The Northern Way


In a previous account (Danske Studier 1908 p. 193 ff.), I have pointed out the comprehensive tradition about Loke in the western countries: Iceland, Faroe Islands, Shetland and England - countries originally not inhabited by our tribe, but colonized during the Viking Age.

Even stranger was the fact, that so much in these traditions supported the picture of Loke among the Aesir, as we know him from the ancient Eddic poetry: He is called upon together with Odin – plays tricks on the giant - accompanies Thor - changes into all sorts of animalistic shapes - and causes the death of Balder by manipulation.

There is however one more aspect: the common beliefs - or rather proverbs – where Loke’s name appears. These often allude to the nature of Loke as it appears in the Eddas, and might be vague reflections of this figure. But we do not have more tangible proofs at hand, and we shall later get back to these minor notions.

In the Old Norse countries (Scandinavia), the matters are quite different. Loke only appears in his original mythical environment in a folksong about Thor, who gets his hammer back – a medieval reproduction of the lay about Trym, probably composed in Norway, and then spread to Sweden and Denmark. But this ballad does probably not belong in the younger tradition: we know it from much older sources, and it is uncertain, whether the written examples from the heaths of Jutland, date from the original tradition.

Besides from that, we have a huge amount of common beliefs and proverbs from different Nordic regions, taken down through the last century. These do not have any roots in the ancient Norse pantheon, and their mythical presentation is very vague. On the other hand, they describe certain natural phenomena, different in the various countries.

1. Lokke as an Air Phenomenon (Denmark) (1)

In Denmark, the notions about “Lokke” refer to shimmering air or flickering light. From Jutland we know the expression: “Lokke slår sin havre” (Lokke is reaping his oats), and “Lokkemand driver sine geder” (Lokkemand drives his goats), or just “Lokke”. From Zealand we know the name “Lokke lejemand” (Lokke the Playing Man).

The last example only exists in one - so far not published - note, made by Jens Kamp about 1880 by account of an old skipper’s widow from Copenhagen, but the statement is so obvious, that there is no doubt about the nature of the phenomenon:

”If the sun glimmer in water, so that the playing light glints on – for example - a wall, then people could say: “Det er Loke Lejemand” (There is Loke the Playing Man) – “Nu skal du sidde stille der på (køkken)bordet og se på Loke Lejemand oppe på væggen” (Now you shall sit still on the (kitchen)table and watch Loke the Playing Man on the wall). These were the exact words of an old skipper’s widow from Copenhagen to a little child. This was during a stay on Bogø.” (2)

The fact that the statement derives from Zealand, is not only emphasized by the informant, but also from the expression “lejemand”. If it came from Jutland, it would have said “legemand”.

I can’t say, whether the next statement also derives from Zealand. It was made by headmaster Skule Thorlacius from Copenhagen in a prospectus from 1801:

”I have in Denmark heard the peasants refer to the phenomenon, where the sunbeams reach the land or sea between blocking clouds, as: “Locke dricker vand” (Loke drinks water).” (3)

In the 17th century, the notions about “Lokke” must have been even more common than later. The scholar Peter Syv, headmaster and later parish vicar from Zealand, brings a number of them in his dictionary recordings:

””Lokke haver sine geder ude at vokte nu” (Now Lokke watches his goat-herd), (in sunshine, when the geothermal heat flutter from the ground like capræ saltantes [like leaping goats]).”

””Lokke faaer noget at bøde sine buxer med” (There is something for Lokke to patch his trousers with) (when the yarn (or the like) becomes so entangled, that it is unfit for use).”

””At føre Lokkes breve” (To carry Lokke’s letters) or “- her Lokkes breve” ((To carry) here Lokke’s letters).”

””At høre Lokkes eventyr” (To listen to (or: hear) Loke’s fairytales).”

Only the latest proverb was brought in his published Danske Ordsprog (Danish Proverbs) (II 76); the rest of them are in the unpublished appendix to the collection. (4)

It is a fair assumption, that Syv knew these proverbs from Zealandish tradition. Younger tradition does not mention the two latest, while the one about Loke’s trousers has reappeared on Lolland - and the one about the goats has parallels in several regions of the country, most frequent in West-Jutland.

Before I speak about the different appellations, I shall quote some of the informants, in order to illustrate the phenomenon itself as clearly as possible:

”This quivering or shimmering movement in the air, which the Jutlandian peasants call “Lokes havresæd” (Loke’s oat-seed), deceives and deludes the eye” (Blicher, Noveller, 2. udg. II 90).

”The expressions: “Lokke (Lokki) sår havre i dag” (Lokke (Lokki) sows oats today), or: “Lokke driver i dag med sine geder” (Lokke herds his goats today), are used in several regions of Jutland, for example in Medelsom shire, the diocese of Viborg etc. . . and stand for the sight in the springtime, when the sunshine generates vapour from the ground, which can be seen as fluttering or shimmering air in the horizon of the flat landscape, similar to the hot steam over a kettle or a burning fire” (Molbech, Dansk dialektleksikon [1841] p. 330)

”... when you look at the horizon in clear weather and sunshine, and the air seems to move in shimmering waves, or like a sheet of water which seems to rise and sink in waves” (From Thy, same source as the previous).

”A rotating flow or oscillation (swinging movement) of tiny bright spots, which sometimes appear over a pond in the evening after a warm day.” (Hanherred, same source as the previous).

”People from the Horsens region say: “Lokke slår sin havre” (Lokke mows his oats) or: bjærgmanden driver med sine får” (the hill-man herds his sheep”, when the air shimmers on a warm summer’s day (DgF IV 758).

”On warm summer days, when vapours of hot air swirl around near the ground”. (E. T. Kristensen, Jyske folkeminder VII 273; probably from the Herning and Viborg region).

”The swirl in the air in the springtime and early summer is called: “bjærgmanden sår havre” (The hill-man sows oats). (Western Jutland, Sevel parish; by teacher P. Kristensen 1908).

”The wavy fata morgana, which appeared on warm days in the horizon over the flat heaths, was still in those days [about 1860] always called “Lokes havresæd” (Loke’s oat-seed) by the peasants.” (Varde region, Grindsted; Ida Stockholm 1908).

”The next morning we continued our walk over the heath [from Ulborg]. The weather was clear and fine, and granted us even a glimpse of the magic, by which the light elves have fun during the summer. Hot air danced over the heath against the horizon, where it faded out as churches and forests. “Det er Lokemand der driver sin hjord” (It is the Loke-man who herds his flock) or “sår sin havresæd” (- sows his oat-seed), the peasants say.” (F. Hammerich 1839 in Brage and Idun II 299).

”When you on a warm summer’s day see the airy waves out in the horizon, it may look like living things that move, and that is called “Kullebondens svin” (The Hill-peasant’s pigs), - and this bodes fine weather” (Bornholm; Martin Nielsen in Skattegraveren VII, 1887, p. 143, st. 713).

””När Lukas vallar sina får, blir det långvarig värme” (When Lukas [St. Luke – Loke. a.e] herds his sheep, the weather is going to be warm for a while) – a strange quiver in the air in the springtime, which makes it look like small objects bounce over the ploughed fields.” (Scandia, Antiqu. tidskrift för Sverige VII 2 P. 25).

I can add to this information, that I myself have seen similar phenomena, for instance on Easter Day in 1906 on the fields near Copenhagen, after a longer period of sunshine and drought. The movements in the air close to the ground, at first looked like something sprinkling, and soon after like something was bouncing or jumping in a certain direction.

The shimmering air is still regarded as a result of activity from a living creature. Lokke, Lokkemand, bjærgmanden (The Hill-man) etc. – but the act itself is understood in two different ways: either “he sows his oats” or “he herds his goats (sheep or pigs).”

”Lokke sår sin havre” (Lokke sows his oats) is dominating in the Limfjord-regions (Vendsyssel, Hanherred, Thy, Mors, Salling and Himmerland), but is also sparsely represented southwards through East- or rather Mid-Jutland (The Viborg region, Horsens and Grindsted). (5)

”Lokkemand driver sine geder (får)” (Loke [The Loke-Man] herds his goats (sheep)), is on the other hand absolute in the West-Jutlandian heat-regions, from the mouth of the Limfjord to the regions of Varde and Ribe, as well as the western part of Southern Jutland.

But this notion is spread even wider: In Scandia “Lucas vallar sina får” (Lukas herds his sheep), on Bornholm as “kullebondens svin” (The Hill-peasant’s pigs), - besides the already mentioned proverb from P. Syv: “Lokke har sine geder ude at vogte” (Loke herds his goats).

Each of the two expressions stands for a certain way to explain the shimmering fata morgana - either as sprinkling or as bouncing. The folklore does not provide any notion about the nature- or sphere of activity of Lokke – it creates the expressions directly from the visible environment. If we want a specific confirmation about the expressions, we can notice, that our related neighbours have similar phrases, which describe the shimmering air as bouncing animals: From Frisian: “do summerkatte lope”, and from English: “summer-colt”.

But as soon as the folklore creates a figure and activity like this, it constantly moulds it. If the livestock is no longer visible because of the shimmering air, people say: “æ Lokkemand ha nok tawen em” (Lokkemand has probably taken them). The restless and shimmering creature of the air then becomes thievish and teasing.

Another thought: “Lokkes havresæd” (The oat-seed of Loke) becomes more specific, as we know about a couple of plants, which are called “Lokkes havre” (The oat of Loke):

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