Skogsrået, näcken och Djävulen : erotiska naturväsen och demonisk sexualitet i 1600- och 1700-talens Sverige

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This dissertation examines conceptions of erotic nature spirits and their association with demonic sexuality in 17th and 18th century Sweden. Its purpose is to reconstruct the various cultural and symbolic meanings which such notions had for the society of the day. Cultural history and the analytical concepts culture(s), liminality and figures of thought provide the general framework of the study. The primary sources are judicial records, folktales, ballads, sagas, and works of theology and natural philosophy. For example, the trial records, although sparse, show that people could be sentenced to death for alleged sexual contacts with nature spirits.
In the storytelling tradition of tales and ballads, the themes of erotic nature spirits often represented a seductive, unbridled and bewitching sexuality. Nature became “the Other”; a counter-image or dark mirror image to cultural order. The beings, envisaged as personifications and/or mediums of the superhuman powers of nature, were associated with liminal experiences relating to crucial circumstances in people’s lives – magic, marriage, betrothal, sexuality, pregnancy, gender-roles, alienation, deformity, disease, death, and so forth.
In the 1600s, the Swedish authorities strove to consolidate the Reformation by making orthodox Lutherans of their subjects. As the battle between God and the Devil was emphasized, popular magic and extramarital sexual acts were severely prohibited and prosecuted. According to most theologians, sleeping with a nature spirit meant abominable copulation with a demonic apparition; an incubus or a succubus. While, for example, certain natural philosophers had different ideas about nature spirits, this notion was considered plausible well into the 1700s. Folktales and trial confessions show more ambiguous conceptions of such beings. Individual worldviews informed by popular mythology and the necessities of survival were more malleable than the prescribed Christian faith. When it came to magically influencing nature, or taking the blame for misdeeds and misfortunes, nature spirits (and devils) could be perceived as more appropriate allies, or scapegoats, than God. Copulating with them could be envisioned as sealing a bond or pact with the magical powers of nature. Lacking express laws on such intercourse, Swedish courts summoned theologians as expert advisors, cited foreign legal commentaries addressing fornication with the Devil as a “sodomitical” vice against nature, and occasionally judged the crime according to existing laws on bestiality. During the 1700s, scholars gradually adopted a more sceptical approach to folklore and confessions of supernatural encounters, ultimately resulting in the authorities rejecting professed contacts with nature spirits and demons as mere superstitious delusions.


  • Mikael Häll
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History


  • nature spirit, demon, sexuality, devil, forest nymph, water spirit, troll, monster, incubus, succubus, magic, early modern, Sweden, popular belief, folklore, demonology, natural philosophy, witchcraft, bestiality, reformation, religion, crime, sin
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2013 Mar 15
  • Malört förlag
Print ISBNs978-91-978751-2-7
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2013-03-15 Time: 10:15 Place: Sal 3, Historiska institutionen, Lunds universitet, Magle stora kyrkogata 12A, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Lennersand, Marie Title: Docent Affiliation: Riksarkivet ---