THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY

NISSES1

Og Trolde, Hexer, Nisser i hver Vraae.
                                           FINN MAGNUSEN
And Witches, Trolls, and Nisses in each nook.

   The Nis is the same being that is called Kobold in Germany, Brownie in Scotland, and whom we shall meet in various other places under different appellations. He is in Denmark and Norway also called Nisse god-dreng (Nisse good lad), and in Sweden Tomtgubbe (Old Man of the House), or briefly Tomte.
   He is evidently of the Dwarf family, as he resembles them in appearance, and, like them, has the command of money, and the same dislike to noise and tumult. He is of the size of a year-old child, but has the face of an old man. His usual dress is grey, with a pointed red cap; but on Michaelmas-day he wears a round hat like those of the peasants. No farm-house goes on well unless there is a Nis in it, and well is it for the maids and the men when they are in favour with him. They may go to their beds and give themselves no trouble about their work, and yet in the morning the maids will find the kitchen swept up, and water brought; in, and the men will find the horses in the stable well cleaned and curried, and perhaps a supply of corn cribbed for them from the neighbours' barns. But he punishes them for any irregularity that takes place.
   The Nisses of Norway, we are told, are fond of the moonlight, and in the winter time they may be seen jumping over the yard, or driving in sledges. They are also skilled in music and dancing, and will, it is said, give instructions on the fiddle for a grey sheep, like the Swedish Strömkarl.2
   Every church, too, has its Nis, who looks to order, and chastises those who misbehave themselves. He is called the Kirkegrim.

The Nis Removing3

   It is very difficult, they say, to get rid of a Nis when one wishes it. A man who lived in a house in which a Nis carried his pranks to great lengths resolved to quit the tenement, and leave him there alone. Several cart-loads of furniture and other articles were already gone, and the man was come to take away the last, which consisted chiefly of empty tubs, barrels, and things of that sort. The load was now all ready, and the man had just bidden farewell to his house and to the Nis, hoping for comfort in his new habitation, when happening, from some cause or other, to go to the back of the cart, there he saw the Nis sitting in one of the tubs in the cart, plainly with the intention of going along with him wherever he went. The good man was surprised and disconcerted beyond measure at seeing that all his labour was to no purpose; but the Nis began to laugh heartily, popped his head up out of the tub, and cried to the bewildered farmer, "Ha! we're moving to-day, you see.?"4

The Penitent Nis

   It is related of a Nis, who had established himself in a house in Jutland, that he used every evening, after the maid was gone to bed, to go into the kitchen to take his groute, which they used to leave for him in a wooden bowl.
   One evening he sat down as usual to eat his supper with a good appetite, drew over the bowl to him, and was just beginning, as he thought, to make a comfortable meal, when he found that the maid had forgotten to put any butter into it for him. At this he fell into a furious rage, got up in the height of his passion, and went out into the cow-house, and twisted the neck of the best cow that was in it. But as he felt himself still very hungry, he stole back again to the kitchen to take some of the groute, such as it was, and when he had eaten a little of it he perceived that there was butter in it, but that it had sunk to the bottom under the groute. He was now so vexed at his injustice toward the maid, that, to make good the damage he had done, he went back to the cow-house and set a chest full of money by the side of the dead cow, where the family found it next morning, and by means of it got into flourishing circumstances.

The Nis and the Boy

   There was a Nis in a house in Jutland; he every evening got his groute at the regular time, and he, in return, used to help both the men and the maids, and looked to the interest of the master of the house in every respect.
   There came one time an arch mischievous boy to live at service in this house, and his great delight was, whenever he got an opportunity, to give the Nis all the annoyance in his power. One evening, late, when everything was quiet in the place, the Nis took his little wooden dish, and was just going to eat his supper, when he perceived that the boy had put the butter at the bottom, and concealed it, in hopes that he might eat the groute first, and then find the butter when all the groute was gone. He accordingly set about thinking how he might repay the boy in kind; so, after pondering a little, he went up to the loft, where the man and the boy were lying asleep in the same bed. When he had taken the bed-clothes off them, and saw the little boy by the side of the tall man, he said, "Short and long don't match;" and with this word he took the boy by the legs and dragged him down to the man's legs. He then went up to the head of the bed, and "Short and long don't match," said he again, and then he dragged the boy up once more. When, do what he would, he could not succeed in making the boy as long as the. man, he still persisted in dragging him up and down in the bed, and continued at this work the whole night long, till it was broad daylight.
   By this time he was well tired, so he crept up on the window-stool, and sat with his legs hanging down into the yard. But the house-dog - for all dogs have a great enmity to the Nis-as soon as he saw him, began to bark at him, which afforded such amusement to Nis, as the dog could not get up to him, that he put down first one leg and then the other to him, and teazed him, and kept saying, "Look at my little leg! look at my little leg!" In the meantime the boy had wakened, and had stolen up close behind him, and while Nis was least thinking of it, and was going on with his "Look at my little leg!" the boy tumbled him down into the yard to the dog, crying out at the same time, "Look at the whole of him now!"

The Nis Stealing Corn

   There lived a man at Thyrsting, in Jutland, who had a Nis in his barn. This Nis used to attend to the cattle, and at night he would steal fodder for them from the neighbours, so that this farmer had the best fed and most thriving cattle in the country.
   One time the boy went along with the Nis to Fugleriis to steal corn. The Nis took as much as he thought he could well carry, but the boy was more covetous, and said, "Oh, take more; sure we can rest now and then?" "Rest!" said the Nis; "rest! and what is rest?" "Do what I tell you," replied the boy; "take more, and we shall find rest when we get out of this." - The Nis then took more, and they went away with it. But when they were come to the lands of Thyrsting, the Nis grew tired, and then the boy said to him, "Here now is rest;" and they both sat down on the side of a little hill. "If I had known," said the Nis, as they were sitting there, "if I had known that rest was so good, I'd have carried off all that was in the barn."
   It happened some time after that the boy and the Nis were no longer friends, and as the Nis was sitting one day in the granary-window, with his legs hanging out into the yard, the boy ran at him and tumbled him back into the granary. But the Nis took his satisfaction of him that very same night; for when the boy was gone to bed, he stole down to where he was lying, and carried him naked as he was out into the yard, and then laid two pieces of wood across the well, and put him lying on them, expecting that, when he awoke, he would fall from the fright down into the well and be drowned. But he was disappointed, for the boy came off without injury.

The Nis and the Mare

   There was a man who lived in the town of Tirup, who had a very handsome white mare. This mare had for many years gone, like an heirloom, from father to son, because there was a Nis attached to her, which brought luck to the place.
   This Nis was so fond of the mare, that he could hardly endure to let them put her to any kind of work, and he used to come himself every night and feed her of the best; and as for this purpose he usually brought a superfluity of corn, both threshed and in the straw, from the neighbours' barns, all the rest of the cattle enjoyed the advantage of it, and they were all kept in exceeding good case. It happened at last that the farm-house passed into the hands of a new owner, who refused to put any faith in what they told him about the mare, so the luck speedily left the place, and went after the mare to his poor neighbour who had bought her; and within five days after his purchase, the poor farmer who had bought the mare began to find his circumstances gradually improving, while the income of the other, day after day, fell away and diminished at such a rate, that he was hard set to make both ends meet.
   If now the man who had gotten the mare had only known how to be quiet, and enjoy the good times that were come upon him, he and his children, and his children's children after him, would have been in flourishing circumstances till this very day. But when he saw the quantity of corn that came every night to his barn, he could not resist his desire to get a sight of the Nis. So he concealed himself one evening, at nightfall, in the stable; and as soon as it was midnight, he saw how the Nis came from his neighbour's barn and brought a sackful of corn with him. It was now unavoidable that the Nis should get a sight of the man who was watching; so he, with evident marks of grief, gave the mare her food for the last time, cleaned, and dressed her to the best of his abilities, and when he had done, turned round to where the man was lying and bid him farewell.
   From that day forward the circumstances of both the neighbours were on an equality, for each now kept his own. 

The Nis Riding

   There was a Nis in a farm-house, who was for ever tormenting the maids, and playing all manner of roguish tricks on them, and they in return were continually planning how to be even with him. There came one time to the farm-house a Juttish drover and put up there for the night. Among his cattle, there was one very large Juttish ox; and when Nis saw him in the stable be took a prodigious fancy to get up and ride on his back. He accordingly mounted the ox, and immediately began to torment the beast in such a manner that he broke loose from his halter and ran out into the yard with the Nis on his back. Poor Nis was now terrified in earnest, and began to shout and bawl most lustily. His cries awakened the maids, but instead of coming to his assistance they laughed at him till they were ready to break their hearts. And when the ox ran against a piece of timber, so that the unfortunate Nis had his hood all torn by it, the maids shouted out and called him "Lame leg, Lame leg," and he made off with himself in most miserable plight. But the Nis did not forget it to the maids; for the following Sunday when they were going to the dance, he contrived, unknown to them, to smut their faces all over, so that when they got up to dance, every one that was there burst out a laughing at them.

The Nisses in Vosborg

   There was once an exceeding great number of Nisses in Jutland. Those in Vosborg in particular were treated with so much liberality, that they were careful and solicitous beyond measure for their master's interest. They got every evening in their sweet-groute a large lump of butter, and in return for this, they once showed great zeal and gratitude.
   One very severe winter, a lonely house in which there were six calves was so completely covered by the snow, that for the space of fourteen days no one could get into it. When the snow was gone, the people naturally thought that the calves were all dead of hunger; but far from it, they found them all in excellent condition; the place cleaned up, and the cribs full of beautiful corn, so that it was quite evident the Nisses had attended to them.
   But the Nis, though thus grateful when well treated, is sure to avenge himself when any one does anything to annoy and vex him. As a Nis was one day amusing himself by running on the loft over the cow-house, one of the boards gave way and his leg went through. The boy happened to be in the cow-house when this happened, and when he saw the Nis's leg hanging down, he took up a dung fork, and gave him with it a smart rap on the le. At noon, when the people were sitting round the table in- the hall, the boy sat continually laughing to himself. The bailiff asked him what he was laughing at; and the boy replied, "Oh! a got such a blow at Nis to-day, and a gave him such a hell of a rap with my fork, when he put his leg down through the loft." "No," cried Nis, outside of the window, "it was not one, but three blows you gave me, for there were three prongs on the fork; but I shall pay you for it, my lad."
   Next night, while the boy was lying fast asieep, Nis came and took him up and brought him out into the yard, then flung him over the house, and was so expeditious in getting to the other side of the house; that he caught him before he came to the ground, and instantly pitched him over again, and kept going on with this sport till the boy had been eight times backwards and forwards over the roof, and the ninth time he let him fall into a great pool of water, and then set up such a shout of laughter at him, that it wakened up all the people that were in the place.

   In Sweden the Tomte is sometimes seen at noon, in summer, slowly and stealthily dragging a straw or an ear of corn, A farmer, seeing him thus engaged, laughed, and said, "What difference does it make if you bring away that or nothing?" The Tomte in displeasure left his farm, and went to that of his neighbour; and with him went all prosperity from him who had made light of him, and passed over to the other farmer. Any one who treated the industrious Tomte with respect, and set store by the smallest straw, became rich, and neatness and regularity prevailed in his household.5

NECKS, MERMEN, AND MERMAIDS

Ei Necken mer i flodens vågor quäder,
Och ingen Hafsfru bieker sina kläder
Paa böljans rygg i milda solars glans.
                                                 STAGNELIUS

The Neck no more upon the river sings,
And no Mermaid to bleach her linen flings
Upon the waves in the mild solar ray.

   It is a prevalent opinion in the North that all the various beings of the popular creed were once worsted in a conflict with superior powers, and condemned to remain till doomsday, in certain assigned abodes. The Dwarfs, or Hill (Berg) trolls, were appointed the hills; the Elves the groves and leafy trees; the Hill-people (Högfolk)6 the caves and caverns; the Mermen, Mermaids, and Necks, the sea, lakes, and rivers; the River-man, (Strömkarl) the small waterfalls, Both the Catholic and Protestant clergy have endeavoured to excite an aversion to these beings, but in vain. They are regarded as possessing considerable power over man and nature, and it is believed that though now unhappy, they will be eventually saved, or faa förlossning (get salvation), as it is expressed.
   The Neck (in Danish Nökke7) is the river-spirit. The ideas respecting him are various. Sometimes he is represented as sitting, of summer nights, on the surface of the water, like a pretty little boy, with golden hair hanging in ringlets, and a red cap on his head; sometimes as above the water, like a handsome young man, but beneath like a horse;8 at other times, as an old man with a long beard, out of which he wrings the water as he sits on the cliffs. In this last form, Odin, according to the Icelandic sagas, has sometimes revealed himself.
   The Neck is very severe against any haughty maiden who makes an ill return to the love of her wooer; but should he himself fall in love with a maid of human kind, he is the most polite and attentive suitor in the world.
   Though he is thus severe only against those who deserve it, yet country people when they are upon the water use certain precautions against his power. Metals, particularly steel, are believed "to bind the Neck," (binda Necken); and when going on the open sea, they usually put a knife in the bottom of the boat, or set a nail in a reed. In Norway the following charm is considered effectual against the Neck:

Nyk, nyk, naal i vatn!
Jomfru Maria kastet staal i vatn!
Du sök äk flyt!
Neck, neck, nail in water!
The virgin Mary casteth steel in water!
Do you sink, I flit!
   The Neck is a great musician. He sits on the water and plays on his gold harp, the harmony of which operates on all nature. To learn music of him, a person must present him with a black lamb, and also promise him resurrection and redemption.
   The following story is told in all parts of Sweden:
   "Two boys were one time playing near a river that ran by their father's house. The Neck rose and sat on the surface of the water, and played on his harp; but one of the children said to him, 'What is the use, Neck, of your sitting there and playing? you will never be saved.' The Neck then began to weep bitterly, flung away his harp, and sank down to the bottom. The children went home, and told the whole story to their father, who was the parish priest. He said they were wrong to say so to the Neck, and desired them to go immediately back to the river, and console him with the promise of salvation. They did so; and when they came down to the river the Neck was sitting on the water, weeping and lamenting. They then said to him, 'Neck, do not grieve so; our father says that your Redeemer liveth also.' The Neck then took his harp and played most sweetly, until long after the sun was gone down." This legend is also found in Denmark, but in a less agreeable form. A clergyman, it is said, was journeying one night to Roeskilde in Zealand. His way led by a hill in which there was music and dancing and great merriment going forward. Some dwarfs jumped suddenly out of it, stopped the carriage, and asked him whither he was going. He replied to the synod of the church. They asked him if he thought they could be saved. To that, he replied, he could not give an immediate answer. They then begged that he would give them a reply by next year. When he next passed, and they made the same demand, he replied, "No, you are all damned." Scarcely had he spoken the word, when the whole hill appeared in flames.
   In another form of this legend, a priest says to the Neck, "Sooner will this cane which I hold in my hand grow green flowers than thou shalt attain salvation." The Neck in grief flung away his harp and wept, and the priest rode on. But soon his cane began to put forth leaves and blossoms, and he then went back to communicate the glad tidings to the Neck who now joyously played on all the entire night.9

The Power of the Harp

Little Kerstin she weeps in her bower all the day;
Sir Peter in his courtyard is playing so gay.
My heart's own dear!
Tell me wherefore you grieve?

"Grieve you for saddle, or grieve you for steed?
Or grieve you for that I have you wed?"
My heart's, &c.

"And grieve do I not for saddle or for steed
And grieve do I not for that I have you wed.
My heart's, &c.

"Much more do I grieve for my fair gold hair,
Which in the blue waves shall be stained to-day.
My heart's, &c.

"Much more do I grieve for Ringfalla flood,
In which have been drowned my two sisters proud.
My heart's, &c.

"It was laid out for me in my infancy,
That my wedding-day should prove heavy to me,"
My heart's, &c,

"And I shall make them the horse round shoe,
He shall not stumble on his four gold shoes.
My heart's, &c.

"Twelve of my courtiers shall before thee ride,
Twelve of my courtiers upon each side."
My heart's, &c.

But when they were come to Ringfalla wood,
There sported a hart with gilded horns proud.
My heart's, &c.

And all the courtiers after the hart are gone;
Little Kerstin, she must proceed alone.
My heart's, &c,

And when on Ringfalla bridge she goes,
Her steed he stumbled on his four gold shoes,
My heart's, &c.

Four gold shoes, and thirty gold nails,
And the maiden into the swift stream falls.
My heart's, &c.

Sir Peter he spake to his footpage so -
"Thou must for my gold harp instantly go."
My heart's, &c.

The first stroke on his gold harp he gave
The foul ugly Neck sat and laughed on the wave.
My heart's, &c.

The second time the gold harp he swept,
The foul ugly Neck on the wave sat and wept.
My heart's, &c.

The third stroke on the gold harp rang,
Little Kerstin reached up her snow-white arm.
My heart's, &c.10
He played the bark from off the high trees;
He played Little Keratin back on his knees,
My heart's, &c.

And the Neck he out of the waves came there,
And a proud maiden on each arm he bare.
My heart's own dear!
Tell me wherefore you grieve?11
   The STRÖMKARL, called in Norway Grim or Fosse-Grim (Waterfall-Grim)12 is a musical genius like the Neck. Like him too, when properly propitiated, he communicates his art, The sacrifice also is a black lamb,13 which the offerer must present with averted head, and on Thursday evening. If it is poor the pupil gets no further than to the tuning of the instruments; if it is fat the Strömkarl seizes the votary by the right hand, and swings it backwards and forwards till the blood runs out at the finger-ends. The aspirant is then enabled to play in such a masterly manner that the trees dance and waterfalls stop at his music.14
   The Havmand, or Merman, is described as of a handsome form, with green or black hair and beard. He dwells either in the bottom of the sea, or in the cliffs and hills near the sea shore, and is regarded as rather a good and beneficent kind of being.15
   The Havfrue, or Mermaid, is represented in the popular tradition sometimes as a good, at other times as an evil and treacherous being. She is beautiful in her appearance. Fishermen sometimes see her in the bright summer's sun, when a thin mist hangs over the sea, sitting on the surface of the water, and combing her long golden hair with a golden comb, or driving up her snow-white cattle to feed on the strands and small islands. At other times she comes as a beautiful maiden, chilled and shivering with the cold of the night, to the fires the fishers have kindled, hoping by this means to entice them to her love.16 Her appearance prognosticates both storm and ill success in their fishing. People that are drowned, and whose bodies are not found, are believed to be taken into the dwellings of the Mermaids. These beings are also supposed to have the power of fore telling future events. A Mermaid, we are told, prophesied the birth of Christian IV. of Denmark, and
En Havfrue op of Vandet steg,
Og spaade Herr Sinklar ilde.
                             SINCLAR'S VISA.
A mermaid from the water rose,
And spaed Sir Sinclar ill.
   Fortune-telling has been in all countries a gift of the seapeople. We need hardly, mention the prophecies of Nereus and Proteus.
   A girl one time fell into the power of a Havfrue and passed fifteen years in her submarine abode without ever seeing the sun. At length her brother went down in quest of her, and succeeded in bringing her back to the upper world. The Havfrue waited for seven years expecting her return, but when she did not come back, she struck the water with her staff and made it boil up and cried-
Hade jag trott att du varit så falsk,
Så skulle jag kreckt dig din tiufvehals!
Had I but known thee so false to be,
Thy thieving neck I'd have cracked for thee.17
Duke Magnus and the Mermaid

Duke Magnus looked out through the castle window,
How the stream ran so rapidly;
And there he saw how upon the stream sat
A woman most fair and lovelie,
Duke Magnus, Duke Magnus, plight thee to me,
I pray you still so freely;
Say me not nay, but yes, yes!

"O, to you I will give a travelling ship,
The best that a knight would guide;
It goeth as well on water as on firm land,
And through the fields all so wide.
Duke Magnus, &c.

"O, to you will I give a courser gray,
The best that a knight would ride;
He goeth as well on water as on firm land,
And through the groves all so wide."
Duke Magnus, &c.

"O, how should I plight me to you?
I never any quiet get;
I serve the king and my native land,
But with woman I match me not yet."
Duke Magnus, &c.

"To you will I give as much of gold
As for more than your life will endure;
And of pearls and precious stones handfuls
And all shall be so pure."
Duke Magnus, &c.

"O gladly would I light me to thee,
If thou wert of Christian kind;
But now thou art a vile sea-troll,
My love thou canst never win,"
Duke Magnus, &c.

"Duke Magnus, Duke Magnus, bethink thee well,
And answer not so haughtily;
For if thou wilt not plight thee to me,
Thou shalt ever crazy be."
Duke Magnus, &c.

"I am a king's son so good,
How can I let you gain me ?
You dwell not on land, but in the flood,
Which would not with me agree."
Duke Magnus, Duke Magnus, plight thee to me,
I offer you still so freely;
Say me not nay, but yes, yes!18

NOTES:

1. Nisse, Grimm thinks (Deut. Mythol. p. 472) is Niels, Nielsen, i.e. Nicolaus, Niclas, a common name in Germany and the North, which is also contracted to Klas, Claas.
2. Wilse ap Grimm, Deut. Mythol., p. 479, who thinks be may have confounded the Nis with the Nöck.
3. The places mentioned in the following stories are all in Jutland. It is remarkable that we seem to have scarcely any Nis stories from Sweden.
4. This story is current in Germany, England, and Ireland. In the German story the farmer set fire to his barn to burn the Kobold in it. As he was driving off, he turned round to look at the blaze, and, to his no small mortification, saw the Kobold behind him in the cart, crying "It was time for us to come out - it was time for us to come out!"
5. Afzelius, Sago Hafdar., ii. 169. On Christmas-morning, he says, the peasantry gives the Tomte, his wages, i. e. a piece of grey cloth, tobacco, and a shovelful of clay.
6. Berg signifies a larger eminence, mountain, hill; Hög, a height, hillock. The Hög folk are Elves and musicians.
7. The Danish peasantry in Wormius time described the Nökke (Nikke) as a monster with a human head, that dwells both in fresh and salt water. When any one was drowned, they said, Nökken tog ham bort (the Nokke took him away); and when any drowned person was found with the nose red, they said the Nikke has sucked him: Nikken har suet ham.-Magnusen, Eddalære. Denmark being a country without any streams of magnitude, we meet in the Danske Folkesagn no legends of the Nökke; and in ballads, such as "The Power of the Harp," what in Sweden is ascribed to the Neck, is in Denmark imputed to the Havmand or Merman.
8. The Neck is also believed to appear in the form of a complete horse, and can be made to work at the plough, if a bridle of a particular description be employed. - Kalm's Vestgötha Resa.
9. Afzelius, Sago-häfdar, ii. 156.
10.

Det tredje slag på gullharpan klang,
Liten Kerstin räckta upp sin snöhvita arm.
Min hjerteliga kär !
J sägen mig hvarfor J sörjen!
11. As sung in West Gothland and Vermland.
12. Fosse is the North of England force.
13. Or a white kid, Faye ap. Grim, Deut. Mythol., p. 461,
14. The Strömkarl has eleven different measures, to ten of which alone people may dance; the eleventh belongs to the night spirit his host. If any one plays it, tables and benches, cans and cups, old men and women, blind and lame, even the children in the cradle, begin to dance.-Arndt. ut sup., see above p. 80.
15. In the Danske Viser and Folkesagn there are a few stories of Mermen, such as Rosmer Havmand and Marstig's Daughter, both translated by Dr. Jamieson, and Agnete and the Merman, which resembles Proud Margaret. It was natural, says Afzelius, that what in Sweden was related of a Hill King, should in Denmark, be ascribed to a Merman.
16. The appearance of the Wood-woman (Skogsfru) or Elve-woman, is equally unlucky for hunters. She also approaches the fires, and seeks to seduce young men.
17. Arvidsson, ii. 320, ap. Grimm, p. 463.
18. This is a ballad from Småland. Magnus was the youngest son of Gustavus Vasa. He died out of his mind. It is well known that insanity pervaded the Vase family for centuries.