As Halloween approaches, I would like to tell you about a few of our local Danish monsters that lurk in the dark places.
I did write a whole article on Halloween in Denmark for the Halloween Haunts a few years ago—you can check it out here:
Nevertheless, this year let us go back to a time before globalization where monsters had to be local.
The Grave Sow (Gravsoen)
The Grave Sow is usually described as a huge pig with glowing eyes and jet-black skin. It haunts graveyards and poses a great danger to anyone wearing anything made from pig—like leather or a bladder for a wallet. It is much larger than any natural pig, and its back is pointed and bladelike.
The creature is so powerful that when it charges people, its bladelike back will slice them in half. Even horses and carts can be split in this manner, and it is considered almost impossible to kill.
Stories about the Grave Sow first appeared in writing somewhere in the 15th century, but it was a persistent threat throughout the centuries. When the priest Joachim Junge was collecting Danish tales of supposition late in the 1700s, he concluded that the Grave Sow was actually the souls of murdered children taking the shape of the Grave Sow to get their revenge.
More than anything else, the Grave Sow is a bad omen. If you meet it or even hear it in the distance, you know something bad will happen.
As time went on, the myth evolved, and, in the later years, it was considered to be the soul of an infant child, born out of wedlock and buried in secret outside the graveyard. After 100 years the soul would take the shape of a Grave Sow and become an omen of death and disease.
The way to prevent a fateful meeting is to not wear anything made from a pig.
The Hel-Horse (Helhesten)
The Hel-Horse is an omen of death, much like the Grave Sow.
(Hel was the old Nordic realm of the dead—a sad and depressing place filled with decay and grey meaninglessness. It has nothing to do with Hell, which is called Helvede in Danish.)
Unlike the Grave Sow, the Hel-Horse can be seen by any unfortunate soul who is out and about at a full-moon night. It is described as a three-legged horse, missing one of the front limbs. Sometimes, it is also headless; other times, its eyes are described as glowing embers. It’s an omen of death or sickness for whoever bears witness to the creature. It is said to drive people mad just by revealing itself.
It can appear and disappear into the shadows, but the sound of its odd gait can always be heard.
Unlike with the Grave Sow, the people knew well where it came from.
In the old days, a horse would be sacrificed at the site where a church was being built. Trolls would come at night to sabotage the construction, and the sacrifice was a way to keep them away.
One leg would be cut from the horse before it was buried, and it could later return as a Hel-Horse.
Most people will not face it but hear the limping gait in the darkness or spot the creature’s silhouette against the full moon.
There is no known way to escape the Hel-Horse. You can’t escape death.
One of the interesting things about the Danish monsters is that they have co-existed with Christianity for a long time. You can often see remnants of the old faith in the monsters of the later times.
The pig was sacred to the pagans and had a central place in several myths. It seems logical that it would morph into something monstrous later.
Odin was a god of Death (among other things) and rode Spleipner, the eight-legged horse. Not surprisingly a three-legged horse emerged as an omen of death.
And then there’s the draugr, but that is for another time.