Monday, 11 March 2013

- Norwegian Folklore -
The Nøkken

After seeing the stunning folklore themed portraits yesterday by Eyes as Big as Plates, I started to drown myself in traditional Norwegian and Finnish folklore. I met a whole host of fantastical creatures and read a mountain of wonderful stories, many of which will more than likely end up on here so that I can share them with you.

The Nøkken is a very dangerous and extremely frightening creature from Norwegian folklore. He lives in rivers, lakes and ponds which have water lilies growing in them, in order to more easily lure people to their doom when they try the pick the beautiful flowers. 

He is believed to be a shape-shifter who can take many forms depending on his victim. If he wanted to lure in young women then he would pose as a handsome man playing a fiddle or harp. His beautiful music would seduce them and trick them into a watery grave. He also commonly appeared as a stunning white horse which would happily let young children climb onto its back before diving back into the water and drowning them. Sometimes he would take the form of a wooden boat, a tree stump or a floating log and he could make the the waters edge appear further in than it really was - tricking his victims into falling into the deep water. In some stories he can even become invisible. (I think the Nøkken is definitely in the running for my top 5 most terrifying folk creatures!)

Nøkken -  By Theodor Kittelsen
His true form, however, is far, far from beautiful or alluring. The Nøkken has skin like that of a drowned corpse and is covered from head to toe in seagrass. His huge mouth is filled with razor sharp teeth and his glowing yellow eyes can often be seen floating just above or in the water.

Thankfully there are a few ways to protect yourself from this truly frightening creature. One way is by spitting and then throwing a steel needle or cross into the water, and if you speak its name then the Nøkken will die.
"Nøkken! Nøkken! needle in water. Virgin Mary tossed steel into the water! You are sinking I am floating!" 
- a riddle for protection. 
Boy on White Horse - By Theodor Kittelsen
In the tales and descriptions of the Nøkken we can see similarities with other pieces of familiar folklore, the most obvious of these is the Scottish Kelpie, as both of these creatures take the form of beautiful horses who intend to drown the guliable and unweary. We can also see hints of the will-o'-the-wisp in the Nøkken's glowing yellow eyes.

As a tool for teaching and keeping people safe the Nøkken, Kelpie and Will-o'-the-wisp are all equally brilliant. They teach us to be weary of water, to stay away from its treacherous edges even if flowers tempt us closer. We are taught not to talk to strangers or go near wild animals, no matter how beautiful they or their music may seem to us. And if we see strange glowing lights we most definitely must run away as fast as we can!

So the next time you're walking past a lake or river and hear a piece of enchanting music, I hope you'll remember these warnings and turn the other way. 
Better safe than sorry.


  1. It also reminded me of trolls who live under bridges and demand money.

    Just a note, its wary, not weary. Weary is tired.

    Returning your visit.


  2. Actually I think we must face the dragon or the Nokken or the troll .. Thank you for sharing - I LOVE fairy tales and myth ..

  3. Sorry if I come across as a bit nitpicky... But the "the" in front of Nøkken is redundant. The -en ending serves as the definite article in norwegian. A nøkk, the nøkk equals: en nøkk, nøkken.

  4. Sorry if I come across as a bit nitpicky... But the "the" in front of Nøkken is redundant. The -en ending serves as the definite article in norwegian. A nøkk, the nøkk equals: en nøkk, nøkken.

  5. I would like to know where you got your information from? I am Norwegian and have studied this, and lot of what you write is not accounted for anywhere that I have ever come across - apart from unserious articles on the internet.