Chased by the gloso! (© Richard Svensson)
Welcome to a seasonal ShukerNature post, featuring a little-known but greatly-feared preternatural creature long associated with Swedish Yuletide.
In Britain, the animals most closely linked to Christmastime via folklore and other traditions include such familiar and generally friendly species as the robin, the reindeer, and the turkey. In Skåne and Blekinge, the two southernmost provinces of Sweden, conversely, a very different, and far more daunting, creature pervades the Season of Goodwill, and its presence is anything but good. Scarcely known outside its Scandinavian provenance, outwardly it resembles a pig, but no ordinary one, for this preternatural entity is in many ways the porcine equivalent of Britain's phantasmal Black Dogs, and is just as dangerous!
Most commonly referred to as the gloso (other names for it include the galoppso and the gluppso, all translating as 'galloping sow'), this dire beast is grim in every sense of the word. This is because the gloso is a church grim (or kyrkogrim in Sweden), i.e. a supernatural creature derived from the spirit of an animal or person supposedly sacrificed when the foundation of a church was built, and which now protects the church and its grounds for all eternity, and cannot be killed by any normal weapon. Generally, the gloso lives either within the cemetery of the church to which it is bound, or within a mound in a field directly adjacent to that church.
A stop-motion puppet of the gloso from a film by Richard Svensson (© Richard Svensson)
Those unfortunate enough to have encountered this terrifying entity liken it in basic appearance to an enormous female domestic pig, usually jet-black in colour (though sometimes ghostly white), but with a ridge of razor-sharp spines or bristles running down the centre of its back, a pair of huge tusks curving out from its jaws, eyes that glow a fiery red, and the fearful yet very real ability to breathe fire. Other tangible, physical abilities attributed to the gloso, and which thereby distinguish it from insubstantial ghosts or spectres, include its predilection for devouring fresh corpses in the churchyard and for sharpening its tusks upon gravestones. It also leaves visible tracks in its wake.
The gloso can be encountered at any time during the year, but it is said to be at its most malign during the week linking Christmas and the New Year. And yet it is during this same week when it can also be its most beneficial – provided a certain magical rite associated with it is performed correctly. If this rite is not, however, the person performing it will not live to see in the New Year!
According to Swedish legend, on the evening of Christmas Day (and also on New Year's Eve) anyone can discover everything that will happen to them during the incoming New Year if they are brave enough to withstand an assault by the gloso. The ritual stipulates that after the sun has set, you must visit four different churches in four different parishes, walk around each church in an anti-clockwise direction, and then blow through the keyhole of each church's door. After blowing through the keyhole of the fourth church's door, if you then peer through it you will witness all of the most notable events that await you in the New Year, rushing before your eyes in a rapid stream of images like a speeded-up movie film.
Another view of the stop-motion gloso puppet from a film by Richard Svensson (© Richard Svensson)
But for such precious insights, you must pay a steep price – the wrath of the gloso. For it will abruptly appear and chase after you, spurting hot blasts of fire at your rear end and striving to run between your legs so that its ridge of razor-sharp bristles can rip you apart. Happily, however, if you are brave enough to attempt the feat, there is one way in which this dread beast can be pacified – by turning around and facing it, with an arm outstretched, offering it a loaf of bread. If the gloso allows you to feed it the bread, you are safe. If not...
In some variations upon this legend, the same gift of New Year foresight can be obtained by confronting the gloso at a crossroads instead. As a teenager, the maternal grandmother of Swedish artist and cryptozoologist Richard Svensson once visited a crossroads in Blekinge on New Year's Eve for the express purpose of conjuring forth the gloso – though merely to see it rather than to witness what the New Year held in store for her. (Un)fortunately, however, the gloso failed to materialise.
The gloso, from a bestiary by Richard Svensson (© Richard Svensson)
The gloso is also part of a much lengthier, more complex magical ritual in which the person taking part is hoping to gain psychic talents, and this multi-stage ritual has to be performed on several different magically-potent dates, including Christmas night once again. Here is how Swedish folklorist Håkan Lindh described it to me:
"The ritual was a kind of vision-quest that a person who wanted to gain psychic gifts undertook several years in a row. After a bit of fasting he went out, under absolute silence, on a night-time walk to powerful places, a graveyard, a stream running towards north, a holy well, etc, and during these walks he was given trials. One of these was Gloso, and he avoided danger by just keeping his legs together and refusing to show fear. If he did, he came to no harm and gained a bit of magic power. Next year he met something else, a dragon turned into a chicken, for example, Odin on a horse, a band of aggressive Vättar [Norse nature spirits], and so on and on. While the ceremony went on, he got visions about who would die in the different homes he passed by, who would get ill, and what he could do to cure those illnesses. He also gained material magic tools too during these walks, like bones from dead people etc.
"This ritual continued to be performed until c.150 years ago, and I personally know a few who have tried it recently."
In some Swedish traditions, moreover, the gloso haunts lonely roads where murders have occurred. Håkan has mentioned to me that just a few miles north of his home village in Halland, Skåne, is one such locality (where a murder took place during a botched robbery), and that alleged sightings of the gloso have been reported there and in the woods nearby.
It is possible that the gloso is a remnant of earlier Nordic legends appertaining to Gullinburste ('Golden Hair'). Named after its golden bristles, and also known as Slidrugtanne ('Horrible Tusks'), this was the great boar that pulled the chariot of the Norse deity Frey, god of fertility and pleasure. Moreover, in Blekinge there is even a local myth neatly combining Norse tradition with Christianity, in which every year St Thomas, armed with a mighty sword, rides a tamed gloso during the Christmas week to rid the land of fatally-alluring troll-maidens and other malevolent pagan beings - especially during the evening of 21 December, known as Thomas's Eve. Presumably, his saintly status affords him immunity from being torn in two by his gloso's lethal back-bristles while riding it!
The Norse god Frey with the great boar Gullinburste (Johannes Gehrts, 1901)
In light of such a horror as the gloso, suddenly even our own Black Dogs, Owlmen, and other British zooform entities seem positively tame by comparison. So I very sincerely hope that every ShukerNature reader's Yuletide celebrations this year will be blessed by a notable absence of fire-breathing pigs!
My most grateful thanks to Richard Svensson and Håkan Lindh for generously providing me with plentiful information concerning the gloso, and also to Richard for so kindly permitting me to include his superb illustrations in this ShukerNature post.
Chased by the gloso! (second version) (© Richard Svensson)