Did you know that the popular and well known nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill” comes from a Scandinavian Folktale written in the Prose Edda?
The Scandinavian version of the rhyme tells the story of two Norse children who were sent to pull up song-mead from Mimir’s Well. On their way back home, the two children and their bucket full of song-mead were carried off by the moon god.
In chapter 11 of the 13th-century Prose Edda Gylfaginning, written by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, tells of Hjúki and Bil, brother and sister (respectively), were taken up from the earth by the moon (personified as the god Máni) as they were fetching water from the well called Byrgir, bearing on their shoulders the cask called Saegr and the pole called Simul.
Gylfaginning chapter XI:
- Then said Gangleri: “How does he govern the course of the sun or of the moon?” Hárr answered: “A certain man was named Mundilfari, who had two children; they were so fair and comely that he called his son Moon, and his daughter Sun, and wedded her to the man called Glenr. But the gods were incensed at that insolence, and took the brother and sister, and set them up in the heavens; they caused Sun to drive those horses that drew the chariot of the sun, which the gods had fashioned, for the world’s illumination, from that glowing stuff which flew out of Múspellheim. Those horses are called thus: Early-Wake and All-Strong; and under the shoulders of the horses the gods set two wind-bags to cool them, but in some records that is called ‘iron-coolness.’ Moon steers the course of the moon, and determines its waxing and waning. He took from the earth-two children, called Bil and Hjúki, they that went from the well called Byrgir, bearing on their shoulders the cask called Sægr, and the pole Simul. Their father is named Vidfinnr. These children follow Moon, as may be seen from the earth.”
The traditional form of the rhyme today reads:
- Jack and Jill went up the hill
- to fetch a pail of water
- Jack fell down and broke his crown
- and Jill came tumbling after.
- Up Jack got and home did trot
- as fast as he could caper.
- He went to bed to mind his head
- with vinegar and brown paper
If you’d like to listen to a video about Hjúki and Bil, see below.
Would you like to hear a Scandinavian Folktale?
How about the Djákninn á Myrká (‘The Deacon of Dark River’ or ‘The Deacon of Myrká’)
A deacon who lived on a farm called Myrká (Dark River) had a girlfriend named Guðrún. She lived on farm called Bægisá located on the other side of a big river called Hörgá. One day the deacon rode his horse Faxi to Bægisá to meet Guðrún so they could discuss their plans for Christmas. The deacon promised to ride to Bægisá on Christmas Eve and bring Guðrún to Myrká where they could celebrate the holiday together. But on his way back home that day, the deacon was unexpectedly caught in a heavy storm. He fell into the Hörgá river where he suffered a severe head injury and drowned.
The deacon’s body was found the next day by a farmer and buried a week before Christmas. But the news of his death somehow had not reached Guðrún. On Christmas Eve, as per their arrangement, the deacon arrived at her farm. She had barely finished dressing, and only had time to put on one sleeve of her coat before they were off on their journey. As they rode, his face was hidden by a hat and scarf, but when they came to Hörgá river the horse tripped and the deacons hat fell forward. Guðrún saw his terrible head injury. As the moon shined upon them he said, “The moon fades, death rides. Don’t you see a white spot on the back of my head, Garún , Garún?“ She replied, “I see, what is“. After that, they did not speak a word until they came to the deacon’s farm Myrká. When they got off the horse, the deacon spoke again. “Wait here Garún, Garún. While I move Faxi, Faxi (the deacon’s horse) over the fence, fence”. (In Icelandic folklore, ghosts often speak in verse, repeating the last word of each line.)
When Guðrún noticed an open grave in the graveyard, she felt the deacon trying to pull her into it. By luck, she was only wearing one sleeve of her coat, and when the deacon pulled on her empty sleeve, she was able to break free and run away. As the deacon disappeared into the grave and the grave filled up, she realized that the deacon was dead and she’d encountered his ghost. Guðrún was haunted by the deacon’s ghost throughout the night, the disturbance causing others residing at the farm to lose sleep. An exorcist was summoned who finally put the deacon’s ghost to rest.
** Listen to The Deacon of Myrká told by an Icelander:
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