Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend
Edited by Reimund Kvideland and Henning K. Sehmsdorf
“[Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend] will be warmly welcomed by scholars and the general public alike… a stupendous investment of skills and time….”
On a farm someplace, there was once a boy who watched a farmer bury some money. He hit it under the storehouse, saying that the money should lie there undisturbed until he retrieved it himself. But the farmer died not long after that. Then the boy carried the body to the storehouse, and, using the dead man’s hand, he dug up the money. He kept it, of course.
Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend is a rich compendium of hundreds of legends, stories, beliefs, and magic collected from oral sources in preindustrial Scandinavia (Denmark, the Faeroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). In this rural society, the people lived close to nature and believed themselves an integral part of it. Their relationship with the “invisible folk” – nisse (farm spirit), haugbo (mound dweller), and nokk (water sprite) – was one of coexistence and mutual respect. The nisse could ensure prosperity of house and farm but, if offended, could just as easily pillage the farmer’s hay, grain, or cattle and deliver it to a more compliant neighbor.
In an extensive introduction, the editors outline the political history of the region and then describe the primary features of the traditional rural social structure, identifying the similarities and differences among the countries. They pay particular attention to figures of authority – wealthy landowners, the bailiff, and the minister – who are prominent in folk legend. The introduction also discusses the categories of folk forms (legends, memorats, prose fiction, ritual description, magic formulas) and explains their cultural function. Unlike most collections of Nordic folklore, this volume focuses on beliefs that illustrate the central aspects of the traditional worldview, rather than on prose narratives recognized as literature.
Reimund Kvideland is professor in the Department of Folklore and Ethnology at the University of Bergen, Norway. He has been editor of Tradisjon since 1975 and contributes to various other ethnology and folkloristic journals. Henning K. Sehmsdorf is professor of Scandinavian and comparative literature at the University of Washington. He is editor of Northwest Folklore and has written numerous articles on folklore, mythology, and Scandinavian and comparative literature.