Öfuguggi

Variations: Öfug-uggi, Reverse-Fin Trout, Fin; Afuggafiskur, Aufuggufiskur (meanings unclear)

Ofuguggi

The Öfuguggi or Reverse-Fin Trout is one of several Icelandic fish distinguished by an extreme toxicity. Its poisonous reputation is such that its name has entered common Icelandic as a slur for jerks, perverts, loners, and homosexuals. The stories told of it are identical to those of the shaggy trout, and the two fishes are commonly confused. Accounts of this lethally poisonous fish date to before the mid-17th century.

As the name suggests, an öfuguggi looks deceptively like a normal brown trout with the exception of reversed fins and swimming organs, although Jónas Hallgrímsson specified in 1841 that only the small adipose fin is reversed. The öfuguggi swims backwards with its tail first and the head following; in color it is jet-black or coal-black. The flesh is red, indicating that the fish feeds on the bodies of drowned men.

Reverse-fin trouts live in the cold depths of freshwater lakes. There they are sometimes fished, prepared, and eaten – causing the deaths of all who tasted the meal. Öfuguggi poisoning may cause the victim to swell up until their stomach bursts, producing a cross-shaped wound. The most infamous poisoning incident is that of Kaldrani farm, where almost everyone on the household took ill and died after a meal of trout. The only survivor was a pauper girl who had no appetite at the time.

There have been sightings and tragic tales of the reverse-fin trout across Iceland. Known place names include Öfuguggatjörn (Reverse-Fin Pool), the vanished Öfuguggavatn (Reverse-Fin Lake), and Ofuggugavatnshaeðir (Reverse-Fin Lake Hills).

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Pálsson, G. (1991) Coastal economies, cultural accounts: Human ecology and Icelandic discourse. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Skeljaskrímsli

Variations: Fjörulalli (Beach Walker), Fjörulabbi (Beach Roamer), Fjörudýr (Shore Animal), Rauðkálfur (Red Calf), Saeúlfur (Sea Wolf), Skeljalabbi (Shell Roamer), Skeljalalli (Shell Walker)

Skeljaskrimsli

The name Skeljaskrímsli, “shell monster”, refers to a number of Icelandic shore animals known by a variety of names. Consistent among the accounts are the association with the beach, a hump on the back, and a coat of shells that rattle as the creature walks. Shell monsters have been sighted on the coasts of all the main regions of Iceland, and at least one report (the Glúmsstaðir farm’s in Fljótavík, Hornstrandir) describes a freshwater specimen.

As specified by Hlidberg and Aegisson, the skeljaskrímsli proper is a quadrupedal marine creature, bulky and powerfully built. It is the size of a winter’s old bull calf or a huge horse. The neck is broad, the jaws and teeth impressive, and the eyes reddish. There may be a phosphorescent glow coming from the mouth. The skeljaskrímsli’s tail is long and armed with a lump at the end. The short, strong legs end in circular feet armed with large claws.

The skeljaskrímsli earns its name from the thick reflective coat of shells (or flaky scales) that covers its body. These rattle and scrape against each other as the creature moves, giving warning of its arrival. As the shell monster approaches, its powerful stench also becomes apparent. There is little good to say about the shell monster – even its blood is toxic.

Skeljaskrímslis live in the sea and haul themselves onto shore in the dark moonless nights of the northern winter. Often they can be seen before or after spells of bad weather and storms. They are attracted to light and will leave deep gouges in farmhouse doors. Suffice to say that anyone who encounters one of these surly brutes will be in for a bad time.

Most weapons are useless against a skeljaskrímsli’s formidable defenses. One farmer who battled a skeljaskrímsli managed to keep it at bay until the monster tired and returned to the sea; the farmer was stricken with leprosy for his trouble. Another farmer managed to wound a skeljaskrímsli, but some of its poisonous blood spattered onto him, and he died in agony soon after.

To harm a skeljaskrímsli one must resort to alternative ammunition. Shooting silver buttons, grey willow catkins, or lamb droppings from a gun are the only ways to injure and kill this beast.

The Fjörulalli is the best-known variant of the skeljaskrímsli. It is also the size of a winter’s old bull calf, and has been reported as being smaller, about as big as a dog. A tail may or may not be present, and the head is a small, rounded outgrowth. It is covered with shells or lava fragments that scrape together as it moves. Unlike the larger shell-monsters, these smaller ones are usually harmless. They will, however, tear the udders off sheep, and pregnant women should avoid them lest they negatively affect their unborn babies.

References

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Skötumóðir

Variations: Skate Mother; Fluxuskrímsl (Flake Monster); Vatnsandi (Water Spirit); Vatnaskratti (Water Devil)

skotumodir

Skate in Iceland are mystical creatures. Saint Peter recognized them as the holiest fish in the sea, and they are intimately connected with the number nine. A skate has nine good qualities and nine bad. It will watch over a drowned man for nine nights, and spend the next nine nights eating him. A skate will carry its young within her for nine months, then lie upon them for nine weeks, during which a stone grows within them. This stone, the “skate-stone”, could make a man invisible for one hour, or relieve labor pangs. Empty mermaid’s purses, or “Peter’s purses” as they are known, have lost their skate-stones.

Most terrifying of all is the Skötumóðir, or “Skate Mother”. Like the other Icelandic “fish mothers”, they are not necessarily skate themselves; in fact, some accounts describe them as evil whales that resemble skates. They are enormous and toxic to eat, with backs like mud-covered islands, and sport nine tails. Unlike regular skate, they have been found inland, in freshwater, and even on dry land.

There is always a swarm of skate swimming around a skötumóðir. As they are caught by fishermen, the sea seems to get shallower as the skötumóðir rises to the surface. Finally, the vengeful skate mother hooks its wings onto the gunwales of the boat, and drags it below the waves.

To evade a skötumóðir, prompt action is required. When the huge ray latches its wings onto the boat, they must be immediately chopped off with whatever sharp implement is handy. This will effectively neutralize the threat.

An enormous skate, no doubt a skötumóðir, was one of three monsters terrorizing people around Lagarfljót, lying in wait at ferry crossings. It was transfixed to the bottom of the river by a powerful sorcerer, and unless it has escaped, it is there still.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Selamóðir

Variations: Seal Mother

selamodir

The Selamóðir, or “Seal Mother”, is the protector of the harbor seals and grey seals of Iceland. It is called by seals when persecuted, or it may appear of its own accord to defend its charges. Unlike most seals, it can be found inland as well as at sea, in freshwater and saltwater.

Seal mother or not, a selamóðir is a monstrous sight. It is like a seal in general appearance, but of “unusual dimensions”, “terrifying size”, or simply the size of a large foreign dog with short legs. It is reddish-pink in color (perhaps with a red neck), with flashing eyes and a back like an island. There is a tuft of hair, like brushwood or heather, between its eyes.

Seal mothers may be found wherever seals gather, and ferociously attack anything that approaches their “children”. There is one report of a selamóðir charging out of the sea to scare off would-be seal hunters, and others of selamóðirs swimming upriver.

A selamóðir was also one of the three monsters inhabiting the Lagarfljót river. It slept under the waterfall, and was much feared until it was vanquished and transfixed to a rock.

References

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Flyðrumóðir

Variations: Flyðrumóðirin (pl.), Halibut Mother; Laxamóðir (Salmon Mother), Laxamóðirin (pl.); Silungamóðir (Trout Mother), Silungamóðirin (pl.)

Flydrumodir

The Flyðrumóðir, or “Halibut Mother”, is fairly representative of the Icelandic móðirin, the “mothers” of certain species of fishes. These creatures look like huge, monstrous versions of their namesakes, and they protect their smaller kin fiercely.

A flyðrumóðir looks like the halibut it protects, but it is much larger, growing to the size of a fishing boat. Its body, which turns grey on both sides with age, is covered with shells, barnacles, and seaweed, making it look like a small island when it surfaces.

While the flyðrumóðir has been said to be the mother of all fishes in the sea, its true “children” are the halibut. It is followed by schools of halibut out at sea, and it protects them if they are persecuted. A schooner in Faxaflói attracted (and escaped) the attention of a flyðrumóðir after it hauled up 40 halibuts. Another fishing boat owned by Archdeacon Hannes Stephensen was less lucky; it caught a flyðrumóðir on a coffin-nail hook, but was capsized by the halibut mother with all hands lost.

Even catching a flyðrumóðir is not necessarily a good thing. After the halibut mother of Breiðafjörður was snagged on a golden hook and filleted, the waters of the area ceased to produce fish, and the angler who caught the giant halibut never again caught a fish in his life.

Similar fish mothers include the freshwater Laxamóðir, “Salmon Mother” and Silungamóðir, “Trout Mother”. Both of these resemble oversized salmon and trout, respectively. Salmon mothers will swim out of salmon-rich rivers, tearing through fishing nets along their way. The big-headed trout mothers are bad luck to catch, and should be released whenever possible.

References

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Sverðhvalur

Variations: Sverdhvalur, Sword-whale, Swordwhale; Sverðfiskur, Sverðfiskar, Sverðfiskr (Sword-fish); Sverðurinn (Sworder); Brúnfiskur, Brún-fiskur (Brown-fish); Sveifarfiskur (Crank-fish); Slambakur (Slap-whale); Staurhvalur (Stump-whale); Einbægslingur (One-fin); Haskerðingur (High-Fin; potentially the basking shark or the swordwhale); Killer Whale, Orca, Swordfish

Sverdhvalur

The Sverðhvalur (“Swordwhale”) or Sverðfiskur (“Swordfish”) is one of the illhveli, or “evil whales” that lurk off the coast of Iceland. Like the other evil whales, it is unfit for eating, and the steypireyður or blue whale is its mortal enemy.

The sverðhvalur’s most distinctive feature is the sharp bony fin growing out of its back. This fin is 3-12 cubits (1.5-6 meters) tall. The sverðhvalur is about the size of a sperm whale at the largest, and its spouting is short and heavy. Its face is owlish in appearance, with a pointed snout and a large mouth set with vicious teeth. If the brúnfiskur (“brown-fish”) is one of its many aliases, it can be assumed to be brown in color, but another account describes it as grey.

The sverðhvalur is a fast swimmer, and beats the water on either side of it with its fin when agitated. It is often accompanied by a smaller whale – perhaps its offspring – that swims under its pectoral fin and feeds on its scraps. The bladed dorsal fin is used as a weapon, and a sverðhvalur will swim underneath good whales to cut their bellies open with crisscross slashes. Whales will beach themselves rather than suffer a sverðhvalur’s attack. Sverðhvalurs are also wasteful eaters, choosing to eat only the tongue of cetacean prey and leaving the rest to rot. Boats are treated in the same way as whales are, with the dorsal fin punching holes through hulls or slicing cleanly through smaller boats and sailors alike.

Other encounters, especially with larger vessels, are more harmful for the whale. A trading ship sailing from eastern Iceland to Copenhagen came to a stop in the middle of a large pod of whales, and suddenly felt a strong tug coming from below. When the ship moored in Copenhagen, a large fish’s tusk was found sticking out of the hull.

Another sverðfiskur followed a boat off Eyjafjörður, and gave up the chase only after a gun was fired into its gaping mouth.

The term sverðfiskur or sverðfiskr (“sword-fish”) has been used to refer to the swordfish, the sawfish, and the killer whale. The basking shark and the killer whale have also been accused of slicing through ships and eviscerating whales with their fins, and it is the killer whale or “swordwhale” that appears to be the sverðhvalur’s ancestor.

References

Anderson, P. (1955) Bibliography of Scandinavian Philology XXIV. Acta Philologica Scandinavica, Ejnar Munksgaard, Copenhagen.

Árnason, J.; Powell, G. E. J. and Magnússon, E. trans. (1866) Icelandic Legends, Second Series. Longmans, Green, and Co., London.

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Hermansson, H. (1924) Jon Gudmundsson and his Natural History of Iceland. Islandica, Cornell University Library, Ithaca.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Lyngbakur

Variations: Lyng-bakur, Lyngbakr, Ling-back, Heather-back; Jasconius, Iascanus; Hólma-fiskur, Hólmafiskur (Island Fish)

Lyngbakur

The Lyngbakur is the largest of all the illhveli, the largest of the whales, indeed one of the largest creatures in the sea. In Icelandic lore only the hafgufa (or kraken) is bigger than it, and the two giants are frequently interchangeable.

Despite its enormous size, the lyngbakur is rarely seen, and it does not go out of its way to sink ships the way its smaller brethren do. Most of the time its back is the only thing seen, looking like an island covered with a growth of heather. Its eyes are dorsally located, giving the impression of circular pools of water. From a distance the lyngbakur seems jet-black, but on closer inspection it is a mossy grey. It is tailed and finned like other whales.

The lyngbakur is a slow swimmer, and tends to doze at the surface, looking indistinguishable from a heather-covered island. It is possible to go right up and land on it, but the whale eventually awakes and dives, and anyone still on it will be drowned. Some fishermen in southern Iceland stayed two days on the whale’s back before it sunk, but they had the presence of mind to escape while they could. Trying to draw water from the “pools” on the island is certain to awaken it. The lyngbakur feeds only once every three years, but when it does it engulfs anything in its path, fish, birds, and whales alike.

The saga of Arrow-Odd relates the titular hero’s adventures, which include an encounter with a lyngbakur sent by his enemy Ogmund. He stopped by a large heather-covered island, and had five of his crew disembark to find drinking water. Before long the island began to move, going underwater and drowning the unfortunate crewmen.

Saint Brendan moored at a small island covered with sparse vegetation and with no sand on its shores. He and his followers spent the night praying on the island, but left next morning in a hurry as the ground began to shake. They returned to their ship in time, where they found out that they had been on the back of a Jasconius or Iascanus, a great whale that seems to be none other than the lyngbakur. The next time they encountered the whale, Saint Brendan fearlessly sang Easter Mass on it, and none were harmed.

It is said that there is only one lyngbakur, and it will live until Armageddon.

References

Davidsson, O. (1900) The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

Edwards, P. and Pálsson, H. (1970) Arrow-Odd: A Medieval Novel. New York University Press, New York.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.