There is so much that is strange in this world. Not least ALL those people who live underneath it. Who live under the earth, hidden in the mountains or by the back door just behind where you live. And you probably know next to nothing about them but the chances are that so very few generations back, round here often just one, they knew. Knew and knew, not a scientific kind of knowledge but a solid and unshakable certainty.
Last year, in Ireland the parallel world sprang to life for me and a group of 17 students of storytelling from Oslo university. In Ireland the earthly king took a wife from the other world as a matter of course and it was deemed utterly necessary for the good of his earthly kingdom. (He also had a wife of flesh and blood.)
Here there are no kings and queens but the large group of listeners who I told to yesterday seemed pretty freaked out when I took them to the other world. Inge Johanssen had just been telling them, reminding them really, of all the litany of rules and regulations which went to plakating Draugen.
When Draugen appears to fishermen its usually extremely bad news. He looks like a headless man who rides in half a boat. And by the way if you are lost at sea you do get found without your head. If you were a fisherman back in the day stuff had to be right, a false step might be your last. Fatal mistakes include having a rucksack, a waffle, or, heaven forbid, a woman on your boat. I might seem a bit ironic but its just because i have no idea what this kind of danger is like. Someone told me he had a motorbike accident with a fisherman and everyone came crowding round him and asked him if he was ok. He said yes I’m ok but what about the fisherman? They said Oh this is nothing, he’s a fisherman.
Inge was telling about all this but there was no sense of fear in the large room where coffee (this is hard core; no question of tea or even a cup of hot water here) and cake were being consumed by the inhabitants. But when I told them Mary and the seal and the terror of Mary’s mum when she thinks her only chld has been been stolen by the silkies we seemed to go right back to a place or a depth where the other world is a constant threat.
So where is the heroine? Her name is Regine Nordmann. Earlier in the day I had been hearing of this remarkable woman. Born in 1867, by the age of 4, like so many others, when her father died she was placed in another family . A very bright girl she was teaching at an early age, told stories all her life and soon started writing. At 17 she was forced into marriage with a husband who forbade her to write so she hid the manuscripts in a nearby cave. Later, despite his wrath she moved to Oslo (Christiania), to get an education. He followed her there and she finally managed to buy her way out of the marriage with the money from her first book. Her prodigious output was continuously honed through live storytelling in her teaching, and consists to a large extent of legends and fairy tales. They are often framed in the context of the North Norway she continued to love until her last journey up there in the summer of 1939.
This picture by Kaare Espolin Johnsson appears in the new book of her local stories launched yesterday and is called the follower.
I still don’t know who Huldra is, I get a new explanation nearly every day. Yes they all agree she is stunning with lots of hair, has a cows tail, dresses in blue and usually lives in the mountain. But no, the woman I am staying with promises me she is not the same as the underworldly who live here i Bø. i just watched the News with her in telly where a man in a restaurant nearby was having trouble with ghosts.
It’s confusing but recently I have been wondering if the Huldra people are simply the Sami. The degree of fear or mutual respect seems to have varied as much about these remarkable people as it does about Huldra. You have to be careful with people of the other world, and perhaps also with people who are closer to the other world. People with the gifts of healing, seeing past and future and perhaps also of cursing. But these people are to be found, many, amongst Norwegians too so what am I saying about Huldra really? I must keep looking.
Tomorrow I’m going to hang out with the kystlag. These are the olden day nerds who mend old boats and know a whole enormous lot about fishing nets and Draugen and the sea. It’s not fair to call them nerds, this is what Norway survived on.