In Norwegian folklore, utburd are the phantasmal incarnations of the souls of unbaptized children. It is forced to roam the earth until they can persuade someone to baptize them and/or bury them properly.

When the utburd manifests, it may assume many shapes, growing large as houses or transforming into grotesque animals.

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Skogstjern («Forest lake») – Theodor Kittelsen (1893).

The utburd is said to chase lone wanderers at night and jump on their backs, demanding to be carried to the graveyard, so they can rest in hallowed ground. The utburd grow heavier as they near the graveyard, to the point where any person carrying one could sink into the soil. If one should prove unable to make it into the cemetery, the utburd kills its victim in rage.

In some stories, the spirit of the unbaptized child can be given peace by naming. A traditional formula:

Eg døyper deg på ei von / anten Kari eller Jon.

I baptize you by faith / Kari or Jon

The word «utburd» means «that which is taken outside» and refers to the historical practice of abandoning unwanted children in the woods or in other remote places. This could be children born out of wedlock or to parents who lacked the means to care for them. It was believed that the ghost of the child would then haunt the place where they had died or the dwellings of their killers.

Conceiving a child out of wedlock was considered a great shame in the old peasant society, and there are many stories of girls who killed their newborn or unborn and dumped them in forest lakes. According to King Christian V’s Norwegian Code (1687), this crime was punishable by death. In 19th century Norway, most murders were still infanticide.

The belief that utburd were enraged and seeking revenge gave them the reputation as one of the most menacing types of ghosts in Scandinavian folklore.

There are also songs connected with the stories of the utburd. The Ola-tjedn-låtten from Valdres is one of the most well-known, and the refrain relates the lullaby the mother sings for the child:

I Ola-dalom, i Ola-tjedn…

Another kind of belief in the utburd related that if the placenta was not burned or buried after birth, it could grow into a terrible creature it would be hard to get rid of. The creature was often described as having the shape of a wolf, and made a lot of noise by howling like a wolf, barking like a dog, neighing like a horse or grunting like a pig. Many places the sound is described like a combination of all the loud animal noises imaginable in one single outburst. People who heard the ruckus risked dying from fear. One feared the utburd would return in an attempt to seize the place of the infant in its cradle, whereupon the infant would be consumed.


10 Mythical Beings from the Scandinavian Folklore (the dwarves and Valkyries sound more like something from Norse mythology. The rest is ok, if brief. The Wikipedia article at the very end seems pretty decent):






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