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Nykkur – The Man in the Falls

Within Scandinavian folklore, there exists a water being which seems to have a very particular place. He is not a being of open water like the Baekhast. He is not a being of saltwater like the Marmenil. He is not actively involved in human life like Nixies, Lorelei and the Swan Maidens. He is Nykkur, and he simply is.

The Nykkur lives in waterfalls, existing in a place that is between two levels surrounded by the rush of water. He is a shape-changer and a master fiddler; and it is this skill for which he is so prized. Musicians spend significant time and effort wooing Nykkur in order to receive his great skill. Nykken trained fiddlers play so fast and hard that strings break, but Nykkur charges for this service.

Firstly the Nykkur are fond of meat, but it cannot be your own meat nor can you purchase it. You must steal it. No exchange of words can take place over the meat and Nykkur prefers legs of lamb and hocks of ham both fresh and cured. If you err, Nykkur can be cruel as you will see.

Secondly he must be enticed. He must hear your playing and think you worthy of his time. So once you have thrown the meat into the falls, you must sit on the bank or bridge and play. Nykkur does not waste his time, so play your best.

Secondly, he wishes you to be serious and not easily frightened. To prove yourself, you must visit the falls thrice, and throw three hocks or legs. Each visit must be a week apart on a Thursday.

When Nykkur chooses to teach you, the learning takes no time at all, you simply know how to play better than any human being, and as well as the Nykkur. You will no longer be able to play with normal musicians, as they will not have the ability to keep up with you in either intricacy or speed. A Nykkur trained fiddler is only comfortable in the company of other Nykkur trained fiddlers. Worse yet, the fiddler cannot teach his skill to another as he does not have the benefit of learning as normal fiddlers do.

Finally, Nykkur training exacts a further price. The Nykkur has no soul, and he dearly wishes to have one. He has been teased by children all his life that he has no god-given soul and his jealousy knows no bounds. The final price of Nykur training is the human soul and thus the Nykkur will go to heaven, and the Nykkur trained fiddler takes Nykkur’s place in Hell.

Sometimes Nykkur brings a fiddle to gift his student and it is about this sort of thing that our first story tells. It was collected by Andreas Mørch in Frå Gamle Dagar: Folkeminlag en Sigdal og Eggedal (From the olden times: folklore from Sigdal and Eggedal) and translated by J Sibley and myself. Mørch tells us:

There was someone in the village who had stolen a ham hock in order to learn to play but he felt it was a sin to toss so much meat into the falls. So he ate most of it and tossed the bone in.
Each week was the same and when it came to the third Thursday evening, Nykkur came out with a fiddle gift in his hands. He said: “You shall learn how to hold it, but not how to play it. Just as you gave me a cured leg, with no meat upon it.”

We also have a long story about two Nykken trained fiddlers collected by the same folklorist.

Ola Eilivsen Taleshaugen was certainly the best fiddler in the village for the last 50 years. He had learned from the Nykkur. He had gone north to Kittils Falls with the fiddle three Thursdays one after the other and then he had learned much that none of the other fiddlers knew. He even knew tunes that no one had heard before, let alone play. All this he learned from the Nykkur at Kittils Falls. Ola traveled to America.

Trond Kolstad too had learned from the ‘streamfellow’. He sat a lot in a mountain kleft down there where the New Prest Falls Bridge goes now. There he learned a lot about playing but so there wasn’t anyone who could keep up with him. He broke so many strings that it created a famine among fiddlers.

Trond played so fast, high and beautifully that none who heard him could say they could do better.

Nowadays, Ola and Trond play a lot together as nobody else can play with them. I heard they met at a wedding in Rolvstad. Ola said there wasn’t anything that Trond played that was too difficult. Later they played together again and Trond took to playing so finely and Ola followed him in perfect harmony. They played so well that it was truly amazing to hear. But then Trond built up a head of steam so high that Ola, in trying to follow broke his strings and had to put his fiddle down. But not for Trond. It was thus that not all who tried to could learn the fiddle.

There is one more thing for which Nykkur is known. Nykkur likes the ladies, especially the young and beautiful ones. He plays so brilliantly and so hauntingly that young ladies are drawn to him and lured into the falls from which they are never again seen.

Nykkur lore is rich and interesting, and what I have provided here is truly the tip of the iceberg. Consider why one of the names for the Devil, particularly the fiddling devil at the crossroads is “Old Nick”.

This enigmatic being is worth the time spent reading his tales.

Norns: Big and Little N

The Norns when referred to with Capital N refer to the three wyrd sisters of Norse mythology, Urd, Vardandi and Skuld, but there are also norns, spelled with lower case n. Some with, and some without names. However before I go into detail about norns, it would help to start at the top. With Disir.

Dís is a preface in the languages descended from Old Norse that means lady, woman, or female. Disir, Dís (Old Norse), ites (Anglo Saxxon) or idis(Old Saxxon) are spirits of female ancestors who have given up their right to reincarnation in order to remain active in the lives of their descendents. Sociologists refer to disir as the last remnant of the ancient practice of ancestor worship. New Age Heathen, Freya Aswyn even explains how she believes that Diana Spenser (Princess Di) came to be disir. Folklorists from Grimm to Kvideland simply tell us that disir is a classification of Norse spirits which are, invariably, female.

Among the Disir are (at least) two types of being, the valkyrie and the norn. These can be considered more a job than a classification per-se; as the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact the Norn (big N) Skuld is listed also as a valkyrie. The valkyrie is associated with battle, with names like shield-maiden, battle-maiden and with given task of declaring Odin’s decision as to the winner of a battle, and also of choosing the battle slain who will be taken to Valhalla (rather than folkvang). A norn on the other hand is associated with wyrd, destiny, and foretelling with names like spaekona, wyrdsister, völva. It is the norns who give “Nornagest” (norn’s guest) his name. Norns visit one while alive, or are encountered in the woods where a valkyrie is not seen until the moment of death. An encountered norn, spins tales of the future, where an encountered valkyrie does not. When encountered by the living, a valkyrie might be married, however nowhere is there tale of marrying the norn. The valkyrie is young always and invariably beautiful, and the norn an old woman although not always a hag. Both norns and valkyrie are associated with forests, and caves, but only norns are associated with freshwater springs.

“Gylfaginning” tells us that norns come in every race, gods, dwarves, humans, elves, and giants to name a few. Some are kindly and some are evil as is their nature and depending on how they are treated.

It is one’s norn who is blessed when the tides turn in favor of a person, and cursed when fortune seems to look away. Andvari calls his norn evil in the “Regnismal”. In the “Song of Atli” it is suggested that the evil wrought by Atli caused Gunnar’s norn to weep. When the norn is not there to warn a person of dire events coming, or to curse him for a slight, she stands over the spinning, weaving and rolling of the tapestry of one’s life and how it fits into the greater tapestry of orlog.

In some ways, she resembles the ‘guardian angel’. She is the last spirit that stands between a person and the vagarities of life.

Those who have gone before indicate that norns are a bit like stav fylgje, each person has at least one, each family another, each clan even a third. Even countries are not without norns standing over the wyrd of a country and binding it to the orlog. So returning to Urd, Vardandi and Skuld, well, perhaps they are the ‘norns’ of Odin, of the Aesir or of the race of gods.

According to the folklore: the norn must be treated just so. Each norn who comes to the naming feast must be afforded seats of equal importance to kings and none should be allowed to jostle them (Nornagestthattr). They should feed from golden plates (Briar Rose). In times that go well, one can remember one’s norn and thank her with dísablót (a blót or service recognizing her). On the birth of a child, rømmegrøt (cream porridge) should be brought to a spring and left, asking that the child be given a kind hearted norn.

Grimm, J. Teutonic Mythology. Stallybrass, J.S. Tr. George Bell and Sons; London. 1882
Kvideland, Reimund. Scandinavial Folk Belief and Legend. University of Minnesota Press. 1991
The. Internet.
Sturlasson. Poetic Edda: Gylfaginning. Tr Bellows. 1936. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/index.htm
Unknown. Volsung Saga. Song of Atli. Tr. Morris and Magnussen. 1888. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/vlsng/index.htm

Rei – Hela

Within Stav there are one or more god/ess associated with each rune.  Most make sense in one way or another although they really don’t come anywhere
near what people like Flowers and Aswyn suggest for the runes.
Since I intend to do a Gods of Stav series as well, you’ll eventually find all this out from this blog, but there are other places to get the information.  Course, I just googled rune god association and stav and got only about six or seven.  but, anyway, the information exists.  You can certainly buy a book (internationally here) if you turn up nothing online.

Moving sequentially through the 16 runes of the younger futhork the first Stav rune assigned to a goddess as opposed to a god is the rune Rei.

The Rune Rei

Rei, also referred to as Radiho (elder futhork), Rad, or Reid.  Rei is associated with the goddess Hela/Hel.  According to Freya Aswyn in the latest edition of “Northern Mysteries and Magic’ compares Hela to the continental european godess named Holda.  In beginning this project, i was surprised to run into such an unpopular goddess first.  According to the surviving mythology, Hela is the child of Loki with Angrboda (grief-bringer), making her more jotun than god.  When Odin stepped in to the marriage between Loki and Angrboda, the Aesir brought in the three children, a wolf-dog, a serpent, and a woman either half black or half dead.  Hela’s brothers suffered fates far from hers.  Where they were caused inconvenience or injury, Hela was given either one or three realms to rule (she rules Hel, or Niflhel as well as Niflheim, in addition I’ve had it suggested that she was also the queen of the dwarves (dark elves).)    Hela has a strong part in the tale of Baldr’s death in the Gylfagynning.
In addition, her part in Ragnarok is not on the side of the Aesir.  The problem
is, what survives to today that is not passed down verbally and subject
to its own issues, was recorded in latin by practitioners not of the old
faiths, but of Christianity and thus marked by their point of view both
of women and of the old faiths.

It is my opinion that Hela was not originally such a dark figure.  She was protector of the dead and guardian of burials.  Into her realm went all of the
people who did not die in battle or of battle wounds.  Into her arms went all the children who died before adulthood.  It is recorded that Hela can lay out a mean feast, as she did in preparation for Baldr and I believe that she did not only do it for Baldr, but nightly in her hall for all of the dead.  The norse belief in reincarnation suggests that nobody stayed long in her halls.  In addition she has all the artisans, craftsmen, kings and ladies.   Sure, she has the cowards and disaffected, else she’d not have an army of dead to ride
the boat Naflgar.  But largely, I believe that while Hela led the wildhunt in advance of the winter, cleaning up the weak, one could consider this an extreme form of mercy, comparable to euthanasia (hey, I said extreme, I was serious)

I believe that the harshest thing a non-warrior viking could say about Hela
was that she was inaccessible and played favorites, but consider, she
is ruler of the dead AND the Ice Giants (and perhaps the Dwarves, who
seem particularly jealous and persnickety for non-jotuns) AND pretty
much everybody in her family was short shrift one way or another by the
Aesir (deserved or not).  Why not celebrate visits by every Aesir,
why be especially kind to them? Why let them go?

Few modern trancework authors have much to say about visits to Hela herself, though many have gone to helheim and visited the sybil and the ancestors.  Within stav we have a few of our own.  In part 5 of his runelore document, Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe suggest not visiting the realm of Rei early on in one’s training.  In a recent discussion with the australian stav practicioner and seid madr, Neil Lewis, who has a particular affinity with the more underworld/jotun gods (Skadi, Ullr and Hela) suggests that Hela
and Skadi in particular and jotuns in general should be approached with
confidence rather than deference.  Raven Kaldera, a shaman in
Massachussetts claims to have been spirit taught by a spirit who
eventually revealed herself to be Hela.
Through his workings, he and his group have collected, or written or
both several tales of the Norse as told by the Jotuns.  In the
very least, his book, Jotunbok contains
some incredibly well written tales that I have found captivating,
whatever my opinion of uncorroborated personal gnoses.
Personally, as a novice tranceworker myself, I don’t intend to chase Hela down in any rush, though I don’t particularly fear her more than any other strong willed spirit.

–updated 8/12

Since the norse had  strong feelings about hospitality  and rules of being a guest caused by their harsh climate, I would always suggest bringing a gift to the gods when visiting.
To do so, I suggest placing the item on a horg or personal altar (and
leaving it there forever) and then carrying it in the spirit-hand (or
whatever one uses to carry if traveling in animal form) while
traveling.  For Hela in particular, I’d suggest family heirlooms, fresh, raw foods  (obviously, remove the food and plant items from the horg when they
spoil – most especially anything you brought to Hela), eggs, cheese and flowers like Lily related to remembering the dead (my apologies, the language of flowers is not something I’ve studied yet so i haven’t much to go on here), candles,  wrought iron, items of horsehair or related to horses  really interesting hand weapons and items made of bone or leather.

Finally! Back up again

OK, so over a year ago i got hacked, i lost all my posts, all my comments, and everything. So I finally got off my but and made a new one. Thankfully google was pleased to archive my posts, so i can get the relevant ones anyway to repost them. sorry that I can’t re-post your comments, but i really only had 2 readers anyway.

I’m back. So that’s good.