Question: What do you know about troll crosses?

A while ago I emailed the Viking Answer Lady about Troll Crosses. She said that they weren’t a Viking Age thing as the Othala Rune was not part of the Younger Futhark, and guessed they originated in the 1800s. In June, I visited the Iron Age Farm outside Stavanger. I noticed that some of the reenactors wore troll crosses. What do you know about troll crosses?

Dear guthbrand,

From what I’ve been able to find out about it, they emerged at some point in the Middle Ages. (Edit: The trollkors has turned out to be modern, please see the addendum post.) The fact that they vaguely look like Othala seems to be coincidence, as folklore focuses on the fact that the trollkors (also known as a häxkors) has to be made of iron or steel and that the arms have to form a cross.

Steel and iron were both thought to ward off many types of vaettir (trolls, alfar, huldufolk, you name it) and also avert the power of witches. Steel and iron appear in a number of pieces of folk magic to ward off vattir, root them in place so they become harmless, or break enchantments (in the latter case, by throwing a piece of steel or iron over the enchanted being or thing). Iron nails were hammered into door frames for this purpose and may actually be what the reginnaglar (iron nails hammered into the high-seat pillars of hofs) were used for. You can see this, too, with the tradition of placing iron or steel knives or scissors into baby cradles (which I will talk about more in a later post).

My best guess is that older folklore regarding the vaettir’s distaste towards iron and steel combined with introduced Christian beliefs that cross symbols were protective, and the trollkors was a result. I don’t do any smithing, so I can’t say if the shape came about because it was easier to bend iron into a cross that way rather than making two separate pieces and binding them together. (The shape also, perhaps coincidentally, resembles the fish used to represent Christianity.) Ebbe Schön has written a bit about them – that they had to be enchanted (besvärjt) by a klok gumma when it is forged in order to be made correctly, and that looking through the hole in the middle would enable you to see creatures that were normally invisible to the human eye. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get ahold of his books, so I can’t share any more of his research.

I guess the salient points you are looking for are:

  • It’s a later amulet from sometime in the Middle Ages, after the populace had converted to Christianity Turned out to be modern, please see the addendum post.
  • It does incorporate some earlier Heathen lore regarding protection against witchcraft and vaettir
  • In order to be effective at all, according to lore, it has to be from iron or steel, and the best ones are forged with a wisewoman enchanting it during the process. (According to current thought, but this is lore that was invented when the trollkors was invented.)

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