Trollgädda

I am indebted to Fredrik “Tektalox” Hansing for introducing me to and translating material related to this enormous esocid!

Variations: Trollgäddor (pl.); Jättegädda (Giant Pike); Krongädda (Crown Pike); Skällgädda (Bell Pike); Sjörå

The lakes and waterways of Sweden are home to Trollgäddor, “troll pike”. These variable supernatural creatures take the form of a large pike, and cause problems ranging from being nuisances to attacking people.

Sometimes the pikes are associated with the Sjörå, the Mistress of the Lake; some may even be Sjörå themselves. More frequently they are the pets of the Sjörå. The water-spirit dresses them up with bells like cows, and the fish are called skällgäddor or “bell pikes”. Anglers who return those pikes upon capture are rewarded with success at fishing; those who kill them incur the Mistress’ wrath and find their livestock dying off.

The krongädda or “crown pike” is another of the Sjörå’s pets. It is a pike with a crown, and is regarded to be the Sjörå’s prized possession. The exact nature of the “crown” is unclear. It has been suggested that the crown is actually the remains of a bird’s talons embedded in the fish’s skull, left behind by an unfortunate osprey drowned by its “catch”.

Other times the trollgädda’s appears as a normal pike with no distinguishing characteristics. A pike captured in Lake Odensjön was large enough, but as the angler returned home it grew heavier and heavier. By the time he entered the house he had to drop it, and it started thrashing about as it grew big enough to destroy the house. Fortunately the angler had the presence of mind to let it out; the fish squirmed and flopped its way back into the water and disappeared.

Trollgädda tales vary by locale. The Kvittinge pike kills a human every year. In Lake Mjörn there is a huge, hairy, and bearded pike tied up with an iron chain. In Skåne there are pikes as big as wooden beams. The Dalsland pike has eyes as big as saucers and scales as big as roof tiles. It barely fits in the coves, and seeing it is a clear sign that fishing will be futile.

The pike of Lake Bolmen is as long as the lake is wide, and can barely move. It is so big that its back looks like a rocky island, and so old that a willow shrub grows on its head and neck. An enterprising angler tried to catch the pike using a rope for a fishing line and a dead foal for bait. When the trollgädda bit, the angler fastened the rope to a lakeside barn and went to get help. They returned to find the barn dragged out into the lake.

References

Gustavsson, P. (2008) Laskiga vidunder och sallsamma djur. Alfabeta, Stockholm.

Hansing, F. (pers. comm.)

Svanberg, I. (2000) Havsrattor, kuttluckor och rabboxar. Bokforlaget Arena, Falth & Hassler, Smedjebacken.

Bayfart

Bayfart

The Bayfart is an animal whose existence is reported by the inhabitants of Finnmark. It is something like a seal, roughly the same size and shape. Its fur is greyish. It has small ears and a single horn on its head surrounded by hair, and hog-like bristles around its nose. Its forelegs have claws as long as a lion’s, while its has two flippers for hind legs.

Thevet received a bayfart skin from a Scotsman, who obtained it in Denmark in 1570. It had been caught in the Northern Sea.

References

Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.

Bøjg

Variations: Boyg, Bøjgen, Bojgen, Bøygen, Boygen, The Great Bøjg of Etnedal

Bojg

The Great Bøjg of Etnedal is a troll encountered by Peer Gynt in his Gutsbrandal adventures. It was memorable enough that Ibsen included it in his version of Peer Gynt, making it an even more otherworldly creature.

The Bøjg is vast, slimy, slippery, persistent, and shapeless. In the original fairytale, it has a head, which lessens its shapelessness somewhat. Ibsen describes it as a misty, slimy being, neither dead nor alive. Running into it is like running into a nest of sleepy growling bears. Its name comes from bøje, to bend, implying something twisting but also something that forces you to turn elsewhere, conquering without attacking. It coils around houses in the dark, or encircles its victims and bewilders them. Attacking the Bøjg directly is futile.

Wherever Gynt turns, he finds himself running into the clammy unpleasant mass. The Bøjg blocks his path to a mountain hut and nothing Gynt does can defeat it. In the fairytale Gynt fires three shots into the Bøjg’s head but to no avail; he eventually defeats the Bøjg through trickery. In Ibsen’s play the Bøjg is overcome by women, psalms, and church bells.

Within Ibsen’s symbolism it is seen as an insurmountable obstacle, a being of compromise and lethargy.

References

Hopp, Z.; Ramholt, T. trans. (1961) Norwegian Folklore Simplified. Iohn Griegs Boktrykkeri, Bergen.

Ibsen, H., Watts, P. trans. (1970) Peer Gynt. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

Ahuna

Variations: Ahune, Ahunum, Hahanc, Hahane, Hahune, Hahanie, Channa, Cestreus, Fastaroz, Mullet, Swam-fisk, Swamfisck, Swamfysck, Svvamfysck

Swamfisk final - Copy

The long journey of the Ahuna begins in Aristotle, where the cestreus (mullet) is described as the most greedy of all fish, with a frequently distended abdomen. It is edible only when its belly is empty. When threatened it hides its head, convinced that its whole body is hidden that way. In the same sentence Aristotle then mentions the sinodon (dentex) that is carnivorous and eats squid, and the following sentence deals with the channa (grouper) that lacks an oesophagus and whose mouth opens directly into its stomach.

Michael Scot’s translation from the Arabic gives fastaroz for the mullet, theaidoz for dentex, and hahanie for grouper. He also mistranslates the phrase “the dentex is carnivorous and eats squid”, instead assuming that the adjective “carnivorous” applies to the previously-mentioned mullet – not only that, but it becomes self-carnivorous. Now the mullet hides its head when frightened, and consumes itself. Another lapse creates the hahune or ahuna, which exists only as a comparison to the mullet (“the mullet is more voracious than the other fishes and especially that which is known as ahuna”).

By the time Cantimpré compiled his bestiary, mullet, dentex, and grouper were all combined into one creature, the ahuna or hahuna. This sea monster is highly voracious and will feed until its belly swells beyond the size of its own body. Its mouth connects directly to its stomach; in fact, it has no neck or stomach to speak of. When attacked it tucks its head and limbs away in its body like a hedgehog, folding its skin and tissues over itself. It will remain like this until the danger goes away. If hunger strikes while the ahuna is curled up, it will be forced to eat part of itself to assuage its insatiable gluttony.

We are not given any physical description of the ahuna besides its chubbiness. One of Cantimpré’s depictions gives it an avian beak and horizontal wavy stripes; the Ortus Sanitatis, on the other hand, makes the ahuna a literal sea-hedgehog, complete with a curly tail.

The swamfisk described by Olaus Magnus appears off the coast of Norway and otherwise follows the exact description given by Cantimpré. It is much less common than cetaceans and is frequently hunted for its fat and oil, used primarily for treating leather and providing light during the long winter months. If Olaus Magnus was plagiarizing wholesale, the name he uses is unique.

De Montfort, unaware of its origins, believed the swamfisk to be a giant octopus.

References

Aristotle, Cresswell, R. trans. (1862) Aristotle’s History of Animals. Henry G. Bohn, London.

de Cantimpré, T. (1280) Liber de natura rerum. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Gauvin, B.; Jacquemard, C.; and Lucas-Avenel, M. (2013) L’auctoritas de Thomas de Cantimpré en matière ichtyologique (Vincent de Beauvais, Albert le Grand, l’Hortus sanitatis). Kentron, 29, pp. 69-108.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Magnus, O. (1555) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Giovanni M. Viotto, Rome.

Magnus, O. (1561) Histoire des pays septentrionaus. Christophle Plantin, Antwerp.

de Montfort, P. D. (1801) Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particuliere des Mollusques, Tome Second. F. Dufart, Paris.

Swan, J. (1643) Speculum Mundi. Roger Daniel, Cambridge.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.