Category Archives for Fairytales and Folklore

Sleipnir

Sleipnir is Odin’s eight-legged horse and is the bestest of all the Aesir’s horses. Apparently, Sleipnir’s story of how he came to be begins with when the gods had just established Midgard and a builder came to offer to construct a mighty fortification that would keep out the pesky giants. For payment, he wanted Freyia for his wife, and the sun and moon, too. The gods agreed, but with the stipulation that he would build the fortification in one winter, and that no man would help him with the construction. It being negotiated that he would only receive help from his mighty stallion, Svaldifaeri, the builder set to work. This last bit, however, was only granted by Loki.

 

So, when the builder’s work was nearly complete within the same winter, the gods then frowned and didn’t like that they’d have to send Freyia off to giantland (apparently the builder was a giant), not to mention the sun and moon. Since it was Loki who allowed him the help of his horse, it was decided that Loki would be the one to fix it. So, Loki turns himself into a lovely mare and catches the eye of Svaldifaeri. They run off together, leaving the builder in the lurch.

 

Now, I don’t think the gods knew for certain that this builder was a giant, and so I think this whole charade was an attempt to get him to show his hand. When it looked like he wasn’t going to finish the fortification in time, the builder went into a rage, showing himself to be the giantfolk he was thus nullifying all oaths that had been given. So the gods called on Thor (who was off bashing up some trolls) and he came and thwacked the builder in the head and killed him.

 

What does any of this have to do with Sleipnir? Well, apparently, Loki had “had such dealings with Svaldifaeri”  (Sturluson p. 36) and later gave birth to a grey foal with eight legs.

 

And that, as they say, was that.

 

odin

 

 

Sources: Sturluson, Snorri, Edda, Everyman, 1995. Translated and edited by Anthony Faulkes.

Wikipedia

 


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Redcap

Redcap is a rather unpleasant fellow who lurks in ruined towers and castles, especially if they have a wicked history. It’s said that Redcap kills travelers who wander into his ruined home, using the blood of his victims to dye his cap.

 

Redcap holds a particularly creepy place in my heart, mainly because I saw something very similar as a young child, long before I ever heard of such a creature. I was sleeping in my mother’s bed and in the doorway I saw the silhouette of a man. His form was darkened (from the light behind him in the hallway), but he had a red cap on. I closed my eyes, and when I looked back, he was closer. Each time I hid my eyes and then looked, he was always closer. Until I hid my eyes and never looked again. Morning came and I wasn’t dead. Rejoice!

 

What’s more is that my other siblings said they saw him too, at different times, and in a similar fashion (in our mother’s room, his features darkened except for the cap). Unless, of course, they’ve just been messing with me all this time (highly possible).

 

Sources: Froud, Brian; Lee, Alan, Faeries, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1978.

Wikipedia


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The Quillwork Girl

“The Quillwork Girl and Her Seven Star Brothers” is a Cheyenne story of a beautiful girl who is gifted in the art of quillwork. She could decorate anything from clothing to tipis, and her work was the best in the land.

One day, she started making a several sets of men’s clothing of fine white buffalo skin, all embroidered with her beautiful quillwork. When asked, the girl said she is making them for seven brothers that will one day be admired by all the world and that, as an only child, she would like to have them for her brothers.

Upon finishing the clothes, the girl made the journey to where the brothers lived. She gave them their clothes, and they were as delighted to have her for a sister as she was to have them for brothers. They lived happily for a time until a buffalo calf came to call.

The calf knocked at their tipi, saying that he was from the buffalo nation, and that they wanted the beautiful girl for themselves. The brothers refused and so the calf left. But the visits from the buffalo kept coming, each buffalo bigger than the last.

Then the largest buffalo the world had ever seen came to call. He wanted the girl, saying if he didn’t get her then he’d kill them all. The brothers and girl all climb a tree to escape, except for the youngest brother, who is gifted with a special kind of medicine. He shot an arrow into the trunk of the tree, and then climbed the tree itself just as it started to grow upwards into the sky.

The great big buffalo starts to butt the tree with his horns to shake them out. But they hang on and the youngest brother, once again, shoots another arrow into the tree to make it grow. He repeats this two more times, until the tree grows so tall that it towers above the clouds. They step onto the clouds just as the bull manages to knock down the tree.

Unable to return to the earth, the youngest brother then turns them all into stars, and they formed into what is now the big dipper. The brightest star is the beautiful girl, filling the night sky with her glimmering quillwork, with the youngest brother at the end of the dipper’s handle.

Source: Erdoes, Richard; Ortiz, Alfonso, “The Quillwork Girl and Her Seven Star Brothers”, American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, 1985.


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Phooka

The phooka is a tricksy shape-shifting goblin of Irish lore. He can take on various forms such as a dog, bull, or even an eagle. Most frequently, however, he appears as a black horse or pony with glowing eyes. He approaches unwary travelers and offers them a ride on his back. Once he has them, the phooka then takes them on a harrowing gallop across the countryside before unceremoniously dumping them into a ditch or mire. Then he laughs at them. If he had fingers, I imagine he’d point, too.

 

The phooka seems to be a benign cousin to the kelpie, who also appears as a horse to carry unwary travelers upon his back. However, unlike the phooka who seems to be just having a bit of fun, the kelpie will take his passengers to a lake or river and drown them.

 

Source: Froud, Brian; Lee, Alan, Faeries, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1978.

 


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The Owl Husband

The story of “The Owl Husband” originates from the Passamaquoddy. It’s a tale of how a father—in a desire to marry off his snooty daughter—said he’d give her to any man who could make the embers of a fire blaze by spitting on it.

 

Doing such a thing is, of course, impossible. Unless you are an owl, with an owl-auntie that has a knack for making potions. Such was the case for the Great Horned Owl in this story. He took on the disguise of a handsome young man and, having drunk a potion from his aunt, spit on the embers and made the fire blaze. As agreed upon, he took the haughty girl for his wife.

 

Unfortunately, she soon saw his horned owl-ears poking through his hair, got scared, and ran away. Not wanting to lose his wife, the Great Horned Owl took on the disguise of a different handsome young man and again approached the girl and her village with promises of a feast. While they are dining, the girl tells him to lift up his hair and show his ears so that she can whisper a secret. The owl refuses, but eventually his owlish ears are shown and everyone runs away in fear.

 

Refusing to give up, the Great Horned Owl returns to his auntie and gets from her a magical flute that will make any girl run into the arms of the man who plays it. The owl husband waits quite a while for his bride to come close enough. But when she does, he plays the flute and bewitches her. He then swoops her up and takes her to his owl village. In time, the girl becomes used to being married to an owl. The moral given with this story is that all women must “get used to their husbands, no matter who they are.”

 

Call me weird, but I think the story is a cute one. The owl seems to be a good sort who treats his wife well. And the moral speaks of a time when marriage came first, and getting to know one another came second. Considering the circumstances, it’s good advice.

 

 

Source: Erdoes, Richard, Ortiz, Alfonso, “The Owl Husband”, American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, 1985.

 


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Nick Fish

Nick Fish is an individual who is one half man, one half fish. He has webbed feet like a duck and a throat like a frog. He got this way from being cursed by his mother, who was so frustrated with him swimming in the water all the time and not heeding her.  After his transformation, Nick Fish never set foot on dry land again. This upset his mother so much that she died soon after. (So, you know, don’t curse your children if you can’t deal with the consequences.)

 

Nick Fish later gets the attention of the king, who then sends him on a series of escapades exploring the waters of the region. Nick Fish finds many curious things, some of which concern the king and prompt him to keep sending Nick Fish back for another look. Despite his fears, Nick Fish goes but is never seen from again.

 

 

Stupid king.

 

Source: Calvino, Italo, “Nick Fish”, Italian Folktales, Penguin Modern Classics, 2002. Translated by George Martin.

 


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