Grýla: Icelandic Bogeywoman!
Turns out, Iceland is a wealth of Christmas horror.
While the Jolasveinar are running about gobbling those Christmas leftovers and terrorizing the livestock, their mother, Grýla, is the classic bogeyman. Er, bogeywoman.
But while most bogeys are run-of-the-mill scares that parents toss at their children when the little buggers don’t eat their veggies, Grýla actually has a depth of character, being the mother of those mischievous Christmas trolls. She herself was described as hideous and gigantic, often with a tail, and sometimes with cloven hooves.
She lived with her husband (her third husband, also a troll and a bit of a dead-beat) in a cave. Grýla was the one in charge in her family, and when times got tough during the winter she was the one who would go in search of their food.
Their meal of choice? Children.
Grýla would travel the Icelandic countryside, kidnapping bad children and throwing them in her sack. Many stories tell how those same children regularly escaped, but one has to wonder how long ago that mellow, family-friendly version of the tale came into play.
There isn’t a wealth of information available about the Ogress, and we have to wonder if she was at one time a good character, later demonized by the times.
Or was she a descendant of trolls or ice giants?
What little information exists is interesting, dating all the way back to the Prose Edda, and probably then gleaned from older tales. There, Grýla is mentioned along with the other trolls and ogres, and is mentioned vaguely as powerful and intimidating.
It reminds us of other feared femmes who date back to WHO-KNOWS-WHEN, like Hecate and Carman.
Whatever Gryla truly was, what she has become is a classic figure, complete with a hoard of monstrous children and even a terrible pet (the Yule Cat, stay tuned for that one later this week!) and has become a legend that never dies.
(Literally. She’s died several times in legend, but just won’t stay dead. But then…isn’t that how most legends work?)
Join us as we continue our #12DaysTilChristmas with more legends and monsters, including The Yule Cat…next!