A Fairy Tale about Ullr

When I compiled the list of stories for my Big Book of Old Fairy Tales, I came across this little gem about Ullr. Published in 1916 in a book about Dutch Fairy Tales it is most likely a compilation in it’s own right. Utilizing stories of the old gods and weaving them into the age of the Industrial Revolution. A desire to find something old, powerful and stable in a world that was reeling from the effects of change. Much as we are today. You can see he has been tamed down somewhat from what many people consider him to be in this day and age, but it is still a delightful story which offers us a glimpse into the past. Our past and our heritage. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

In the far-off ages, all the lands of northern Europe
were one, for the deep seas had not yet separated them.
Then our forefathers thought that fairies were gods.
They built temples in their honor, and prayed to them.
Then, in the place where is now the little town of
Ulrum in Friesland was the home of the spirit in the
ice, Uller. That is what Ulrum means, the home of the
good fairy Uller.
Uller was the patron of boys and girls. They liked him,
because he invented skates and sleds and sleighs. He
had charge of things in winter and enjoyed the cold. He
delighted also in hunting. Dressed in thick furs, he
loved to roam over the hills and through the forests,
seeking out the wolf, the bear, the deer, and the
aurochs. His bow and arrows were terrible, for they
were very big and he was a sure shot. Being the patron
of archery, hunters always sought his favor. The yew
tree was sacred to Uller, because the best bows were
made from its wood. No one could cut down a yew tree
without angering Uller.
Nobody knew who Uller’s father was, and if he knew
himself, he did not care to tell anyone. He would not
bestow many blessings upon mankind, yet thousands
of people used to come to Ulrum every year to invoke
his aid and ask him to send a heavy fall of snow to
cover the ground. That meant good crops of food for
the next year. The white snow, lying thick upon the
ground, kept back the frost giants from biting the earth
too hard. Because of deep winter snows, the ground
was soft during the next summer. So the seed sprouted
more easily and there was plenty to eat.
When Uller travelled over the winter snow, to go out
on hunting trips, he strapped snow-shoes on his feet.
Because these were shaped like a warrior’s shield, Uller
was often called the shield-god. His protection was
especially invoked by men who fought duels with
sword or spear, which were very common in early
days; or by soldiers or hunters, who wished to be very
brave, or had engaged in perilous ventures.
Now when Uller wanted a wife to marry him, he made
love to Skadi, because she was a huntress and liked the
things which he liked. So they never had a quarrel. She
was very strong, fond of sports, and of chasing the wild
animals. She wore a short skirt, which allowed freedom
of motion to her limbs. Then she ranged over the hills
and valleys with wonderful swiftness. So rapid were
her movements that many people likened her to the
cold mountain stream, that leaps down from the high

peaks and over the rocks, foaming and dashing to the
lowlands. They gave the same name to both this fairy
woman and the water, because they were so much
alike.
Indeed Skadi was very lovely to look at. It was no
wonder that many of the gods, fairies and men fell in
love with her. It is even said that she had had several
husbands before marrying Uller. When you look at her
pictures, you will see that she was as pretty as bright
winter itself, when Jack Frost clothes the trees with
white and makes the cheeks of the girls so rosy. She
wore armor of shining steel, a silver helmet, short
white skirts and white fur leggings. Her snow-shoes
were of the hue of winter. Besides a glittering spear,
she had a bow and sharp arrows. These were held in a
silver quiver slung over her shoulders. Altogether, she
looked like winter alive. She loved to live in the
mountains, and hear the thunders of cataracts, the
crash of avalanches, the moaning of the winds in the
pine forests. Even the howling of wolves was music in
her ears. She was afraid of nothing.
Now from such a father and mother one would expect
wonderful children, yet very much like their parents. It
turned out that the offspring of Uller and Skadi were
all daughters. To them—one after another—were given
the names meaning Glacier, Cold, Snow, Drift, Snow
177
Whirl, and Snow Dust, the oldest being the biggest and
hardiest. The others were in degree softer and more
easily influenced by the sun and the wind. They all
looked alike, so that some people called them the Six
White Sisters.
Yet they were all so great and powerful that many
considered them giantesses. It was not possible for men
to tame them, for they did very much as they pleased.
No one could stop their doings or drive them away,
except Woden, who was the god of the sun. Yet in
winter, even he left off ruling the world and went
away. During that time, that is, during seven months,
Uller took Woden’s throne and governed the affairs of
the world. When summer came, Uller went with his
wife up to the North Pole; or they lived in a house, on
the top of the Alps. There they could hunt and roam on
their snow-shoes. To these cold places, which the
whole family enjoyed, their daughters went also and all
were very happy so far above the earth.
Things went on pleasantly in Uller’s family so long as
his daughters were young, for then the girls found
enough to delight in at their daily play. But when
grown up and their heads began to be filled with
notions about the young giants, who paid visits to
them, then the family troubles began. There was one young giant fairy named Vuur, who
came often to see all six of Uller’s daughters, from the
youngest to the oldest. Yet no one could tell which of
them he was in love with, or could name the girl he
liked best; no, not even the daughters themselves. His
character and his qualities were not well known, for he
put on many disguises and appeared in many places. It
was believed, however, that he had already done a good
deal of mischief and was likely to do more, for he loved
destruction. Yet he often helped the kabouter dwarfs to
do great things; so that showed he was of some use. In
fact he was the fire fairy. He kept on, courting all the
six sisters, long after May day came, and he lengthened
his visits until the heat turned the entire half dozen of
them into water. So they became one.
At this, Uller was so angry at Vuur’s having delayed so
long before popping the question, and at his daughters’
losing their shapes, that he made Vuur marry them all
and at once, they taking the name of Regen.
Now when the child of Vuur and Regen was born, it
turned out to be, in body and in character, just what
people expected from such a father and mother. It was
named in Dutch, Stoom. It grew fast and soon showed
that it was as powerful as its parents had been; yet it
was much worse, when shut up, than when allowed to
go free in the air. Stoom loved to do all sorts of tricks.
In the kitchen, it would make the iron kettle lid flop up
and down with a lively noise. If it were confined in a
vessel, whether of iron or earthenware, when set over
the fire, it would blow the pot or kettle all to pieces, in
order to get out. Thinking itself a great singer, it would
make rather a pleasant sound, when its mother let it
come out of a spout. Yet it never obeyed either of its
parents. When they tried to shut up Stoom inside of
anything, it always escaped with a terrible sound. In
fact, nothing could long hold it in, without an
explosion.
Sometimes Stoom would go down into the bowels of
the earth and turn on a stream of water so as to meet
the deep fires which are ever burning far down below
us. Then there would come an awful earthquake,
because Stoom wanted to get out, and the earth crust
would not let him, but tried to hold him down.
Sometimes Stoom slipped down into a volcano’s
mouth. Then the mountain, in order to save itself from
being choked, had to spit Stoom out, and this always
made a terrible mess on the ground, and men called it
lava. Or, Stoom might stay down in the crater as a
guest, and quietly come out, occasionally, in jets and
puffs.
Even when Jack Frost was around and froze the pipes
in the house, or turned the water of the pots, pans, kettles, and bottles into solid ice, Stoom behaved verybadly. If the frozen kettles, or any other closed vessel
were put over the stove, or near the fire, and the ice
melted at the bottom too fast, Stoom would blow the
whole thing up. In this way, he often put men’s lives in
danger and made them lose their property.
No one seemed to know how to handle this
mischievous fairy. Not one man on earth could do
anything with him. So they let him have his own way.
Yet all the time, though he was enjoying his own tricks
and lively fun, he was, with his own voice, calling on
human beings to use him properly, and harness him to
wheels; for he was willing to be useful to them, and
was all ready to pull or drive, lift or lower, grind or
pump, as the need might be.
As long as men did not treat him properly and give him
the right to get out into the air, after he had done his
work, Stoom would explode, blow up and destroy
everything. He could be made to sing, hiss, squeal,
whistle, and make all kinds of sounds, but, unless the
bands that held him in were strong enough, or if Vuur
got too hot, or his mother would not give him drink
enough, when the iron pipes were red with heat, he
would lose his temper and explode. He had no respect
for bad or neglected boilers, or for lazy or careless
firemen and engineers.
Yet properly harnessed and treated well, and fed with
the food such as his mother can give, and roused by his
father’s persuasion, Stoom is greater than any giant or
fairy that ever was. He can drive a ship, a locomotive, a
submarine, or an aeroplane, as fast as Fro’s boar, horse
or ship. Everybody to-day is glad that Stoom is such a
good servant and friend all over the world.

 

2 thoughts on “A Fairy Tale about Ullr

  1. Two things: First, how did I miss that you had compiled a fairy tale anthology? And second, this is a great story! Is it in the anthology? I’m going to have to get a copy of this to read to my grand daughters.

    Like

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