The Map of Nordic Legends

The Map of Nordic Legends (in Swedish: ’Sägenkartan’) is a collaboration between the Institute for Language and Folklore in Sweden (Isof), The Norwegian Folklore Archives (NFS), and the Swedish Literary Society in Finland (SLS).

The map tells the legends of giants’ throws (the folkloristic explanations for glacial erratics), witches, the nixie, and encounters with gnomes, werewolves and the Devil himself. The map consists of 10.000 archive records, collected from archive collections and printed publications on legends.

What is a Legend?

Legends are typically orally transmitted tales of how man perceives the world, the past, and how the supernatural is expressed and translated into everyday life. The tales are short, they often describe singular events, and follow a narrative structure when told. Contrary to folktales the legends also take place in the real world, and are generally retold as the truth – thus claiming belief from the listener. Many legends have a great geographical spread, while others are more locally embedded.

On the Map of Nordic Legends you will also find other types of storytelling, such as self-experienced meetings with the supernatural, so called memorat, narratives of faith, and a folktale or two.

Collections of the Folklore Archives

The narratives which make up the Map of Nordic Legends were recorded in the late 19th century. They were generally written down by students, travelling around the countryside, and interviewing the older generation about the past, of life and living in the agricultural society of the 1800 hundreds. Locally established persons were also engaged in this wide-ranging documentation.

The focus of the documentation was on what was perceived as national or regional and old, even disappearing. Seen through today’s lens this gives the collections an exotic impression, an incomplete picture of what people spoke about and believed in. Despite their scope, the collections are comprised of samples, as to who was interviewed and what was recorded. Yet, with awareness of these conditions, the collections still form an important source of knowledge for immaterial cultural heritage.

Legends often speak of phenomenon, meetings, and people who are perceived as different. The stories often reflect fears of various kinds, as well as prejudice. For example, in the legends about magicians, where ethnic groups and priests are often targeted. The language used sometimes reflects this racism. The legends can therefore be used to shed light on ‘the other’ during the 19th and early 20th century, although not function as a source of knowledge of how the people portrayed lead their lives, or what they said or believed, outside the world of legends.

The Institute for Language and Folklore (Isof)

The Institute for Language and Folklore in Sweden (Isof) is a public authority commissioned to give guidance on language planning, and from a scientific standpoint to research, explain and spread knowledge on language, dialects, folklife, onomastics and immaterial cultural heritage in Sweden. On the Map of Nordic Legends Isof have made a small part of their archive collections on legends available. More is to come.

The Norwegian Folklore Archives (NFS)

The Norwegian Folklore Archives (NFS) was founded in 1914 and has since functioned as an archive for cultural historic material. The collection is now housed by the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS) at the University of Oslo. On the Map of Nordic Legends NFS have made a selection of 19th and early 20th century records available.

The Swedish Literary Society in Finland (SLS)

The Swedish Literary Society in Finland (SLS) is a scholarly society for the preservation, study and dissemination of knowledge about Finland-Swedish culture. On the Map of Nordic Legends SLS have made available parts of the 21-volume work Finlands svenska folkdiktning (Eng: Finnish Swedish Folk Poetry), published in the years 1917–1975. The series is divided into eight folkloristic genres, documented in the late 19th century and first decades of the 20th century. The 3.100 legends presented on the Map of Nordic Legends has been collected from volume II:3 Mystiska sägner (Eng. Mystic Legends).

A Growing Map

The Map of Nordic Legends contains some 10.000 legends, which is a small part of the archives’ collections. Unable to find records from your area? Or do you want to know more about a specific area or topic? Please contact us with questions or if you want to transcribe and make legends available on the Map of Nordic Legends: