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Book No. 83

To first story in the book press: 3621

To last story in the book press: 3662

A Collection of Popular Tales from the Norse and North German

Asbjørsen Peter Christian

Asbjørsen Peter Christian, A Collection of Popular Tales from the Norse and North German, 1907












J. W. BUEL, Ph.D.,






Short Introduction:

The Norsemen came from the East, and brought a common stock of tradition with them. Settled in the Scandinavian peninsula, they developed themselves through Heathenism, Romanism, and Lutheranism, in a locality little exposed to foreign influence, so that even now the Dale-man in Norway or Sweden may be reckoned among the most primitive examples left of peasant life.


The Norsemen came from the East, and brought a common stock of tradition with them. Settled in the Scandinavian peninsula, they developed themselves through Heathenism, Romanism, and Lutheranism, in a locality little exposed to foreign influence, so that even now the Dale-man in Norway or Sweden may be reckoned among the most primitive examples left of peasant life. We should expect, then, that these Popular Tales, which, for the sake of those ignorant in such matters, it may be remarked, had never been collected or reduced to writing till within the last few years, would present a faithful picture of the national consciousness, or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, of that half consciousness out of which the heart of any people speaks in its abundance. Besides those world-old affinities and primaeval parallelisms, besides those dreamy recollections of its old home in the East, we should expect to find its later history, after the great migration, still more distinctly reflected; to discover heathen gods masked in the garb of Christian saints; and thus to see the proof that a nation more easily changes the form than the essence of its faith, and clings with a toughness which endures for centuries to what it has once learned to believe.

In the Norse mythology, Frigga, Odin’s wife, who knew beforehand all that was to happen, and Freyja, the goddess of love and plenty, were prominent figures, and often trod the earth; the three Norns or Fates, who sway the minds of men, and spin their destinies at Mimirs’ well of knowledge, were awful venerable powers, to whom the heathen world looked up with love and adoration and awe. To that love and adoration and awe, throughout the middle age, one woman, transfigured into a divine shape, succeeded by a sort of natural right, and round the Virgin Mary’s blessed head a halo of lovely tales of divine help beams with soft radiance as a crown bequeathed to her by the ancient goddesses. She appears as divine mother, spinner and helpful – virgin. Flowers and plants bear her name. In England one of our commonest and prettiest insects is still called after her, but which belonged to Freyja, the heathen “Lady,” long before the western nations had learned to adore the name of the mother of Jesus.

The Norseman’s god was a god of battles, and victory his greatest gift to men! but this was not the only aspect under which the Great Father was revered. Not victory in the fight alone, but every other good gift came down from him and the Æsir. Odin’s supreme will was that treasure-house of bounty towards which, in one shape or the other, all mortal desires turned, and out of its abundance showers of mercy and streams of divine favour constantly poured down to refresh the weary race of men. All these blessings and mercies, nay, their very source itself, the ancient language bound up in a single word, which, however expressive it may still be, has lost much of the fullness of its meaning in its descent to these later times. This word was “Wish,” which originally meant the perfect ideal, the actual fruition of all joy and desire, and not, as now, the empty longing for the object of our desires. From this original abstract meaning, it was but a step to pass to the concrete, to personify the idea, to make it an immortal essence, an attribute of the divinity, another name for the greatest of all Gods himself. And so we find a host of passages in early writers, in every one of which “God” or “Odin” might be substituted for “Wish” with perfect propriety. Here we read how “The Wish” has hands, feet, power, sight, toil, and art. How he works and labours, shapes and masters, inclines his ear, thinks, swears, curses, and rejoices, adopts children, and takes men into his house; behaves, in short, as a being of boundless power and infinite free-will. Still more, he rejoices in his own works as in a child, and thus appears in a thoroughly patriarchal point of view as the Lord of creation, glorying in his handiwork, as the father of a family in early times was glad at heart when he reckoned his children as arrows in his quiver, and beheld his house full of a long line of retainers and dependents. For this attribute of the Great Father, for Odin as the god of Wish, the Edda uses the word “Oski,” which literally expresses the masculine personification of “Wish,” and it passed on and added the word, osk, wish, as a prefix to a number of others, to signify that they stood in a peculiar relation to the great giver of all good. Thus, we have oska-steinn, wishing-stone, i. e. a stone which plays the part of a divining rod, and reveals secrets and hidden treasure; oska-byrr, a fair wind, a wind as fair as man’s heart could wish it; osk-barn and oska-barn, a child after one’s own heart, an adopted child, as when the younger Edda tells us that all those who die in battle are Odin’s choice-bairns, his adopted children, those on whom he has set his heart, – an expression which, in their turn, was taken by the Icelandic Christian writers to express the relation existing between God and the baptized; and, though last, not least, oska-maer, wish-maidens, another name for the Valkyries – Odin’s corse-choosers, – who picked out the dead for him on the field of battle, and waited on the heroes in Valhalla.

Now, let us see what traces of this great god “Wish” and his choice-bairns and wishing-things we can find in these Tales, faint echoes of a mighty heathen voice, which once proclaimed the goodness of the great Father in the blessings which he bestowed on his chosen sons. We have the “one-eyed Odin,” degenerated into an old hag, or rather – by no uncommon process – we have an old witch fused by popular tradition into a mixture of Odin and the three Nornir. Again, when he gets that wondrous ship “which can sail over fresh water and salt water, and over high hills and deep dales,” and which is so small that he can put it into his pocket, and yet, when he came to use it, could hold five hundred men, we have plainly the Skithblathnir of the Edda to the very life. So also in the Best Wish, the whole groundwork of this story rests on this old belief; and when we meet that pair of old scissors which cuts all manner of fine clothes out of the air, that tablecloth which covers itself with the best dishes you could think of, as soon as it was spread out, and that tap which, as soon as it was turned, poured out the best of mead and wine, we have plainly another form of Frodi’s wishing-quern, – another recollection of those things of choice about which the old mythology has so much to tell.

The notion of the arch-enemy of God and man, of a fallen angel, to whom power was permitted at certain times for an all-wise purpose by the Great Ruler of the universe, was as foreign to the heathendom of our ancestors as his name was outlandish and strange to their tongue. This notion Christianity brought with it from the East; and though it is a plant which has struck deep roots, grown distorted and awry, and borne a bitter crop of superstition, it required all the authority of the Church to prepare the soil at first for its reception. To the notion of good necessarily follows that of evil. The Eastern mind, with its Or-muzd and Ahriman, is full of such dualism, and from that hour, when a more than mortal eye saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven, the kingdom of darkness, the abode of Satan and his bad spirits, was established in direct opposition to the kingdom of the Saviour and his angels. The North had its own notion on this point. Its mythology was not without its own dark powers; but though they too were ejected and dispossessed, they, according to that mythology, had rights of their own. To them belonged all the universe that had not been seized and reclaimed by the younger race of Odin and Æsir; and though this upstart dynasty, as the Frost Giants in Promethean phrase would have called it, well knew that Hel, one of this giant progeny, was fated to do them all mischief, and to outlive them, they took her and made her queen of Niflheim, and mistress over nine worlds. There, in a bitterly cold place, she received the souls of all who died of sickness or old age; care was her bed, hunger her dish, starvation her knife. Her walls were high and strong, and her bolts and bars huge; “Half blue was her skin, and half the colour of human flesh. A goddess easy to know, and in all things very stern and grim.” But though severe, she was not an evil spirit. She only received those who died as no Norseman wished to die. For those who fell on the gory battlefield, or sank beneath the waves, Valhalla was prepared, and endless mirth and bliss with Odin. Those went to Hel who were rather unfortunate than wicked, who died before they could be killed. But when Christianity came in and ejected Odin and his crew of false divinities, declaring them to be lying gods and demons, then Hel fell with the rest; but fulfilling her fate, out-lived them. From a person she became a place, and all the Northern nations, from the Goth to the Norseman, agreed in believing Hell to be the abode of the devil and his wicked spirits, the place prepared from the beginning for the everlasting torments of the damned. One curious fact connected with this explanation of Hell’s origin will not escape the reader’s attention. The Christian notion of Hell is that of a place of heat, for in the East, whence Christianity came, heat is often an intolerable torment, and cold, on the other hand, everything that is pleasant and delightful. But to the dweller in the North, heat brings with it sensations of joy and comfort, and life without fire has a dreary outlook; so their Hel ruled in a cold region over those who were cowards by implication, while the mead-cup went round, and huge logs blazed and crackled in Valhalla, for the brave and beautiful who had dared to die on the field of battle. But under Christianity the extremes of heat and cold have met, and Hel, the cold uncomfortable goddess, is now our Hell, where flames and fire abound, and where the devils abide in everlasting flame.

Still, popular tradition is tough, and even after centuries of Christian teaching, the Norse peasant, in his popular tales, can still tell of Hell as a place where fire-wood is wanted at Christmas, and over which a certain air of comfort breathes, though, as in the goddess Hel’s halls, meat is scarce.

We have got then the ancient goddesses identified as evil influences, and as the leader of a midnight band of women, who practised secret and unholy rites. This leads us at once to witchcraft. In all ages and in all races this belief in sorcery has existed. Men and women practised it alike, but in all times female sorcerers have predominated. This was natural enough. In those days women were priestesses; they collected drugs and simples; women alone knew the virtues of plants. Those soft hands spun linen, made lint, and bound wounds. Women in the earliest times with which we are acquainted with our forefathers, alone knew how to read and write, they only could carve the mystic runes, they only could chant the charms so potent to allay the wounded warrior’s smart and pain. The men were busy out of doors with ploughing, hunting, barter, and war. In such an age the sex which possessed by natural right booklearning, physic, soothsaying, and incantation, even when they used these mysteries for good purposes, were but a step from sin.

It is curious indeed to trace the belief in witches through the middle Age, and to mark how it increases in intensity and absurdity. At first, the superstition seemed comparatively harmless, and though the witches themselves may have believed in their unholy power, there were not wanting divines who took a common-sense view of the matter, and put the absurdity of their pretensions to a practical proof. Such was that good parish priest who asked, when an old woman of his flock insisted that she had been in his house with the company of “the Good Lady,” and had seen him naked and covered him up, “How, then did you get in when all the doors were locked?” “We can get in,” she said, “even if the doors are locked.” Then the priest took her into the chancel of the church, locked the door, and gave her a sound thrashing with the pastoral stafif, calling out, “Out with you, lady witch.” But as she could not, he sent her home saying, “See now how foolish you are to believe in such empty dreams.” But as the Church increased in strength, as heresies arose, and consequent persecution, then the secret meetings of these sectarians, as we should now call them, were identified by the hierarchy with the rites of sorcery and magic, and with the relics of the worship of the old gods. By the time, too, that the hierarchy was established, that belief in the fallen angel, the Arch-Fiend, the Devil, originally so foreign to the nations of the West, had become thoroughly ingrafted on the popular mind, and a new element of wickedness and superstition was introduced at those unholy festivals. About the middle of the thirteenth century, we find the mania for persecuting heretics invading tribes of the Teutonic race from France and Italy, backed by all the power of the Pope. Like jealousy, persecution too often makes the meat it feeds on, and many silly, if not harmless, superstitions were rapidly put under the ban of the Church. Now the “Good Lady” and her train begin to recede, they only fill up the background while the Prince of Darkness steps, dark and terrible, in front, and soon draws after him the following of the ancient goddess. Now we hear stories of demoniac possession; now the witches adore a demon of the other sex. With the male element, and its harsher, sterner nature, the sinfulness of these unholy assemblies is infinitely increased; folly becomes guilt, and guilt crime.

The frequent transformation of men into beasts, in these tales, is another striking feature. This power the gods of the Norseman possessed in common with those of all other mythologies. Europa and her Bull, Leda and her Swan, will occur at once to the reader’s mind; and to come to closer resemblances, just as Athene appears in the Odyssey as an eagle or a swallow perched on the roof of the hall, so Odin flies off as a falcon, and Loki takes the form of a horse or bird. This was only part of that omnipotence which all gods eijjoy. But the belief that men, under certain conditions, could also take the shape of animals, is primaeval, and the traditions of every race can tell of such transformations. Herodotus had heard how the Neurians, a Slavonic race, passed for wizards amongst the Scythians and the Greeks settled round the Black Sea, because each of them, once in the year, became a wolf for a few days, and then returned to his natural shape. The Latins called such a man, a turnskin, – Versipellis, an expression which exactly agrees with the Icelandic expression for the same thing, and which is probably the true original of our turncoat. In Petronius the superstition appears in its full shape, and is worth repeating. At the banquet of Trimalchion, Niceros gives the following account of the turnskins of Nero’s time: –

“It happened that my master was gone to Capua to dispose of some second-hand goods. I took the opportunity, and persuaded our guest to walk with me to the fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and a sort of grim water-drinking Pluto. About cock-crow, when the moon was shining as bright as midday, we came among the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or to count them; and when I turned to look at him, lo! he had already stripped himself and laid down his clothes near him. My heart was in my nostrils, and I stood like a dead man; but he ‘circumminxit vestimenta,’ and on a sudden became a wolf. Do not think I jest; I would not lie for any man’s estate. But to return to what I was saying. When he became a wolf, he began howling, and fled into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, and afterwards, when I went to take up his clothes, they were turned into stone. Who then died with fear but I? Yet I drew my sword, and went cutting the air right and left, till I reached the villa of my sweetheart. I entered the courtyard. I almost breathed my last, the sweat ran down my neck, my eyes were dim, and I thought I should never recover myself. My Melissa wondered why I was out so late, and said to me, –

‘Had you come sooner you might

at least have helped us, for a wolf has entered the farm, and w'orried all our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, for our slave ran a lance through his neck.’

When I heard this, I could not doubt how it was, and, as it was clear daylight, ran home as fast as a robbed innkeeper. When I came to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone, I could find nothing but blood. But when I got home, I found my friend the soldier in bed, bleeding at the neck like an ox, and a doctor dressing his wound. I then knew he was a turnskin; nor would I ever have broken bread with him again; no, not if you had killed me.”

A man who had such a gift of greed was also called lycanthropus, a man-wolf or wolf-man, which term the Anglo-Saxons translated literally in Canute’s Laws vere-vulf, and the early English werewolf. In old French he was loupgarou, which means the same thing; except that garou means man-wolf in itself without the antecedent loup, so that, as Madden observes, the whole word is one of those reduplications of which we have an example in lukewarm.

It was not likely that a belief so widely spread should not have extended itself to the North; and the grave assertions of Olaus Magnus in the sixteenth century, and his Treatise de Gentibus Septentrionalibus, show how common the belief in were-wolves was in Sweden so late as the time of Gus-tavus Vasa. In mythical times the Volsunga Saga expressly states of Sigmund and Sinfjötli that they became werewolves, – which, we may remark, were Odin’s sacred beasts, – just in the same way as Brynhildr and the Valkyries, or corse-choosers, who followed the god of battles to the field, and chose the dead for Valhalla when the fight was done, became swan-maidens, and took the shape of swans. In either case, the wolf’s skin or the swan’s feathery covering was assumed and laid aside at pleasure, though the Völundr Qaidr, in the Edda, and the stories of “the Fair Melusina,” and other medieval swan-maidens, show that any one who siezed that shape while thus laid aside, had power over its wearer. In latter times, when this old heroic belief degenerated into the notion of sorcery, it was supposed that a girdle of wolfskin thrown over the body, or even a slap on the face with a wolfskin glove, would transform the person upon whom the sorcerer practised into the shape of a ravening wolf, which fled at once to the woods, where he remained in that shape for a period which varied in popular belief for nine days, three, seven, or nine years. While in this state he was especially ravenous after young children, whom he carried off as the were-wolf carried off William in the old romance, though all were-wolves did not treat their prey with the same tenderness as that werewolf treated William.

But the favourite beast for Norse transformations in historic times, if we may judge from the evidence afforded by the Sagas, was the bear, the king of all their beasts, whose strength and sagacity made him an object of great respect. This old belief, then, might be expected to be found in these Norse Tales, and accordingly we find men transformed into various beasts. Of old these transformations, as we have already stated, were active, if we may use the expression, as well as passive. A man who possessed the gift, frequently assumed the shape of a beast at his own will and pleasure, like the soldier in Petronius. Even now in Norway, it is matter of popular belief that Finns and Lapps, who from time immemorial have passed for the most skillful witches and wizards in the world, can at will assume the shape of bears; and it is a common thing to say of one of those beasts, when he gets unusually savage and daring, “that can be no Christian bear.” On such a bear, in the parish of Oföden, after he had worried to death more than sixty horses and six men, it is said that a girdle of bearskin, the infallible mark of a man thus transformed, was found when he was at last tracked and slain. The tale called “Farmer Weathersky,” in this collection, shows that the belief of these spontaneous transformations still exists in popular tradition, where it is easy to see that Farmer Weathersky is only one of the ancient gods degraded into a demon’s shape. His sudden departure through the air, horse, sledge, and lad, and all, and his answer, “I’m at home, alike north, and south, and east, and west;” his name itself, and his distant abode, surrounded with the corpses of the slain, sufficiently betray the divinity in disguise. His transformation, too, into a hawk answers exactly to that of Odin when he flew away from the Frost Giant in the shape of that bird. But in these tales such transformations are for the most part passive; they occur not at the will of the person transformed, but through sorcery practised on them by some one else.

But we should ill understand the spirit of the Norsemen, if we supposed that these transformations into beasts were all that the national heart has to tell of beasts and their doings, or that, when they appear, they do so merely as men-beasts, without any power or virtue of their own. From the earliest times, side by side with those productions of the human mind which speak of the dealings of men with men, there has grown up a stock of traditions about animals and their relations with one another, which form a true Beast Epic, and is full of the liveliest traits of nature. Here too, it was reserved for Grimm to restore these traditions to their true place in the history of the human mind, and to show that the poetry which treats of them is neither satirical nor didactic, though it may contain touches of both these artificial kinds of composition, but, on the contrary, purely and intensely natural. It is Epic, in short, springing out of that deep love of nature and close observation of the habits of animals which is only possible in an early and simple stage of society. It used to be the fashion, when these Beast traditions were noticed, to point to Æsop as their original, but Grimm has sufficiently proved that what we see in Æsop is only the remains of a great world-old cycle of such traditions which had already, in Æsop’s day, been subjected by the Greek mind to that critical process which a late state of society brings to bear on popular traditions; that they were then already worn and washed out and moralized.

The horse was a sacred animal among the Teutonic tribes from the first moment of their appearance in history, and Tacitus has related, how in the shade of those woods and groves which served them for temples, white horses were fed at the public cost, whose backs no mortal man crossed, whose neighings and snortings were carefully watched as auguries and omens, and who were thought to be conscious of divine mysteries. In Persia, too, the classical reader will remember how the neighing of a horse decided the choice for the crown. In England, at any rate, we have only to think of Hengist and Horsa, the twin heroes of the Anglo-Saxon migration, as the legend ran, – heroes whose name meant “horse,” – and of the vale of the White Horse in Berks, where the sacred form still gleams along the down, to be reminded of the sacredness of the horse to our forefathers. The Eddas are filled with the names of famous horses, and the Sagas contain many stories of good steeds, in whom their owners trusted and believed as sacred to this or that particular god. Such a horse is Dapplegrim, who saves his master out of all his perils, and brings him to all fortune, and is another example of that mysterious connection with the higher powers which animals in all ages have been supposed to possess.

Such a friend, too, to the helpless lassie is the Dun Bull in Katie Woodencloak, out of whose ear comes the “Wishing Cloth,” which serves up the choicest dishes. The story is probably imperfect, as we should expect to see him again in human shape after his head was cut off, and his skin flayed; but, after being the chief character up to that point, he remains from that time forth in the background, and we only see him darkly in the man who comes out of the face of the rock, and supplies the lassie’s wants when she knocks on it. Dun, or blue, or mouse-colour, is the favourite colour for fairy kine. Thus the cow which Guy of Warwick killed was dun. The Huldror in Norway have large flocks of blue kine. In Scotland runs the story of the Mouse-coloured Elfin Bull. In Iceland the colour of such kine is apalgrar, dapple grey. This animal has been an object of adoration and respect from the earliest times, and we need only remind our readers of the sanctity of cows and bulls among the Indians and Egyptians, of “the Golden Calf” in the Bible; of lo and her wanderings from land to land; and, though last, not least, of Audhumla, the Mythic Cow in the Edda, who had so large a part in the creation of the first Giant in human form.

We now come to a class of beings which plays a large part, and always for ill, in these Tales. These are the Giants or Trolls. In modern Norse tradition there is little difference between the names, but originally Troll was a more general expression for a supernatural being than Giant, which was rather confined to a race more dull than wicked. In the Giants we have the wantonness of boundless bodily strength and size, which, trusting entirely to these qualities, falls at last by its own weight. At first, it is true, that proverbial wisdom, all the stores of traditional lore, all that could be learnt by what may be called rule of thumb, was ascribed to them.

This race, and that of the upstart Æsir, though almost always at feud, still had their intervals of common intercourse, and even social enjoyment. Marriages take place between them, visits are paid, feasts are given, ale is brewed, and mirth is fast and furious. Thor was the worst foe the giants ever had, and yet he met them sometimes on good terms. They were destined to meet once for all on that awful day, “the twilight of the gods,” but till then, they entertained for each other some sense of mutual respect.

The Trolls, on the other hand, with whom mankind had more to do, were supposed to be less easy tempered, and more systematically malignant, than the Giants, and with the term were bound up notions of sorcery and unholy power. But mythology is a proof of many colours, in which the hues are shot and blended, so that the various races of supernatural beings are shaded off, and fade away almost imperceptibly into each other; and thus, even in heathen times, it must have been hard to say exactly where the Giant ended and the Troll began. But when Christianity came in, and heathendom fell; when the godlike race of the Æsir became evil demons instead of good genial powers, then all the objects of the old popular belief, whether Æsir, Giants, or Trolls, were mingled together in one superstition, as “no canny.” They were all Trolls, all malignant; and thus it is that, in these tales, the traditions about Odin and his underlings, about the Frost Giants, and about sorcerers and wizards, are confused and garbled; and all supernatural agency that plots man’s ill is the work of Trolls, whether the agent be the arch enemy himself, or giant, or witch, or wizard.

In tales such as “The Old Dame and Her Hen,” “The Giant who had no Heart in his Body,” “Shortshanks,” “Boots and the Troll,” “Boots who ate a match with the Troll,” the easy temper of the old Frost Giants predominates, and we almost pity them as we read. In another, “The Big Bird Dan,” we have a Troll Prince, who appears as a generous benefactor to the young Prince, and lends him a sword by help of which he slays the King of the Trolls, just as we sometimes find in the Edda friendly meetings between the Æsir and this or that Frost Giant. In “Tatterhood,” the Trolls are very near akin to the witches of the Middle Age. In other tales, as “The Blue Belt,” “Farmer Weathersky,” a sort of settled malignity against man appears as the direct working and result of a bad and evil spirit, – the supernatural dwellers of the woods and hills, who go to church, and eat men, and porridge, and sausages indifferently, not from malignity, but because they know no better, because it is their nature, and because they have always done so. In one point they all agree, – in their place of abode. The wild pine forest that clothes the spurs of the fells, but more than all, the interior recesses of the rocky fell itself, is where the Trolls live. Thither they carry off the children of men, and to them belong all the untold riches of the mineral world. There, in caves and clefts in the steep face of the rock, sits the Troll, as the representative of the old giants, among heaps of gold and silver and precious things. They stride off into the dark forest by day, whither no rays of the sun can pierce; they return home at nightfall, feast themselves full, and snore out the night. One thing was fatal to them, – the sight of the sun. If they looked him full in the face, his glory was too great for them, and they burst, as in “Lord Peter.” This, too, is a deeply mythic trait. The old religion of the North was a bright and lively faith; it lived in the light of joy and gladness; its gods were the “blithe powers;” opposed to them were the dark powers of mist and gloom, who could not bear the glorious face of the Sun, of Baldr’s beaming visage, or the bright flash of Thor’s levin bolt.

In one aspect, the whole race of Giants and Trolls stands out in strong historical light. There can be little doubt that, in their continued existence amongst the woods, and rocks, and hills, we have a memory of the gradual suppression and extinction of some hostile race, who gradually retired into the natural fastnesses of the land, and speedily became mythic. Nor, if we bear in mind their natural position, and remember how constantly the infamy of sorcery has clung to the Finns and Lapps, shall we have far to go to seek this ancient race, even at the present day. Between this outcast nomad race, which wandered from forest to forest, and from fell to fell, without a fixed place of abode, and the old natural powers and Frost Giants, the minds of the race which adored Odin and the Æsir soon engendered a monstrous man-eating cross-breed of supernatural beings, who fled from contact with the intruders as soon as the first great struggle was over, abhorred the light of day, and looked upon agriculture and tillage as a dangerous innovation which destroyed their hunting fields, and was destined finally to root them out from off the face of the earth. This fact appears in countless stories all over the globe, for man is true to himself in all climes, and the savage in Africa or across the Rocky Mountains, dreads tillage and detests the plough as much as any Lapp or Samoyed. “See what pretty playthings, mother!” cries the Giant’s daughter, as she unties her apron, and shows her a plough, and horses, and peasant. “Back with them this instant,” cries the mother in wrath, “and put them down as carefully as you can, for these playthings can do our race great harm, and when these come we must budge.” “What sort of an earthworm is this?” said one Giant to another, when they met a man as they walked. “These are the earthworms that will one day eat us up, brother,” answered the other; and soon both Giants left that part of Germany. Nor does this trait appear less strongly in these Norse Tales.

Enough surely has now been said to show that the old religion and mythology of the Norseman still lives disguised in these popular tales. Besides this internal evidence, we find here and there, in the written literature of earlier days, hints that the same stories were even then current and continue to be so, among the lower classes. Thus, in King Sverri’s Saga we read, “And so it was just like what is said to have happened in old stories of what the king’s children suffered from their stepmother’s ill-will.” And again, in Olof Tryggvason’s Saga by the monk Odd, “And better is it to hear such things with mirth than stepmother’s stories which shepherds tell, where no one can tell whether anything is true, and where the king is always made the least in their narrative.” But, in truth, no such positive evidence is needed. These mythical deep-rooted germs, throwing out fresh shoots from age to age in the popular literature of the race, are far more convincing proofs of the early existence of these traditions than any mere external evidence.

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