Strange Creatures of Iceland – Part 2

This is the second blog post on the strange creatures of Iceland. Please check out part 1 if you haven’t already.

This section will deal with sea creatures as well as others you might have heard of.

Hafgúfa – Sea breeze

Hafgúfa is Iceland’s answer to the Kraken. Like the Kraken, it is an octopus; the earliest sources are from the 12th and 13th centuries. In those sources, little is known about the creature as it generally lives deep down in the ocean. However, those who have seen it said it looked more like land than an animal, as it was so big. According to sources, there might be only two beasts living in the world.

They can’t mate, maybe for the best, because they must eat a great deal of food to stay alive. The world wouldn’t sustain more. It is believed it has been living since the dawn of time.

It is said to give out a mighty big burp, foul smelling, and full of rotten feed when they eat. This attracts other fish, big and small. The creature waits below with its mouth open and then swallows them whole.
The name possibly refers to the hot, foul air it emits to feed.

Hrosshvalur – Horse whale

Source.

This creature is first mentioned in Iceland’s ancient law book Grágás; it is illegal to eat horse whales and two other monster whales.

In the 12th century, an unnamed monk wrote that the whale creature was a cyclops, had a floppy mane, and could be seen plowing the ocean with ferocity. In other sources, they are said to love eating and killing men. They travel the seas looking for ships to topple.

It is mentioned in Prose Edda, Kormáks Saga, King’s Mirror (Konungs skuggsjá), Göngu-Hrólfs saga and in Hjálmþés saga ok Ölvis.

Then it wasn’t until the late 16th century that it was mentioned again. It is seen regularly in sources until the mid-19th century but not again. All sources agree that it is a destructive beast, has a red mane, and is about 15-20 meters (50-65 feet) long.

Lyngbakur – Lingback

Source.

Only the hafgúfa is larger than lyngbakur. The oldest source of this creature is from the 10th century in Navigation Sancti Brendani abbatis. It is about an Irish man named Brennan mac Hua Alta who was born in the latter half of the 5th century. It was an abbot and one of the most famous seamen of his time.

Once when he was out at sea with other men, he saw a grand big island. There’s little grass on it, hardly any trees, and no sand on the beaches. They still decide to stop there for the night. It wasn’t until they lit a fire in the morning and the whole ground started shaking that they realized something weird was happening. They managed to go to their ships before the island sank into the ocean.

It is believed that it only eats every three years, but when it does, it swallows everything before it.
Others believe that there is only one creature like this alive in the ocean, which has existed since the beginning of time and will live until the end.

Skeljungur

Source.

This whale-like creature is different from all other whales around Iceland. It is first mentioned in King’s Mirror. It is described as large, and if it sees a ship, it swims up to it and either hits it with its flippers or makes sure the seamen can only collide with it. Usually, that means death for the men because it throws everything into the air to break it.

It is about 35-40 meters (115-130 feet) long, covered in barnacles, and could be eaten, unlike other destructive whales. They were usually considered uneatable.

Grýla, Leppalúði and their family

Drawing by Tryggvi Magnússon.

You might find it weird that we have the Yule Lads and their family on this list. But it’s true, they are – or were – not someone you wanted to meet.

They are a troll species, and Grýla, their mother, eats children. Their father, Leppalúði, is Grýla’s third husband and is usually considered relatively dim-witted and lazy. The family cat, the Yule Cat, is famous as it eats everyone who doesn’t get new clothing before Christmas.

The Yule Lads have changed their ways for the better, probably because Icelanders aren’t the farmers they used to be, and most live in towns and cities. Their names describe their mischievousness of choice, albeit it is sometimes hard to decipher. Such as Stubby (Stúfur). He’s short, but he’ll steal your pans and eat the crust.

The Icelandic Santas
If you visit Iceland in December, one of these lads may visit you!

These are the Yule Lads

  • Stekkjarstaur (Sheep Cote Clod) doesn’t let his two peg legs stop him from bothering the sheep.
  • Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) waits for his chance to steal milk from the cowshed by hiding in a gully.
  • Stúfur (Stubby) is very short, but he’ll still try to steal your pans to eat the crust.
  • Þvörusleikir (Spoon Licker) loves to steal spoons to lick. No wonder he’s so thin if that’s all he eats!
  • Pottaskefill (Pot Scraper) scrapes leftovers out of the pots he steals.
  • Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) hides under the bed and waits to steal bowls to lick clean.
  • Hurðaskellir (Door Slammer) has fun waking people in the middle of the night by slamming doors.
  • Skyrgámur (Skyr Gobbler) tries to steal his favorite food, skyr (Icelandic-style yogurt).
  • Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper) hides in the rafters for his chance to steal hanging sausages that are being smoked.
  • Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) spies in windows, checking out what belongings inside he can snatch.
  • Gáttaþefur (Doorway Sniffer) uses his big nose to sniff out bread.
  • Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) steals meat with his handy hook.
  • Kertasníkir (Candle Stealer) has a fondness for candles to eat. It is worth noting that candles were made from tallows back in the day, so eating them is not that weird.

Huldufólk – Hidden people

The Hidden People can be very capricious and sometimes make people mad as a hatter. There are countless stories of them ruining large machines when, for example, roads are supposed to be laid through their homes.

They often reward people for their help, but they must do precisely what they ask you to do. If you do not, you will lose your wealth and sometimes your mind.

Read more about the hidden people here. JRR Tolkien was also influenced by Icelandic lore and Norse Mythology when he wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. You can also check out the time Your Friend in Reykjavik visited the headmaster of the Icelandic Elf School.

Lagarfljótsormurinn – The Serpent of Lagarfljót

A type of water serpent. Source.

This monster worm lives in Lagarfljót by Egilsstaðir in the East Fjords and is a water serpent. There are some parallels between this creature and the Loch Ness monster.

The worm was first mentioned in 1345 and is then regularly mentioned throughout the centuries. In Jón Árnason’s folktales, it is described as a heath worm, a slug used to guard gold but didn’t stop growing, so it was moved to the lake.

It is about 12 meters long (40 feet); some say they have seen it coiled up on land and slither into the trees. The main difference between the worm and the Loch Ness monster is that the creature in Lagafljót has many humps, unlike its Scottish cousin.

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