a lost link to the Finfolk?
The magical race
known as the Huldrefolk are now practically forgotten in Orkney folklore. But
they deserve a mention because of their shadowy links to other elements of Orcadian
folklore, particularly the Finfolk.
In Norse legend, the
male huldu was an ugly creature, particularly compared to the young females, who
were beautiful with divinely melodic singing voices.
the huldu maiden's beauty came at a price - they were cursed with a long cow-like
tail, which they took great pains to try and hide beneath their skirts.
the similarity between the huldu maiden and the finwife is apparent. Even more
so when we consider that the greatest desire of the huldrefolk was to achieve
equality with humans. A desire that led the cow-tailed huldu girls to try desperately
to wed mortal men, often forcing themselves upon the unwitting man in a "most
If a man were foolish enough to
spurn the advances of a huldu maiden, she would pursue him relentlessly and punish
him. If on the other hand, the man accepted her, she would marry him as soon as
possible in a church.
Only once married would her despised
cow-tail fall off, allowing her to become a mortal woman. Left unmarried she quickly
wizened and grew ugly, although her temper apparently lessened as she aged.
were generally thought of a farmers, their menfolk having superior farms and livestock
than their human neighbours. In much the same way, the huldre girls excelled at
Like Orkney's finfolk, the huldrefolk were
extremely territorial. People took great care not to trespass on land belonging
to the huldrefolk or to build their houses on any place where they were believed
One tale explains that a farmer whose animals
were dying had built his byre over the cradle of a huldre child. Needless to say
he quickly moved his byre and was subsequently left in peace.
along the same lines as the trows and the hogboon,
mortals also went to great lengths to avoid angering the huldrefolk. On many farms
a stall was left empty in the byre so that a hulder had a place for his cattle.
Although the huldrefolk generally lived on farms and in
Norway's forests, there were also a number of huldre islands which were invisible,
but which sometimes rose from the sea.
Tales were told
of the splendid farms that existed on these huldre islands and it was said that
if a mortal could cast steel over these hidden islands, they would become the
property of the finder. The islands were therefore called "findegaarder".
similarities to the finfolk's vanishing islands are immediately
If we look at the tale of how Eynhallow
(Hildaland) was made Holy there are a number of other common motifs:
- Farmer's wife is spirited away
Similar to the tales
of the huldrefolk and also the trows. However,
most tales regarding the huldrefolk refer to their habit of stealing souls.
- Two singing mermaids try to
lure away the men
singing maidens we are reminded of the singing huldre maidens, who could also
lay aside their tails if they married a mortal.
The magical islands of the huldrefolk became the property
of those who knew how to find them. The same is true of Eynhallow in this tale.
Could the name Fingaarder have become accidentally linked to the Finmen?
name Hildaland itself is similar enough to "huldre" to make me wonder.