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Bysen: the gnome-like creature in Swedish folklore

3 min read

“Bysen” is the creature who haunts the woods of Gotland, in Sweden’s largest island.
Most of the time he takes form as a gnome-like creature, but occasionally he can be seen as a tree stump as well as other creatures who live in the woods.
When he is in his gnome-like form, sometimes wears a red woven hat/hood, he is also wearing gray clothes, and he tends to carry an axe with him.
Bysen is locally known as a “skogsväsen”, literally “forest creature”, and he is the ward of the forest and nature. His mission is to lure men and women into the woods so they get lost and never find their way out.
Oftentimes, Bysen is messing with woodsmen by delaying their transports and by tipping loads of timber over.
He often interferes with men in other ways and is accused of all sorts of mischief.
Why is he wearing an axe you might ask.
His big mission is to cut down all of Gotland’s forest, however, this goes very slowly, and sometimes only one tree gets cut down per century.

It’s said Bysen is a humanoid who has committed a couple of crimes within his lifetime, and is therefore sentenced to wander the earth forever. Similar to the Deildegast from Norwegian folklore, some sources say that Bysen are deceased people who have cheated other men out of their land by moving the markers that separated two holdings. As punishment they get no peace in the grave, and are doomed to go along the faulty border, moving the sticks which stand on the wrong land.
It’s said that as they walk you can hear him mumble, “This is right, this is wrong” while moving the markers. If a human follows Bysen and moves the non-correct placed sticks to the right places then Bysen will gain peace. However, if Bysen catches sight of you, he will enchant your vision so you can not find your way home again. The person affected can, by turning a piece of clothing inside out, regain normal vision.

“Bys” in Bysen most likely comes from the Swedish word “bus”, which means mischief or prank.
On the Swedish mainland his counterpart is called skälvrängare or osaliga lantmätare (approximately: unholy landsurveyor).

Images from web – Google Research

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