"Huldra's Nymphs" (1909) by Bernard Evans Ward
|Similar creatures||Siren, succubus, mermaid|
A huldra is a seductive forest creature found in Scandinavian folklore. (Her name derives from a root meaning "covered" or "secret".) In Norwegian folklore, she is known as Huldra. She is known as the skogsrå (forest spirit) or Tallemaja (pine tree Mary) in Swedish folklore, and Ulda in Sámi folklore. Her name suggests that she is originally the same being as the völva Huld and the German Holda.
Males, called Huldrekall (sg.), also appear in Norwegian folklore. This being is closely related to other underground dwellers, usually called tusser. Whereas the female hulder is almost invariably described as incredibly, seductively beautiful, the males of the same race are often said to be hideous, with grotesquely long noses.
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The word hulder is the indefinite form in Norwegian.
The feminine form is ei (or en) hulder (indefinite singular, "a hulder"), huldre or huldrer (indefinite plural, "hulders"), huldra (definite singular, "the hulder"), and huldrene (definite plural, "the hulders"). Since the definite form huldra ("the hulder") is by far the most common form of the word in actual usage, huldra is sometimes borrowed into English as the basic form. However, constructions like "a huldra" or "the huldra" are nonsensical to a Norwegian (since they would actually mean "a the hulder" and "the the hulder", respectively).
In Norwegian, the word is most often used in the definite form even where the particular hulder in question has not been mentioned before, e.g. "so-and-so met huldra [the hulder] in the woods". This use of language may seem to suggest that "the hulder" is just one single individual sometimes being observed here and there, but the associated folklore does presuppose that there is an entire hulder race with many individual hulders. The male equivalent of a hulder is sometimes called a huldrekall or "hulder man".
As a collective plural, one would use huldrefolk (indefinite) and huldrefolket (definite) meaning "the hulder people".
There is also an adjective connected, to be huldren, which can be interpreted as uncanny, or often "being under the hulder's spell" (i.e. suffering from inexplicable madness). This adjective is however extremely rare in modern Norwegian.
The hulder is one of several rå (keeper, warden), including the aquatic Sjörå (or havsfru), later identified with a mermaid, and the bergsrå in caves and mines who made life tough for the poor miners.
Relations with humans
The hulders were held to be kind to charcoal burners, watching their charcoal kilns while they rested. Knowing that she would wake them if there were any problems, they were able to sleep, and in exchange they left provisions for her in a special place. A tale from Närke illustrates further how kind a hulder could be, especially if treated with respect (Hellström 1985:15).
Associated with Christianity, a tale recounts how a woman had washed only half of her children when God came to her cottage; ashamed of the dirty ones, she hid them. God decreed that those she had hidden from him would be hidden from humanity; they became the hulders.
A multitude of places in Scandinavia are named after the Hulders, often places by legend associated with the presence of the "hidden folk". Here are some examples showing the wide distribution of Hulder-related toponyms between the northern and southern reaches of Scandinavia, and the terms usage in different language groups' toponyms.
- Huldremose (Hulder Bog) is a bog on Djursland, Denmark famous for the discovery of the Huldremose Woman, a bog body from 55BC.
- Hulderheim is southeast on the island Karlsøya in Troms, Norway. The name means "Home of the Hulder".
- Hulderhusan is an area on the southwest of Norway's largest island Hinnøya, whose name means "Houses of the Hulders".
- Ulddaidvárri in Kvænangen, Troms (Norway) means "Mountain of the Hulders" in North Sámi.
- Ulddašvággi is a valley southwest of Alta in Finnmark, Norway. The name means "Hulder Valley" in North Sámi. The peak guarding the pass over from the valley to the mountains above has a similar name, Ruollačohkka, meaning "Troll Mountain"—and the large mountain presiding over the valley on its northern side is called Háldi, which is a term similar to the above-mentioned Norwegian rå, that is a spirit or local deity which rules a specific area.
The hulder may be connected with the German holda.
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- AnneMarie Hellström, Jag vill så gärna berätta. ISBN 91-7908-002-2
- Neil Gaiman, American Gods (10th Anniversary Edition). ISBN 978-0-7553-8624-6
- The article Huldra in Nordisk familjebok (1909).
- K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature, p 147 University of Chicago Press, London, 1967