Waterscapes in Nordic Mythology: Näck and Strömkarl

On this last part of these mini-series Waterscapes in Nordic Mythology, I shall focus on the forms of the Nykr (the metamorphic water-spirit) näck and strömkarl from Swedish folklore. Thus we end these series in the comprehension of the cognitive landscape of water in Nordic cultures. Hope you enjou it, dear friends.

Introduction – 00:00

The Näck – 02:14

Riding the Nykr – 03:44

Working-Horse – 06:50

Water Psychopomp – 09:12

The Black Lamb – 13:57

Horse Consumption Taboo – 20:00

New Demonization – 21:38

Carrier of Disease – 23:39

Binding With Iron – 26:08

Strömkarl – 29:15

Protestantism and Folklore – 32:59

Apotropaic Iron Objects – 37:16

The Trauma of Drowning – 40:35

Bibliography & End Screen – 46:23

In case you have had any difficulty reading the note on this video concerning the seductive aspects of the Nykr towards women (and women being one of its main victims) and the religious morals implied in this type of folklore, I’ll leave the note here:

“As we have seen in the previous video, the Nordic water spirit resorts to seduction before causing death. In some folkloric versions, the main victims of the nykr are women. Taking into account that the nykr was a seductive water-spirit, which could take the form of a man, (usually young and beautiful) it appears that there was a sexual connotation to this attraction. The nykr, as a seductive shapeshifter, could have sex with women in order to abduct both the women and their children to his realm. It could also be considered by popular culture as a tutelary or familiar magical spirit, even related to fertility in pre-Christian times. The nykr lore played an important role in shaping and marking dangers, as well as being an obstacle, limit, or taboo. Perhaps its association as being a danger to women is an attempt not only to alert them to the dangers of the waters, but also to discourage them from having extramarital sex. We must also bear in mind that many areas with a high rate of illegitimate births were primarily agrarian. The agrarian society that typified Sweden in the 19th century (the period of the vast majority of folklore production related to water spirits) promoted strong social control as a contraceptive method. Having an illegitimate child was definitely not in line with middle-class perceptions of an ordained life in a Protestant religious context. Community sanctions, both social and financial, against women who engaged in premarital intercourse, were extensive, and could include the wearing of certain pieces of clothing—for example, a red cap/hood or brown scarf derogatorily called a horluva (“whore’s cap/hood”)— to publicly indicate the woman’s status, regarded by the public as unclean and inappropriate. A woman who engaged in sex outside of marriage was a hora (whore) or a låndahora (immoral woman). If her sexual encounter resulted in a birth, the child would be referred to as a horunge (whore youngster); Bastard sons were also stigmatized.”

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