The Icelandic, child-eating ogress Grýla is, I think, one of the most fascinating figures in northern folklore. It’s been about twelve or thirteen years since I first heard her name and became attached to the ancient mountain dweller. Though despite thinking about her on a pretty regular basis, there’s still so much I need to uncover about this Christmas cannibal. I thought my knowledge was pretty ‘in depth’ but it turns that during the past decade I’ve only scratched the surface of the writings that exist about her.
One of the most fascinating things that I read about Grýla today was that, before the 19th Century, she was ‘a personification of winter and the darkness and the snow getting closer and taking over the land again.’ Her name loosely translates to ‘growler’ and in the 13th Century, Grýla was a general term for a she-troll.
It’s said that at Christmas time, Grýla lumbers down from the mountains, abducts children who’ve misbehaved during the year, bundles them into a sack and hauls them up to her cave dwelling where she boils them alive. The descriptions of her vary widely, though often it’s said that she has fifteen tails.
Magnus H. Skarphedinsson, the headmaster of The Elf School, had this to say about her origin: “I think the origin of her is somebody saw a mean nature spirit around Christmas in the dark, and that’s where this started, and it’s escalated.” Skarphedinsson himself is, like 54% of the Icelandic population, a firm believer in elves and other supernatural beings.
I thought I knew where I was going with my image of Grýla when I started creating this morning. It was going to be pretty simple and straight forward…but lo and behold, the end result at stupid o’ clock this evening has turned out to be nothing like I’d initially imagined.