Attitudes towards Bats in Swedish History

Johan Eklöf, Jens Rydell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bats have always fascinated people by their unusual appearance, but fear towards them is also common, particularly in Western societies. Making headlines worldwide during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, bats were all too often accused of carrying and transmitting a disproportionate share of dangerous viruses. We enquired about the origin and persistence of this thinking in Sweden by searching old literature and original museum records where bats are mentioned. In the Bible, the bat is an explicitly unclean animal. At least since the Middle Ages, it has been used as a symbol of the Devil, with the dark skin wings in deliberate contrast to the white wings of angels. However, according to our folklore records, the bat was usually seen in a different and generally positive context by the people, and was treated with respect. Its magic properties, particularly contained in the blood, eyes, and wings, could bring fortune and prevent bad luck in various everyday contexts. A minority of records refer to bats being used in witchcraft, black magic, or, following the religious dogma, claiming that they are ugly or unclean and cannot be the work of God. We found no indication that bats were considered aggressive, dangerous, or to carry disease. Hence, we surmise there was little fear of bats in Swedish (Nordic) history, despite the religious message. Hence, the general attitude towards bats in the past seems to have been opposite to the view currently met in Western societies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ethnology

Free keywords

  • folklore
  • magic
  • religion
  • superstition
  • witchcraft


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