GUEST BLOG: Witches and Wizards of the Faroe Islands

We’re back with another Guest Blog article, exploring the wild landscapes and tales of the Faroe Islands with one of our regular contributors, Natalja Saint-Germain! If you would like to submit your own article and tell us all about the lore of where you’re from or the places you’ve visited, do check out our Contact page for more information. Happy reading!

If you’ve ever been to the Faroe Islands, you know that magic feels pretty much real there. In fact, when I was travelling across the archipelago, interviewing local artists about their music, every now and then they told stories about encounters with the supernatural: a group of friends who met a mysterious white horse in the mountain fog, a guy who was followed by a huldra to his workplace… So in order to express my love for this tiny land lost in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, I want to share with you three popular legends about Faroese witches and wizards.

Rinkusteinar of Oyndarfjørður

Long ago, Fuglafjørður got attacked by pirates. When they finished robbing, killing and harassing the locals, they decided to visit another village and took the course to Oyndarfjørður. But they were never destined to reach it – an old witch saw them coming and rushed to the shore to protect her small homeland. She put a curse on the enemies, and their ships turned into two rocking stones.

Illustration of an old woman, seemingly controlling the waves, by Edward Fuglø.

The witch’s name is now long lost and forgotten, but the two stones are still there – rocking on the waves near Oyndarfjørður, unable to reach the village. And this is where they will remain for eternity. In modern sources, those pirate vessels are often described as “the viking ships”. However, it’s highly unlikely for that to be accurate. At the time, it wasn’t the Vikings who were causing havoc in the Faroes, but the Irish.

The defeated nykur of Sørvágsvatn

According to local lore, the people of Sørvágur and Miðvágur used to disappear quite frequently in the old days. Yet, no bodies were found. Only their lungs were sometimes seen floating on the surface of the lake Sørvágsvatn.

Photo of lake on a sunny day, by Natalja Saint-Germain.

Once, during a walk between these villages, a clergyman noticed a young lady sitting on a rock, combing her long hair. He immediately realised what she was – a nykur. In the Faroes, nykar are known as shape-shifting water monsters that can take the form of an attractive woman or man, or a beautiful horse. Once you touch a nykur, there is no escape – you will instantly get glued to its skin. Usually, nykar just drown their victims but, apparently, the nykur of Sørvágsvatn also had a habit of snacking on human meat…

The clergyman was strong in his belief, and so the demonic being failed to seduce him. There are two versions of what he did next. According to the first, he threw a stone that magically grew in size and buried the nykur alive. According to the second, that clergyman was the priest Rasmus Ganting, and he conjured the creature into a stone. All in all, nobody has seen the nykur of Sørvágsvatn since then.

Guttormur í Múla and Barbara við Kvíggja

In the Faroes, there are many legends about a farmer called Guttormur í Múla. Born in 1657, he was probably the most powerful Faroese wizard in the history. Related to a priest called Hans Jørgensen Fynbo, Guttormur never used his magic with ill intentions. The same couldn’t be said about Barbara við Kvíggja, who was often described as a giantess as well. Born in the same year, she was a seer and had a healing stone in her possession, but instead of turning into a great helper of the people, she became an infamous wicked witch due to her rotten nature. The locals even tried putting her to trial, but she escaped the burning at the stake.

Illustration of sorceress seemingly raising havoc on the ocean, by LivArt (Livar Nysted).

According to the legend, Barbara envied Guttormur and was trying to confront him. Once, when he was fishing with his sons along with other men of the village, she came to the local river (Matará í Múla), threw a handful of seashells into it, and cast the following spell: how many seashells sank, so many boats would sink. And so a storm rose, and all the men of the village perished at sea, except for Guttormur and his sons. It is said that, whilst rowing for his life, one of them noticed a fire in the water and told Guttormur about it. When they reached the shore and saw Barbara sitting by the house of Múli with her long hair worn loose, the wizard put two and two together. However, because they only managed to moor in Krossdali, their walk to the house took quite some time. Upon arrival, the witch met them inside. It is said, Guttormur hit her two times in the nose, and then shaved her head – and without her long locks, she lost her power.

Afterwards, they forced her into the sauna and lit a fire. Without her magic, Barbara couldn’t escape and almost got cooked alive. Finally, Guttormur evicted her from the village for good. Nevertheless, the witch didn’t learn that lesson, and continued taking attempts to spy on her enemy. She even cursed the village of Múli which is now known for its notoriously bad weather.

Natalja Saint-Germain is a PhD student in History of Law
and State, the creator of the La Bibliothèque Hantée and
#SwampSunday. She blogs about the dark side of folklore,
culture and history. You can find more about Natalja on her
Twitter page @bjorn_stjerne.