10 Mythical Beings You Should Know From The Scandinavian Folklore

Below is a list of 10 mythical beings from the Scandinavian folklore that you should know. These fictional characters are part of both the Norse mythology and the Scandinavian folklore and have been described in many Ancient texts since bygone times. The first name of some mythological creatures below will be given in Old Norse, followed by the modern counterparts in several North Germanic languages (i.e. Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese).

10. The Draugr (Danish/Swedish/Norwegian: Draugen; Icelandic: Draugur; Faroese: Dreygur)

The Draugr is said to be a wild-looking undead creature that torments those who have either wronged him during their lifetime, or those who incidentally/accidentally stumbled upon a treasure that was buried beneath the surface of the earth.

These revenants recurrently appear in Icelandic folktales and are also described in several sagas, most notably in that of the people of Eyri and in the Grettis saga. They are sometimes referred to as ‘sea trolls’.

19th century Romantic depiction of a Draugr by Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

9. The Troll (Danish: Trolde; Swedish/Norwegian: Troll; Icelandic: Tröll)

Tales of trolls abound in Scandinavian folklore since ancient times. They are wicked beings and tricksters who are reputed for dwelling down in the mountainous caves or underground tunnels and are very rarely helpful to humans.

Early 20th century artistic depiction of two trolls and a princess by Swedish painter John Albert Bauer. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

8. The Huldra (Norwegian: Huldra; Swedish: Skogsrå or Tallemaj)

Huldra is a feminine mythical being who is renowned for her grace and beauty. She dwells into the mines and caves near deep forests and is said to lure men into endless labyrinths of underground tunnels. They can also lure men into forests where they will become lost, afterwards stealing their mortal souls. She is also referred to as the ‘lady of the forests’.

They are often described as gracious feminine beings with a long cow-like tail. They can lose their beautiful physical appearance if they are convinced to marry a mortal in a church. They recurrently appear in Norwegian and Swedish folktales. In the Swedish folktales they are sometimes referred to as Skogsrå (the living spirit of the forests).

Artistic depiction of a Hulder. Image source: www.wictorianart.wordpress.com

7. The Nisse (Swedish: Tomte/Nisse; Danish/Norwegian: Nisse)

The Nisse is a mythological creature that is associated with winter and the winter holidays (Christmas/Yuletide). These friendly little elfs/goblins have been generally portrayed as short white-bearded gift-bearers who wear bright-coloured conical hats (often red ones).

Drawing of a Nisse by Danish artist Thomas Lundbye (1842). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In some 18th century accounts as well as in several other folk tales, they were described as the spirits of the farms who were either helping or teasing farmers, depending on how they were treated. To some extent, they might be regarded as the Scandinavian counterparts of Santa Claus in Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish folklores, yet it’s not exactly the same thing.

6. The Kraken (Norwegian/Swedish: Krake)

The Kraken is a gigantic octopus that is said to dwell nearby the coastal parts of Norway or Greenland. The English word ‘kraken’ was borrowed from Norwegian. These giant squids are mentioned in a 13th century Icelandic manuscript entitled ‘Örvar-Oddr’ (meaning ‘Arrow’s point’ in both Old Norse and Icelandic).

In this medieval account, the protagonist is heading with his ship for Helluland (modern day Baffin Island, Canada) on the Greenland Sea where he and his crew spotted two enormous maritime creatures named Hafgufa (‘sea mist’) and Lyngbakr (‘heather-back’).

19th century artistic depiction of a kraken attacking a passenger ship by French naturalist Pierre Denys de Montfort. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

5. The Dwarves (Danish: Dværge; Swedish: Dvärgar; Icelandic: Dvergar; Norwegian: Dverger)

The Dwarves are said to dwell into Svartalfheim/Niðavellir, a mythical realm that no mortal has access to. They are famous for being skilled blacksmiths and magicians. Interestingly, they became even more famous thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary creations such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’. They are often described as quite short in stature and with long white beards. For some reasons, they are also said to have mainly avoided exposure to sunlight.

19th century depiction of two dwarves. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

4. The Valkyries (Swedish: Valkyrjorna; Danish: Valkyrier; Icelandic: Valkyrjur)

The Valkyries are 12 brave female warriors in the Norse mythology. They are the ones who decide who must go to Valhalla after the end of a battle. The warriors who have fought with courage and ambition on the battlefield are the ones ultimately selected by the Valkyries to dine and fight for eternity with the gods in Valhalla.

19th century Romantic depiction of a Valkyrie by Norwegian painter Peter Nicolai Arbo. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

3. The Elves (Swedish: Älvor; Norwegian: Alver; Danish: Alfer; Icelandic: Álfur)

The Elves are sometimes portrayed as female beings who live in forests, meadows, and mires. In most of the cases, they are harmless to humans and can even help them, but they can also cause them illnesses. Physically, they are seductive and gorgeous fairies or even full-sized women (brighter and more beautiful than the sun, according to the legends). However, they are also masters in regards to magic and illusions.

Artistic portrayal of a group of meadow elves dancing by Swedish painter Nils Blommér. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

2. The Nokken (Norwegian: Nykk/Nøkk; Swedish: Näck/Nek; Danish: Nøkk; Icelandic: Nykur)

The Nokken are the evil spirits of the lakes. They can embody both female-looking and male-looking beings and can be very dangerous for mere mortal wanderers in forests. They are broader known in the Germanic mythology as ‘Nix’.

They are said to be skilled violin players whom talent can lure humans near the fresh bodies of water in which they lay hidden until they steal their souls forever. In Icelandic folktales and in the Orkneys, the Nokken is also referred to as ‘Nykur’, ‘Nennir’, or ‘Nuggle’ (the latter only in the case of the Orkney Islands), which is a horselike being of the lakes, streams, and the ocean.

Early 20th century painting of a Nøkken by Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

1. The Grim (Norwegian: Grim/Fossegrim; Swedish: Strömkarlen)

Very much unlike the Nokken, the Grim (also known as Fossegrim) are quite peaceful water spirits who may even be helpful in their relationship with human beings if they are given a stolen piece of meat. They are tremendously talented fiddle players and are said to sit in waterfalls performing enchanting music.

Artistic depiction of a fossegrim by Swedish artist Johan Tirén. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Documentation sources and external links:

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14 Responses to 10 Mythical Beings You Should Know From The Scandinavian Folklore

  1. […] 10 Mythical Beings from the Scandinavian Folklore (the dwarves and Valkyries sound more like something from Norse mythology. The rest is ok, if brief. The Wikipedia article at the very end seems pretty decent): […]

  2. Lynda Jaye says:

    I’d love to read up on all these stories. Where do I start?!

  3. J. says:

    The Dwarves were from Svartalheim, not Midgard. Midgard was the realm of man, ie: where we live.

  4. Lisafer says:

    Far more fascinating than that rubbish we’ve had forced on us about some non existent man who walked on water and wanted us to drink his blood/ wine! Thanks for this piece.

  5. Ametyr says:

    just a small detail, that many make the mistake of, but the valkyries are actaully not the ones bringing people to Valhalla. They select those brave enough to become the soldiers of the gods, true, but once these warriros are brought to Asgård they are devided between Odin and Freya (and Freya has first pick according to some sources).
    (and these poor souls are never selected to be rewarded for their courage; they will be forced to fight to the death every day as training until Ragnarök, the end of the world. The only reason they are selected is that the gods are gathering an army for the final battle, and that is why Odin will never allow peace between the humans. No battles means no more soldiers for him, so he constantly sow conflict to get more)

    sources for this info is, amongst other, the poetic edda (the song of grimner, verse 14).
    If you don’t care for such old language the book Norse Gods by Johan Egerkrans is a great one (his first book, Vaesen, is also about these nordic creatures. Bot avaliable in english)

  6. barbra says:

    This website is really good and I have learnt lots about the Scandinavian creatures and monsters . Some of them are disgusting ,pretty and weird. I would recommend this website and page to people who is learning or wants to find information about the Scandinavian creatures !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Svein Hansson says:

    When I was a kid they were still told and at least up until the First World War some of them were still believed in, at least in parts of the countryside.

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Thank you for your comment and for your readership, Svein! Where do you come from, if I may ask? Norway or Sweden? On a personal note, I heard about your account of people believing in the existence of these folk creatures/spirits (at least locally in some areas of Scandinavia) from other Scandinavians as well.

      • Christina King says:

        I agree that people believe these things at least up until then. I am the daughter of a Swedish immigrant family and have heard many of these stories passed down to me from my great grandmother who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s. She was a young girl when she lived in Sweden and had several such tales that she says happened to her. Most notably was a story similar to those about the lake spirits. The story went that she nearly fell through the ice after following strange music she heard coming from beneath a frozen lake. She had reportedly also seen people dancing beneath her feet (through the ice) as she stood upon the frozen water mere feet from where the ice had cracked and she might have fallen through had she kept going.

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