A Gnome By Any Other Name
The Paranomalist- October 23, 2009 by John Carlson
My paternal grandmother was born in a rural area of Sweden in 1891, and when I was a boy she told me stories of the Tomte (as I understand it, Tomte is plural and the singular is Tomten), small beings that took the appearance of old, bearded men. The Tomte were no more than 3 feet tall and wore pointed hats, which we’ve of course come to associate with gnomes and similar creatures. Legend tells that the Tomte were capable of invisibility and could shapeshift, sometimes taking the appearance of a large, grown man.
Also, according to legend — and Grandma Alice’s stories — Tomte would usually be found on a farm and would carry out chores at night and help care for the farmer’s animals. It was thought to be bad luck to see a Tomten, but my grandmother claimed that she would often find his small footprints in the snow or mud around her home.
(Video capture of a possible gnome- Video on The Paranomalist)
Although basically a benevolent spirit, the Tomten was easily offended and could be vindictive. If, for example, the Tomten felt that the farmer was mistreating his livestock, heard swearing in the barn, or neglecting to clean up a mess, the Tomten would become incensed and cause mischief. Items around the house were found broken, the milk curdled, even the cows’ tails tied together. Tomte would also become angered and would seek revenge if they were sighted or if the farmer and his family failed to leave a bowl of porridge and butter out for him on Christmas Eve. My grandmother and her family used to follow this tradition, leaving out porridge with butter for the Tomten each Christmas Eve.
My grandmother was quite insistent that the Tomte were not merely the stuff of fairytale and legend, but real beings that occupied the farms and rural landscapes of Sweden. It was these stories that contributed to my lifelong fascination with tales of diminutive humanoids. Originally coming out of the pagan traditions regarding “earth spirits” and the worship of the natural world, the Tomte later became associated with ungodly or heathen beliefs after the Christianization of Scandinavia. However, despite the sometimes negative association, the Tomten has remained a popular figure in Swedish folklore.