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Small People by humon Small People by humon
Yet another nisse/tomte picture. This time I included all the different types known from folklore: Gårdbo, normal nisse, ship nisse, and church nisse. These days people will sometimes talk about a city nisse or other such things, but they're not from folklore, so these are all you'll get. This is also mainly the Danish types because I know them best.

They're a very specific type of "small people" from Nordic folklore that differs from the rest in that they live with humans and take care of farm animals or otherwise give a helping hand. They can be recognized by their red hats and they often have grey or white hair no matter age. Originally they were belived to be the size of 5 year old children, but are now believed to be around 12 cm tall.

Quite often people will tell you that "gårdbo" is just the old word for "nisse", which is both true and false. When you read books that really go into detail about them, they'll usually refer to the gårdbo and the nisse as two different creatures. The gårbo is the oldest, bigger and there are no stories about females. They are always male and never married. They're also slightly meaner and easier to make angry. In fact, people were rather afraid of them and did their best to please them or the gårdbo might burn down the barn or something along those lines. Worried that they might anger the gårdbo, people started giving him male names, and the most popular became Niels (it's an old Danish tradition to call somewhat mean creatures Niels, which is also why the Niels from my comics got that name) and later that became Nisse, and that's were the creatures we know today got their name from.

Normal Nisse
These guys are the most widespread kind of nisse there is. They're also the only kind that has women, so that might have something to do with it. ;) They're usually imagined to wear traditional Danish clothes, except for the women who also wear the men's hat. That is by the way also where their trademark red hats come from, as you can see in this video of Danish folk dancers [link] Red hats were pretty much standard back in the day and the nisse adopted that.
They help the humans on the farms or in the houses where they have chosen to live, and it is said that if the family moves away, the nisse will move with them. They're quite possibly the nicest creatures from folklore and it takes a lot to make them angry.
You do however have to feed them (usually porridge) or they'll think you don't appreciate their hard work and will cause anything from sick animals to the death of someone in the family.

Ship Nisse
For some reason they're often depicted as covering their eyes with their hats. They are inspired by the German klabautermann which is why they have more pointy hats, though the Danish version is a lot nicer than the klabautermann. They lived on ships where the sailors could hear them work at night. It was said to be a bad sign if you couldn't hear it, because that meant it had given up on repairing the ship, or might even have abandoned it. That was very bad indeed because the ship nisse also kept other unwanted mythical creatures away.

Church Nisse
Ironically they were considered to be the meanest and most cynical of all nisse types. They didn't harm anyone, but when people died the church nisse could be heard laughing in the bell tower because that meant the church would get money.
There were said to be two types: one type that wore black, and one that wore white. The ones wearing white were nicer, but the ones dressed in black were the most common.
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bekkiki Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2015
I once read the German "Klabautermänner" were coming to life like this: When an unchristened child was burried they had to bury it in the woods (because only christened people could be buried on the church graveyard). So they would bury this child under a tree, if this tree was chopped down and a ship was made out of it, the ghost of the child would become a "Klabautermann".
I love this story, it is so beautiful and sad.
Duo-minds Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Speaking of nisse, I'm really enjoying the julekalender. I've been finding myself waiting every afsnit waiting for Benny to go "bob bob bob"
WWII44 Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2013
I heard that if you are ever visited by klabautermann you and your crew will never be taken by the sea.
jbkong22 Featured By Owner May 20, 2013
NorwaySwedenDenmark Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2012   General Artist
Also, Church Nisser were not actually Religious. They were considered non-Christian and therefore they always hid during mas and didn't participate in anything that had to do with Jesus, but they did help cleaning the rooms, preparing everything for things like the Eucharist and etc.
Z-Senpai Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2012  Student General Artist
Hus tomtar :D
AScarletmoon17 Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thaliran Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I woutch for ships nissen, there is a tale in my family where a member watched nissen leave ship and at the voyage back across the sea the boat sank with everyone on bord, exept my kinsman, becaus he left the ship and got back a couple of years later.

By the way I'm norewgian.
Zenoxen Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
That's pretty cool! I didn't knew that the Danish lore also had hidden people like the Icelandic lore!
Samurai-Poet Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Awesome! A klabautermann!
hp931 Featured By Owner May 20, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I loike ship nisse's face.
NazjaRaj Featured By Owner May 9, 2012  Student Digital Artist
one is a christmas elf!
EmperorKarino Featured By Owner May 7, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
awesome job.
TranquilDisturbance Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Heh; love that I always learn something from your art :D
kyri01 Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2012
So interesting! The Normal Nisse reminds me of Arrietty
Increnublar Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Oh my god, this is SO badass~! :3
Salemsword Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2012
It sucks that i live America because the only folklore we have comes from the Indians and theirs is all about animals and man(which is nice don't get me wrong). or the rantings of uneducated people in small towns through out the mid-west(Aliens, Bogeymen, Jersey Devil, etc.)
LittleBambird97 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I don't understand why my friend gets so work up whenever people call him Nisse (because his name's niels). THEY ARE ADORABLE!
Deathra-Sorrows Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2012
huh, they remind me of Irish hobgoblins
cellolott Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2012
Ha! nice indeed! I've to do a similar pic with Dolomiti's small people like the 'Salvanèl', one day.
beastchicky Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2012
I remember something like that. . . Brownies or something. . . I can't remember the exct name but they are pretty much those creatures, but I think they're mainly Scottish.
animefreak728 Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Wow, ya learn something new everyday. :)
Miota Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This is great! :D I always have a hard time explaining Tomte/Nisse to my American/English friends. Since they're not the same as Santa/Gnomes.. I'll send them here in the future xD
tenchibaka Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012
i have actually come across a reference to ship nisse in a japanese comicbook, i am very surprised to see it is an actual creature and happy to find out it has a name as well, thankyou<3
runningrame Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Professional General Artist
I love these historical/folcloreish/legends illustrated and told by you SO MUCH! :heart: :)
MikeZ83 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
How much of a difference is there anyway between normal nisse and the Dutch kabouters?
stuffedbellylover Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2012

Best wishes,

suger-coatedness Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012
Aw I wanna see these little guys in a comic.
DragonlordRynn Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012
They're really cute, but which is the one that steals Items like Pens and Jackets?
Pretastic Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012  Student
"Normal nisse" as you call it don't always wear Danish clothes, I have only heard about them wearing old farmer's clothes (but then again, I'm norwegian, so I don't know, we have Fjøsnisse :aww: who live inside farms)
FioreDellaNotte Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012
I just love your folklore pictures! ♥
Tonic-x-Immobility Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2012
What is that hat?! (The normal nisse one)
emilyherondale Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2012
these sound a lot like the brownies and boggarts from the spiderwick chronicles book series...i wonder if this is where the author got the idea from...
AskoII Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
The church nisse amuse me greatly with the pose and the look in his face x) But the ship nisse is really cute too and I like his clothes :heart:
Harrylover92 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2012
I don't know why, but the church nisse's pose amuses me and I really love the ship nisse's cynical litlle smirk+pipe XD
xooxu Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Student General Artist
Those look like american garden gnomes. Why haven't I heard of them at all? How did americans mix up gnomes with those?!
Volconas Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
you need to make a comic with some of these guys! :3
IxCANxHAZxCOOKIE Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I love the Ship Nesse the most!
Cute little bastard. :heart:
LiboChan Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
In Sweden almost all of the Nisses (Or well, I suppose I should write Nissarna. PLURAL) had beards, if they weren't female, and they're probably a lot grumpier than the danish ones.
emilsa Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Hobbyist Interface Designer
could you please direct me to any folklore source where there exist female nisser... I have never, as far as i remember, encountered any notion of females in the sources... Sure they appear in romantic and modern fiction - but where du you find nisser that are anything but male gender?
MortalAnonymous Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
O.o Hey, is that where One Piece got the idea for that ship repair spirit? Because this makes a lot more sense than what they ended up with...
deviant-moomba Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
Whyyyyyyy are all the church creatures evil in your country? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

Spectacular drawing though, and always love the folktales :)
TheRandomWho Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Hobbyist
... My uncle is called Nisse... And that descreption fits! Scary.
JolieBee Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
Nisser! Wait, is Niels a common name for an evil creature? F***, my last name is Nielsen! Loved this drawing btw, and your explanation on what the different nisses was :) (yay, norwenglish)
humon Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
Well, Søren is also the name given to evil things, which is why we say, "Av for Søren!" instead of "Av for Satan!" sometimes. :XD:

So Søren is more evil than Niels. ;)
JolieBee Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2012
Oooh, that explains a lot!

haha, good to know!
JonnaJacobsen Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
What now if all the Nisses was the actual "Normal Nisse", but as they grew up they would go out to work in another farm, or if they went out to work in the church to become a "Church Nisse" or "Ship Nisse"..? And that is why the "Church Nisse" and the "Ship Nisse" are the only ones that don't have females in it..?
hikashu Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012  Student Digital Artist
The Ship Nisse reminds me of the Joxter from the Moomin series...

Since the Moomins were created by a Scandinavian, could the Joxter have been inspired by the Ship Nisse? He's also pretty short. XD
Niobesnuppa Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2012
The Moomins weren't created by a Scandinavian person, though, it was created by a Finnish person. Finnish culture is a big different from Scandinavian culture, and they have different folklore.
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