Tag Archives: mythical creatures

Setting Leprechaun Traps

SB: I did not have a lot of holiday traditions specifically, but what I did have was for St. Patrick’s Day, my parents were very excited in me believing in things, especially fantasy things, so they really pushed me into strongly believing in leprechauns. And so, every year me and my brother would get like boxes from like our Costco trips, or like, collect things around the house and make traps for the leprechauns, and they- the next day, they would leave us like a gold dollar coin, but it was just my mom, and so one day – I really believed in it – and so I brought this coin the next day to school to third grade and I told all of my friends that I captured a leprechaun but like it escaped but it left me gold and then they all made fun of me (laughs) but I still believed in the leprechauns for like a really long time.

VG: How long?

SB: Um, probably until I was like nine years old.

VG: That’s like…on the edge.

SB: Yeah, it was on the edge of a long time. I think it’s because everyone just kept telling me they were not real, and so I just like wanted to fit in, so I left my belief of leprechauns.



Location of story – Denver, CO

Location of Performance – SB’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night


Context: This performance was done just between SB and I in response to me asking if she had any urban legends, riddles, or holiday traditions. I am very close friends with SB. This story follows one about a conspiracy theory about the Denver airport being linked to Satan, a word riddle, and a CD of folk songs.


Analysis: This performance is notable for its detailed description of the “personalization” a traditional Irish folk creature. What I mean to say is that SB and her brother were able to adopt a folk creature and myth that is not traditionally their own by creating physical spaces based on how they imagined the creature. I think it is very interesting that this is the one holiday tradition SB chose to identity because St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally not as celebrated as Easter or Christmas. Moreover, leprechauns are not as actively believed in as the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause in my experience. I myself celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and have never heard of setting Leprechaun traps before. In addition to these observations, I also think this tradition demonstrates the strange social duality with belief in mythical creatures and beings. On one hand, kids can bond over shared believes, but as soon as one peer becomes a non-believer, their believing peer is seen as less mature or cool. Therefore, having one’s belief in mythical creatures challenged is now a rite of passage. 

Icelandic Nykur

Background Information:

My informant is a 23-year-old student originally from Iceland, but studying in Dublin. She was born and raised in Reykjavik and moved to Ireland in her 20’s to come to University there. She told me about the nykur, a legendary water horse specific to the Nordic countries. She does not personally believe in this legend, but apparently opinion is fairly mixed on whether or not it is real, and belief is higher with children. She believed it as a child, and was told it by her mother possibly in an effort to stop her from wandering near large bodies of water. She agrees that it was a useful way of making her cautious without ruining her innocence about the true dangers of icy cold water.

Main Piece:

A.J.: Have you heard of the Nykur?

A: No, what is it?

A.J.: It’s a mythical creature in Icelandic – well, I think they have it in some places in Sweden and Norway and stuff – but it’s mostly Icelandic. It’s the shape of a horse, and grey, but it’s not a physical thing, more like a kind of ghost horse. They live by lakes, or by waterfalls usually. But they’re pretty scary looking – kind of like if you had a Patronus of a horse, a weird version. They have some scary things about them, like I’ve heard that they have backwards hooves, and sharp teeth and that kind of thing.

A: And do people interact with them at all?

A.J: I don’t think you would want to. They’re not peaceful, they’re a bit like sirens in that they lure people to their deaths in the water. They seem really nice and beautiful, and then you go to pet them and if you ride on them they’ll take you into the water and drown you. They seem to take children in particular.

A: Is there any way to prevent them from taking you underwater if you do come across them?

A.J: Yeah, there is. My mom told me about them and that if you recognize that the horse is a Nykur, you can make them go away by saying their name.

A: And do you believe in them?

A.J.: I did when I was a kid, but not anymore. I think it’s a bit like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, you grow out of it when you’ve been to enough waterfalls to know that you’re not going to see any magic horses. But when I was younger I wouldn’t go near the water without someone else with me.

Perfomance Context:

In a phone conversation in which she recounted to me what she knew about the huldufólk, she also told me about this Icelandic mythical creature which I had not heard of before.

My thoughts:

This reminds me a lot of the La Llorona myth. Considering she was told about them by her mother, in a landscape with many lakes and waterfalls, this myth seems to serve the same function as warning children about La Llorona, insofar as it discourages them from wandering by themselves near bodies of water where they could potentially drown. By making the horse scary-looking, they emphasize this warning. By connecting this warning story to the landscape, it makes for a more believable tale. Much of Icelandic folklore is connected to the natural landscape as it is so unusual and striking, which also plays into the fact that much of Icelandic folklore is very different from that which we find in the other Nordic countries. Their landscapes are much more snowy and similar to each other, whereas Iceland is a volcanic outlier.

For the La Llorona myth, see here: http://www.legendsofamerica.com/gh-lallorona.html

Swedish Mythological Creature: The Tomten

Contextual Data: After talking to me about the Spring-time witch pilgrimage in Sweden, my friend mentioned also that when she was in Sweden and her family went into the woods, they saw small cabins where moose hunters stayed, which were popularly referred to as troll houses. She then started talking about this gnome/troll-like creatures called Tomten. The following is an exact transcript of our conversation.

Informant: “Um, so one thing that they like to talk about is something called the Tomten, and the Tomten’s basically like—”

Me: “How do you spell that?”

Informant: “T-O-M-T-E-N. Um, and he’s kind of like… I don’t know, like a little gnome or like a mini Santa Clause kind of. And especially around Christmas the Tomten has like a Santa-like role, but he has like a little beard and he has like this red pointy cap and… But he’s also kind of mischievous and if you lived on a—in a in northern Sweden you would have to put out porridge every night for the Tomten and if you didn’t put out porridge, he would like, let foxes into your chicken coops and like let your sheep roam free. I mean it wasn’t like, ‘Put out porridge and the Tomten will like shine your shoes in the morning.’ It was like, ‘Don’t put out porridge and the Tomten’s gonna fuck you up’ [Laughs]. Um… So yeah. Um, but it’s actually kind of interesting because there are all these stories about—I remember reading them when I was little, like a little kid. Like illustrated books about the Tomten and kind of his—well actually how he cares for the farm animals and stuff and then goes and gets his bowl of porridge. So maybe it’s not always as sinister as I described, but—but if you don’t, like… You put out the porridge. You don’t not put out the porridge. Um, and I mean, so there are a lot of kind of traditions like that up north.”

– End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant what she thought the significance of this was, she said that she thought it had to do with the fact that many Swedes believe that there is a connection between the people and the land. She said that even nowadays people in Sweden see nature as having kind of a “magical quality to it” — thus the rise of these earth-based mythical creatures (i.e. creatures of “lower mythology”). This is why she feels the story has lasted.

Certainly this can be seen in the way that a Tomten (at least in stories) is perceived as caring for the farm and the animals. Leaving out the bowl of porridge could therefore suggest some form of repayment or offering of thanks. The stories in which the Tomten doesn’t necessarily care for the animals but causes chaos if he doesn’t receive his porridge could be seen as an indicator of beliefs about the power of the land and of these earth creatures—that they’re meant to be respected, and that in some way, something is owed to them for being able to live a peaceful life. Both of these ideas harken back to this perceived connection between the people and the land that my informant says is so important in Swedish culture.

Annotation: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tomten-Astrid-Lindgren/dp/0698115910/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367443488&sr=8-1&keywords=tomten
This story, a picture book aimed at children and perhaps one of the ones my informant was referencing, depicts the Tomten as a friendly creature that is very much a part of the land and the farming culture.

The Krampus

The following myth is that of the mythical creature, the Krampus.

“Ahhhh the Krampus is the demon servant of St Nicholas. He exists in some parts of Switzerland but mostly it’s in the Alps of Germany and Austria. Um, he really only exists today in kind of remote areas in the mountains of northern Germany and Austria.  The Krampus is kind of what they base a lot of modern devil themes off of but he has antlers and hoofed feet and he’s all red and has a big long black tongue, and obviously there has always been a kind of sexual connotation with him and his tongue.

Originally he was with the St. Nicholas mythos and he is the demon servant of St. Nicholas. Where as St Nicholas gives gifts to good children on Christmas, the Krampus punishes the bad. The original thing of getting treats and candies and little trinkets in your socks from St Nicholas originally came with a bipolar one where the Krampus would stick sticks and twigs and rocks in your shoes. And there’s three levels to it. If you were bad, he would stick sticks and twigs and rocks in your shoes and then if you were really bad he would beat you on the ass with birch sticks. If you were really extra bad he would take you in his basket that’s on his back to hell for the day and that was your treat for Christmas, but you had to be a really naughty person to get that. So there’s three levels to Krampus. There’s bad, pretty bad, and then ultra bad.

The Krampus has an affection for loose women—especially whores, it’s particularly hookers, and actually loose women like the Krampus. The Krampus disappeared some time in the early 19th century—more late 18th century, because they thought it was cruel, and then he kind of made a renaissance in the late 19th century in post cards where he became a really popular—pretty much one of the most popular things in print on post cards in late Victorian Germany and Austria. Then he died down and surprisingly recently in popular culture has made a minor come back so uh, yeah that’s the Krampus. In  German culture he has also recently made a come back slightly. Um, probably more because he’s just fun. For all us disenfranchised youth who don’t like Santa Claus… I mean, he’s a pretty cool guy. I dunno Lauryn, do you want to have sex with the krampus or do you want to have sex with Santa Claus? You have to answer that…”

My informant is of German decent and was told about the Krampus when he was a child by his father. The Krampus acts as a method of keeping children in line and making sure they behave. If children do not behave, not only with they not get presents on St. Nicholas day, the Krampus will punish them for their bad deeds. The severity of their punishment depends on how poorly they behaved. It can be seen as a much more severe version of the western myth of Santa Claus putting coal in the stocking of bad children in place of presents.


The Krampus has made appearances in popular culture over the years.

  • The Venture Brothers: A Very Venture Christmas. 2004. In the Christmas episode of The Venture Brothers cartoon, Hank and Dean accidentally release the Krampus by reading a piece of scripture from a book of occult magic. As a result he appears at the Venture family Christmas party where he wreaks havoc and attacks Dr. Venture for his bad behavior. Upon his intrusion, Dr. Orpheus explains the Krampus to Dr. Venture.
    • Dr Orpheus: “I’m afraid we are being visited upon by, the Krampus. The punitive spirit who once rode side by side with St. Nicholas each Christmas eve, delivering terrible punishment to wicked children as Claus bestowed his gifts upon the righteous.”
    • Dr Venture: “That’s ridiculous! There’s no such thing as Santa Claus!”
    • Dr. Orpheous: “Not since he was killed by a jet in 1963, no. Nor has there been a Krampus since The Pope cast him into purgatory during Vatican 2, but your boys seem to have inadvertently released him from his chains.”
  • The Colbert Report: The Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude – Hallmark & Krampus. December 9th, 2009. In this segment of the Colbert Report, Colbert states that he is going to combat the attacks on Christmas by celebrating Christmas the old fashioned way, “…with figgie pudding, and wassailing, and kindly St. Nicholas, and his demon henchmen Krampus. For members of my audience who aren’t familiar with centuries old Austrian folk legends, Krampus is a demonic creature who accompanies St. Nicholas and torments naughty children with bitch branches and rusty chains. Like they say in Austria, every time a bell rings, a Krampus torments a child with rusty chains.” He goes on to describe the celebration of Krampusnacht, and suggest that Krampus must be brought to America to help fight the war on Christmas. “The next time someone tells you “seasons greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, remind them that Krampus knows when they are naughty, when they are nice, and when they are showering alone.”