When I was young my grandmother would say "You better be good or Tomtegubben will get you!" This boogeyman was no doubt from my Swedish grandmother's childhood but I was too young to ask for a more comprehensive explanation and honestly too scared. I spend years of my adult life wondering what in the world was a tomtegubben! I tried googling my version of the spelling, never getting it right. So for most of my adult life I had no idea what a tomtegubben might be. I often wondered what she was referring to, and there was a vague reference to being good so we could get Christmas presents.
Just a few years ago, my mother, sister and I took a trip to Iceland. On the trip we had a Swedish tour bus driver. For some reason, I thought, maybe he would know what this creature was? When I asked him, he looked at me quizzically and said no, he didn't know of such a thing. We continued on our drive around Iceland for a few hours and on our last stop he came to me and YES! "You meant Tomte? Right?" with his distinct Swedish accent. I was so excited to uncover this long lost family tale. He explained that most people used only the term Tomte and did not include -gubben , according to him that meant 'old man.' He explained that Tomte cared for peoples' farm. And that he was known more recently, to bring gifts to children on Christmas and if you were not a good child they would not bring you gifts. Eureka! I now had the spelling and a pint of reference to dive into my own research.
Once I had the correct spelling I googled my heart out looking for lore, stories and the history of the Tomten (adding an N creates the plural in the Swedish language.) The first stories I found were of happy creatures that helped out around the house, like the stories I had heard of elves, in my childhood. But my Grandmother had referred to these creatures as a little threatening or dangerous so I knew there must be older stories much like the Grimm Fairy tales that have a gruesome or even terrifying aspect.
In my research, I found references to Tomten as being a care-takers of the land, animals and the people that live there. Tomten help make sure the gates are locked and the fences closed so the animals are safe. I also found references to Tomten helping people find keys, and other lost items. Tomten care for the people by checking in on everyone as they sleep making sure everyone is safely tucked in bed. One story said that if Tomte thinks you are not caring properly for your animals or kin they enact uncomfortable or even deadly consequences. These sources were much harder to find and were definitely not the current standard story of Tomten.
If you would like to engage with the spirit of Tomten , there are several ways you can do that. Acknowledging that there are house spirits that are in your home is one way. Talking to them when you need help finding your keys and asking them to make sure the cats are safe when you leave for an overnight, helps them feel seen. I love having Tomten as decorations in my home during the winter season. Having statues, stuffies and art with Tomten on them let the creatures know you know that they exist and appreciate them.
Another even more traditional way you can care for the Tomte of your household is offer them a cup of porridge on Winter Solstice eve. It is important that you add in some butter, as a sign of respect and to make the offering more rich, both spiritually and figuratively. The common Scandinavian porridge was like rice pudding, a sweet traditional dessert on Winter Solstice. This offering was a way to show the Tomte that you care for them and that you were grateful for all of the ways that they have helped you. This task was considered very important as you did not want to offend a Tomte for fear of backlash or them withholding their assistance, for there are many ways you do not know they are helping you.
In 1881Viktor Rydberg wrote a poem called "Tomten." this poem catapulted the popularity of the mystical creature in the early 19th century. I have included a few children's books about Tomte and an adapted story of Victor's poem by Astrid Lindgren. Information is easier to find these days about these little creatures. You can find the Tomten themed decorations everywhere as well. Tomte decorations are very popular these days even though no one knows they are not gnomes but actually Tomtes! It's easy to see as that they can hard to tell apart. The primarly difference is that you can see the full face of a gnome but you only see the nose and beard of a Tomte! Enjoy this Winter Solstice season by sharing a beloved dessert with the Tomte of your home.
Karin Olsen is a healer, a seer and a teacher. Her experience includes studying plants for more than 20 years, owning an herb shop and metaphysical store for 15 years.
She has been a massage therapist for over 25 years. Karin learned her psychic medium skills from her mother and sees clients via zoom.
She teaches classes on earth-based spirituality through Moonhill Mystery School in the Salish Sea area. In 2021 she earned a Master of Ecopsychology from Naropa University.
Go to www,moonhillnysteryschool.com to learn more about her classes and events.
The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren The Tomte's Christmas Porridge by Sven Nordquist
Websites http://www.tomtenposter.com/Tomten.html https://www.ancestryfootprints.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Tomten-A-Christmas-Poem.pdf "Tomten" http://therootdoctor.se/the-tomte-a-scandinavian-household-spirit