Friday, June 19, 2015

Scandinavian’s Mare and Pesta

Two common words in the English language today, nightmare and pestilence actually have their origins in two scary creatures from Scandinavian folklore.


A female Vette known as Mare would bring bad dreams to people by sitting on them while they slept.

Mare often appears in Germanic folklore. She takes many different shapes and sizes.

The Scandinavian words for nightmare is: in Norwegian--Mareritt, in Danish--Mareridt, in Swedish--Mardrom, which directly translated means Mare-ride and Mare-dream.

The tale of the Mare might be connected to Old Hag Syndrome, which is described here. Also, the Mare is sometimes likened to the succubus and incubus described here.

Some considered Mares witches that could transform into animals.

It was said they rode horses throughout the night--leaving these animals exhausted and sweaty when their owners discovered them the next morning. This is why horses are often included in pictures that depict Mares.

The word Mare can be traced back to the European root word “mer,” which meant to rub away or to harm.

In Germany, there was even a charm or prayer that was said to ward off Mares.

Here I lie down to sleep
No nightmare shall disturb me--
They must swim through all the waters
That flow upon the earth.
And then must count all the stars
That appears in the sky.
(Help me God, Father, and Holy Ghost)


Pesta carrying a rake.
Pesta is a frightening witch-like creature that was created after the Black Death hit the Scandinavian countries.

This plague was so deadly--it killed a third of Denmark’s population and a half of the people in Norway. Because of this devastation, the people in the north countries gave this plague a character all its own.

This character-- Pesta brings death and illness in her wake. She is a hideous old woman dressed in black, carrying a rake or broom. She traveled from farm to farm, spreading the disease.

If she carried a rake, some at the farm would die, but if she carried a broom, all at the farm would die.

Various depictions of Pesta
Click to enlarge
Even today, Pesta is mentioned in Scandinavia when disease and dying are mentioned. *

Pestilence is Latin for the word plague.

An interesting side note: The Black Plague was first brought to the northern countries via a ghost ship.

In 1349, a ship carrying wool set forth from England headed north. During this journey, its crewmembers started dying. Attempts to quarantine the sick failed.

The plague took every person on board. If fate had been kind, this ship would have drifted out to sea or sunk, but this was not to be.

Instead, it reached Bergen harbor in Norway. Rats and fleas on board, which carried the plague, made their way into the country.

Black Death
The Black Death then spread to Sweden and then into Russia in 1351. So it was a ghost ship that unleashed this unimaginable horror.

* Scandinavian folklore experienced a revival in the 1890s. Many of these tales were initially used to scare children. They were put aside after Christianity was introduced.

But with the onset of the industrial age, many of the old myths and legends were rediscovered.

Tales that explained the frightening aspects of the forests, mountains, and sea became popular once more. Because of this, many are still told.


samara said...

Very interesting , I love these bits

Virginia Lamkin said...

The origins of words are often fascinating.