Icelandic Lullabies are Horrifying

Happy nearly Halloween, if you celebrate that sort of thing!

In honor of the occasion, I present to you this pumpkin cat, and a few of my favorite creepy, local lullabies.

Think of the children’s song Ring Around the Rosie; you may envision happy, giggly children spinning faster and faster in a circle, singing the lyrics until they’re flung to the ground.  I remember playing it with friends at school, along with London Bridge, and Red Rover.  If you sang those same rhymes as a child, you may also know that folklorists argue about their origins.  I’m not sure what all the theories for Ring Around the Rosie are are, the (fairly conclusively disproved) one I remember is the plague.  I really, really hate the plague.  I’m certain it’s out to get me.

Also, NEVER image search ‘plague’

A ring of rosies: Rash, a symptom of the plague

Pockets of posies: Said to be a herbalist cure, prevent breathing in the plague by blocking it with sweet smelling flowers

Ashes: Burn the contaminated bodies

We all fall down: Let’s be realistic, we’re all going to die from the plague anyway

Old children’s songs and stories often have gruesome beginnings, but I can now attest to the fact that of all the horrifying lullabies ever conceived, Iceland has more of them.  And they’re worse.  My current favorite is a haunting song we’re learning in choir, Barnagæla.  It’s a lovely nursery rhyme of which highlights include:

Rennur blóð eftir slóð/Runs a trail of blood

sem á sér hest/That of a horse

Rennur blóð eftir slóð/Runs a trail of blood

með mannlegt blód/With human blood

Charming.  Let’s have another, shall we?  I guarantee it’s a winner.

My Icelandic isn’t perfect, but this one, entitled Sofðu unga ástin mín/Sleep my Young Darling, goes something like this:

Sleep my young love, outside the rain is crying.  Mother hides your treasures, old bones and box of toys.  We shall not stay awake when night is dark.

There’s much that darkness knows, my thoughts are heavy.  Often I saw black sand burning the green meadow.  In the glacier sound the dead and deep cracks.

 Sleep long, sleep peacefully, late is best to wake.  I will teach you soon, day quickly turns to night, that people love, lose, cry and mourn.

It’s a little dark, and I’m not positive the child is dead but I think it’s likely, as Mom is putting old bones away.

There are many more, including:

Bíum bíum bambaló a face keeps looming in the window, I pretend to sleep, but all night hear breathing at the window.

Bí, bí og blaka I pretend to sleep, little children wander off the mountain in search of sheep.

And lastly we have Móðir mín í kví kví.  Play it down below so you can read and hear at the same time.  Essentially, an unwed mother leaves her unwanted child wrapped in rags to die via exposure.  The next day, as she’s milking sheep and contemplating what to wear to a dance, her dead child’s voice begins to sing to her.  Don’t worry Mother, I’ll lend you my veil to dance in.

Icelandic lullabies are horrifying, enjoy trying to sleep tonight!

Sincerely,

Bettina

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