The Swedish Myth

In Europe, Sweden was amongst the last to be christened. I think there is a correlation between the time of christendom and how pious a country is. Granted, Sweden was highly religious, as most of Europe were, during the renaissance up until the end of the 1800s. But this is a relatively short time spann, considering how much earlier other countries became christened. This could explain why the people in the southern Europe remained Catholic while countries in the North converted.

But let’s backtrack a bit, because the nature of Norse mythology and the geographical location of Sweden, is also important when learning about Sweden.

It was actually with relative ease the vikings embraced Christianity. They saw Jesus as simply as yet another deity in their already large roster of gods. Not much changed for the converted, but in time, as we all know, the christian belief and practises overtook the Norse. It is said that the people in Svealand (the area around Stockholm) in the 11th century would still call for Thor’s aid when charging into battle, which is a sign that the old Norse traditions died hard.

I’d like to believe, as a Swede myself, that another reason Scandinavians converted with relative ease is that we are a very practical people. It’s easier to believe in one god rather than several, after all. However, something that remained even though Sweden was Christian, were the stories about the creatures hidden in the woods, under your house, in the sea and in the darkness of the night. These tales about trolls and other magical creatures stayed in people’s consciousness for many centuries to come, especially in isolated villages, which Sweden had many of. It is well known that Sweden is sparsely populated for its size, this was especially true a couple of hundred years ago. Imagine, large stretches of untouched forests and a village, with only a couple hundred people were the nearest neighbour is a week away on foot. This meant that the peasant communities had to be self-sufficient and it’s not hard to imagine the tales being told in such small and isolated communities. Parents telling their children about trolls snatching kids if they are not careful, or about werewolves and Draugs by the campfire during winter.

But it wasn’t just the wilderness where these fairy creatures could be found, they could be found on ships and in homes, were the animals lived and under rocks. There were ways to appease these creatures, much like they had done with the Norse gods before them. One such tradition was to offer a bowl of porridge to the house elf to keep the home safe and don’t cause mischief. These creatures weren’t strictly evil but there were those that were malicious and could kill you if you angered them. These tales became christened, of course, as they became more and more associated with the devil. A very clear example of this change is that they say trolls hate the sound of church bells and could be driven away by the holy cross and such. It was a comfort for these people to have these explanations to why bad things happened to them and that they had ways to prevent misfortune.

These traditions were so hard to get rid of that there are documents about maidens running around naked in the meadow in 1600 century Småland as a ritual of fertility.

All these things, I believe, has shaped how Swedes view themselves and the world today. For instance, the famous Swedish melancholy stem from Stig Larssons movies, but has roots further than that. It is not so much that we are a depressed people, we are an inward looking people, think a lot and are more comfortable within small groups. We aren’t very spiritual either, though most people would acknowledge that there’s “something” that we cannot explain. But if we don’t believe in Gods anymore, nor fairy creatures, then what is this “something?” We don’t have an answer to that and it’s how should be when confronting the otherworldly. The norse Gods were faceless, imageless; we knew they existed and our sacrifices matter, but that was all we knew. Perhaps we are going back to this ambiguity?


A little brain dump from my part. Hope you enjoyed it!

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