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Nisse


Artwork by Johan Egerkrans, from Nordiska Väsen (book)

The Nisse in Scandinavian folk belief is a guardian spirit of the farm and household, and is known by several other names throughout different areas including Tusse, Tomte, Haugbo and Tunkall. This spirit is most often described to appear as a very short (gnome-sized) elderly man wearing traditional farmer’s clothing. He is said to be the first inhabitant of a farm who spent his lived and died there, and would after death become this spirit.

Nisse are said to be incredibly strong, and are often said to provide help around the farm if treated with respect. One such tale describes a Nisse who drove the mill and did all the grinding at a farm so that the farmer only had to load the wagon and hitch up the horses. However, if the Nisse is not treated with respect his revenge can be a serious matter; one other tale describes a girl tricking a Nisse by putting the butter for his Christmas porridge on the bottom of the bowl before setting it out for him so that he will think they have neglected him. When he sees this, he goes into such a rage that he kills the family’s best cow. After eating the porridge and realizing that the butter was there all along, he feels incredibly remorseful and steals a fine cow from another farm to replace the one he killed.

Some Nisse are more mischievous than others. Stories tell of Nisse stealing fodder from other farms to help out the cows on their own farms, or even taking the cows themselves from the other farms. There is another story about a certain Tunkall who would throw guests onto the floor of the bunkhouse as soon as they would climb into bed. Of course, as clever as they are Nisse are not described as being incredibly smart. In turn they are not too difficult to trick, and they often work so consistently that they do not know to take breaks.


In later folklore, the Nisse has come to be strongly associated with Christmas, and is said to be the deliverer of gifts on Christmas Eve. His image has been somewhat changed over time in popular culture, as he has been merged in some ways with the figure of Santa Claus. However, he still retains his traditional Scandinavian style clothing as well as his short stature. One Christmas tradition in Sweden is to bake Nisse cookies, which are essentially gingerbread cookies in the shape of gnome-like figures.

References

Kvideland, R., & Sehmsdorf, H. K. (Eds.). (1988). Scandinavian folk belief and legend. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Rossel, S. H., & Elbrönd-Bek, B. (1996). Christmas in Scandinavia.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

*Oþala

Rötterna är stora,
rötterna är starka.
Av blod är bindningar gjort.
Det är framgång min,
det är familj min.
Mitt hemland håller mitt hjärta.
Mitt hemland håller min heder.

*OÞala is the homeland; the root of the tree. Though the journey is long, and the trail winds far, the spirit within our roots brings us home. It is where we have been, and where we have yet to go. *OÞala is ancestry, the family line. It is the inheritance that helps to make us who we are. By blood we are connected, and by blood we may be brought together. But blood’s prosperity is only found in right action. It is not found through hate, nor is it found through bigotry and malice. Blood’s prosperity is found through honor; the honor which ignites the ancestral fire within. “Lo there do I see my father, lo there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers , lo there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call me, they bid me take my place among them…”

“Homeland is precious to everyone; 
if he can enjoy whatever is right and proper,
by blood’s everlasting prosperity.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

The home is the most basic and sacred element of survival. Whether it be with family and community, or wherever the head may lie, a life without home is lived with hollow roots; a weakened experience, ending in regret. Though one’s home may not be lavish or gilt with gold, they are indeed better off than the one who is lacking. Home is family; home is community. Home is the roots which allow the tree to grow tall and strong. Without them; it will be crippled, and it will fade with time.

“One’s home is best, though a hut it be;
there a man is master and lord.
Though two goats, thine, and a thatched roof,
that is better than begging.”
-Hávamál: 36

Rötterna är stora,
rötterna är starka.
Av blod är bindningar gjort.
Det är framgång min,
det är familj min.
Mitt hemland håller mitt hjärta.
Mitt hemland håller min heder.

———————-

Number: 23/24

Phonetic Value: O

Literal Meaning: Homeland

Associations: Blood, rightfulness, ancestry, prosperity.

*DagaR

Solen stiger upp,
och spricker nattens djup.
Solen medför liv till landet.
Solen medför ljus till landet.
Dagen har stor makt;
över mörker skiner den.
Dagning medför hopp till hjärtat.

Mighty is the dawn, which drives away the cold and dark. Mighty is the sun, which sheds light upon shadows. Daybreak brings hope to men across the land, for the darkness of night is past. Beyond all ordeals and struggles, beyond all trials fought and foes defeated, dawn brings a new beginning. Dawn is the breakthrough of thought, when the hero rises to gain honor. Come all men and wights, to witness the shining light of a new day!

I hail to Sunna, the sun. Rise up from the darkness. Rise up in daylight; rise up this day!

“Day is sent by the Lord;
dear to humans, a splendid light,
hope and happiness to fortunate and miserable,
useful to all.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

Solen stiger upp,
och spricker nattens djup.
Solen medför liv till landet.
Solen medför ljus till landet.
Dagen har stor makt;
över mörker skiner den.
Dagning medför hopp till hjärtat.

———————-

Number: 23/24

Phonetic Value: D

Literal Meaning: Day

Associations: Breakthrough, usefulness, equality, hope.

*Berkano

Ungdom och skönhet har du
när växer du till skyn.
Biarkan har grönaste bladen.
Biarkan hjälper att hela.

Berkana, Biarkan, is the rune of the birch tree. The youthful tree grows and flourishes with great beauty and green leaves. It does not bear fruit, but grows from seed, and will grow again when cut. This rune symbolizes birth and natural growth; neglected it is not, and it is given what it needs. Smothered, it is not, and it is allowed its space and time to grow as it may.

“Birch is leafy branch,
and little tree,
and youthful wood.”
-Icelandic rune poem

“Birch is the greenest-leaved of branches.
Loki was lucky in deceit.”
-Danish rune poem

As the birch grows well in the northern climates, it is a symbol of the growth and prosperity that can come about, even when the environment around it is rough and unforgiving. Several different parts of the birch tree have long been used in medicine as well, and because of this Berkana can be seen as a rune of healing. Its leaves, roots, bark and other pieces all help to keep the beauty of life growing and flourishing, even when the conditions are unfavorable. This rune is the force which keeps the green leaves alive and vibrant, and the wood youthful and growing.

“Branch-runes you must learn, if you want to heal,
and know how to treat wounds.
Cut them on the bark, of forest trees
whose branches bend eastward.”
-Sigdrifumal: 11

Ungdom och skönhet har du
när växer du till skyn.
Biarkan har grönaste bladen.
Biarkan hjälper att hela.

—————

Number: 18

Phonetic Value: B

Literal Meaning: Birch

Associations: Beauty, growth, flourishing, healing

*EhwaR

Springa snabbare på vägen
EhwaR, EhwaR, EhwaR

Ryttaren och hästen som en
EhwaR, EhwaR, EhwaR

Dra mig till mitt mål
EhwaR, EhwaR, EhwaR

The horse, strong and fast, brings the rider to where he needs to be. The steed of nobility, it travels fast and bears much weight. The union of rider and horse accomplishes much left undone by either alone, but the horse must be willing, and the rider must be wise.

Through trust and loyalty, the rider and the horse may work together as one. Through focus on their goal, they travel far, eventually reaching the destination. EhwaR is the the union; the strength of one and wisdom of another, accomplishing a greater goal. EhwaR is strength of the pounding hooves, rhythmic and powerful in gallop. The reins firmly held drive them ever onward; a far journey now made possible.

“Horse is joy to earls and nobility;
proud in its hoofs, delight and talk of wealthy warriors,
and comfort to the restless”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

Springa snabbare på vägen
EhwaR, EhwaR, EhwaR

Ryttaren och hästen som en
EhwaR, EhwaR, EhwaR

Dra mig till mitt mål
EhwaR, EhwaR, EhwaR

———————-

Number: 19

Phonetic Value: E

Literal Meaning: Horse

Associations: Comfort, restlessness, union, cooperation, delight

*TiwaR

TyR
Ära är jag

TyR
Rättvisa söker jag

TyR
Mig själv offrar jag

TyR
Seger uppnår jag

TiwaR is the rune of TyR, the bravest of the Aesir; the one-handed god of justice and decisive battle. In bravery did TyR sacrifice of himself in order to assure that justice was made complete and honor restored. So must sacrifices be made to achieve many victories; seldom does a battle worth fighting leave not a scar. Justice sits as a brother alongside hope and renewal.

“TyR is Baldr’s brother,
one-handed aesir God,
wolf’s left-overs.”
-Icelandic rune poem

God of the Althing is mighty TyR, called upon for settlement of disputes. Many battles are fought with words, though some must come to blows. Justice is found in right action, and the will to achive. The faint of heart and weak of will are not long remembered.

“Tyr is one-handed Aesir-God.
Often a smith must blow.”
-Danish rune poem

As the polar star has long guided explorers, so may this rune, invoked, give guidance to achieve noble victory. As long as the heart and mind hold fast through the dark of night, TiwaR’s justice is achieved.

“Glory is a guiding sign; it keeps good faith with nobility,
over the cloud of night it is always on its path,
it never fails.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

TyR
Ära är jag

TyR
Rättvisa söker jag

TyR
Mig själv offrar jag

TyR
Seger uppnår jag

—————

Number: 17

Phonetic Value: T

Literal Meaning: TyR

Associations: Justice, bravery, sacrifice, guidance, victory

*Sowilo

Sola gjekk I ringen, sumaren sende
hanar galar rismål for alvar I enga

Tveimar ek sowilo ristan

Sola gjekk I ringen, sumaren sende
hanar galar rismål for alvar I enga

Tveimar ek sowilo fahido

Sola gjekk I ringen, sumaren sende
hanar galar rismål for alvar I enga

Tveimar ek sowilo galar

Sowilo, the sun, shines upon the land, bringing with it the light of hope and growth. The energy of its rays brings life up from the ground. It is the mighty sustainer of life; without which there would be only cold and death. In its light, the seed will grow; in its absence, the seed will die.

“Sun is light of lands.
I bow to the dome of holiness.”
-Danish rune poem

The hope of the sun’s returning has held the hearts of men afloat for ages innumerable. As winter closes in and the sun’s light seems to leave us forever, the promise of its return remains. Through the harsh winters, we have persisted in the knowledge that the life-giving warmth will be felt again. We rejoice in the waking of the earth once again.

“Sun is ship’s shield,
shining halo,
turning wheel.”
-Icelandic rune poem

Guiding light is given by the sun, when men seek to travel across both land and water. In the dark of night oft do men stray from their course and become lost, or fall prey to dangers lurking, but by day the way is clear, and the hazards visible. The sun is that which both gives life and helps to maintain it. Hail to the life-giving orb!

“Sun is constant pleasure to sea men,
when they travel over fishes’ bath,
until it brings them to land.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

Sola gjekk I ringen, sumaren sende
hanar galar rismål for alvar I enga

Tveimar ek sowilo ristan

Sola gjekk I ringen, sumaren sende
hanar galar rismål for alvar I enga

Tveimar ek sowilo fahido

Sola gjekk I ringen, sumaren sende
hanar galar rismål for alvar I enga

Tveimar ek sowilo galar

—————

Number: 16

Phonetic Value: S

Literal Meaning: Sun

Associations: Light, guidance, returning, turning wheel