Scandinavian Changeling Legends

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1997-2000


  1. The Changelings (Sweden).

  2. Two Changeling Tales. (Denmark).

  3. The Father of Eighteen Elves (Iceland).

  4. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Changelings


Every intelligent grandmother knows that the fire must not be allowed to go out in a room where there is a child not yet christened; that the water in which the newborn child is washed should not be thrown out; also, that a needle, or some other article of steel must be attached to its bandages [diapers]. If attention is not paid to these precautions it may happen that the child will be exchanged by the trolls, as once occurred in Bettna many years ago.

A young peasant's wife had given birth to her first child. Her mother, who lived some distance away, was on hand to officiate in the first duties attending its coming, but the evening before the day on which the child should be christened she was obliged to go home for a short time to attend to the wants of her own family, and during her absence the fire was allowed to go out.

No one would have noticed anything unusual, perhaps, if the child had not, during the baptism, cried like a fiend. After some weeks, however, the parents began to observe a change. It became ugly, cried continuously, and was so greedy that it devoured everything that came in its way. The people being poor, they were in great danger of being eaten out of house and home. There could no longer be any doubt that the child was a changeling. Whereupon the husband sought a wise old woman, who, it was said, could instruct the parents what to do to get back their own child.

The mother was directed to build a fire in the bake oven three Thursday evenings in succession, lay the young one upon the bake shovel, then pretend that she was about to throw it into the fire. The advice was followed, and when the woman, the third evening, was in the act of throwing the changeling into the fire, it seemed, a little deformed, evil-eyed woman rushed up with the natural child, threw it in the crib, and requested the return of her child. "For," said she, "I have never treated your child so badly and I have never thought to do it such harm as you now propose doing mine," whereupon she took the unnatural child and vanished through the door.

Another changeling story, but with less unfortunate consequences, is told in Södermanland.

A resident of Vingåkir, who made frequent trips to Nyköping with loads of flour, was in the habit of halting for the night at the house of a farmer in Verna. One summer night he arrived later than usual, and, as the people were already in bed and asleep, the weather being pleasant, he did not wish to wake anyone, so unhitched his horse from the wagon, hitched him to a haystack, and laid himself under the wagon to sleep.

He had been some time under the wagon, yet awake, when, from under a stone nearby, an ugly, deformed woman, carrying a babe, made her appearance. Looking about her carefully, she laid the child on the stone and went into the house. In a short time she returned, bearing another child; laid it upon the stone, and taking up the first one, returned to the house.

The man observed her actions, and divining their purpose, crept cautiously from his resting place as soon as the woman had disappeared into the house, took the sleeping child and hid it in his coat under the wagon. When the troll returned and found the child gone, she went a third time to the house, for which she returned with the child she had just carried in, whereupon she disappeared under the stone.

The traveler, anxious for the welfare of his little charge, which had in such an extraordinary manner fallen into his hands, could not close his eyes for the rest of the night.

As soon as it dawned he went with his precious burden to the house, where he found the occupants in great consternation over the disappearance of the child, which, as may be presumed, was received with great rejoicing.

Two Changeling Tales


There lived once, near Tis Lake, two lonely people, who were sadly plagued with a changeling, given them by the underground people instead of their own child, which had not been baptized in time.

This changeling behaved in a very strange and uncommon manner, for when there was no one in the place, he was in great spirits, ran up the walls like a cat, sat under the roof, and shouted and bawled away lustily; but sat dozing at the end of the table when anyone was in the room with him.

He was able to eat as much as any four, and never cared what it was that was set before him; but though he regarded not the quality of his food, in quantity he was never satisfied, and gave excessive annoyance to everyone in the house.

When they had tried for a long time in vain how they could best get rid of him since there was no living in the house with him, a smart girl pledged herself that she would banish him from the house. She accordingly, while he was out in the fields, took a pig and killed it, and put it, hide, hair, and all, into a black pudding, and set it before him when he came home.

He began, as was his custom, to gobble it up, but when he had eaten for some time, he began to relax a little in his efforts, and at last he sat quite still, with his knife in his hand, looking at the pudding. At length, after sitting for some time in this manner, he began: "A pudding with hide! And a pudding with legs in it! Well, three times have I seen a young wood by Tis Lake, but never yet did I see such a pudding! The devil himself may stay here now for me!"

So saying, he ran off with himself, and never more came back again.

Another changeling was got rid of in the following manner. The mother, suspecting it to be such from its refusing food, and being so ill-thriven, heated the oven as hot as possible. The maid, as instructed, asked her why she did it.

"To burn my child in it to death," was the reply.

When the question had been put and answered three times, she placed the child on the peel, and was shoving it into the oven, when the troll-woman came in a great fright with the real child, and took away her own, saying, "There's your child for you. I have treated it better than you treated mine," and in truth it was fat and hearty.

The Father of Eighteen Elves


At a certain farm, long ago, it happened that all the household were out one day, making hay, except the farmer's wife and her only child, a boy of four years.

He was a strong, handsome, lusty little fellow, who could already speak almost as well as his elders, and was looked upon by his parents with great pride and hope.

As his mother had plenty of other work to do besides watching him, she was obliged to leave him alone for a short time, while she went down to the brook to wash the milk pails. So she left him playing in the door of the cottage, and came back again as soon as she had placed the milk pails to dry.

As soon as she spoke to the child, it began to cry in a strange and unnatural way, which amazed her not a little, as it had always been so quiet and sweet tempered. When she tried to make the child speak to her, as it normally did, it only yelled the more, and so it went on for a long time, always crying and never would be soothed, till the mother was in despair at so remarkable a change in her boy, who now seemed to have lost his senses.

Filled with grief, she went to ask the advice of a learned and skillful woman in the neighborhood, and confided to her all her trouble.

Her neighbor asked her all sorts of questions: How long ago this change in the child's manner had happened? What his mother thought to be the cause of it? and so forth. To all of which the wretched woman gave the best answers she could.

At last the wise woman said: "Do you not think, my friend, that the child you now have is a changeling? Without doubt it was put at your cottage door in the place of your son, while you were washing the milk pails.

"I know not," replied the other, "but advise me how to find it out."

So the wise woman said: "I will tell you. Place the child where he may see something he has never seen before, and let him fancy himself alone. As soon as he believes no one to be near him, he will speak. But you must listen attentively, and if the child says something that declares him to be a changeling, then beat him without mercy."

That was the wise woman's advice, and her neighbor, with many thanks for it, went home.

When she got to her house, she set a cauldron in the middle of the hearth, and taking a number of rods, bound them end to end, and at the bottom of them fastened a porridge spoon. This she stuck into the cauldron in such a way that the new handle she had made for it reached right up the chimney.

As soon as she had prepared everything, she fetched the child, and placing him on the floor of the kitchen left him and went out, taking care, however, to leave the door ajar, so that she could hear and see all that went on.

When she had left the room, the child began to walk round and round the cauldron, and eye it carefully, and after a while he said: "Well! I am old enough, as anybody may guess from by beard, and the father of eighteen elves, but never in all my life, have I seen so long a spoon to so small a pot."

On hearing this the farmer's wife waited not a moment, but rushed into the room and snatching up a bundle of firewood flogged the changeling with it, till he kicked and screamed again.

In the midst of all this, the door opened, and a strange woman, bearing in her arms a beautiful boy, entered and said, "See how we differ! I cherish and love your son, while you beat and abuse my husband." With these words, she gave back to the farmer's wife her own son, and taking the changeling by the hand, disappeared with him.

But the little boy grew up to manhood, and fulfilled all the hope and promise of his youth.

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Revised Saint Patrick's Day, 2000.