In my unending hunt for archaic and obscure spectral animals, I happened across the work of Dr Tommy Kuusela, a prolific and diverse Swedish folklorist and archivist. In amongst articles on Tolkein and Norse religions, I happened upon an article about ‘The Gloson’; a ghost pig. Kuusela had me hooked.
The Gloson is not just any normal common or garden ghost pig. The Gloson is special creature, known through many different stories, primarily from southern Sweden. Throughout Swedish folklore, it has gone by many names, such as as Gloson, Gluffsoen, Glosoen, Glopsugganand Luffesoen, to name but a few.
But why does the Gloson strike horror into the hearts of those who fear it? While there are tales of the demon pig’s exploits found throughout the years, it is from the 19th century that we find the most detailed depictions of Gloson.
Kuusela cites a particularly vivid account of a Gloson encounter,
“(it) was horrible. It had one hundred eyes over its body, shining like vile fire.”
The Gloson is generally cited as being a large white wild boar with glowing red eyes and a jagged spine, shaped like the teeth of a saw blade. The Gloson is a weaponised pig that will only bring misery and misfortune.
In Kuusela’s work, he recounts that the Gloson ‘is said to be a pig in the form of a horrible sow with a back in the shape of a razor-sharp saw. Sometimes she appears accompanied by several piglets. A common motif in the legends is that Gloson runs at the year walker at full speed, and seeks to come between the year walker’s legs and cleave the walker in two with her razor sharp back.’
The ‘Year Walker’ appears to be a Swedish equivalent (of sorts) of the Australian ‘walkabout’, where knowledge or enlightenment is obtained after a long solo journey.
‘The purpose of Gloson was to hinder the year walker from accomplishing his or her goal. It was one of many supernatural interferences that was to be expected before the year walker could prove his or her worth and become sensitive to the supernatural and be able to get a glimpse of the coming year.’
While there are folk tales of spectral animals across the world, including some rather underwhelming British ghost pigs, the Gloson feeds into a brutal and visceral fear of violence that so many folk tales leave behind.
In less bloody tales, the Gloson is more of a Forrest Gump character, running endlessly. The boar may carry an unfortunate person on her back for a prolonged journey. This journey could take weeks, months or years, resulting in the unwilling rider becoming insane or simply dying from exhaustion.
In a delightful combination of the two, some stories state that the unfortunate person carried away by the Gloson will be gradually sawn in half from the razor-sharp back of the pig itself.
A touch from the Gloson can be just as bad as a journey on its back. In one tale, the glancing blow of the boar against a woman’s dress caused a sudden and severe illness. As the boar did not touch her person and just her clothing, she survived. Otherwise the Gloson’s touch would have been fatal.
But why a boar? Are pigs so terrifying? Pigs have a long history and are a familiar presence in European folklore. Pigs were a familiar sight in the day to day life of peasants for centuries and pigs would often roam freely around the countryside. While large in size and generally rather docile, pigs have the ability to be incredibly vicious and territorial, especially if the sow had piglets nearby. Also, Wild Boars are primarily nocturnal animals, snuffling about under cover of darkness. Much like bat and owl species, animals who are active at night are often feared.
The British wild boar population is miniscule compared to centuries past, with an estimated 500-1000 in the UK in the last decade. After extinction in the reign of Henry VIII, their re-introduction into the british landscape has not been without controversy. Despite their small numbers, fear of wild boars is still high, with a 2012 Guardian article saying,
‘Wild boars find themselves accused of everything short of satanism. Walkers say they live in fear of boars attacking them or their dogs. Farmers complain of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage done to crops, fences flattened, maize laid waste. Homeowners have their lawns dug up and their gardens destroyed.’
Similarly in Sweden, where wild boar populations are booming, boar attacks and vehicle collisions are on the rise. This is in part to the wild boar’s ability to colonise and recolonise. In a paper by Annika K Jägerbrand, she reports that ‘in Europe wildlife-vehicle collisions annually were approximately 507,000, resulting in 300 fatalities and 300,000 injuries and that the costs for the property damages were approximately $1 billion (US).’
Back in the realms of the supernatural boar, how to protect oneself from the Gloson is a subject prime for debate. Means of protection range from crossing one’s legs – in a vague likeness of the holy cross – feeding the boar ‘certain prepared objects, such as seven-year-old nuts (magical nuts),’ covering the boar in a fishing net or using your pre-prepared knowledge of the black arts.
Encountering the Gloson usually occurs near to a church or at the shorter days of the year, when darkness encroaches faster on the hours in the day . So, should you be ready to take your ‘year walk’ and prepare yourself for a greater understanding of the occult and the great beyond, be sure to pack your magical nuts.
For more detailed information on the Gloson and Swedish folklore, follow the work of Kuusela online or in print.
Tommy Kuusela. 2016. “He Met His Own Funeral Procession: The Year Walk Ritual in Swedish Folk Tradition” In: Tommy Kuusela & Giuseppe Maiello (eds.) Folk Belief and Traditions of the Supernatural. Copenhagen: Beewolf Press, pp. 59–91.
Paper – Consequences of Increases in Wild Boar-Vehicle Accidents 2003–2016 in Sweden on Personal Injuries and Costs – Annika K. Jägerbrand