Oskorei Fear the Cross

[Collected sometime in the 1840s in Telemark, Norway, by M. B. Landstad]

A man from Natadal had been over in Hjartdal, the neighboring parish, and it so happened that it was late in the afternoon when he started for home. By the time he had come to a valley farther up the sun had set, and when he had come up on the mountain at Valler, on his way toward a valley farther in, it was the quietest sort of summer night and not a single bird was chirping any longer. As he walked there, he heard a terrible commotion. He turned around to see what it was and knew it was the oskorei who were rushing along. Bridles jingled and weapons clinked, and he heard them quarreling among themselves. The oskorei wanted food, and the leader—Guro Rysserova—said they would have to wait until they came to Natadal. There they would eat their fill, for there they would find “Friday-baked bread and Sunday-raked hay!”

When the Natadal man heard this, he did not feel any too comfortable, for they were talking about his own storehouse and barn. But the oskorei were so close behind him that there was no chance of running away. He ran off the road a little way and, flinging himself down in the grass on his back, he stretched his arms straight out on each side so that he was lying there in the form of a cross.

When the host of oskorei came up, they stopped, and Guro shrieked, “Uff! Look at that cross!”

Then they dared not ride past him, but went a long way around. When the man understood this, he jumped up and took to his heels as fast as he could. He had a slight headstart and hurried home. He managed to make the sign of a cross above the wicket in the road down to the farm and on all the doors. In this way he fooled the oskorei, which dared not ride in to the farm.

In the old days people believed that on Friday, which was a day of fast, no work must be done in which a swinging or rolling movement was involved. Thus they could not bake oatcakes. And it was a sin to work on Sunday. Then the evil powers had the right to take the fruits of this labor. But they were always powerless against the sign of the cross.

On Dalen farm in Kvitseid, the oskorei came several times. Once they unsaddled their spirit horses there and threw the saddles on the roof. Then misfortune followed: there were seven murders on the farm, and there was never peace to be had at night. There was always a disturbance and a commotion, and the front door would never stay shut no matter how they locked it. Once, at Christmas time, the people from Dalen were invited to a feast at Hvestad. There was no one home and the doors were locked, but the food stood on the table as was the custom at Christmas. When the people came home a few days later, they could see that the oskorei had been there. They had drunk up the Christmas ale and eaten heartily of the Christmas fare. But worst of all, a dead man was hanging from the pothook over the hearth. By his clothes they could tell he was from Numedal, a valley to the east, and he had silver buttons on his vest. The oskorei had probably taken him along over in Numedal and had ridden so hard that it had killed him.

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