Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Tomtar och Troll

Theme ~ Swedish Rhapsody

Tomte (s.) Tomtar (p.)

This plate shows a tomte taking care of the farmer's horse.
In olden days (I love to say that) on each farm in Sweden, there lived a tomte. He was thought to be a small being, smaller than a person, and old with a white beard. He lived in the barn or stables and avoided human beings for the most part. His duty on the farm was to bring good luck to the farmer and to make sure that the humans treated their animals well. He was sometimes thought to be a sort of ghost of the man who began farming and built the first farm where now the present farm family lived. 

This is my little tomte looking after our ranch. 
The tomte was known for his bad temper and would retaliate if the farmer didn't respect him or didn't treat his animals well. Therefore, it was very important for the farm family to be nice to the tomte. One way to be nice was to feed him grot (porridge). The tomte was particularly fond of rice porridge, which had to be served with a large pat of butter. If you forgot the butter, you would be in trouble. That was a well-known fact. 

In the book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson above, it's the farm tomte who gets fed up with the farmer's mean-spirited son, Nils Holgersson, and turns him into a small elf, in order to teach him a lesson. And then, of course, as I have talked about before, Nils sets out on his wonderful adventures, riding with the wild geese as the migrate over Sweden. And, in the end, he learns many important lessons and is returned to boy status and statue by the tomte.

My grandfather made this tomte.  One of my most loved possessions. 
When St. Nickolaus and Santa Claus appeared later, the Swedish version, jultomten, took some of his characteristics from the tomte of old and some from the more modern Santa Claus.
A family of tomtar are a part of my Christmas decorations.


While I remembered a lot about the tomte, I didn't recall that much about one of our most famous citizens, the troll. So I went to Swedish Wikipedia and looked up troll and soon a lot  came back to me, things like bergtagen and bortbyting, some Swedish words that used to scare people back when trolls were thought to be prevalent in the Swedish forests. 

By Swedish artist John Bauer
No one really knew what a troll looked like. In Norway they were huge, like the Swedish giants, but in Sweden they were I believe mostly thought to be ugly, and even though rich, dressed in rags. It was known that they were extremely strong. Apparently the way a troll looked varied in different parts of Sweden, but I always believed they were very ugly beings. It was thought that the arrival of Christianity and churches chased the trolls away from the flat-lands of southern Sweden and deep into the forests of the north. There they lived in huge rooms in large caves where they also stored all their riches. Because, you see, trolls were very, very rich. Specifically, they had large piles, sacks, and trunks full of gold. Gold was their thing. Trolls were the only social beings in the forest, the woodnymph, nacken, the sad being who played his fiddle in the water that I wrote about earlier, and tomten were all solitary creatures. Trolls also had magic powers, the ability to trolla. 

A bergtagen princess listens to the troll mother telling her how great her two sons are. By  John Bauer.
Now to the words I mentioned above: bergtagen, can be roughly translated to: taken to the mountain. This might happen to women who were snatched by trolls and taken to their caves. There was a chance that the woman would be returned, but she would never again be the same mentally. She would turn strange. In Wikipedia, it said that this could have been a way to explain a psychological illness. And if a woman never came back, my guess is that she was snatched by someone more human than a troll, as still happens to this day.

A bortbyting (changeling) By John Bauer
Now, bortbyting is a word that I had completely forgotten. I think the English word may be something akin to changeling. Let me look it up: Yes, according to Webster's: 'a child secretly put in place of another.' A changeling, but in the case of a bortbyting, the trolls snatched a human baby and replaced it with a troll baby. The only remedy for this was to either threaten to kill the troll baby or to baptize it.
Trolls were said to be afraid of both the Norse god Thor and his hammer and of church bells. But humans entering the forest weren't completely without defenses as trolls were known to be afraid of both steel and silver. So people made sure to carry a knife before they ventured out into a known troll forest. I seem to remember that giants would melt when the sun came up and now I found out that some trolls were also sensitive to sunlight and turned to stone when hit by a sunbeam. 
A couple of other things: Samson went to the vet Saturday and had the sutures removed and the cone taken off. We were in the waiting room and heard his strong protests, but it finally got done. He's a happy dog and says thanks to all of you who have been concerned about him. You know he'll blog about it all once April is over.
fishducky asked yesterday how come we could have a frozen waterfall in a temperate climate. Good question, I should have said mostly temperate climate or a lot warmer climate than in Russia or Alaska, where there's no Gulf stream. To compare: The northern most point in Sweden is at a latitude of about 68 degrees. In Russia that's the very northern part of Siberia and in Alaska, it's way north of Nome, and north of practically all of Canada. So if it weren't for the Gulf stream, it would be very much colder in Sweden. 
Finally, talk about temperatures, summer came all of sudden to the canyon yesterday and it has been very hot here. It may change back to cold, of course, but for now, we are enjoying it. 



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