Welcome back to Cryptid Corner! Today, world-renowned cryptozoologist Dr. Veronica L. Raptor of the infamous Innsmouth Institute is here to talk about about creatures you might encounter in the Scandinavian woods.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
EMILY C. SKAFTUN: If you think Nordic cryptozoology is synonymous with trolls, you’re in for a treat today. Dr. Raptor is here to tell us about not one but two monsters—can I call them that?—inhabiting the wild north.
VERONICA L. RAPTOR: In this case, I’d say monstrosity is in the eye of the beholder. Or the attitude of the beholder, at least. If you are polite to huldrefolk, they can bestow on you great fortune. But if you are unkind…
The first of today’s cryptids is known by many names. Though there are males, it’s almost always the female of the species that humans encounter. She’s usually called huldra (from the word for “hidden”) in Norwegian, skogsrå (“forest ruler”) in Swedish, ulda (“underground people”) in Sámi and metsänpiika (“forest girl”) in Finnish, but this list is not exhaustive. It’s thought that the range of these creatures once included mainland Europe as well, particularly Germany’s Black Forest.
It’s common to mistake a huldra for human at first glance, and a particularly beautiful one at that. Tall, blonde, and seductive—until you notice that she has a tail! In Norway, it’s usually a cow’s tail, while in Sweden it’s often a fox tail.
ECS: Are they different sub-species?
VLR: We suspect they’re shapeshifters. They’re also reputed to change after intercourse or marriage… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The important thing to remember if you encounter a huldra is to stay cool. Many stories tell of a person—usually a boy or young man—calmly saying something like “Miss, your petticoat is showing under your skirt” when they see the tail, and being rewarded with gold or good fishing luck. A chance encounter like that is really your best-case scenario.
ECS: Oh? What’s the worst?
VLR: The huldra might want to seduce or marry you. Occasionally, becoming the lover of this forest spirit works out well for the human—a satisfied huldra can confer rewards ranging from tending your fire while you sleep to enchanting your rifle so that you never miss a shot.
But be warned: she often kills those who fail to *ahem* please her. So bring your A Game, gents. If she’s only mildly displeased with your performance, she may show mercy and simply lure you into the underworld. If you refuse her advances, you’re likely to have very bad luck hunting. And don’t even think about bragging about your forest encounter. One time a boy crowed to his whole village about his gorgeous forest bride, and the next time the huldra saw him she beat him so violently with her cow tail that he permanently lost his hearing.
Stories of marriage to huldra were once common in Scandinavia. A man from Valdres, Norway, who was still alive in 1980, told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation that he had a child among the huldrefolk. There are also reports of huldrefolk replacing human babies with their own ugly offspring.
ECS: So the children are ugly, but the women are beautiful?
VLR: Apparently they age well. I joke. Remember, most cryptozoologists think huldrefolk are shapeshifters. Another faction argues that their beauty is an illusion. After being seduced by a huldra, men sometimes report finding her backside to be hollow like a rotten tree trunk. Sometimes they even “come to” to find themselves mating with an actual tree.
It’s also said that if a huldra ever gets married—in a church, that is—she’ll become hideous but immensely strong. For some farmers, this isn’t a bad deal.
Historically, it was illegal to have sexual relations with a forest spirit. Trial records from 15th- and 16th-century Sweden show that people could be sentenced to death for this crime.
ECS: That’s all well and good for heterosexual men wandering in the Nordic woods, but is there anyone out there for the single ladies?
VLR: Funny you should ask. Our second cryptid, nøkk in Norwegian or näck in Swedish, is in many ways the male counterpart of the huldra. This charming fellow is a water spirit who plays an enchanted violin to lure women—and, sadly, children—to him. But unlike the huldra, the nøkk isn’t interested in marriage. He usually just drowns his victims in whatever stream or lake he’s inhabiting.
ECS: Women always get the short stick, huh?
VLR: Only if they’re unprepared. I recommend carrying a few nuts and bolts when walking the Nordic woods; the nøkk can be repelled by steel tossed into his water. Alternately, you can bring some animal blood or strong alcohol like Brennevín to trade for music lessons, and walk away from your forest encounter with the ability to play music as hauntingly beautiful as the nøkk’s.
ECS: Okay, let’s say our readers want in on that deal. How do they find a nøkk? What does he look like?
VLR: Again, it’s hard to say. He’s often described as a horse, but also sometimes as a water dragon, and most often as a handsome and shockingly well-dressed man. Like the huldra, he’s a shapeshifter. Just listen for the most beguiling music you’ve ever heard and follow that.
But be warned: sightings of the nøkk are often omens presaging a drowning death to come.
ECS: Nobody likes that! Can anything be done to prevent those premonitions from coming true
VLR: So far, nothing the researchers have tried has worked. But it’s almost impossible to design Death Premonition Prevention studies that pass review by ethics boards, so the data is largely anecdotal—and cryptozoology is already a notoriously dangerous field of study, so there’s quite a bit of noise in that data.