A Supernatural Christmas with the Imps and Fairies, article in The Deseret Weekly, December 1893
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Among the people of the Scandinavian countries still lingers a more or less strong belief in the existence of invisible, intelligent beings, neither departed men, nor angels, nor demons, but a distinct and separate class. In the imagination of the people, those beings are of various kinds. Some are beautiful and well disposed to the human race; others are ugly and delight in doing what harm they can to cattle, horses, and other property, as well as to children. Some live along the shores of the beautiful rivers that wind their ways among trees and flowers to the sea. Their music may be heard in the long summer nights, when the sun, delighted with the beauties of the North stays on the firmament as if to enjoy the scenes and to give new beauty to the picturesque landscapes; others live in the woods; others in the ground, in mountains and where not? Numerous are the stories about these creatures of the imagination, with which grandmothers in years gone by used to entertain their grandchildren during the long winter evenings, around the fireside. Of course, the belief in those elves and fairies and imps is dying out. The obscure corners of nature have been brilliantly illuminated by the lights of science, and as the shadows fade, it is found that the mysteries of creation are of another kind than those conjured up by human minds without the aid of well directed inquiry.
The following story has often been told to Swedish children, probably in various versions. It gives an idea of the modes of thinking prevailing in ages less enlightened than ours.
In the southern part of Sweden is a large estate called Ljungby. Among its curiosities were formerly a horn and a whistle, both curiously worked and silver trimmed. Where these relics of antiquity came from, nobody in later times seems to have known; but popular love for the supernatural did not fail to account for their presence at Ljungby.
Some distance from the mansion, on a beautiful meadow, a large rock had found a resting place when in ages past he glaciers still covered northern Europe. Every Christmas eve—so the story was told years ago—this rock was lifted up and, supported by golden pillars, formed the ceiling to a considerably big hall. This was most beautifully decorated and illuminated by hundreds of lights, which were reflected in ornaments of gold and silver, forming a picture such as belongs only to fairy land. Hundreds or thousands of little elves or imps gathered in this festival hall and evidently enjoyed themselves with drinking, dancing and singing, until the solemn midnight hour was announced by the large clock in the mansion. This being the hour of the birth of the Conquerer of all evil powers, the imps suddenly vanished; the lights went out and the rock resumed its place once more on the meadow. All this had yearly been observed from the mansion, for the feast of the fairies recurred every Christmas eve. Every means had been employed to free the estate from these uncanny occupants, but in vain. Nobody dared to approach the place when the imps held their celebration, until finally one brave young man resolved to see what was taking place under the celebrated rock. Christmas eve came. The imps were in full possession as usually. The hero of the story went to the stable and mounted the most fleet-footed steed on the estate and started for the place of festivity. On arrival there his eyes were dazzled with the splendor he beheld. In the middle of the improvised hall was a golden throne on which was seated a most beautiful woman, one probably stolen by the imps from some human family and bound by enchantment, seemingly for the purpose of serving as queen. Her crown sparkled of diamonds and all manner of precious stones and her dress was correspondingly gorgeous. Only a few minutes were left to our hero to contemplate this scene. The fairy queen perceived him and gave a few orders to her attendants. Two of them approached him immediately, one carrying a horn filled with some kind of beverage, and the other a whistle. Both were handed to him with a cordial invitation to drink of the horn and blow the whistle a certain number of times and then join the company in the general jollification. The young man took the horn and the whistle, gave his horse the spurs and started as fast as possible toward the mansion, followed by the whole company of imps.
He would soon have been overtaken and of course killed, had not, at this critical moment, a friendly voice sounded to him from the crowd, coming undoubtedly from the queen: "Ride over the field and not over the road." The advice was at once complied with and the consequence was that the rider came home a few minutes before the imps arrived. For the field had been ploughed, and as steel is a mighty talisman against all kinds of imps, they had no power to pursue the rider over the field, but had to follow the road.
As soon as our hero arrived in the stable he placed himself under the horse and waited for developments. The fiends were soon there. They first asked very humbly for their horn and whistle, for these were the only means by which they could continue their celebrations of Yule. But their supplications did not avail. A fierce battle followed. But our hero was well defended by the noble animal, and the ugly little enemies received such blows from the iron-clad hoofs, that a number of them tumbled to the ground and vanished. It is uncertain, however, how the unique conflict between the horse and hundreds of imps would have ended, had not the midnight hour arrived; for the noble animal soon became exhausted in the uneven fight. But it struck twelve o'clock. The raging imps fled in all directions. Our hero was safe, and the estate was never again troubled with the supernatural Christmas visitors.
The horn and the whistle were kept in the mansion as the greatest curiosities, and may be there still, unless they should have been conveyed to some national museum for better safe-keeping,