Nov 172016

As @SelineSigil9 posted a little on Jack Frost earlier today on #FolkloreThursday, I thought I’d add a little about Jack’s mythological & legendary ancestors and relatives, one of which is the Slavic folkloric/mythological figure Ded Moroz (more on him in another post).

1526d64904fb8a7fdca1afda4e625168From Russia comes the tale translated as “King Frost” by Andrew Lang (full text below). Other English titles for the story include “Father Frost”, “Old Man Frost” and “Grandfather Frost”, all of which are effectively names for Ded Moroz. This story is usually called Morozko (Russian: Морозко, Morozko) in it’s original language and was collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki (1855-63). Andrew Lang included it, as “The Story of King Frost”, in The Yellow Fairy Book (1894).

In its current form the story contains the folktale motif (Arne-Thompson type 480) known as “The Kind and the Unkind Girls”.


King Frost

There was once upon a time a peasant-woman who had a daughter and a step-daughter. The daughter had her own way in everything, and whatever she did was right in her mother’s eyes; but the poor step-daughter had a hard time. Let her do what she would, she was always blamed, and got small thanks for all the trouble she took; nothing was right, everything wrong; and yet, if the truth were known, the girl was worth her weight in gold—she was so unselfish and good-hearted. But her step-mother did not like her, and the poor girl’s days were spent in weeping; for it was impossible to live peacefully with the woman. The wicked shrew was determined to get rid of the girl by fair means or foul, and kept saying to her father: ‘Send her away, old man; send her away—anywhere so that my eyes sha’n’t be plagued any longer by the sight of her, or my ears tormented by the sound of her voice. Send her out into the fields, and let the cutting frost do for her.’


In vain did the poor old father weep and implore her pity; she was firm, and he dared not gainsay her. So he placed his daughter in a sledge, not even daring to give her a horse-cloth to keep herself warm with, and drove her out on to the bare, open fields, where he kissed her and left her, driving home as fast as he could, that he might not witness her miserable death.

Deserted by her father, the poor girl sat down under a fir-tree at the edge of the forest and began to weep silently. Suddenly she heard a faint sound: it was King Frost springing from tree to tree, and cracking his fingers as he went. At length he reached the fir-tree beneath which she was sitting, and with a crisp crackling sound he alighted beside her, and looked at her lovely face.

1932-_%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%b8%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bd-_%d0%bc%d0%be%d1%80%d0%be%d0%b7%d0%ba%d0%be‘Well, maiden,’ he snapped out, ‘do you know who I am? I am King Frost, king of the red-noses.’

‘All hail to you, great King!’ answered the girl, in a gentle, trembling voice. ‘Have you come to take me?’

‘Are you warm, maiden?’ he replied.

‘Quite warm, King Frost,’ she answered, though she shivered as she spoke.

Then King Frost stooped down, and bent over the girl, and the crackling sound grew louder, and the air seemed to be full of knives and darts; and again he asked:

‘Maiden, are you warm? Are you warm, you beautiful girl?’

And though her breath was almost frozen on her lips, she whispered gently, ‘Quite warm, King Frost.’


Then King Frost gnashed his teeth, and cracked his fingers, and his eyes sparkled, and the crackling, crisp sound was louder than ever, and for the last time he asked her:

‘Maiden, are you still warm? Are you still warm, little love?’

And the poor girl was so stiff and numb that she could just gasp, ‘Still warm, O King!’

Now her gentle, courteous words and her uncomplaining ways touched King Frost, and he had pity on her, and he wrapped her up in furs, and covered her with blankets, and he fetched a great box, in which were beautiful jewels and a rich robe embroidered in gold and silver. And she put it on, and looked more lovely than ever, and King Frost stepped with her into his sledge, with six white horses.

In the meantime the wicked step-mother was waiting at home for news of the girl’s death, and preparing pancakes for the funeral feast. And she said to her husband: ‘Old man, you had better go out into the fields and find your daughter’s body and bury her.’ Just as the old man was leaving the house the little dog under the table began to bark, saying:

‘YOUR daughter shall live to be your delight;
HER daughter shall die this very night.’
‘Hold your tongue, you foolish beast!’ scolded the woman. ‘There’s a pancake for you, but you must say:

“HER daughter shall have much silver and gold;
HIS daughter is frozen quite stiff and cold.” ‘
But the doggie ate up the pancake and barked, saying:

‘His daughter shall wear a crown on her head;
Her daughter shall die unwooed, unwed.’
Then the old woman tried to coax the doggie with more pancakes and to terrify it with blows, but he barked on, always repeating the same words. And suddenly the door creaked and flew open, and a great heavy chest was pushed in, and behind it came the step-daughter, radiant and beautiful, in a dress all glittering with silver and gold. For a moment the step-mother’s eyes were dazzled. Then she called to her husband: ‘Old man, yoke the horses at once into the sledge, and take my daughter to the same field and leave her on the same spot exactly; ‘and so the old man took the girl and left her beneath the same tree where he had parted from his daughter. In a few minutes King Frost came past, and, looking at the girl, he said:

‘Are you warm, maiden?’

‘What a blind old fool you must be to ask such a question!’ she answered angrily. ‘Can’t you see that my hands and feet are nearly frozen?’

Then King Frost sprang to and fro in front of her, questioning her, and getting only rude, rough words in reply, till at last he got very angry, and cracked his fingers, and gnashed his teeth, and froze her to death.

But in the hut her mother was waiting for her return, and as she grew impatient she said to her husband: ‘Get out the horses, old man, to go and fetch her home; but see that you are careful not to upset the sledge and lose the chest.’

But the doggie beneath the table began to bark, saying:

‘Your daughter is frozen quite stiff and cold,
And shall never have a chest full of gold.’
‘Don’t tell such wicked lies!’ scolded the woman. ‘There’s a cake for you; now say:

“HER daughter shall marry a mighty King.”
At that moment the door flew open, and she rushed out to meet her daughter, and as she took her frozen body in her arms she too was chilled to death.


  • Source: Lang, A. (Ed.). (1894). The Yellow Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1894
Nov 102016

Dhampyrs in Folklore & Fiction

monster-1454286_960_720This piece will be posted on both my Fiction Writing Blog and my Folklore & Magic Blog. I’m feeling somewhat smug today having just had a story accepted for The British Fantasy Society’s Horizons magazine. Naturally my tale A Taste Of Blood And Honey is a work of fiction but is does draw on genuine folklore and features a variety of supernatural beings in a grim social-surrealistic setting (essentially an experimental form of “Kitchen Sink Urban Fantasy”).

In my story I feature a form of Dhampyr (not quite the usual sort however). The name Dhampyr is generally taken to be a conjunction of two Albanian words, “dham” (teeth) and “pirë” (drink). As Dhampyrs are not especially well known outside Eastern Europe, I thought it might be an idea to explain a little bit about them. Traditionally, a Dhampyr is a creature found in Balkan folklore. It generally appears to be a normal human (at least much of the time) but in reality the creature is most commonly born as the result of a sexual encounter between a vampire and a human. Dhampyr is one of several possible ways of spelling the term in English, others include Dhampir, Dhampyre and Dhamphir.

gothic-1320072_960_720In folklore, Dhampyrs generally possess powers similar to those of Vampires (inherited one presumes from their Vampiric parent). Dhampyrs however frequently have (at least some of) the strengths but not (all of) the weaknesses of Vampires.

In recent Vampire fiction, Dhampyrs have often appeared as hybrids of one human and one vampire parent – not vampires themselves, but a half-breed of both. I put a different spin on things in my own story, while hopefully remaining true to the spirit of the original folklore.

Originally “Dhampyrs”  were specifically associated with Balkan folklore although other names were also used in the region, for example the Serbian “Vampirović”, “Vampijerović” and “Vampirić” or the Bosnian “Lampijerović” (literally meaning “Son of a Vampire).

Often a boy said to have a Vampire parent may be named “Dhampir” and a girl “Dhampirica”. Alternatively, depending on region and local tradition, a male child may be named “Vampir”, while a female child might be named “Vampirica”.

In the Balkan region it was believed that generally most male vampires continue to have a great desire for “female company”, even after death. It was widely believed that a vampire would return and do their best to have intercourse with his wife, girlfriend or with any woman he had been attracted to in life. In at least one well documented case, a Serbian widow blamed her pregnancy on her late husband, who had “allegedly” become a vampire. This belief also led to several cases of Serbian men masquerading as vampires in order to have their wicked way with women they desired.

gothic-1482950_960_720The sexual nature of vampirism has been well established in classic fictional works on Vampires, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel through the Hammer Films of the ‘60s & ‘70s and on to the more recent works of authors such as Anne Rice, or even to an extent the Twilight franchise. But this is not simply a literary motif. In Bulgarian folklore for example, vampires were sometimes said to deflower virgins, just like in the later horror movies. Sexually active vampires appear in Southern Slavic vampire beliefs, and likewise in Belarusian legends.

Some Eastern European traditions tell of specific signs by which the children of a vampire can be recognised.

Albanian legends state Dhampyrs have untamed dark or black hair and lack a shadow.

vampire-625851_960_720In Bulgarian folklore, possible indications include being “very dirty,” having a soft body, no nails and no bones (the lack of bones is also ascribed to the vampire itself), and “a deep mark on the back, like a tail.” A long pronounced nose was often also sign, as were larger than normal ears, teeth or eyes.

In some areas, a true Dhampyr possessed a “slippery, jelly-like body and lived only a short life” which may have been a description of a hereditary genetic condition, or side-effects produced as the result of poor nutrition.

Or of course, perhaps it may indicate having a vampire as a parent…


Jan 282016

Lindwurm – Mecklenburg

In the vicinity of the main road between Neubrandenburg and Stavenhagen, adjacent to the field belonging to Gevezin and Blankenhof, there are three hills: Blocksberg, Jabsberg, and Lindberg.

A long time ago lindorms lived there. When they lay outstretched, they resembled a felled fir tree, and they were feared far and wide.

Once a wagon was driving along the road, and not far from the watermill it came to a young lindorm lying across the road asleep in the sun. Thinking that it was a fir log, the driver drove over it. Only after the run-over beast cried out did the driver realize what it was, and he drove away.

Hearing the cry, the old lindorm rushed forward and found its young one dead. Enraged, it attacked a wagon loaded with straw headed in the direction of Neubrandenburg. The driver saw it and fled in a gallop. Fortunately, on the far side of the Neuendorf Enclosure he lost his connecting pin, leaving the rear part of the wagon behind with its load of straw, while the driver hurried away all the faster on the front part of the wagon.

The lindorm tore about in the straw, but finding no one there, it continued in pursuit of the driver. In order to gain speed, it bit into its tail, then rolled along after the wagon like a hoop. The driver just barely made it to the Brandenburg gate, which was quickly closed behind him, with the lindorm on the outside.

The lindorm remained lying just outside the gate, there where Saint George’s Church now stands, and no one from Brandenburg dared to go through the gate.

Now a foreign prince by the name of George was in the city, and he made the decision to challenge the lindorm. After a difficult battle he succeeded in cutting off the beast’s tail, which was the source of its strength, and then he quickly killed it.

In commemoration of this event Saint George’s Church was built, and the story is depicted on its altar.

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, “Lindwurmsage,” Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg [Mecklenburg], vol. 1 (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), no. 57, pp. 39-40.
  • A lindorm (also spelled lindworm) is a legless, wingless dragon
Jan 282016

by Robert Herrick

(baptised 24 August 1591 – buried 15 October 1674)


DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 104-105.

Jan 282016



by Terry Gunnell

Terry Gunnell is an assistant professor in Folkloristics in the Social Science Department of the University of Iceland.

Euans outfit in MuseumOne of the oldest Icelandic folk traditions – if not the oldest – is that connected with the figure of Grýla, the ugly, ever-ravenous mother of the Icelandic jólasveinar, who, in league with the dreaded jólaköttur, annually terrorises the under-six year-olds when she descends from the mountains at Christmas in search of badly-behaved children to bundle into her sack (Íslenzkar þjóðsögur 1861-1864, I, 218-219; Árni Björnsson 1961, 113-119). Despite the recent efforts of certain parties to ease the fears of the young by announcing Grýla’s death, the ancient ogress seems to hang on interminably. She is not so easily persuaded to give up the ghost.

Considering the fact that the some of the earliest references to Grýla are found in the thirteenth century in Íslendinga saga and Sverris saga (the first part of which is named after Grýla), it is fitting to re-examine the background of this slightly enigmatic figure at this present conference. Indeed, the case of Grýla is one of many examples that should remind us to be wary of imagining that even the contemporary sagas provide a trustworthy overall view of early medieval Scandinavian society. There is a great deal that they do not tell us. As other scholars have pointed out, the things that tend to be placed on record are those things which are out of the ordinary, or play an important role in the narrative. Daily activities and those stories and beliefs known to everybody are commonly taken for granted, as can be seen, for example in the scarcity of accounts of spinning in the sagas (cf. Opland 1980, 97; Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson 1991). With regard to Grýla, the number of extant thirteenth-century references stress that the associations of her name must have been well-known to most people, yet no record was ever made of what these associations were. So exactly who or what was the original Grýla that people knew in the thirteenth century, and why, of all figures, should her name have been given to a book written about a male king?

Two different explanations exist for why the first part of Sverris saga was called “Grýla”. According to the prologue of the saga contained in AM 327 4to (c.1300), “Oc sua sem a liðr bokina vex hans (Sverris) styrkr. oc segir sa hinn sami styrkr fyr[ir] hina meiri luti. kalloðu þeir þaN lut bocar fyrir þui Grylu” (Sverris saga 1920, 1). These words sound uncertain, and as will be shown below, this explanation is extremely odd in the light of all the other references to Grýla during this period, none of which ever states anything about the old lady’s strength. The explanation for the title given in the Flateyjarbók version of the prologue (c.1390) makes much more sense: “Kölluðu men þui enn fyrra lut bokarinnar grylu at margir menn tolodu at þa efnadiz nockurr otti edr hræðzla sakir mikils strids ok bardaga enn mundi skiott nidrfalla ok allz eingu verda” (Flateyjarbok 1860-1868, II, 534).

Whatever Grýla was, there seems little question that in Iceland at this time, her name was synonymous with something threatening. This can be seen in the expression “að gera grýla” (“sýna fjandskap, glettast til við”: Jón Jóhannesson et al. 1946, II, 307), as in the statement in Þorgils saga skarða that “Sturla … þótti þeir (Þorgils Böðvarsson and Þorvarðr Þórarinsson) gört hafa sér grýlur um sumarit” (Sturlunga saga 1878, II, 213). The same meaning applies in Þórðar saga hreðu (1959, 188), when Ormr Þorsteinsson says to Sigríðr Þórðardóttir, “Ekki hirði ek um grýlur yðrar”, the “grýlur” in this case being the threat of Sigríðr’s brothers. A third reference of the same type occurs in Michaels saga (Heilagra manna sögur 1877, I, 683): “Her hia fram kostar uvinrinn aa … at maðrinn … teli þat sem opptaz i huginn, at kristnir menn ok skirðir meghi ekki firirfaraz, þo at læ(r)ðir menn geyri grylur afheimis ok sege slikt, er þeim likar”. It is worth noting that in all three cases, the word grýla is used in the plural.

In general terms, there would seem little question that the same general association is implied in Íslendinga saga when Loftr Pálsson quotes a verse about Grýla while riding to attack Björn Þorvaldsson and his associates at Breiðabólstaðir in 1221 (Sturlunga saga 1878, I, 246). Loftr, however, is referring to one particular figure rather than a breed:

Hér ferr Grýla í garð ofan

ok hefir á sér hala fimmtán.

That Grýla must have been a recognised ogress in early medieval Icelandic folk belief is clear from the fact that her name appears alongside those of other “trollkvinna” in a þula attached to the AM 748 version of Skáldskaparmál (Edda 1926, 197). Nonetheless, the verse fragment quoted by Loftr Pálsson contains the only description of this figure in early medieval sources.

hat is interesting about the above references is that they all show men putting themselves or other men in the role of Grýla/ grýlur (cf. the name Grýlu-Brandr in Sturlunga saga 1878, II, 171), yet nowhere is there any intimation of unmanliness in this comparison. That is certainly not what Loftr Pálsson had in mind when he used the verse. Furthermore, as has been mentioned above, grýlur were obviously imagined to exist in the plural. Grýla herself, however, did not just exist. She came from outside the farm and was also associated with deliberate movement. This is not only indicated by Loftr’s verse, but also by another odd Grýla verse from Íslendinga saga apparently uttered by Guðmundr Galtason before he and Jón sterki rode off to visit Brandr Jónsson at Staðar in Hrútafjörðr, where they maimed Brandr’s follower, Vandráðr:

Hvat er um? hví kveðum sæta? heim gengr sterkr af verki?

Vitu rekkar nú nökkut nýlegs um för  Grýlu?”


(Sturlunga saga 1878, I, 283).


Even more interesting is the fact that one of Loftr’s main targets at Breiðabólstaðir is a man from Ísafjörðr named Steingrímr Skinngrýluson (Sturlunga saga, 1878, I, 244-247). Steingrímr was almost certainly one of the Breiðbrælingar who previously “færðu … Lopt í flimtan, ok görðu um hann danza marga, ok margs-konar spott annat” (ibid, 245), especially since later at Oddi on Nichulas-messa, when “sló … í orða-hendingar með þeim Lopti ok Birni, ok vinum hans … Var mest fyrir því Steingrímr Ísfirðingr” (ibid, 246). The name Skinngrýla is particularly intriguing because, apart from providing another example of a man using a female name (cf. Grýlu-Brandr above), it points to an association between Grýla and animal skins. Furthermore, when attached to Steingrímr it raises the possibility of links with public entertainment. In general, it can be no coincidence that Loftr Pálsson uses the Grýla verse when going to attack the son of Skinngrýla. The verse and the name must have been associated in some way.


In very general terms, considering Steingrímr Skinngrýluson’s probable associations with the “danza marga” at Breiðabólstaðir, it is tempting to consider the possibility of a link between the two verse fragments uttered by Loftr Pálsson and Guðmundr Galtason and the verse accompanying the so-called “Theoderik version” of the cursed dance at Kölbigk as it is described in the Old Swedish Legendarium from c.1340-1350 (Et forn-svenskt Legendarium 1847-1858, II, 876-880). The Kölbigk tale is based on events that supposedly took place in Germany in the eleventh century (cf. Strömbäck 1961 and 1970), but in the Legendarium, the setting is transferred to Orkney. In brief, the account tells of how a group of young men lured the daughter of the priest at St.Magnus’ church in “Celoberka” to dance with them outside the church at Christmas. They ignored the priest’s orders to stop dancing, and “Sidhan the vildo honom ey lydha tha sagdhe han swa gudh ok sancte magnus læti idher ey j aare atir vænda aff thenna danz ok ængin fra androm skilias”. This curse then immediately took effect, thus demonstrating Magnús’ power.


In the Legendarium, the verse sung by the group to accompany their linked dance runs as follows:


Redh(u) kompana redhobone jwer thiokka skogha

Oc gildo mz synd venisto jomfrw.

Hwi standom vi hwi gangom vi ey.


Loosely translated, this means “The prepared company rode over (through) thick forest/ and banqueted (?) with their loveliest of maidens./ Why do we stand? Why do we not move?” (In the Legendarium the verse is written as prose.) The original Latin verse contained in the twelfth-century


account on which the Legendarium was based reads:


Equitabat Bovo per silvam frondosam,

Ducebat sibi Merswinden formosam,

Quid stamus? cur non imus?


(Strömbäck 1961, 9.)


As Steenstrup points out (1918-1920, 242), the first line in the Legendarium account probably should have been translated as “Redh(u) Bovi og kompana ywer thiokka skogha” (cf. Mannyng’s translation of the same line in Handlyng Synne in the thirteenth century: “By the leved wode rode Bevolyne”: Tydeman 1984, 15).


The parallels between this verse and those to do with Grýla are faint, but cannot be totally ignored, since both sets of verses not only include the motive of a devilish figure (Grýla and Bovi, the leader of the dance) travelling through the countryside, but also two rhetorical questions about the lack of movement. Furthermore, the Legendarium proves that oral versions of the Kölbigk tale must have put down firm roots in Orkney, if not further north, before the end of the thirteenth century. Regarding the figure of Bovi, it is also worth considering another possibly related thirteenth-century account given by a Danish Franciscan monk named Petrus in Dublin. According to Petrus, the name Bovi was given to a “possessed” straw figure that was carried by certain Danish women as part of a ring-dance which had been designed to entertain a pregnant friend (Olrik and Olrik 1907, 175-176). Petrus’ account, which has a different verse (“Canta Boui, canta Boui, quid faceret”), must have also existed within the oral tradition, since the same motif later reappears in several folk legends from Denmark and Sweden. In one of these, the possessed “Bovmand” danced with by a farm-girl has become a straw Julebukk (cf. Olrik and Ellekilde 1951, 932-933). Is it possible then that both the Grýla figure and the Grýla verse go back to a popular dance song from the early thirteenth century (cf. Tydeman 1984, 15, on the possibility that the Kölbigk story was enacted in dances), or even to sermons that were preached against the growing dance traditions in Scandinavia at this time?


The “Celoberka” parallel is challenging, but it is far from proven, and does not explain why Grýla should have been more threatening than any other troll. Nor does it explain her “för”, why men were associated with her, why she had fifteen tails, or the context for the name “Skinngrýla”, which, as Finnur Jónsson has pointed out, must mean a form of “skind-uhyre” or “skind-skræmsel” (Finnur Jónsson 1907, 347).


More interesting is the fact that several other variants of the Grýla verse uttered by Loftr Pálsson seem to be well known on the Faroe Islands, while yet another was recorded on Foula in Shetland (Jón Samsonarson 1991, 48-54). One version of the Faroese verse runs as follows:


Oman kemur grýla frá görðum

við fjöriti hölum,

bjálg á baki, skálm í hendi,

kemur at krivja búkin úr börnum

ið gráta eftir kjöti í föstu.


(Hammershaimb 1949-1951, 308; cf. Thuren 1908, 65.)


Another variant reads: “Oman kemur grýla av görðum/ við fjöruti hölum,/ bjölg á baki, skölm í hendi,/ kemur at skera búkin burtur úr börnum/ ið gráta eftir kjöti í föstu” (Rasmussen 1985, 140, cf. Williamson 1948, 247-248). Most recently, in the Faroese television programme Manna millum (17 February 1991) the violent fourth line runs “kemur at skera tungum úr börnunum”.


The less common, but no less important Shetland variant from Foula reads as follows:


Skekla komena rina tuna

swarta hæsta blæta bruna

fo’mtena (fjo’mtan) hala

and fo’mtena (fjo’mtan) bjadnis a kwara hala.

(Jakobsen 1897, 19.)


Loosely translated, this means “Skekla (an ogress) rides into the homefield/ on a black horse with a white patch on its brow,/ with fifteen tails/ and fifteen children on each tail.” The connection between the above verses almost certainly goes back to before 1500, since after that time, Shetland’s direct connections with the Faroes and Iceland broke down (Jón Samsonarson 1975, 428; Smith 1978, 23-25; Manson 1983, 13-15).


The close textual relationship between the Grýla verses quoted above does not constitute their only interest. An even more intriguing question is what kept them alive for so long. Indeed, the Grýla verses in the Faroes and Shetland are never associated with Loftr Pálsson or Iceland, although the mentions of Grýla riding a horse (Foula) and carrying a “skálm” (Faroes) might help to explain why Loftr chose to quote the verse while riding to attack Björn and Steingrímr. The variants prove that the Grýla verse must have lived within the oral traditions of the North Atlantic Scandinavian settlements, and altered in accordance with local vocabulary and traditions. It was no learned literary phenomenon, but was firmly rooted in popular culture. Yet a verse of this kind needs some form of context to survive. Since this verse was not closely connected to any historical context and has no gnomic value, it must have had other associations. Was it related perhaps to a weather belief, the “hala fimmtán” that Grýla “hefir á sér” being fifteen days of similar weather that tended to follow a particular date? Considering the thirteenth century evidence, this seems highly unlikely. The only answer would seem to be a shared myth of some kind relating to an adult-created bugbear that in later times (in Iceland and the Faroes) was used to frighten children. Yet such figures also tend to be related to a specific date, and as will be shown below there is little agreement about the precise time of arrival in the Grýla and Skekla beliefs of the Faroes, Shetland and Iceland. Certainly Loftr Pálsson does not seem to link his verse to any particular date. It was the figure itself that was important. So, what other context might have kept these verses alive?


Something that has not been noted previously is the fact that both the Shetland and the Faroese verses are closely associated with popular costumed traditions involving female “monsters” which, disguised in tattered animal skins, straw or seaweed, used to visit farms and villages on varying dates during the winter period to demand offerings (originally in the form of meat).


The Faroese grýlur, which are well-known even today, usually appear on grýlukvöld, the first Tuesday in Lent (Rasmussen 1985, 140), although this Christian association must be regarded as a later development (Thuren 1908, 66; Joensen 1987, 204). Nonetheless, on the evidence of Svabo’s Dictionarium Færoense, the present tradition was well known in the late-eighteenth century, at which time the costumed figure was also simply known as “Lengeføsta”/ “langaføsta”/ “Langefaste” (Svabo 1966, 491). The same dictionary describes a “grujla”, like Lengeføsta as a “Bussemand hvormed man skræmmer Børn i Fasten. Manducus”, a related word being the adjective “grûiliur”, meaning “abominable” (Svabo 1966, 290). In one early account from 1821, the figure of “Langefasten” is described as having a “stor Tangstakke, som slæbe bag after hende som Halen og en rustet sort Krog i hver Haand”, and “paa Bagen en stor Skindpose, som hun rasler med” (Thuren 1908, 67-68). This description closely parallels that of the costumes used by two poverty-stricken young children from Miðvágur who, at the turn of this century, used to dress up as grýlur as a means of collecting food: “Tari varð hongdur uttan á tær spjarrarnar, tey vóru í, nakað tvörtur um herðarnar, og nakað upp á eitt sterkt beltisband. Um hálsin hövdu tey ein bleytan skinnlepa, og upp á skövningarnar vóru drignir fiskamagar til muffur. Reipatari og hoytari varð vavdur upp á hövdið til hár. Gekkaskort hövdu tey ikki, men vóru málað svört við kjönnroyki, og síðst fingu tey ein tongul til hala” (Rasmussen 1985, 140).


The most interesting description, however, is that given of the traditions on Svinoy by William Heinesen in his short story “Grylen” (1957), which was based on an account Heinesen heard from Esmar Hansen, a wholesale merchant from Svinoy (letter from Professor Jóan Pauli Joensen, dated 20 January 1994). The single Grýla in this tale seems to be a predominantly feminine being, but is enormous, “som en tørvestak at se, en lang, raslende hale slæber hun efter sig, den runger og skramler som af tomme kedler og kasseroller” (Heinesen 1970, 38). “Hun er meget lådden og bærer horn og hale” (ibid, 33), and a large, wooden phallus (“standaren”) which supposedly has the quality of being able to bestow fertility on barren women (ibid, 39). There is little doubt that Heinesen’s account has been fictionalised to some extent, but a recent television interview with certain older inhabitants of Svinoy has confirmed that the basic features of the costume described by Heinesen were correct, at least as regards the use of a wooden mask, animal skins, and a bag for offerings. These informants also agreed that on Svinoy, Gryla was usually played by the same man (Manna millum; see above).


Neither the Svinoy Grýla or the costumed children described by Rasmussen spoke in their normal voices. Instead, they tended to make animal noises and use “reverse speech” like the disguised julebukker in Norway (Heinesen 1970, 33-35, 38 and 43; Manna millum; and Rasmussen 1985, 141). Heinesen’s “Grylen”, however, occasionally “kvæder gamle rim og forblommede omkvæd” (Heinesen 1970, 33-34). These “gamle rim” probably refer to the fact that in earlier times the langefaste is said to have introduced herself with the Faroese Grýla verse, albeit spoken with a “fordrejet mæle”. Other direct associations between the Faroese Grýla verse and the costumed tradition are seen in the features of the ragged, tailed costume, the regular use of a staff and bag, and the appearance of the costumed figures from outside the farm.


Unlike the Faroese Grýla verse, there is no evidence that the variant from Foula in Shetland was ever spoken by a costumed figure. Yet in spite of this, the connections between the Foula verse and seasonal disguised house visits in Shetland are just as intimate as those in the Faroes. One of the most interesting features of the Shetland verse is the fact that the name Grýla has been substituted with that of “Skekla”, a name that was used for a bogey figure not only on the island of Unst, but also in the Faroes and northern Norway where the term skekel or jólaskekil/ joleskjekel is known to have been applied to the same sort of being (Jakobsen 1897, 53; and 1928-1932, II, 778-779; and Lid, 1928, 62). So why was the name altered? And how did the verse come to exist in Shetland in the first place?


In the Shetlands, before the days of Up-Helly-A’, there seems to have been a more widespread tradition in which groups of costumed figures, wholly disguised in straw and sometimes also in white shirts or petticoats, used to visit houses (go “hoosamylla”) on “Winter Sunday” (14 October), around All Saints’ Day (1 November) and Martinmas, during the Christmas period, and at Shrovetide. On the islands of Unst and Mainland, these figures were known as grøleks (grølek being spelled variously as grøli/ grölik/ grulek/ gruli/ grulick/ grulja/ grülik and grillock): in other words, grýlur. On Yell and Fetlar, however, the same figures went under the name of skeklers or skekels, a name that seems to have become more common in recent times. Both groups appear to have been led by a leader known as the skudler (skudlar/ skuddler/ scuddler) especially on those occasions when they appeared to bless weddings (Marwick 1975, 91). Like the Norwegian julebukker, and the Faroese grýlur, the Shetland grøleks and skeklers did not speak in a normal fashion when visiting in the night. Instead, they went out of their way to avoid recognition, making animal-like grunting noises, or (more recently) using “reversed speech”, in other words, speaking while inhaling (Marwick 1975, 116, and 91). It is also noteworthy that, like the Faroese grýlur and mainland Scandinavian julebukker (Weiser-Aall 1954, 24 and 76), the skeklers used to demand some form of offering when they made their visits, most particularly meat (Marwick 1975, 116).


As with the grýlur, there are no early records of the skekler and grølek traditions. The first description of them appears in 1822 in Hibbert’s A description of the Shetland Islands (1931, 289 and 293). In general, it seems likely that certain features of these particular costumed traditions, such as the straw costumes and the wedding visits, belong to a Gælic tradition known on the west coast of Ireland where similarly dressed “strawmen” or “straw-boys” used to visit weddings to bestow “luck” by dancing with the bride and other women present (Gailey 1969, 74-75 and 91-93). These Irish figures, however, were much less closely linked to seasonal festivals than the grøleks and skeklers, the names of which are also unquestionably Scandinavian. In general, the Shetland customs point to a blend of two dramatic folk traditions, one coming from Ireland or the Hebrides, the other from Scandinavia. Indeed, it should be noted that straw-clad figures similar to the skeklers also existed in Sweden as part of the Halm-Staffan tradition (Olrik and Ellekilde 1926-1951, II, 1079-1080; and Celander 1928, 274 and 277), and considering the account of Bovi given above, such “living” straw figures must have also appeared in Denmark at one time. Yet it is difficult to visualise any large straw figure like the fully-clad skeklers attempting to “rina tuna” (“ride onto the home-field”). The likelihood must be that the costumes connected with “Skekla” were originally simpler, and possibly even made of skin. Indeed, A. W. Johnston proposed that the word skekler might be related to the Old Icelandic word skekill, meaning the “shanks or legs of an animal’s skin when stretched out” (British calendar customs 1946, 76; Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon 1957, 543).


Of course, there is a six hundred year gap between the accounts in Íslendinga saga and Hibbert’s description of the skeklers in Shetland. Yet it is probable that the annual reappearance of the skeklers, grøleks and grýlur provided a living context for the Grýla verses in Shetland and the Faroes and kept them alive. And since these variants of the Grýla verses were so closely associated with seasonal disguise traditions, all logic suggests that the same must have also applied in Iceland where the earliest example of the verse is found being uttered by a man who is obviously placing himself in the role of Grýla. Certainly, a tradition involving a horned, skin-clad being like that described by Heinesen would help explain the name “Skinngrýla”, and why Grýla should have been visualised from the start as having so many tails. Furthermore, since men tended to act the grýlur elsewhere as part of a “custom or “game”, this might answer why it was not considered offensive for a man to be compared with such a figure.


There is no direct evidence that a costumed Grýla tradition has ever existed in Iceland. Yet it is interesting to note that when Þorsteinn Pétursson wrote his Manducus eður leikfæla attacking on the vikivaki games in the mid-eighteenth century, he made use of the expressions “Grýlu andlit”, “Grýlu maður” and “Grýlumynder” when referring to the disguises used in these games and to other devilish animal guises known to have been adopted in mainland Europe (MS JS 113 8to, 43[42]v, 47[46]v, and 48[47]v: the numbering of the pages is questionable; see also Jón Samsonarson 1964, I, xliii, and Ólafur Davíðsson 1894, 23): The words “Grýlu maður” are applied to a man in Europe acting a satyr (“skógvættur”), while the expression “grýlumynder” is used in a general sense for all such costumes. Séra Þorsteinn clearly saw Grýla in visual terms, associated her with animal disguises, and expected his readers to do the same. Furthermore, he associated her directly with the costumed figures of the vikivaki dance games like the þingálp and hjörtur, the hestur, the kelling and Háa-Þóra (cf. Jón Samsonarson 1964, I).


Considering séra Þorsteinn’s application of the expression “Grýlu maður” to animal-like guises, it is worth noting the earliest detailed descriptions of Grýla written by poets in the seventeenth century. In Stefán Ólafsson’s “Grýlukvæði”, which is contemporary with earlier accounts of the vikivaki games, Grýla is described as being three-headed, and having a “hrútsnef”, a beard, a “kjaftur eins og tík” and eyes like burning embers (Stefán Olafsson 1948, 18-20). In Guðmundur Erlendsson’s “Grýlukvæði” (1650) she has “horn eins og geit”, “hár um hökuna/ sem hnýtt garn á vef”, and “tennur í óhreinum kjapt”, and goes about in “loðnu skinnstaks tetri”, bearing “sína rauðbrota staung” (quoted in Ólafur Davíðsson 1898-1903, 114-115).


In the eyes of these particular poets, Grýla seems to have borne a very close resemblance to the Svinoy “Grylen”, and the supernatural Faroese Grýla which is described as having “a sheep’s body, but walking upright like a man” (Williamson 1948, 248). In very general terms, she looks less like a woman, and more like the figures of the earlier mentioned julebukk and julegeit which were once well known all over Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Like the Faroese and Shetland grýlur and grøleks, the julebukker used to visit houses seasonally, terrify children and demand offerings. The archetypal julebukk costume involved a pole topped with a horned goat’s head (made of various materials) which had clacking jaws. The performer holding this would then be covered with a sheet or skins (Lid 1928, 34-55; Celander 1928, 305-309; Weiser-Aall 1954; and Eike 1980). Once again, records of such traditions do not go back much further than the mid-sixteenth century (Gunnell 1991, 130-131). Nonetheless, it seems that the same being and same costume were probably already known at this time in Iceland, albeit under a different name. This is suggested by Jón lærði Guðmundsson’s brief account of the “Fingálpn” monster that he saw in his youth in the late-sixteenth century (Jón Samsonarson 1964, I, clxxiv). Jón never describes this costumed creature in detail, but the þingálp described as appearing at vikivaki gatherings during the seventeenth-eighteenth century is not only equipped with two ram’s horns, but also has sheep-skin cheeks and clacking jaws (Niðurraðan quoted in Jón Samsonarson 1964, lv). The fact that the þingálp had its own name, and is never compared to a julebukk by contemporary commentators suggests that while they share the same roots, both traditions must have existed separately for some time.


The same applies to yet another figure with clacking-jaws, known as the jólhestur, which seems to have appeared at Faroese Christmas dances at one time (Joensen 1987, 197-198). The roots of all of these disguises have to be old. Indeed, it might also be noted that, just as the enacted Grýlur supposedly had supernatural counterparts that lived in the mountains, so too did the julebukk and the “Fingálpn” which apparently lived for the rest of the year “á heiðum og skógum” (Jón Samsonarson 1964, clxxiv; and Bø 1970, 146).


Returning to the naming of the first part of Sverris saga, it should now be a little clearer why somebody should have chosen to compare the first part of Sverrir’s life to that of a fearful figure like the ragged supernatural “Fingálpn” or julebukk which lived in the mountain wilderness for most of the year, and periodically descended, inspiring terror and demanding offerings. The appearance of Grýla’s name in connection with Sverris saga on the surface suggests that the beliefs and/ or traditions related to Grýla must also existed in Norway at one time (if they did not stem from there), although the dispute about the name in the two versions of the prologue must raise doubts about this. Nonetheless, as other scholars have shown, vague similarities do exist between the modern image of Grýla as a female troll and the Norwegian folk figures of Guro Rysserøver, Stallo and Lussia (Árni Björnsson 1961, 117; Lid 1928, 60-61; Lid 1933, 44-63; Weiser-Aall 1954, 32-33; and Eike 1980, 265-269). Considering the Shetland form of the word, grølek, it might also be noted that the term grøkle used to be applied to a julebukk or jolegeit in Kviteseid, Telemark (Weiser-Aall, 1954, 80, note 100).


Returning to Loftr Pálsson, Steingrímr Skinngrýluson, and the other references to Grýla in Íslendinga saga and other contemporary accounts from this period, there is little question that such a costumed tradition would help explain the various references to Grýla’s threatening nature, her “för”, and her ragged tails. Indeed, both Steingrímr and the later Faroese jólhestur find interesting parallels in a document from Bergen dated 1307 which refers to a man known as Arnaldus Jolahest (Diplomatorium Norvegicum, VIII, 29)


As I have shown elsewhere, figures dressed in horns and/ or animal skins appear to have played a central role in Scandinavian pagan ritual as late as the time of the Oseberg burial (c.850), and two full-sized, tenth-century animal masks have recently been found in the harbour in Hedeby (Gunnell 1991, 65-99; Hägg 1984, 69-72). Furthermore, it seems likely that some of the dialogic poems of the Edda were still being presented in an elementary dramatic fashion somewhere in Scandinavia as late as the early thirteenth century (Gunnell 1993). Even though the sagas are silent on the subject of such activities, it is highly unlikely that the thirteenth century Scandinavians were so unique that they lacked all forms of dramatic tradition. Considering the information given above, a custom involving mid-winter house-visits by a masked “Grýla” figure (or a group of grýlur on horseback like the later Staffan riders in Norway: Eike 1980) would make much sense. If this was so, the likelihood is that while the traditions further south continued, the Icelandic Grýla moved indoors as the weather worsened, and eventually became part of the vikivaki games. Such an argument can never be anything more than hypothesis, but if it has any basis in fact, then Íslendinga saga and Sverris saga provide us with some of the earliest references to popular dramatic “games” known in northern Europe.




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Jan 282016

Huldufolk – The Faroese Elves

by Anker Eli Petersen

The most common of the supernatural beings on the Faroe Islands and Iceland are the so-called huldufolk, sometimes referred to as álvar.

The descriptions of the huldufolk vary a little, but the most usual assumption was, that they were taller than humans, that they had black hair and always wore grey clothes. Some sources also mention that they were cold blooded.

The huldufolk existed in some kind of parallel existence with the humans. They lived in hills and boulders, and on the Faroes, people can still point out places that used to be inhabited by them, for instance the so-called” Álvheyggur” (elf hill) south of the village Vík on Streymoy.

The huldufolk kept sheep and cattle, and their stock could sometimes be seen on the mountains. They also went deep-sea fishing on boats, just like normal men did, and there are several reports from boat-crews that have seen hulduboats between the islands.
There are even stories about men, who went fishing with the huldumen.

The hidden People

Huldufolk means “the hidden/invisible people”. They had magical powers and managed somehow to make themselves, their property and livestock invisible for most humans. If people lost something, they could say that the hulda had covered it, and there are records about a so-called “huldanhatt”, a hat that made its owner invisible.

The unpredictable People

The huldufolk were generally considered as dangerous, and should be treated with extreme caution. If you somehow offended them, they could take a terrible revenge.
Several stories report about huldumen, who have tried to push mortals out of a cliff. Others tell about men who have been directly involved in fights with the grey folk, and there are even people who have been seriously wounded or actually killed in their encounters with the huldumen. These encounters were usually caused by disputes about sheep and sheep-land, because humans had stepped on some inhabited huldu-dwelling, or because people had offended against some tabooed precepts, which caused that the huldufolk gained power over them.

The huldufolk constantly tried to gain power over people. If a huldu-girl offered a mortal man a drink, he had to blow the foam from it before he drank. The magic was in the foam, and if you tasted it, you would forget about your own world and fell under their spell.

The Replaced Children (Changelings)

The newborn babies were especially exposed to the magic of the huldufolk, before they were baptized and before they got their teeth. In this critical period of a child’s life, it should never be left alone, otherwise there was a risk that the huldufolk would take it and replace it with one of their own children. Those replaced huldu-children cried all the time, ate a lot, and when they grew up, they would be mentally retarded or physically handicapped.
The Faroese word for “stupid” is still “býttur”, which actually means replaced.
There were methods to get your own child back from the huldufolk, but they didn’t always work.

Sometimes small children, who were alone outdoors, were abducted by the huldufolk. Some of them were found far away from their homes, and these children have told, that “a tall man” brought them food.

“The real Huldufolk”

The real huldufolk (if one can use that phrase), don’t have much in common with the noble and romanticised elves we meet in modern, Tolkien inspired fantasy-literature. Not that there is anything wrong with Tolkien’s or other peoples view of the elves, but in Norse folklore, there aren’t many romantic legends about noble huldufolk, álvar, hill-people, finnfolk, elves, trolls or skogsrå, or what ever they are called.


The legends do rather leave an impression of the huldufolk as unpredictable, aggressive and vindictive. They seem to be some kind of reflections of the human mind, especially those parts we don’t like to express ourselves.
The function of the huldufolk seems extensively to be some kind of non-existing prügelknabe, somebody you could blame, when you faced inexplicable events or phenomenon. The parents’ desperation over their child’s physical or psychical defect, people who disappeared for no apparent reason, families that constantly were subjected to accidents etc. etc. Every unaccountable and unpleasant event had to have a reason, and it is always easy to blame some non-existing creatures for the incomprehensible.

To blame supernatural beings for the unaccountable, is a common feature in all cultures. Compare for instance the Danish expression: “ellevild”, (wild like the elves), which is said about a person who is seized with some kind of ungovernable madness. In Danish folklore, the elf-maidens tried to persuade young men to participate in their chain dance, but if they did, they became insane afterwards.


Another function of the huldufolk was to be some kind of nemesis, to punish those who, by some reason or another, broke tabooed precepts.
If it is necessary to maintain some kind of order for the common good, it is practical to show some examples of, what will happen to people who offend against them.

And yet…
But, despite the danger and fear, connected to the huldufolk, there are still stories about people who had a friendly relationship with them, and it also happened that the huldufolk helped the humans in some occasions.
One legend even tells, that a farmer in Gásadalur on Vágoy had a sexual relationship with a hulduwoman, and had a daughter with her (see: “The Wedding in Stapa” among the huldulegends).

Electricity Exiled the Huldufolk

It is a common assumption on the Faroes, that people stopped believing in the huldu-stories, when electricity was introduced on the islands in the second half of the twentieth century. The ominous shadows were driven out of the cities and villages by the piercing streetlights, and if you sat alone and quaked in the darkness, you only had to pull the switch, and immediately the darkness and all its shadows disappeared.

But, we have a tendency to ignore other facts that may have lead to the disappearance of the huldufolk.

In the same period, the modern Faroese infrastructure was built. The old rowing boats had engines built in, ferries started to sail between the islands and cities and villages became connected by roads.

It was no longer necessary for men and women to cross the mountains in all kind of weather, hungry and thirsty and suffering from the lack of sleep. And it is especially people who have been exposed to extreme circumstances, who tell stories about supernatural phenomenon.

Physical and psychical exertions, lack of sleep, psychotic conditions, accepted superstition and, as strange as it may sound, the efforts of the human brain to keep a logical view of the surroundings, those are the grey areas in which the huldufolk thrive.

Jan 212016

Maol a Chliobain
A Scottish Tale

from Ann MacGilvray, Islay

Source: J.F. Campbell

Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected

THERE was a widow ere now, and she had three daughters; and they said to her that they would go to seek their fortune. She baked three bannocks. She said to the big one, “Whether dost thou like best the half and my blessing, or the big half and my curse?” “I like best,” said she, “the big half and thy curse.” She said to the middle one, “Whether dost thou like best the big half and my curse, or the, little half and my blessing?” “I like best,” said she, “the big half and thy curse.” She said to the little one, “Whether dost thou like best the big half and my curse, or the little half and my blessing?” “I like best the little half and thy blessing.” This pleased her mother, and she gave her the two other halves also. They went away, but the two eldest did not want the youngest to be with them, and they tied her to a rock of stone. They went on, but her mother’s blessing came and freed her. And when they looked behind them, whom did they see but her with the rock on top of her. They let her alone a turn of a while, till they reached a peat stack, and they tied her to the peat stack. They went on a bit (but her mother’s blessing came and freed her), and they looked behind them, and whom did they see but her coming, and the peat stack on the top of her. They let her alone a turn of a while, till they reached a tree, and they tied her to the tree. They went on a bit (but her mother’s blessing came and freed her), and when they looked behind them, whom did they see but her, and the tree on top of her.

They saw it was no good to be at her; they loosed her, and let her (come) with them. They were going till night came on them. They saw a light a long way from them; and though a long way from them, it was not long that they were in reaching it. They went in. What was this but a giant’s house! They asked to stop the night. They got that, and they were put to bed with the three daughters of the giant. (The giant came home, and he said, “The smell of the foreign girls is within.”) There were twists of amber knobs about the necks of the giant’s daughters, and strings of horse hair about their necks. They all slept, but Maol a Chliobain did not sleep. Through the night a thirst came on the giant. He called to his bald, rough-skinned gillie to bring him water. The rough-skinned gillie said that there was not a drop within. Kill,” said he, “one of the strange girls, and bring to me her blood.” How will I know them?” said the bald, rough-skinned gillie. “There are twists of knobs of amber about the necks of my daughters, and twists of horse hair about the necks of the rest.”

Maol a Chliobain heard the giant, and as quick as she could she put the strings of horse hair that were about her own neck and about the necks of her sisters about the necks of the giant’s daughters; and the knobs that were about the necks of the giant’s daughters about her own neck and about the necks of her sisters; and she laid down so quietly. The bald, rough-skinned gillie came, and he killed one of the daughters of the giant, and he took the blood to him. He asked for MORE to be brought him. He killed the next. He asked for MORE; and he killed the third one.

Maol a Chliobain awoke her sisters, and she took them with her on top of her, and she took to going. (She took with her a golden cloth that was on the bed, and it called out.)

The giant perceived her, and he followed her. The sparks of fire that she was putting out of the stones with her heels, they were striking the giant on the chin; and the sparks of fire that the giant was bringing out of the stones with the points of his feet, they were striking Maol a Chliobain in the back of the head. It is this was their going till they reached a river. (She plucked a hair out of her head and made a bridge of it, and she run over the river, and the giant could not follow her.) Maol a Chliobain leaped the river, but the river the giant could not leap.

“Thou art over there, Maol a Chliobain.” “I am, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my three bald brown daughters.” “I killed them, though it is hard for thee.” “And when wilt thou come again?” “I will come when my business brings me.”

They went on forward till they reached the house of a farmer. The farmer had three sons. They told how it happened to them. Said the farmer to Maol a Chliobain, “I will give my eldest son to thy eldest sister, and get for me the fine comb of gold, and the coarse comb of silver that the giant has.” “It will cost thee no more,” said Maol a Chliobain.

She went away; she reached the house of the giant; she got in unknown; she took with her the combs, and out she went. The giant perceived her, and after her he was till they reached the river. She leaped the river, but the river the giant could not leap. “Thou art over there, Maol a Chliobain.” “I am, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my three bald brown daughters.” “I killed them, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou stolest my fine comb of gold, and my coarse comb of silver.” “I stole them, though it is hard for thee.” “When wilt thou come again?” “I will come when my business brings me.”

She gave the combs to the farmer, and her big sister and the farmer’s big son married. “I will give my middle son to thy middle sister, and get me the giant’s glave of light.” “It will cost thee no more,” said Maol a Chliobain. She went away, and she reached the giant’s house; she went up to the top of a tree that was above the giant’s well. In the night came the bald rough-skinned gillie with the sword of light to fetch water. When he bent to raise the water, Maol a Chliobain came down and she pushed him down in the well and she drowned him, and she took with her the glave of light.

The giant followed her till she reached the river; she leaped the river, and the giant could not follow her. “Thou art over there, Maol a Chliobain.” “I am, if it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my three bald brown daughters.” “I killed, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou stolest my fine comb of gold, and my coarse comb of silver.” “I stole, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my bald rough-skinned gillie.” “I killed, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou stolest my glave of light.” “I stole, though it is hard for thee.” “When wilt thou come again?” “I will come when my business brings me.” She reached the house of the farmer with the glave of light; and her middle sister and the middle son of the farmer married. “I will give thyself my youngest son,” said the farmer, “and bring me a buck that the giant has.” “It will cost thee no more,” said Maol a Chliobain. She went away, and she reached the house of the giant; but when she had hold of the buck, the giant caught her. “What,” said the giant, “wouldst thou do to me: if I had done as much harm to thee as thou hast done to me, I would make thee burst thyself with milk porridge; I would then put thee in a pock! I would hang thee to the roof-tree; I would set fire under thee; and I would set on thee with clubs till thou shouldst fall as a faggot of withered sticks on the floor.” The giant made milk porridge, and he made her drink it. She put the milk porridge about her mouth and face, and she laid over as if she were dead. The giant put her in a pock, and he hung her to the roof-tree; and he went away, himself and his men, to get wood to the forest. The giant’s mother was within. When the giant was gone, Maol a Chliobain began–“’Tis I am in the light! ’Tis I am in the city of gold!” “Wilt thou let me in?” said the carlin. “I will not let thee in.” At last she let down the pock. She put in the carlin, cat, and calf, and cream-dish. She took with her the buck and she went away. When the giant came with his men, himself and his men began at the bag with the clubs. The carlin was calling, “’Tis myself that’s in it.” “I know that thyself is in it,” would the giant say, as he laid on to the pock. The pock came down as a faggot of sticks, and what was in it but his mother. When the giant saw how it was, he took after Maol a Chliobain; he followed her till she reached the river. Maol a Chliobain leaped the river, and the giant could not leap it. “Thou art over there, Maol a Chliobain.” “I am, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my three bald brown daughters.” “I killed, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou stolest, my golden comb; and my silver comb.” “I stole, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my bald rough-skinned gillie.” “I killed, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou stolest my glave of light.” “I stole, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou killedst my mother.” “I killed, though it is hard for thee.” “Thou stolest my buck.” “I stole, though it is hard for these.” “When wilt thou come again?” “I will come when my business brings me.” “If thou wert over here, and I yonder,” said the giant, what wouldst thou do to follow me?” “I would stick myself down, and I would drink till I should dry the river.” The giant stuck himself down, and he drank till he burst. Maol a Chliobain and the farmer’s youngest son married.

Campbell’s Notes

This story came to me from four sources. First, the one which I hare translated, into which several passages are introduced (in brackets) from the other versions. This was written down by Hector MacLean.

2d. A version got by the same collector from Flora Macintyre, in Islay; received June 16, 1859. In this the whole of the first part is omitted; it begins at the giant’s house. The incidents are then nearly the same till she runs away, when she leaps the river with her sisters under her arms. The farmer or king is omitted. She returns, is caught by the giant, tied to a peat-stack, and a rock, which she takes away, and she makes the giant kill; the three cropped red girls: and she kills the cropped rough-skinned gillie: she steals the white glave of light, a fine comb of gold, and a coarse comb of silver. She makes the giant kill his mother, and his dog and cat enticed into a sack; at last she sets the giant to swill the river; he bursts, and she goes home with the spoil. The bit about the sack is worth quoting. She put the crone in the pock, and a cat, and a dog, and a cream-dish with her. When the giant and his men came, they began laying on the pock. The crone cried out, “It’s myself thou hast;” and the giant said, “I know, thou she rogue, that it’s thou.” When they would strike a stroke on the dog, he would give out a SGOL; when they would strike a stroke on the cat, he would give out a MIOG; and when they would strike a stroke on the cream-dish, it would give Out a STEALL (a spurt). I have,

3rd. A version very prettily told, at Easter 1859, by a young girl, nursemaid to Mr. Robertson, Chamberlain of Argyll, at Inverary. It was nearly the same as the version translated, but had several phrases well worth preservation, some of which will be found in brackets; such as, “but her mother’s blessing came and freed her.” The heroine also stole a golden cover off the bed, which called out; and a golden cock and a silver hen, which also called out. The end of the giant was thus: At the end of the last scolding match, the giant said, “If thou wert here, and I yonder, what wouldst thou do?” “I would follow thee over the bridge,” said she. So Maol a chliobain stood on the bridge, and she reached out a stick to him, and he went down into the river, and she let go the stick, and he was drowned. “And what become of Maol a chliobain? did she marry the farmer’s youngest son?” “Oh, no; she did not marry at all. There was something about a key hid under a stone, and a great deal more which I cannot remember. My father did not like my mother to be telling us such stories, but she knows plenty more,”–and the lassie departed in great perturbation from the parlour.

The 4th version was got by John Dewar from John Crawfort, herring-fisher, Lochlonghead, Arrochar, and was received on the 2d of February 1860. Dewar’s version is longer than any, but it came too late. It also contains some curious phrases which the others have not got, some queer old Gaelic words, and some new adventures. The heroine was not only the youngest, but “maol carrach” into the bargain, and the rest called her Maol a Mhoibean; but when they went on their travels she chose the little cake and the blessing. The others tied her to a tree, and a cairn of stones, which she dragged away. Then they let her loose, and she followed them till they came to a burn. “Then the eldest sister stooped to drink a draught from the burn, and there came a small creature, named Bloinigain, and he dabbled and dirtied the burn, and they went on. The next burn they came to the two eldest sisters stooped, one on each side of the burn, to drink a draught; but Bloinigain came and he dabbled and dirtied the burn; and when they had gone on another small distance, they reached another burn; and the youngest sister, whom the rest used to call Maol a Mhoibean, was bent down drinking a draught from the burn, and Bloinigain came and stood at the side of the burn till she had drank her draught, and the other two came; but when they stooped to drink their draught, Bloinigain dabbled the burn, and they went on; and when they came to another burn, the two eldest were almost parched with thirst. Maol a Mhoibean kept Bloinigain back till the others got a drink; and then she tossed Bloinigain heels over head, CAR A MHUILTEAN, into a pool, and he followed them no wore.”

This Bloinigain plays a great part in another story, sent by Dewar; and his name may perhaps mean “fatty;” BLONAG, fat, suet, lard; BLOINIGEAN-GARAIDH, is spinnage.

The next adventure is almost the very same. The giant’s three red-haired polled daughters had PAIDIREANAN of gold about their necks (which word may be derived from pater, and a name for a rosary), and the others had only strings.

When they fled they came to a great EAS, cataract, and there was no way of getting over it, unless they could walk on two hairs that were as a bridge across the cataract; and their name was DROCHAID AN DA ROINEAG, the two-hair bridge; and Maol a Mhoibean ran over the eas on the two hairs; but her sisters could not walk on the two hairs, and Maol a Mhoibean had to turn back and carry her sisters, one after one, over the eas on the two-hair bridge.” The giant could not cross, and they scolded each other, across the river as in the other stories. The giant shouted, “Art thou yonder, Maol a Mhoibean?” and she said “AIR MO NODAIG THA;” and when she had told her deeds, she said, “I will come and go as my business brings me;” and the three sisters went on and took service with the king.

This two-hair bridge over the fall may possibly be a double rainbow; many a time have I sat and watched such a bridge over a fall; and the idea that the rainbow was the bridge of spirits, is old enough.

“Still seem as to my childhood’s sight
A midway station given,
For happy spirits to alight
Betwixt the earth and heaven.”

The Norse gods rode over the bridge, Bif-raust, from earth to heaven; and their bridge was the rainbow which the giants could not cross. There is also a bridge, as fine as a hair, over which the Moslem pass to Paradise; and those who are not helped, fall off and are lost.

The sisters took service; one was engaged to sew, the other to mind the house, and the youngest said she was good at running errands; so at the end of a day and year she was sent for the giant’s CABHRAN full of gold, and CABHRAN full of silver; and when she got there the giant was asleep on a chest in which the treasure was.

Then Maol a Mhoibean thought a while, in what way she should get the giant put off the chest; but she was not long till she thought on a way; and she got a long broad bench that was within, and she set the bench at the side of the chest where the giant was laid; she went out where the burn was, and she took two cold stones from the burn, and she went in where the giant was, and she would put one of the stones in under the clothes, and touch the giant’s skin at the end of each little while with the stone; and the giant would lay himself back from her, till bit by bit the giant went back off the chest on to the bench; and then Maol a Mhoibean opened the chest, and took with her the cabhran of gold, and the cabhran of silver.” The rest of the adventure is nearly the same as in the other versions; and the eldest sister married the king’s eldest son.

The next was the Claidheamh Geal Soluis, white glave of light.

She got in and sat on a rafter on a bag of salt; and as the giant’s wife made the porridge, she threw in salt. Then the giant and his son sat and supped, and as they ate they talked of how they would catch Maol, and what they would do to her when they had her; and after supper they went to bed. Then the giant got very thirsty, and he called to his son to get him a drink; and in the time that the giant’s son was seeking a CUMAN (cup), Maol a Mhoibeau took with her the fill of her SGUIRD (skirt) of salt, and she stood at the outside of the door; and the giant’s son said to him “that there was no water within;” and the giant said “That the spring was not far off, and that he should bring in water from the well;” and when the giant’s son opened the door, Maol a Mhoibean began to throw salt in his face; and he said to the giant, “That the night was dark, and that it was sowing and winnowing hailstones (GUN ROBH AN OIDHCHE DORCHA AGUS CUR’S CABRADH CLACH-A-MEALLAIN ANN);” and the giant said, “Take with thee my white glave of light, and thou wilt see a great distance before thee, and a long way behind thee.”

When the young giant came out, it was a fine night; and be went to the well with the bright sword, and laid it down beside him; while he stooped to take up the water, Maol followed him, and picked up the sword, and SGUIDS I AN CEANN, she whisked the head off the giant’s son. Then came the flight and pursuit, and escape, and scolding match, and the second son of the king married the second sister.

The next adventure was the theft of BOC CLUIGEANACH, the back with lumps of tangled hair and mud dangling about him. She went over the bridge and into the goats’ house, and the goats began at BEUCHDAICH, roaring; and the giant said, “Maol a Mhoibean is amongst the goats;” and he went out and caught her; and he said, “What wouldst thou do to me if thou shouldst find me amongst thy goats, as I found thee?” And she said, “It is (this) that I would kill the best buck that I might have, and I would take out the paunch, and I would put thee in the paunch, and I would hang thee up till I should go to the wood; and I would get clubs of elder, and then I would come home, AGUS SHLACAINN GU BAS THU, and I would belabour thee to death.” “And that is what I will do thee,” said the giant.

Then comes the bit which is common to several other stories, in various shapes; and which is part of a story in Straparola.

When she was hung up in the goat’s paunch, and the giant gone for his elder-wood clubs, Maol a Mhoibean began to say to the giant’s wife, “Oh! it’s I that am getting the brave sight! Oh! it’s I that am getting the brave sight!” as she swayed herself backwards and forwards; and the giant’s wife would say to her, “Wilt thou let me in a little while?” and Maol a Mhoibean would say (I will) not let (thee in) CHA LEIG, and so on till the wife was enticed into the paunch, and then Maol took the belled buck and went away with him. “AGUS AN UAIR A’ B AIRD ISE B’ ISLE EASAN, S’ AN NUAIR A B’ AIRD ASAN B’ ISLE ISE;” and the time she was highest he was lowest, and the time he was highest she was lowest, till they reached the two-hair bridge. The giant came home and belaboured his wife to death, and every blow he struck, the wife would say, “IS MI FHEIN A THA ANN, O ‘S MI FHEIN A THA ANN–It is myself that is in it: Oh! it is myself that is in it;” and the giant would say, “I know it is thyself that is in it.”

[And in this the giant is like the water-horse in another story, and like the cyclop in the Odyssey, and like all other giants throughout mythology. He was a great, strong, blundering fool, and his family were as stupid as himself.]

Maol married the king’s third son, and the king said, “There is one other thing yet of what the giant has that I want, and that is, A SGIATH BHALLABHREAC AGUS A BHOGHA S A DHORLACH–his lumpy bumby shield, and his bow and his quiver, or in poetical language, his variegated bossy shield, and his bow and quiver–and I will give thee the kingdom if thou wilt get me them.” This is a good instance of what may happen in translating Gaelic into English, one language into another, which is far removed from it, both in construction and meaning. BHALLABHREAC applies to almost anything that is round or spotted. The root of the epithet is BALL, which, in oblique cases, becomes BHALL, vall, and means a spot, a dot, and many other things. It is the same as the English word ball. A shield was round, and covered with knobs; a city wall was round, and it was the shield of the town; an egg was round, and the shell was the shield or the wall of the egg; a skull is round, and the shield of the brain, and a head is still called a knob in English slang; a toad-stool is round,–and so this word ball has given rise to a succession of words, which at first sight appear to have nothing to do with each other, and the phrase might be translated speckled-wings. The epithet is applied to clouds and to many things in Gaelic poetry, and has been translated in many ways, according to the taste of each translator. Those who felt the beauty of the passages used the words which they found applicable. Those who do not, may, if they choose, search out words which express their feeling; and so a poem which stands on its own merit, in its own language, is at the mercy of every translator; and those who work at Gaelic with dictionaries for guides, may well be puzzled with the multitude of meanings assigned to words.

So Maol went, and the giant’s dog barked at her, and the giant came out and caught her, and said he would cut her head off; and she said she would have done worse to him; and “What was that? Put him in sack and roast him so he said he would do that, and put her in, and went for wood. She got her hand out, untied the string, and put in the dog and cat, and fled with the arms, and the giant roasted his own dog and cat, AGUS BHA AM MADADH AN ‘S AN SGALAILLE AGUS AN CAT ANNS AN SGIABHUIL–and the dog was in, and the squalling; and the cat (was) in, and the squalling, and the giant would say, “FEUCH RUIT A NIS–“Try thyself now.” When he found out the trick, he pursued, and when they got to the bridge, his hand was on her back, and he missed his step and fell into the EAS, and there he lay. And the king’s son and Maol a Mhoibean were made heirs in the kingdom, and if they wanted any more of the giant’s goods, they got it without the danger of being caught by the giant.

The Gaelic given in Dewar’s version is spelt as it came, and is somewhat Phonetic. The writer knows his own language well, but has had very little practice in writing it. As he spells in some degree by ear, his phonetics have their value, as they have in his English letter given in the introduction.

5. A gentleman at the inn at Inverary remembered to have heard a similar story “long ago about a witch that would be running in and out of a window on a bridge of a single hair.”

6. “Kate ill Pratts” is referred to in a review of Chambers’ Nursery Rhymes, at page 117, vol. 10; 1853–Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine. The story is mentioned as told in Perthshire, and seems to be of the same kind; with a bit of Cinderella, as known in the west, with the advice of the hoodie in Murchadh and Mionachag put in the mouth of a little bird–

“Stuff wi’ fog, and clem wi’ clay,
And then ye’ll carry the water away.”

These sounds are not imitations of any bird’s note, and the Gaelic sounds are; so I am inclined to think the Gaelic older than the low country version.

The story is well known as Little Thumb. It is much the same as Boots and the Troll, Norse Tales, p. 247. It is somewhat like part of Jack and the Bean-stalk. Part of it is like Big Peter and Little Peter, Norse Tales, p. 395; and that is like some German Stories, and like a story in Straparola. The opening is like that of a great many Gaelic Stories, and is common to one or two in Grimm.

There is something in a story from Polynesia, which I have read, in which a hero goes to the sky on a ladder made of a plant, and brings thence precious gifts, much as Jack did by the help of his bean-stalk. In short, this story belongs to that class which is common to all the world, but it has its own distinctive character in the Highlands; for the four versions which I have, resemble each other much more than they do any other of which I know anything.

Campbell, J. F. Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected. London: Alexander Gardner, 1890-1893. v. 1, p. 259.

Jan 212016

Molly Whuppie


English Fairy Tales

by Joseph Jacobs



ONCE upon a time there was a man and a wife had too many children,, and they could not get meat for them, so they took the three youngest and left them in a wood. They travelled and travelled and could never see a house. It began to be dark, and they were hungry. At last they saw a light and made for it; it turned out to be a house. They knocked at the door, and a woman came to it, who said: ‘What do you want?’ They said: ‘Please let us in and give us something to eat.’ The woman said: ‘I can’t do that, as my man is a giant, and he would kill you if he comes home.’ They begged hard. ‘Let us stop for a little while,’ said they, ‘and we will go away before he comes.’ So she took them in, and set them down before the fire, and gave them milk and bread; but just as they had begun to eat, a great knock came to the door, and a dreadful voice said:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of some earthly one.
‘Who have you there, wife?’ ‘Eh,’ said the wife, ‘it’s three poor lassies cold and hungry, and they will go away. Ye won’t touch, ’em, man.’ He said nothing, but ate up a big supper, and ordered them to stay all night. Now he had three lassies of his own, and they were to sleep in the same bed with the three strangers. The youngest of the three strange lassies was called Molly Whuppie, and she was very clever. She noticed that before they went to bed the giant put straw ropes round her neck and her sisters’, and round his own lassies’ necks, he put gold chains. So Molly took care and did not fall asleep, but waited till she was sure everyone was sleeping sound. Then she slipped out of bed, and took the straw ropes off her own and her sisters’ necks, and took the gold chains off the giant’s lassies. She then put the straw ropes on the giant’s lassies and the gold on herself and her sisters, and lay down. And in the middle of the night up rose the giant, armed with a great club, and felt for the necks with the straw. It was dark. He took his own lassies out of the bed on to the floor, and battered them until they were dead, and then lay down again, thinking he had managed finely. Molly thought it time she and her sisters were off and away, so she wakened them and told them to be quiet, and they slipped out of the house. They all got out safe, and they ran and ran, and never stopped until morning, when they saw a grand house before them. It turned out to be a king’s house: so Molly went in, and told her story to the king.

He said: ‘Well, Molly, you are a clever girl, and you have managed well; but, if you would manage better, and go back, and steal the giant’s sword that hangs on the back of his bed, I would give your eldest sister my eldest son to marry.’ Molly said she would try. So she went back, and managed to slip into the giant’s house, and crept in below the bed. The giant came home, and ate up a great supper, and went to bed. Molly waited until he was snoring, and she crept out, and reached over the giant and got down the sword; but just as she got it out over the bed it gave a rattle, and up jumped the giant, and Molly ran out at the door and the sword with her; and she ran, and he ran, till they came to the ‘Bridge of one hair’; and she got over, but he couldn’t and he says, ‘Woe worth ye, Molly Whuppie! never ye come again.’ And she says: ‘Twice yet, carle,’ quoth she, ‘I’ll come to Spain.’ So Molly took the sword to the king, and her sister was married to his son.

Well, the king he says: ‘Ye’ve managed well, Molly; but if ye would manage better, and steal the purse that lies below the giant’s pillow, I would marry your second sister to my second son.’ And Molly said she would try. So she set out for the giant’s house, and slipped in, and hid again below the bed, and waited till the giant had eaten his supper, and was snoring sound asleep. She slipped out and slipped her hand below the pillow, and got out the purse; but just as she was going out the giant wakened, and ran after her; and she ran, and he ran, till they came to the ‘Bridge of one hair’, and she got over, but he couldn’t, and he said, ‘Woe worth ye, Molly Whuppie! never you come again.’ ‘Once yet, carte,’ quoth she, ‘I’ll ‘come to Spain.’ So Molly took the purse to the king, and her second sister was married to the king’s second son.

After that the king says to Molly: ‘Molly, you are a clever girl, but if you would do better yet, and steal the giant’s ring that he wears on his finger, I will give you my youngest son for yourself.’ Molly said she would try. So back she goes to the giant’s house, and hides herself below the bed. The giant wasn’t long ere he came home, and, after he had eaten a great big supper, he went to his bed, and shortly was snoring loud. Molly crept out and reached over the bed, and got hold of the giant’s hand, and she pulled and she pulled until she got off the ring; but just as she got it off the giant got up, and gripped her by the hand and he says: ‘Now I have caught you, Molly Whuppie, and, if I done as much ill to you as ye have done to me, what would ye do to me?’

Molly says: ‘I would put you into a sack, and I’d put the cat inside wi’ you, and the dog aside you, and a needle and thread and shears, and I’d hang you up upon the wall, and I’d go to the wood, and choose the thickest stick I could get, and I would come home, and take you down, and bang you till you were dead.’

‘Well, Molly,’ says the giant, ‘I’ll just do that to you.’

So he gets a sack, and puts Molly into it, and the cat and the dog beside her, and a needle and thread and shears, and hangs her up upon the wall, and goes to the wood to choose a stick.

Molly she sings out: ‘Oh, if ye saw what I see.’

‘Oh,’ says the giant’s wife, ‘what do you see, Molly?’

But Molly never said a word but, ‘Oh, if ye saw what I see!’

The giant’s wife begged that Molly would take her up into the sack till she would see what Molly saw. So Molly took the shears and cut a hole in the sack, and took out the needle and thread with her, and jumped down and helped the giant’s wife up into the sack, and sewed up the hole.

The giant’s wife saw nothing, and began to ask to get down again; but Molly never minded, but hid herself at the back of the door. Home came the giant, and a great big tree in his hand, and he took down the sack, and began to batter it. His wife cried, ‘It’s me, man’; but the dog barked and the cat mewed, and he did not know his wife’s voice. But Molly came out from the back of the door, and the giant saw her and he ran after her; and he ran, and she ran, till they came to the ‘Bridge of one hair’, and she got over but he couldn’t; and he said, ‘Woe worth you, Mollie Whuppie! never you come again.’ ‘Never more, carle,’ quoth she, ‘will I come again to Spain.’

So Molly took the ring to the king, and she was married to his youngest son, and she never saw the giant again.

Jan 212016



English Fairy Tales


Flora Annie Steel

ONCE upon a time there was a man and his wife who were not over rich. And they had so many children that they couldn’t find meat for them; so, as the three youngest were girls, they just took them out to the forest one day, and left them there to fend for themselves as best they might.

Now the two eldest were just ordinary girls, so they cried a bit and felt afraid; but the youngest, whose name was Molly Whuppie, was bold, so she counselled her sisters not to despair, but to try and find some house where they might get a night’s lodging. So they set off through the forest, and journeyed, and journeyed, and journeyed, but never a house did they see. It began to grow dark, her sisters were faint with hunger, and even Molly Whuppie began to think of supper. At last in the distance they saw a great big light, and made for it. Now when they drew near they saw that it came from a huge window in a huge house.

“It will be a giant’s house,” said the two elder girls, trembling with fright.

“If there were two giants in it I mean to have my supper,” quoth Molly Whuppie, and knocked at a huge door, as bold as brass. It was opened by the giant’s wife, who shook her head when Molly Whuppie asked for victuals and a night’s lodging.

“You wouldn’t thank me for it,” she said, “for my man is a giant, and when he comes home he will kill you of a certainty.”

“But if you give us supper at once,” says Molly craftily, “we shall have finished it before the giant comes home; for we are very sharp-set.”

Now, the giant’s wife was not unkindly; besides her three daughters, who were just of an age with Molly and her sisters, tugged at her skirts well pleased; so she took the girls in, set them by the fire, and gave them each a bowl of bread and milk. But they had hardly begun to gobble it up before the door burst open, and a fearful giant strode in saying:



I smell the smell of some earthly one.”

“Don’t put yourself about, my dear,” said the giant’s wife trying to make the best of it. “See for yourself. They are only three poor little girlies like our girlies. They were cold and hungry so I gave them some supper: but they have promised to go away as soon as they have finished. Now be a good giant and don’t touch them. They’ve eaten of our salt, so don’t you be at fault!”

Now this giant was not at all a straightforward giant. He was a double-faced giant. So he only said,




and remarked that as they had come, they had better stay all night, since they could easily sleep with his three daughters. And after he had had his supper he made himself quite pleasant, and plaited chains of straw for the little strangers to wear round their necks, to match the gold chains his daughters wore. Then he wished them all pleasant dreams and sent them to bed.

Dear me! He was a double-faced giant!

But Molly Whuppie, the youngest of the three girls, was not only bold, she was clever. So when she was in bed, instead of going to sleep like the others, she lay awake and thought, and thought, and thought; until at last she up ever so softly, took off her own and her sisters’ straw chains, put them round the neck of the ogre’s daughters, and placed their gold chains round her own and her sisters’ necks.

And even then she did not go to sleep; but lay still and waited to see if she was wise; and she was! For in the very middle of the night, when everybody else was dead asleep, and it was pitch dark, in comes the giant, all stealthy, feels for the straw chains, twists them tight round the wearers’ necks, half strangles his daughters, drags them on to the floor, and beats them till they were quite dead. So, all stealthy and satisfied, goes back to his own bed, thinking he had been very clever.

But he was no match you see for Molly Whuppie; for she at once roused her sisters, bade them be quiet, and follow her. Then she slipped out of the giant’s house and ran, and ran, and ran until the dawn broke and they found themselves before another great house. It was surrounded by a wide deep moat, which was spanned by a drawbridge. But the drawbridge was up. However, beside it, hung a Single Hair rope over which any one very light-footed could cross.

Now Molly’s sisters were feared to try it; besides they said that for aught they knew the house might be another giant’s house, and they had best keep away.

“Taste and try,” says Molly Whuppie, laughing, and was over the Bridge of a Single Hair before you could say knife. And, after all, it was not a giant’s house but a King’s castle. Now it so happened that the very giant whom Molly had tricked was the terror of the whole countryside, and it was to gain safety from him that the drawbridge was kept up, and the Bridge of a Single Hair had been made. So when the sentry heard Molly Whuppie’s tale, he took her to the King and said:

“My lord! Here is a girlie who has tricked the giant!”

Then the King when he had heard the story said, “You are a clever girl, Molly Whuppie, and you managed very well; but if you could manage still better and steal the giant’s sword in which part of his strength lies, I will give your eldest sister in marriage to my eldest son.”

Well! Molly Whuppie thought this would be a very good downsitting for her sister, so she said she would try.

So that evening, all alone, she ran across the Bridge of One Hair, and ran and ran till she came to the giant’s house. The sun was just setting and shone on it so beautifully, that Molly Whuppie thought it looked like a castle in Spain, and could hardly believe that such a dreadful, double-faced giant lived within. However she knew he did; so she slipped in to the house, unbeknownst, stole up to the giant’s room, and crept in behind the bed. By and by the giant came home, ate a huge supper, and came crashing up the stairs to his bed. But Molly kept very still and held her breath. So after a time he fell asleep, and soon he began to snore. Then Molly crept out from under the bed, ever so softly, and crept up the bedclothes, and crept past his great snoring face, and laid hold of the sword that hung above it. But alas! As she jumped from the bed in a hurry, the sword rattled in the scabbard. The noise woke the giant, and up he jumped and ran after Molly, who ran as she had never run before, carrying the sword over her shoulder. And he ran, and she ran, and they both ran, until they came to the Bridge of One Hair. Then she fled over it light-footed, balancing the sword, but he couldn’t. So he stopped, foaming at the mouth with rage and called after her:

“Woe worth you, Molly Whuppie! Never you dare to come again!”

And she, turning her head about as she sped over the One Hair Bridge. laughed lightly:

“Twice yet, gaffer, will I come to the Castle in Spain!”

So Molly gave the sword to the King, and, as he had promised, his eldest son wedded her eldest sister.

But after the marriage festivities were over the King says again to Molly Whuppie:

“You’re a main clever girl, Molly, and you have managed very well, but if you could manage still better and steal the giant’s purse in which part of his strength lies, I will marry my second son to your second sister. But you need to be careful, for the giant sleeps with the purse under his pillow!”

Well! Molly Whuppie thought this would be a very good downsitting, indeed, for her second sister, so she said she would try her luck.

So that evening, just at sunsetting, she ran over the One Hair Bridge, and ran, and ran, and ran until she came to the giant’s house looking for all the world like a castle in the air, all ruddy and golden and glinting. She could scarce believe such a dreadful double-faced giant lived within. However she knew he did; so she slipped into the house unbeknownst, stole up to the giant’s room, and crept in below the giant’s bed. By and by the giant came home, ate a hearty supper, and then came crashing upstairs, and soon fell a-snoring. Then Molly Whuppie slipped from under the bed, and slipped up the bed-clothes, and reaching out her hand slipped it under the pillow, and got hold of the purse. But the giant’s head was so heavy on it she had to tug and tug away. At last out it came, she fell backward over the bed-side, the purse opened, and some of the money fell out with a crash. The noise wakened the giant, and she had only time to grab the money off the floor, when he was after her. How they ran, and ran, and ran, and ran! At last she reached the One Hair Bridge and, with the purse in one hand, the money in the other, she sped across it while the giant shook his fist at her, and cried:

“Woe worth you, Molly Whuppie! Never you dare to come again.”

And she turning her head laughed lightly:

“Yet once more, gaffer, will I come to the castle in Spain.”

So she took the purse to the King, and he ordered a splendid marriage feast for his second son, and her second sister.

But after the wedding was over the King says to her, says he:

“Molly! You are the most main clever girl in the world; but if you would do better yet, and steal me from his finger the giant’s ring in which all his strength lies, I will give you my dearest, youngest, handsomest son for yourself.”

Now Molly thought the King’s son was the nicest young prince she had ever seen, so she said she would try, and that evening, all alone, she sped across the One Hair Bridge as light as a feather, and ran, and ran, and ran, until she came to the giant’s house all lit up with the red setting sun like any castle in the air. And she slipped inside, stole upstairs, and crept under the bed in no time. And the giant came in, and supped, and crashed up to bed, and snored. Oh! he snored louder than ever!

But you know, he was a double-faced giant; so perhaps he snored louder on purpose. For no sooner had Molly Whuppie began to tug at his ring than . . . My! . . .

He had her fast between his finger and thumb. And he sat up in bed, and shook his head at her and said, “Molly Whuppie, you are a main clever girl! Now, if I had done as much ill to you as you have done to me, what would you do to me?”

Then Molly thought for a moment and she said, “I’d put you in a sack, and I’d put the cat inside with you, and I’d put the dog inside with you, and I’d put a needle and thread and a pair of shears inside with you, and I’d hang you up on a nail, and I’d go to the wood and cut the thickest stick I could get, and come home and take you down and bang you, and bang, and bang, and bang you till you were dead!”

“Right you are!” cried the giant gleefully, “and that’s just what I’ll do to you!”

So he got a sack and put Molly into it with the dog and the cat and the needle and thread and the shears, and hung her on a nail in the wall, and went out to the woods to choose a stick.

Then Molly Whuppie began to laugh like anything, and the dog joined in with barks, and the cat with mews.

Now the giant’s wife was sitting in the next room, and when she heard the commotion she went in to see what was up.

“Whatever is the matter?” quoth she.

“Nothing, ‘m,” quoth Molly Whuppie from inside the sack, laughing like anything. “Ho, ho! Ha, ha! If you saw what we see you’d laugh too. Ho, ho! Ha, ha!”

And no matter how the giant’s wife begged to know what she saw, there never was any answer but, “Ho, ho! Ha, ha! Could ye but see what I see!!!”

At last the giant’s wife begged Molly to let her see, so Molly took the shears, cut a hole in the sack, jumped out, helped the giant’s wife in, and sewed up the hole! For of course she hadn’t forgotten to take out the needle and thread with her.

Now, just at that very moment, the giant burst in, and Molly had barely time to hide behind the door before he rushed at the sack, tore it down, and began to batter it with a huge tree he had cut in the wood.

“Stop! stop!” cried his wife. “It’s me! It’s me!”

But he couldn’t hear, for, see you, the dog and the cat had tumbled one on the top of the other, and such a growling and spitting, and yelling and caterwauling you never heard! It was fair deafening, and the giant would have gone on battering till his wife was dead had he not caught sight of Molly Whuppie escaping with the ring which he had left on the table.

Well, he threw down the tree and ran after her. Never was such a race. They ran, and they ran, and they ran, and they ran, until they came to the One Hair Bridge. And then, balancing herself with the ring like a hoop, Molly Whuppie sped over the bridge light as a feather, but the giant had to stand on the other side, and shake his fist at her, and cry louder than ever:

“Woe worth you, Molly Whuppie! Never you dare to come again!”

And she, turning her head back as she sped, laughed gaily:

“Never more, gaffer, will I come to the castle in the air!”

So she took the ring to the King, and she and the handsome young prince were married, and no one ever saw the double-faced giant again.

Dec 212015

Reblogged from Odinstone Publications

Odinstone Publications is proud to announce the forthcoming release of

edited by

Ganfer Haar Finn

Okney Folklore vol 1 Cover web

This anthology will be published in January 2016 and will feature a variety of folktales from the Orkney Islands.

More details coming soon! Watch this space!

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