animal. The girl gathered the grasses and tied them under her clothes. After that she saw no more of the hulder, but very soon thereafter she became sick and died. Of course, it was assumed that the reason she got sick was that the hulder, in his anger and disappointment, had put a spell on her. Another old woman advised that a sliver from the church wall be carried in one's clothing to divert the unwanted attentions of the hulder. But one of the most interesting and exciting of the stories of the rescue of a girl from such an undesirable marriage has the following plot: A girl is left alone at the seter in the evening. When her sweetheart comes to visit her, he finds her dressed as a bride and about to be carried off by the hulder. The boy saves her at the last moment by shooting off his gun over her head. In some versions of the story there are additional details -- about the bridal crown which is kept in the family ever after, or about the wild ride away from the band of hulder who try to recapture the lost bride.

But it is not only the hulder fellow who is persistent. It is almost impossible to discourage the huldra, once she has set out to try to entice some lonely man. When a man is at the seter alone, or in some hut in the mountains, or tending the charcoal kiln, a huldra will come sneaking in, try to beguile him, or attempt to get into bed with him. Sometimes he has to take extreme measures to defend himself. There was once a boy who could not discourage the attentions of a huldra. Every time he built up the fire on the hearth, she would disappear, but, as soon as the fire had gone down, she would return. Finally he threatened her with his gun, but to no avail. He did not get rid of her until he actually shot at her. The bullet did her no harm, but she did not bother him after that.

Often a huldra comes to a man in disguise. We are told of one man who was alone in the woods. One day his wife appeared, bringing a supply of clean clothes and fresh provisions. It was not until evening, when he was watching her make up the bed in the little hut, that he noticed her long tail. Then he realized that it was not his wife at all, but a huldra. {35}

The stories here recorded do not represent all the kinds of folklore material which may be found among the Norwegians in this country. There are many other sides to folklore that have not been included in this discussion, and which are important in a study of folklore among the Norwegian-American group as a whole: customs which were carefully followed at certain seasons of the year, or in connection with certain events; interesting cures and medical practices; ghost stories; and stories of interesting people, such as musicians and how they learned their art, or famous strong men and their feats.


<1> O. A. Buslett, "Store Per og vesle Sara," in Vor rid, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 16-34 (January, 1907).

<2> Samband, no. 93, p. 146 (January, 1916).

<3> Nord-Norge, no. $6, p. 15 (June, 1930).

<4> " Jul blandt nybyggerne," in Samband, no. 80, p. 73 (December, 1914).

<5> This classification is one which Professor Knut Liestøl suggested in a series of lectures on folklore at the Royal Fredrik University at Oslo.

<6> "Julesvendene i Nordre-Bøe," in Valdrls belting, no. 18, p. 54-59 (March, 1908).

<7> I. A. Bakkene, "Sjøormen i Strandevand," in Hallingen, no. 36, p. 1054 (September, 1921).

<8> "Da draugen la sig iveien for julebræendevinet," in Nord-Norge, no. 74, p. 36
(December, 1934). See also no. 46, p. 25 (Christmas number, 1927), for a dialect version of this same story.

<9> R. Th. Christiansen and Knut Liestøl, "Norske folkesegner," in Nordisk kultur, 9:169 (Stockholm, 1931).

<10> R. Th. Christiansen, Norske sagn, 231 (Oslo, 1938).

<11> Gunnar Granberg, Skogsret i yngre nordisk folktradition, 62 (Gustav Adolfs Akademien før Folklivsforskning, Skrifter, no. 3- Uppsala, 1935).

In the neighborhood of Trysil, the people claim to have another dependable way of discovering the identity of the hidden people. There the hulder are called tore. The distinguishing characteristic of the torefolk is the great toe, which protrudes from the side of the foot. {12} No matter how skillfully the torefolk are otherwise disguised, they are never able to hide the great toe.

<12> S. Nergaard, "Hulder og trollskap," in Folkeminne fraa Østerdalen IV (Norsk)folkeminnelag, 11: 112 -- Oslo, 1925).

<13> " Er der et underjordisk ' Valdris samband ' ?" in Valdris helsing, no. 2, p. 61 (March, 1904).

<14> Halvor Langslet, "Overtroiske mennesker," in Hallingen, no. 99, p. 24

<15> "Huldrehistorier fra Skakedals sæter i Vang," in Valdris helsing, no. 28, p. 162-167 (June, 1910).

<16> Hallvard Bergh, "Haugefolk i Valdris," in Samband, no. 78, p. 702.

<17> Flaten, in Valdris helsing, no. 28, p. 165.

<18> Bergh, in Samband, no. 78, p. 702.

<19> Flaten, in Valdris helsing, no. 28, p. 162-167.

<20> O. L. Kirkeberg, "Thor Raggebust," in Valdris helsing, no. 4, p. 116-118 (August, 1904).

<21> L. Skei, "Fra Sklinna i Namdalen," in Nord-Norge, no. 55, p. 22 (March, 1930).

<22> L. T. Bjella, "Bygdelagsfærden 1926,'' in Hallingen, no. 59, p. 60 (June, 1927).

<23> J-- n, "Pa Froholmen," in Nord-Norge, no. 83, p. 28-30 (summer, 1924).

<24> Ole Jørgens, "Barndoms- og ungdomserindringer fra Reinli," in Valdris helsing, no. 29, p. 204 (August, 1910).

<25> Anders Larsen, "Jagt- og fiskehistorier," in Nord-Norge, no. 59, p. 10 (March, 193l).

<26> Guri Gulstein Trøo Jeglum, "Erindringer," in Hallingen, no. 82, p. 6 (March, 1933).

<27> O. S. Johnson, Udvandringshistorie Ira Ringerikesbygderne, 4:301 (n.p., 1930).

<28> Mrs. N. E. Wold, "En sandfærdig huldrehistorie," in Samband, no. 75, p. 462 (June, 1914).

<29> Johnson, Udvandringshistorie, 4: 256.

<30> O. Nicolaissen, Sagn og eventyr fra Nordland, anden samling, 45-47 (Christiania, 1887).

<31> Anders Larsen, "Gamle sagn fra Helgeland," in Nord-Norge, no. 54, p. 12 (December, 1929).

<32> Johan Daniel, "Glassvee," in Nord-Norge, no. 47 and 48, p. 21-23 (summer, 1928.)

<33> E. N. Remme, "Nogle minder af der norske sæterliv," in Samband, no. 67, p. 33 (November, 1913).

<34> "Hulebaksagnet," in Valdris helsing, no. 14, p. 58-65 (March, 1907).

<35> J. Jerstad, "Gamalt fraa Fjotland," in Norsk folkekultur, 11:14 (1925).

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