Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Scandinavia’s Kraken

Kraken attacking merchant ship, 1830
Pierre Denys de Montfort

Original illustration from
Jules Verne's book, 1870.
In Nordic folklore, the kraken * (hafgufa) was a giant, sea monster that devoured ships and their entire crews.

The belief in this creature terrorized several generations of sailors and fishermen.

This monster dwelled at the bottom of the Greenland Sea off the coasts of Norway, Iceland, and Greenland.

Scary stories of the kraken were told throughout the 1700s and 1800s. The kraken was associated with many superstitions that sailors held. Especially since they loved a good “tall tale.”

It was stated that this enormous monster could swallow men and the largest ships, and even the most immense whales whole. It was believed its many arms could reach up from the depths of the sea and pull down its prey.

Its movements at the bottom of the Greenland Sea was said to resemble underwater volcanic activity.

It was so large—that when it gradually surfaced, bubbling, it was sometimes mistaken for an island.

It would burst up to the surface. Spurting water from its large nostrils, causing circular waves that would go on for miles, which resulted in dangerous currents.

It is believed there were only two krakens for it took massive amounts of fish to sustain them. They would just open their jaws and let the fish swim in, then when their stomachs were full, they would clamp their jaws together.

Fishermen would often take the risk of fishing around the kraken for the catch was exceptional. It is said the kraken would stretch its neck out, and belch out thousands of fish.

There were even stories of ships sailing right through its open jaws and living to tell about it.

Pen and wash drawing
Pierre Denys de Monfort, 1801.
In the 18th Century it was described as “octopus-like” (cephalopod) with spikes protruding from its suckers.

In the Swedish and Norwegian languages, kraken or krake means an unhealthy animal or something that is twisted. In its plural form--kraken, it means octopus.

At one time the Nordic people even felt it was taboo to say the word “kraken” out loud, for it was believed this would summon this horrible monster.

It is believed a real sea creature inspired the origins of this tale—a giant squid that could reach up to 60 feet in length.

*  Note "kraken" is not capitalized in Nordic culture.

In 1830, Alfred Tennyson wrote a sonnet about the kraken.

"Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in teh abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many wonderous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die."

1 comment:

Leona Joan said...

The kraken is so scary and yet so mysterious. I really enjoy the sketches and especially the spooky poem by the wonderful Lord Tennyson. Thanks so much for sharing. 😎