Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Lindworm

A lindworm (lindorm in Swedish) is a legendary monster in northern European folklore. It is a kind of dragon or giant snake, sometimes appearing with a long mane. The lindworms of Swedish folklore may have either good or bad intentions, and a bad lindworm is not good to meet. One unusual way that some lindworms were said to move about was to bite their own tail to form a circle, and then roll forward like a wheel. Such a lindworm was called a hjulorm or wheel serpent.

A boy attacking a giant serpent ... painting by John Bauer for Harald Östensen's story. Not what happens in this ballad!

But often, lindworms were thought of as benevolent creatures, and to meet one was thought of as rare and lucky. Geijer and Afzelius tell the story of how a boy in Sweden caught hold of a lindworm one time, but the lindworm shed its skin and escaped, leaving the old skin in the boy's hand. When the boy went home, he put the skin in his stew and ate it. After that he became very wise, and was able to use minerals, plants, and animals as medicines.

There are also romantic stories told of princes who have been bewitched and transformed into terrifying lindworms, and who are freed from the spell by the love and fearlessness of a maiden. The ballad I am writing about today tells one such story.


The girl in this story is called little Signe, and she was serving at the king's court. One day, when Signe was walking out in the woods, she met a huge lindworm. The lindworm asked Signe whether she would come away with him. And Signe said that she would, provided the lindworm would not betray her while she was asleep. With that, they went off: the girl rode on horseback while the lindworm ran alongside.

Before long, they came to a town, and there they met Signe's father. Her father asked her what she was doing with that lindworm. Signe replied that he should let her have her way, as this had been foretold when she was a child. A little later, in a grove, they met Signe's brothers, who again asked her what she was doing with that lindworm. They got the same answer.

So Signe rode, and the lindworm ran alongside, and before long they came to a green flowery meadow with a bed in it. The lindworm suggested that they stop for a rest, and Signe agreed. The maiden sat on the bed and was upset, but at last she lay down, and the lindworm lay close beside her.

When Signe woke up and looked around, she saw that the lindworm had been transformed into a king's son. So everything was changed, and everything was good, and they got their own castle after that.

by HJ Ford

A full text of the ballad (from Arwidsson) is linked here.

Of course as with all ballads there is some variation between different versions. It is quite common that the maiden needs a little more convincing before she initially agrees to go off with the lindworm.

The Scandinavian fairy tale King Lindworm tells a story that is related to this ballad. The English ballads Kemp Owen and the Laidly Worm also have a similar theme, but in these it is a princess who has been hexed into the form of a serpent, and a knight who rescues her.

by HJ Ford


Here are three Swedish melodies for the ballad:

(1) Lindormen (Arwidsson No. 139 / Ahlström No. 292 / Berggreen No. 13b).

(2) Lindormen (Arwidsson No. 139 variant).

(3) Lindormen (Ahlström No. 164 / Berggreen No. 13a), from Småland and Östergötland.

All three of these melodies use basically the same omkväde (chorus) lines: och de lekte / och de lekte både nätter och i alla sina dagar: And they played / And they played both at night and for all their days. And you may see the first two melodies are pretty similar to one another.


Trio Fri are Ida Hellsten, Jonas Jansson, and Lisa Hellsten from Östergötland. Here they are playing a must-listen interpretation of Lindormen, which is the opening track on the Källan i Slaka record from the Slaka ballad forum.

There are also a number of live performances of this ballad on Youtube.

Fridens Liljor are Kristin Borgehed och Rasmus Krohn. Here is a live performance of Lindormen from the Backafestivalen in 2013. The melody is the same as the one above.

Here is a live performance (in Helsinki) by Marianne Maans and Maija Karhinen-Ilo of a Finland-Swedish version of the ballad.

And here you can watch a version of the Lindormen ballad with ballad dance in Sweden.

And here is a Danish take on the ballad, from Fairy Masque.


A. I. Arwidsson, Svenska Fornsånger, Vol 2, Stockholm, 1887, Nr 139, Lindormen
E. G. Geijer and A. A. Afzelius, Svenska Folkvisor Från Forntiden, Stockholm, 1814--1816, Nr 88, Lindormen
J. N. Ahlström, 300 Nordiska Folkvisor, Stockholm, 1878, Nr 164 and 292, Lindormen
A. P. Berggreen, Folke-Sanger og Melodier, Copenhagen, 1860, Nr 13, Lindormen

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