In Sweden it was believed that witches would celebrate the Devil’s Sabbath (‘Blåkulla’) on Maundy Thursday. The Devil would entertain the witches by playing the harp, and engage in carnal acts with the ones he liked best in a special chamber.
In 872CE, King Harald Fairhair gathered all of Norway on the shore of Hafrsfjord and created one Kingdom. The ensuing Battle of Hafrsfjord between Hararld and the other Viking kings finally unified the clans under King Harald around 880CE. The monument to this eight year war are three giant bronze swords called Sverd I Fjell (Swords in Rock). The hilts are replicas of Viking swords of the time. They represent peace, unity and freedom.
The runic alphabet that was used during the Viking Age is called Younger Futhark. These runes can be found on hundreds of runestones throughout Scandinavia. This alphabet does not consist of many runes, and that is because the Norse language evolved a lot during the Iron Age, which meant that the runic alphabet was reduced from 24 to 16 runes.
Each rune has its own name and sound. Some of the runes are used to spell the same letter, for instance, the Týr rune is used for the letters “t” and “d”, and kaun is used for “g” and “k”.
The names on this list of the Younger Futhark runes have been taken from the website of The National Museum in Copenhagen. The names of the runes may vary slightly depending on the language and on which runologist has conducted the research.
Kjeragbolten is a boulder wedged in a mountain crevasse, 3,228 feet (984 m) above the ground. It is a favored spot for BASE jumpers, who hurl themselves from the cliff toward the spectacular fjord below. Visitors without vertigo are welcome to step onto the boulder for a unique photo opportunity—there are no fences restricting access.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Longyearbyen, Svalbard – Norway)
A winter night in Longyearbyen lasts four months. In the ice-covered mountains, the darkness is broken only by a slim concrete building that emits a pale blue glow as it overlooks the 1,000-resident town. The simple structure offers no hint as to what’s protected inside: a collection of seeds that could save humanity.
Due to the loss of genetic diversity among commercially cultivated crops, which tend to be grown from clonal monocultures, many worldwide food crops are at risk of disease. Mutated strains of fungus, or a new bacterium, could potentially wipe out an entire world crop in a matter of months, causing massive food shortages. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established by the Norwegian government in 2008 to function as a sort of genetic safe-deposit box.
The facility has the capacity to conserve 4.5 million seed samples. Under the current temperature conditions in the vault, which are similar to those in a kitchen freezer, the seed samples can remain viable to begin new crops for anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 years.
Svalbard was chosen as the location because it is tectonically stable and its permafrost provides natural refrigeration in case of a power failure. There is no permanent staff at the seed bank, but it is monitored constantly using electronic surveillance. Access to the vaults, open only to employees, requires passing four locked doors protected by coded access keys.
When Icelandic member of parliament Árni Johnsen escaped unharmed from a car crash in 2010, he knew whom to credit for his survival: elves. After rolling five times, the politician’s SUV came to rest beside a 30-ton boulder. Johnsen, believing that multiple generations of elves called that boulder home, concluded that they used their magic to save him. When roadwork later required the removal of the boulder, he claimed it for himself, transporting it to his home to ensure the elves would continue to watch over him.
Johnsen’s beliefs are not unusual. According to Icelandic folklore, thousands of elves, fairies, dwarves, and gnomes—collectively known as “hidden people”—live in rocks and trees throughout the country. It is no wonder, then, that the world’s only elf school is located in Reykjavík.
Historian Magnús Skarphéðinsson, who has spent decades documenting people’s encounters with elves, established the school in 1991. Classes focus on the distinguishing characteristics of Iceland’s 13 varieties of hidden people. The school also offers five-hour classes for travelers, which include a tour of Reykjavík’s elf habitats. Students receive a diploma in “hidden people research.”
Skarphéðinsson has never seen an elf. His knowledge of their appearance and behavior comes from the hundreds of testimonies he has collected from people who claim to have made contact with hidden people.
Though Skarphéðinsson has devoted 30 years to the subject and considers himself the foremost authority on elves, he maintains a sense of humor about it all. At the end of class, he serves homemade coffee and pancakes and tells stories about the people who come up to him to say, “I swear I’m not on drugs, but I saw the strangest thing . . .”
Walking around the Bjældskovdal bog in 1950, brothers Emil and Viggo Højgaard (along with Grethe, Viggo’s wife) stumbled upon a body. Believing the man to be the victim of a recent killing, they called the police. Further investigations revealed that he had indeed been murdered—some 2,300 years earlier.
The Tollund Man was found curled in the fetal position with his eyes closed and a serene expression frozen on his face. The cold, acidic, oxygen-starved conditions of the peat bog had kept him remarkably well preserved. His hair, beard stubble, eyelashes, and toenails were all intact, and he was nude, but for a sheepskin cap and wide belt around his waist. A rope was wound tightly around his neck. The Iron Age man had been hanged, likely during a ritual sacrifice.
In 1950, it was not yet known how best to preserve discoveries like Tollund Man. Accordingly, only the head of the original specimen was kept intact. The rest of the body was subjected to various tests to determine his probable age (probably around 40, due to the presence of wisdom teeth and wrinkles) and the conditions surrounding his life and death. Among the details found: Tollund Man was 5 feet 3 inches (1.6 m) tall, his final meal was a gruel made from barley and flaxseed, and his “sacrificers” (read: killers) took the time to close his mouth and eyes after death.
Thousands of “bog bodies” have been discovered in sphagnum swamps across Northern Europe, but the Tollund Man remains the best preserved. His original head and reconstructed body now reside at the Silkeborg Museum. The rope used to end his life is still wrapped around his throat.
Svanslös Crosswalk, showing an unusual “cat crossing” sign in the town of Uppsala, Sweden:
The road signs in front of Carolina Rediviva Library in Uppsala have something unusual: cats. On closer look, you might notice the adult cat leading kittens has no tail. He isn’t just an ordinary bobtail cat. He’s Pelle Svanslös (“Peter No-Tail” in English), a popular character from a children’s book series with the same name.
The Pelle Svanslös series—there are 12 books in total—was written by Gösta Knutsson between 1939 and 1972. As his name suggests, Pelle has no tail. A rat bit his tail off when he was a kitten. But despite this mean mishap, Pelle grows into a kind-hearted young cat. He has been loved by many Swedish children for decades.
Pelle and his feline friends live in Uppsala, Sweden, where the author also lived for many years of his life. To mark the cat’s popularity, Uppsala added some features related to the children’s literature star around the city, such as a statue, a peep-hole (his residence), and these crossing signs.
Located in one of Iceland’s most remote northern villages, the Arctic Henge is a colossal piece of stone construction that, when finished, will make Stonehenge look like amateur hour.
Started in 1996, the Arctic Henge project is a monument not only to the country’s nordic roots, but also to some of the neo-pagan beliefs that have arisen in certain areas. The piece was inspired directly from the eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress), taking from it the concept of 72 dwarves who represent the seasons in the world of the poem, among other symbolic queues. In the Arctic Henge, 72 small blocks, each inscribed with a specific dwarven name will eventually circle four larger stone monuments, which in turn will surround a central balanced column of massive basalt blocks. Each aspect of the deliberate layout corresponds to some aspect of ancient Norse belief and when each piece of the monument is installed, visitors will be able to “capture the midnight sun” by viewing it through the various formations at different vantage points depending on the season.
At current, only the imposing central tri-column and one of the four larger gates have been constructed, along with a smattering of the smaller stones, but it is still a work in progress. When it is complete, the Arctic Henge could easily become the premiere site for Paganism in the entire world and millennia from now it might seem as mysterious as Stonehenge seems to us today.
“The winter is so beautiful, and yet it can be so hard sometimes that it makes me cry happy-tears thinking about the summer. This winter has been extra hard. Crazy amounts of snow and extreme cold weather for over 3 weeks. It takes a lot of energy to keep up the normal life. But it also gives a lot of energy with all the beauty that the winter brings. It’s a love-hate relationship.
In this video I share glimpses of what I’ve been up to for the past month. Both the struggles, but also all the beautiful moments. I also share some behind the scenes of my previous video, when I went on a road trip to the very North of Sweden to record some footage.”