From Trolls to Faeries to wise women and viking witch-queens

From Trolls to Faeries to wise women and viking witch-queens

Postby Galloglaich » Sun Oct 19, 2008 12:20 am

Man you never know where wikipedia can lead you. Todays little journey was real interesting to me.

I was reading a crazy story in the poetic Edda (which I mostly don't really like) today at lunch, called the poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson. There was a funny flyting (kind of a raunchy insult contest, like in Hip Hop) between Helgi and a Troll woman named Hrimgerd. Later on, Helgi sees another troll woman riding a wolf with snakes for reigns, and he unfortunately rebuffs her, ultimately leading to a kind of curse and his own demise. Turns out she was some kind of protective spirit.

You run across references to these troll-women a lot in Scandinavian myth, I thought these were particularly amusing, and wanted to find out more about them. Looking for some images, I found this strange drawing of a woman with a foxes tail, greeting a logger.


I followed some links, found not Trolls but this somewhat less fearsome Norweigian spirit called a Hulder or Huldra


...which seems to be a bit like a dryad. Could be dangerous, or could be quite nice if you are friendly and don't make annoying references to her tail.

Interestingly the wiki cites stories of hostility between Huldra and the Aesir, male sky gods including Odin who was the worst of the lot, but they are also associated on a friendly basis with Freya of the Vanir. The Vanir cult is probably an earlier religion which persisted through the Viking age.

The Scandinavian Huldra are apparently linked with the germanic concept of another similar wood spirit called a Holda which, apparently, one of the Grimm brothers did some research on

And both are linked to a kind of she-witch called a Völva, (an evocative name :) which makes me think of the Irish 'Shiela Na Gig' carvings and the stone depictions of Freya) who was a kind of witch who was documented as playing an important role in both German and Scandinavian tribes during the Migration period.


The Romans made them out to be mean old witches who engaged in human sacrifice, but within these tribal societies they seem to have been highly respected and played a major role as seeresses, healers etc.

This bit was particularly interesting, from Caesars war diaries:

"When Caesar inquired of his prisoners, wherefore Ariovistus did not come to an engagement, he discovered this to be the reason -- that among the Germans it was the custom for their matrons to pronounce from lots and divination whether it were expedient that the battle should be engaged in or not; that they had said, "that it was not the will of heaven that the Germans should conquer, if they engaged in battle before the new moon."

This caught my attention since it echoes the tradition within the Iroquois federation, commented upon by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, of always consulting their old women before going to war - allegedly the women had the last word. Makes sense in a tribal society with a lot of raiding and small wars, women would tend to live longer, and have a better idea of whether a given course of action might be dangerous in the long run.

It's also interesting that "Edda", which started my little journey here, allegedly means "Great Grandmother".

I don't mean to sound all new agey about any of this because I hate that stuff, but it's curious to see how the pagan traditions were gradually covered over and todays wise woman turns into tomorrows monster, and ultimately victim of genocidal witch burnings.

there are numerous graves found in Scandinavia, in Finland, in the Baltic, in Scythian / Sarmation/ Sauromatian graves in the Central Asian Steppes, and even in Saxon parts of England in which contained women buried with arms and armor, and tools normally associated with men.

For example these exquisite and remarkably advanced looking weapons (particularly the sword- quillions that large were unusual this early) were found in the grave of a woman in Finland, dated 10th century IIRC.


The (arguably) most famous and beautiful Viking ship burial, the Oseburg ship, was the spectacular grave of a woman,
Image was one of the most famous Celtic burials in lovely Burgundy, the so-called princess of Vix.

The artifacts are of stunning beauty, I've seen them myself when my uncle took me there as a child, but I'm sure Fab could tell us far more than I could since he is almost a neighbor of the 'Princess'.

In the Swedish trading town of Birka, they found womans graves with blacksmiths tools, merchants scales. In one grave (not a womans I don't think) they also found a small buddha and some other interesting foreign goods.

The really interesting bit is that many of these discoveries were only recognized in recent years because they used to automatically assume skeletons were male or female based on grave goods. Dagger = male, mirror or spindle whorl = female. When they first discovered large numbers of graves in the Ukraine with both types of grave goods, they speculated on a special class of transvestite warriors, amazingly before some woman archaeologist verified the skeletons as female about fifteen years ago IIRC.

To take the story on another strange turn, Ran across this the other day, on the wiki about Druids ... I was reading about my family on the Irish side, the O'Higgins, who were from a long line of "Fili" or poets ... (or bullshitters depending on how drunk you are when you listen to us) the O'Higgins family is mentioned in the wiki.

Anyway, on the Druid wiki I found this intriguing fragment:
Phillip Freeman, a classics professor, discusses a later reference to Dryades, which he translates as Druidesses, writing that "The fourth century A.D. collection of imperial biographies known as the Historia Augusta contains three short passages involving Gaulish women called "Dryades" ("Druidesses")." He points out that "In all of these, the women may not be direct heirs of the Druids who were supposedly wiped out by the Romans—but in any case they do show that the druidic function of prophesy continued among the natives in Roman Gaul."[11] Additionally, Druidesses are mentioned in later Irish mythology, including the legend of Fionn mac Cumhaill, who, according to the 12th century The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn, is raised by the druidess Bodhmall and a wise-woman.[12][13]

Anybody know who this Phillip Freeman is? is he a flake or a 'legit' researcher?

The source cites this book

...which I have ordered. I don't really know anything about the guy though except he apparently also wrote a book on Julius Caesar and does appear to be a "professor of clasics" at some University in Iowa.

He has a website

The reason I'm interested in this is, I'm wondering if the Greek mythological (and psychological) concept of a 'Dryad' comes from the Celtic reality of a female Druid or priest. Did this fade into fairy tales in the same way that the Völva evolved into the Holder and then a Troll?

The Greeks were dealing with the Celts pretty early, the Celtic invasion was around 279 BC* and they were dealing with them before that - the Hallstadt society was going strong as early as 800 BC. Whats more "Dryad" or some similar IE word may have an indo-european etymology which was common among say, the Thracians or the Scythians in this area before the Celts arrived. Of course that is just utterly rank speculation on my part.

We do now know for a fact however from archeological evidence unearthed in since the 1990s that there were in fact female warriors among some other Indo European tribes the Greeks had direct dealings with who also held women in relatively high status, the Scythians and Saroumatians, which were quite likely the basis for the very early Greek myths about the "Amazons".

Anyway, a bit more food for thought :)

I'm enjoying the hell out of the Fenian cycle by the way, highly recommend it.


* Though in the popular culture we tend not to think of Celts and Greeks having much interraction, most people on this forum probably know that the Celts persisted in the Greek zone after the invasion in 279, three large tribes carved out a place for themselves in central Anatolia (modern day Turkey which was basically all Greek kingdoms then) which came to be called Galacia, the same Galatians Paul of Tarsus wrote that famous letter to in the Bible.

The Celts and the Greeks never really got along very well and were constantly fighting, the Celts were very slow to become "Hellenized". Many of the famous Celtic stories we know from antiquity come from these wars, as does much of the most important art. The famous statue of the Dying Gaul

...was commissioned to celebrate a major victory over the Gallatians by the Greek 'Tyrant' Attalus of Pergamon, with the help of the Romans.

There is one thing i can't figure out though, largely due to not being Norwegien.

what the hell does a huldra have to do with wearing a red dress and washing your hair in a waterfall? Help from our resident vikings would be appreciated. Especially norwegien welders.

At any rate, the mythology seems to still be alive to some tiny extent, some folks have more fun with it than others juding from this other "Huldra Troll" I found on google...

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Re: From Trolls to Faeries to wise women and viking witch-queens

Postby Galloglaich » Tue Jun 09, 2009 7:30 pm

Very interesting article about Dutch Wise women (analagous to the German "Weiss frau" who followed the same path from prophetesses to faeries to demons as Christianity changed society.

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Re: From Trolls to Faeries to wise women and viking witch-qu

Postby Galloglaich » Wed Dec 19, 2012 2:27 am

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Joined: Sat Sep 27, 2008 5:30 pm

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