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  The Sorcerous Finfolk

The Huldrefolk
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.

Unfortunately 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.

Immediately, 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 immodest manner".

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.

Huldrefolk 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 keeping house.

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 to live.

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.

Much 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".

The similarities to the finfolk's vanishing islands are immediately obvious.

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 to Hildaland

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

With these singing maidens we are reminded of the singing huldre maidens, who could also lay aside their tails if they married a mortal.

  • Fingaarder or Hildaland

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?

The name Hildaland itself is similar enough to "huldre" to make me wonder.