Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"Det Kommo Tvanne Dufvor ... ": Doves, Ravens, and the Dead in Scandinavian Folk Tradition

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"Det Kommo Tvanne Dufvor ... ": Doves, Ravens, and the Dead in Scandinavian Folk Tradition

Article excerpt

IT IS PROBABLY safe to say that most admirers of Scandinavian folk ballads are familiar with the final stanzas of the most widely known variants of "Liten Karin" (1) The following are the final two stanzas of a variant performed in Landaryd parish, Ostergotland, between 1810 and 1813 by Anna Stina Hallman, and noted down by J. H. or D. S. Wallman:

   Der kommo tvanne dufvor fran himmelen neder
   Men nar de flogo dadan de syntes vara tre
   Der kommo tvanne korpar fran helvetet upp
   De togo unga Hertingen bade med sjal och kropp.

   (There came two doves down from heaven
   But when they flew thence they seemed to be three
   There came two ravens up from hell
   They took the young Duke, both body and soul.) (2)

In this ballad variant, as in many others, it is apparent that the third dove that rises up to heaven is the soul of young Karin, the chaste and steadfast maiden viciously slaughtered by the lecherous king (occasionally duke) whose sexual advances she has emphatically rebuffed. The third raven is explicitly identified as the person--body and soul--of Karin's tormentor. The implication of these motifs could not be more clear. The white dove is an unmistakable sign of salvation underlining the obvious fact that the girl was innocent of any sin and that she was the victim of murder. At the same time, the infernal origin of the ravens makes it clear where the young duke will be spending eternity.

Although the examples from the ballad tradition may be the best known, doves and ravens appear in connection with the souls of the dead in a number of different folk narrative contexts. Alongside the ballad tradition, this imagery occurs in Danish and Swedish prose legends. In a number of these legends, the doves and ravens function as symbols of the salvation or damnation of a recently deceased person, as they do in the ballad tradition.

Although the ballad stanzas quoted above (3) are closely associated with the ballad "Liten Karin" and regularly occur in Swedish, Finland-Swedish, and Danish variants and in Norwegian records especially after 1900, the sequence is not unique to this ballad. It is also a major component in the ballad tradition referred to as "Mon pa balet" which in the Swedish ballad edition goes under the title "Herr Peder och hans syster." (4) Like "Liten Karin" "Herr Peder och hans syster" is the story of a chaste virgin who is executed for rebuffing a seducer. The seducer in this ballad is the girl's brother, and when she refuses him, he accuses her before the king of having secretly given birth to children whom she then murdered. The means of execution (we might equally well say the instrument of martyrdom) in this case is the bonfire where the young woman is to be burned at the stake, the functional equivalent of the famous spiketunna [spiked barrel] in which Liten Karin is rolled to her death. Unlike "Liten Karin" which was first collected shortly after 1800, this ballad was recorded by early ballad collectors, in one case from a known informant, "bondhustrun Ingierd Gunnarsdotter." Although Ingierd's variant from the 1670s does not include the sequence, the A-variant, collected around 1600 in western Uppland, eastern Vastmanland, or Gastrikland, ends with the following three stanzas:

   Ther komo twa dufuor af himmelen nedh
   Tha the flugo vp sa ware the tre
   Staltz kerstin hon sitter i himmelen brudh
   Her Peder hennes broder i heluetet siuder
   Och aldrigh horde iagh sadana
   --Men foglen siunger i skogen--
   om dog her Peder skulle i heluetet siudhe
   --Migh wacker en stals Iungfru.

   (There came two doves from heaven down
   When they flew up they were three
   Proud Kerstin is sitting in heaven a bride
   Sir Peder her brother is seething in hell
   And I never heard such
   --But the bird is singing in the woods--
   but that Sir Peder should seethe in hell
   --A proud maiden wakes me)

Interestingly, although "Herr Peder och hans syster" does not appear to derive directly from any specific medieval source, the marks of the young woman's holiness are even more explicit and more numerous in this ballad than in "Liten Karin" which is ultimately based on the legend of Saint Katherine of Alexandria. …

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