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Båstadknallen forest, Värmland
The historical forest in Båstadknallen nature reserve in Värmland.
Photo credit: Gösta Reiland

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Båstadknallen forest, Värmland
The historical forest in Båstadknallen nature reserve in Värmland.
Photo: Gösta Reiland

According to Swedish folklore, the wilderness is teeming with mythological creatures – each with its own particular habitat. These supernatural beings all tend to have one thing in common – a determination to protect nature against humans.

Most folkloric tales centre around forests, mountains, lakes and meadows, which might originate from Swedes being at one with the surrounding nature. Having grown up with the right to roam, which generously allows anyone to spend time in nature almost anywhere as long as nothing is destroyed, wilderness is a treasured source of well-being. It has also helped inspire the imagination and establish a deep sense of cultural identity, dating back centuries.

The Swedish tales tend to take place in nature, centring on the forest-dwelling mythological creatures living within it. Some of these beings are kind and helpful, rewarding those who treat them and their surroundings with respect, while others set out to seduce, sometimes with devious intentions.

It’s impossible to touch on the subject without mentioning the work of Swedish artist and illustrator John Bauer, born in 1882. His classic book ‘Bland Tomtar och Troll’ (Among Gnomes and Trolls) features various stories based on Swedish folklore, with its focus on a host of mythological creatures found lurking in the wilderness.

Here’s an introduction to five creatures to keep an eye out for:

Hiking in West Sweden
Hiking at Billingen, Skövde
Photo: Tobias Andersson/Westsweden.com

Huldra – the seductive forest spirit

The seductive ‘huldra’ could be described as Scandinavian folklore’s take on the siren. In Swedish folklore, this irresistible being is also known as ‘skogsrå’ – forest spirit – or Tall-Maja ("Pine Tree Mary").

With roots in Christianity, the origins of the huldra unfolds in a tale about a woman who’d only washed half of her children when God appeared at her cottage door. Deeply ashamed about her dirty children, she hid them from sight, whereupon God commanded them forever hidden from humanity. And thus, they became ‘hulders’, the collective name for these “hidden folk”.

In Swedish mythology, the huldra is mostly seen as a benign spirit, known to be kind to charcoal burners, allowing them to sleep restfully by keeping an eye on their charcoal kilns. By way of thanking her, the charcoal burners would leave provisions. But her dangerous side has been revealed in some tales, recounting how she lures men with her charms, carefully hiding her cow’s tail by tying it in a knot under her skirt. The only way for her to lose her tail is if she gets married inside a church, when her tail will drop off, and she’ll transform into a human.

The female hulder, whether devious or not, is almost exclusively portrayed as a beautiful being, but if you come across the male equivalent, the ‘huldrekall’, you might find him somewhat less appealing – grotesque, even.

Hiking in West Sweden
Hiking at Billingen, Skövde
Photo: Tobias Andersson/Westsweden.com

Huldra – the seductive forest spirit

The seductive ‘huldra’ could be described as Scandinavian folklore’s take on the siren. In Swedish folklore, this irresistible being is also known as ‘skogsrå’ – forest spirit – or Tall-Maja ("Pine Tree Mary").

With roots in Christianity, the origins of the huldra unfolds in a tale about a woman who’d only washed half of her children when God appeared at her cottage door. Deeply ashamed about her dirty children, she hid them from sight, whereupon God commanded them forever hidden from humanity. And thus, they became ‘hulders’, the collective name for these “hidden folk”.

In Swedish mythology, the huldra is mostly seen as a benign spirit, known to be kind to charcoal burners, allowing them to sleep restfully by keeping an eye on their charcoal kilns. By way of thanking her, the charcoal burners would leave provisions. But her dangerous side has been revealed in some tales, recounting how she lures men with her charms, carefully hiding her cow’s tail by tying it in a knot under her skirt. The only way for her to lose her tail is if she gets married inside a church, when her tail will drop off, and she’ll transform into a human.

The female hulder, whether devious or not, is almost exclusively portrayed as a beautiful being, but if you come across the male equivalent, the ‘huldrekall’, you might find him somewhat less appealing – grotesque, even.

Hiking in West Sweden
Hiking at Billingen, Skövde
Photo: Tobias Andersson/Westsweden.com

Huldra – the seductive forest spirit

The seductive ‘huldra’ could be described as Scandinavian folklore’s take on the siren. In Swedish folklore, this irresistible being is also known as ‘skogsrå’ – forest spirit – or Tall-Maja ("Pine Tree Mary").

With roots in Christianity, the origins of the huldra unfolds in a tale about a woman who’d only washed half of her children when God appeared at her cottage door. Deeply ashamed about her dirty children, she hid them from sight, whereupon God commanded them forever hidden from humanity. And thus, they became ‘hulders’, the collective name for these “hidden folk”.

In Swedish mythology, the huldra is mostly seen as a benign spirit, known to be kind to charcoal burners, allowing them to sleep restfully by keeping an eye on their charcoal kilns. By way of thanking her, the charcoal burners would leave provisions. But her dangerous side has been revealed in some tales, recounting how she lures men with her charms, carefully hiding her cow’s tail by tying it in a knot under her skirt. The only way for her to lose her tail is if she gets married inside a church, when her tail will drop off, and she’ll transform into a human.

The female hulder, whether devious or not, is almost exclusively portrayed as a beautiful being, but if you come across the male equivalent, the ‘huldrekall’, you might find him somewhat less appealing – grotesque, even.

Hiking in West Sweden
Hiking at Billingen, Skövde
Photo: Tobias Andersson/Westsweden.com

Huldra – the seductive forest spirit

The seductive ‘huldra’ could be described as Scandinavian folklore’s take on the siren. In Swedish folklore, this irresistible being is also known as ‘skogsrå’ – forest spirit – or Tall-Maja ("Pine Tree Mary").

With roots in Christianity, the origins of the huldra unfolds in a tale about a woman who’d only washed half of her children when God appeared at her cottage door. Deeply ashamed about her dirty children, she hid them from sight, whereupon God commanded them forever hidden from humanity. And thus, they became ‘hulders’, the collective name for these “hidden folk”.

In Swedish mythology, the huldra is mostly seen as a benign spirit, known to be kind to charcoal burners, allowing them to sleep restfully by keeping an eye on their charcoal kilns. By way of thanking her, the charcoal burners would leave provisions. But her dangerous side has been revealed in some tales, recounting how she lures men with her charms, carefully hiding her cow’s tail by tying it in a knot under her skirt. The only way for her to lose her tail is if she gets married inside a church, when her tail will drop off, and she’ll transform into a human.

The female hulder, whether devious or not, is almost exclusively portrayed as a beautiful being, but if you come across the male equivalent, the ‘huldrekall’, you might find him somewhat less appealing – grotesque, even.

Hiking in West Sweden
Hiking at Billingen, Skövde
Photo: Tobias Andersson/Westsweden.com

Huldra – the seductive forest spirit

The seductive ‘huldra’ could be described as Scandinavian folklore’s take on the siren. In Swedish folklore, this irresistible being is also known as ‘skogsrå’ – forest spirit – or Tall-Maja ("Pine Tree Mary").

With roots in Christianity, the origins of the huldra unfolds in a tale about a woman who’d only washed half of her children when God appeared at her cottage door. Deeply ashamed about her dirty children, she hid them from sight, whereupon God commanded them forever hidden from humanity. And thus, they became ‘hulders’, the collective name for these “hidden folk”.

In Swedish mythology, the huldra is mostly seen as a benign spirit, known to be kind to charcoal burners, allowing them to sleep restfully by keeping an eye on their charcoal kilns. By way of thanking her, the charcoal burners would leave provisions. But her dangerous side has been revealed in some tales, recounting how she lures men with her charms, carefully hiding her cow’s tail by tying it in a knot under her skirt. The only way for her to lose her tail is if she gets married inside a church, when her tail will drop off, and she’ll transform into a human.

The female hulder, whether devious or not, is almost exclusively portrayed as a beautiful being, but if you come across the male equivalent, the ‘huldrekall’, you might find him somewhat less appealing – grotesque, even.