Friday, April 8, 2011


Mysteries had a large part during my childhood years. I’m sure some of it is due to me having been read to from an early age, thus sparking an already vivid imagination, but the mystery of folklore and fairy tales was very much a part of my everyday as a child. For me magic was real and my logic for why it was real was simple. Magic is created by b...elief – as long as I believed, magic existed. The same applied to Santa, by the way.  We had an ironing board closet in the kitchen and inside it were also the chimney with a little hatch that could be pulled open far up under the ceiling. My father would gather us young kids and tell us he heard something and that if we truly watched closely, we might just barely catch a glimpse of his red topped cap as he scurried downwards, or a bit of his boots as he climbed upwards. I would solemnly swear I saw him and toasted toast, I firmly believed I did.

 In Norway there are more than one type of Santa. There is the American Coca Cola Santa, of course, but we also have our Norwegian type of little santas from our ancient folklore that we call *nisse’ or, if you live on a farm; the farm-nisse and it was this type of nisse that would reside in our chimney around Christmas time. He was there to check up on us kids, to make sure we’d behaved well.
The barn nisse was not necessarily a kind guy. Oh, no. The little nisse was of the fae people and could be both mischievous and downright mean if he felt he was not treated with the proper respect. There were stories of how farm animals would get sick, how the cows started milking blood instead of milk and all sorts of bad luck happening to both man and mouse on the unfortunate farm that’d insulted the farm nisse. On the other hand, he would also ensure healthy animals and good crops if he was pleased. I would always greet the nisse I believed lived in my grandpa’s barn when I entered. Nothing fancy, just a “hi, it’s me”, or a nod, if I was not alone – it was important to keep all knowledge of the barn nisses secret and not discuss their ways out loud, etc. For a curious girl constantly exploring in old barns and in the forests around my town and those surrounding our mountain farm, I figured it was best to be on the safe side and ensure that I had the faes’ aid should I ever need it, or be in danger.  From I was around 6 years old, until I was around 10-11 I would remember to bring a bowl of rice porridge to the barn santa in my grandpa’s barn. It’s an old tradition to eat rice porridge on the 23rd of December. We’d make twice as much as we’d need, because the left over porridge was made into Rice pudding, which is the traditional dessert served on Christmas Eve up here.
Grandpa’s farm was just across the road from our house and it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to do it. Sometimes a friend came with me the next day to check if the nisse had accepted my gift and eaten up the porridge and thus would continue to guard the barn and watch out for the people and the animals. It never failed, the bowl was always empty and we never ceased being amazed that he was for real – In our minds this was more than proof enough for his existence.
The nisse could make himself invisible, or as my grandpa used to explain, he was such an expert at hiding in plain sight that he was near invisible.  I kept believing in the mystery of the nisse long after I stopped believing in Santa. I think having parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts all telling us “true” stories about him and  how and where they had spotted him, kept the mystery surrounding him alive.  I had relatively old parents and my grandpa was so old for us kids, that he was sort of considered a grandpa for half the neighborhood.

My friends and I would sit with eyes as round and wide as plates while he told us all the old fairy tales and the local folklore stories from our region. Stories about “nøkken” were especially frightening. Nøkken is a fae creature that lives in ponds in the deep forests. Those quiet black lakes you can’t see the bottom in, with water lilies and a myriad of life crawling and buzzing and swimming in and around them. There is always a mysterious ripple or several on the quiet surface, if you just have the patience to sit quiet and watch it for more than a minute.  Naturally, as I grew older I knew that it was just the natural creations of nature making the sounds and the ripples, but as a child, boy, were there a lot of fascinating and frightening mysterious creatures about. Magic was very much alive and not only that, but it could threaten of death and danger too. Nøkken was said to drown children who ventured alone near ponds and lakes. He could drown grownups too, if they were careless.

The marshes were filled with mysterious creatures working for nøkken, and then there was the “huldra” too. The beautiful female wood nymph with a cow’s tail, that was known to lure men of all ages with her and keeping them all captured among the people of the underground. We called them underjordiske, which translates directly into under-earthlings. They were greatly feared by everybody in the old days and I recall more than one old aunt who refused to walk home alone on paths through the forests in the dark.

The mysterious creatures and superstitious beliefs were numerous. I can’t mention them all, but two creatures that particularly haunted my childhood were “fjellgeita” (mountain goat) and “harekjetta” (slang for hare). My father and grandpa loved scaring us kids with those. I have to admit that today, I can’t quite understand how they could scare me into hysteria with two animals as innocent as a goat and a rabbit, but they sure did. Up at the mountain farm, we didn’t have an indoor toilette, but used an outhouse in the barn instead. There were no streetlights up there. I’m not sure you can truly understand how utterly dark the night is away from city lights, etc, unless you have experienced a night in the forest or up on the mountains far away from civilization. The nights were pitch black, unless there was a full moon casting an eerie dim light in open spaces. A somewhat odd thing happens when you are outdoors in utter darkness. Every sound becomes that much louder.  The hooting of owls sounds otherworldly. The barking of foxes, the grunting of larger animals like deer and moose sounds quite frightening to a young child. And let me assure you, the sounds of a hare’s death-cries will freeze the blood to ice in your veins. I kid you not!

There were no lights in the barn and we’d have to use a torch light or a candle light with us if we had to visit the outhouse at nights. I would hear noises nearby that I was certain came from murderous creatures. I would see movements and shadows just outside the limit of the lights from my torch/candle. It was a mystery to me, that my heart didn’t beat itself right out of my body. Even when I forced my dad to stand on the steps waiting for me, I would have Goosebumps and be a shivering wreck barely able to breathe when I finally reached the safety of his side on the steps or closed the door to the realm of darkness outside. Not that he would make matters better by chanting “Ooooo, the “fjellgeita” and “harekjetta” are coming, hurry!” And for some irrational reason, it didn’t help either, that I was well aware of him and the others just pulling my leg with these two creatures, nor that they would laugh their heads off of me. I could not let go of the fear. To me, the darkness was a completely different realm from the daylight.

Even after I married, there would be nights where I pleaded with my hubby to stand watch at the steps while I visited the outhouse. We didn’t get an indoor toilette until my youngest were 5. It still remains a mystery to hubby how it is possible to be afraid of a goat and a rabbit when I am grown up and fully aware of what they are. Honestly, I don’t think it is those two creatures I was afraid of as an adult, it was more the eerie feeling of having utter darkness behind me, a darkness that could hide all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable monsters ready to devour me with hair and bone and skin.  Rational logic simply does not abide with one who’s afraid of the dark.

Still, I wouldn’t be without the many frightening mysteries of my childhood. Even the scary ones were exhilaratingly fun to discuss with my friends on lazy hot summer days while hiding in the fields to avoid all the chores we knew we’d have to help with if we were spotted. 

Even if I utterly failed in making a mystery story for this assignment, I firmly believe that I owe my creative imagination to my early childhood mysteries. All my crazy stories that have been created in my mind and all those who have yet to be created, have been born in some sense through the magic and mysteries of my childhood.

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