Scandinavian superstitions and folklore – Olai Magni

WARNING: this is a long post, mostly full of (interesting) images. It’s all about one book.

red and blue foredge

The red and blue stripes caught my eye; unfortunately

Historia Olai Magni archiepiscopi Vpsalensis, de gentium septentrionalium variis conditionibus statibusue, & de morum, ritrum, superstitionum … mirabili diversitate  – NLA RBq CLI 4074A (bib ID: 2615549)

did not contain any watermarks.

This tome by Olaf Månsson, (Magnus Olaus), once Bishop of Uppsala, was published in 1567 in Basle. It was printed by Henric Petrina, or Henricus Petrinus. It was probably written while he was in exile in Rome.


However this is an impressive tome in many respects; Its pigskin over wooden boards is blind tooled. A series of blind tooled lines have formed panels within which are florets and heads of people, perhaps famous scandinavian heroes, perhaps saints. The centre panel sports a coat of arms with a motto: Reichenstein Casparus ….   ……   ……, with three indistinct small words

Its clasps, which would have closed at the top, are missing.

It is sewn on 4 double supports with a chevron style endband. As is typical of this style, where the supports are laced into the boards, the binder has tooled a little triangle.

I have talked a little about books in the past, and I think I needed to cover more detail. I chose this example because the illustrations inside are terrific. However, let me first show you some of the more quirky things about it.

So, I am not quite sure whether this was meant as a true account of the history of the Scandinavian countries or simply folktales, however the illustrations are fantastical and although humerous to us today, were probably quite scary to those who could read.

Here are a few capital letters which, upon close inspection, are quite hilarious. It is interesting that this style of humour and perhaps also commentary was retained from the art of the illuminators of the previous century.

Here is one map from the text:

Scandinavian map

One map

Illustrations such as these can tell us a lot about what people believed and also how they actually lived. Presumably the details in the images of the boats may be correct, even if the image of the monsters don’t quite gel with reality. The forests on the maps reminds me of Lord of the Rings. This simple map, to me, reflects a simpler time where beliefs don’t always agree with reality : there is a river and a road and some trees, and a village. The unknown, out at sea, is fantastical. This map was not meant to be amusing; it just sought to explain the world. Today’s maps  are very factual and definately not as amusing because with such a numerous population, our maps can’t possibly be that simple.

Look here:

You be the judge of which map you prefer….

Back to the book.

By 1567, the title pages would have now found their modern format: that is title, author, place and date of publication, as well as any printer’s or author devices and branding material, such as cum privilegio or approbations.

This title page gives the reader a short description of what to expect. It also tells the reader that this has the royal privilege; therefore it must be true and good. I wish my latin was better. When books begin to be regularly printed in the vernacular during the later part of the 16th century, reading really takes off.

This printer’s device has gods aiding his labours, possibly Boreas , God of the North Wind, fanning the flames in which we find a hammer wielded by another heavenly being.

This diamond shape paragraphing style doesn’t last long into the early part of the 17th century as a regular print setting. Paragraphing of text, on the other hand, takes a little while to evolve to the indentations and spacing of a modern day text. Here the words are crammed onto the page. It must have been difficult to read.

Lastly here are the folklore images that were the real reason for this blog:

Olai Magni’s book is full of such fantastical illustrations. You can take a look for yourself at the Library in Canberra. Any comments joyfully accepted.

Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.


IllInInINtroduction YouYYou be the judge of which map youHere Save













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Filed under bookbinding, libraries, museum

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