07 January 2011

Friday night folklore: The Vengeful Finn

For some reason, Finns and Lapps were, in the old days, considered by Icelanders to be the most powerful of sorcerers. Here in one story of a Finnish sorcerer.This story is unusual in that usually the foreign sorcerer is completely thwarted by an Icelander, but  here he is only partially thwarted, and that by the advice of a friendly Norwegian.

The fever mentioned in the story is some kind of very contagious and lethal disease that affects both cats and dogs, but I have seen a similar story that gave these events as the explanation for the arrival of rabies in Iceland (which has since been eradicated).

Eyrarbakki is village on the south coast of Iceland that was a trading center for several centuries. As often happened, a merchant ship arrived and one of the crew was from Finland. He had some merchandise that he was selling, among other things an empty bottle. He wanted more for it than a regular bottle would sell for and no-one seemed interested in buying it. 

Eventually he had an offer for the bottle. The buyer said he would come by the next day to pick it up and pay for it, since the bottle was aboard the ship, which was moored off shore. The next morning the Finn brought the bottle ashore, but the Icelander had changed his mind. 

This resulted in a noisy argument between them and finally they started pushing each other around, the Icelander driving the Finn backwards. He grabbed the bottle and threw it, hard as he could, down onto the sea-cliffs, but the bottle bounced and landed farther away, unbroken, as it was made of flexible glass. The Icelander noticed this and snatched up the bottle and left with it without paying a thing for it. 

Later that summer the ship sailed back to Norway. The next spring it returned, and the Finn was still in the crew. He brought another bottle and asked the Icelanders to sell him milk to fill the bottle, from local women and cows. However, the ship’s captain warned the people not to do it but sell him instead milk from a bitch and a cat, which they did. 

The gleefully happy Finn went back to Norway with the ship, taking with him his bottle full of milk.

Once he reached Finnmark he visited his aged mother, who was a witch. She took the bottle with the milk and started cooking it in a water-bath, and continued to cook it until the end of the month of Góa (early March in the Gregorian calendar). Then barking and meowing stared coming from the pot, which so shocked the old woman that she ran out and killed herself over having been so basely fooled. 

The next summer her son took the bottle with him to Iceland and this caused a serious epidemic among the cats and dogs of Iceland, which died in their hundreds.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


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