In Peter Rogerson's recent review of a cryptozoology title he noted that the Icelandic postal authorities had recently issued a set of stamps depicting some of the weird and wonderful creatures that haunt the seas around their island. Now their Nordic neighbours in the Faroe Islands, a self-governing Danish dependency in the Atlantic about 300 kilometers north-west of Scotland, have issued stamps depicting some of the creatures that haunt the islanders' dreams and legends.
The publicity for the issue makes the very Magonian point that these monsters "deal with issues on the borders between the known universe and a threatening outer world which people feared" - the border between habitat and wilderness. In small island communities like the Faroes, wilderness is constantly threatening the fragile fabric of habitat, the sea is in many ways the ultimate wilderness.
There are four creatures shown on the stamps, but it is not clear if the depictions of these are entirely artistic imagination or based on original folklore descriptions.
The 6.50kr. stamp shows the Grýla - the bogeyman - which has developed from traditional Shrovetide carnival costumes, and serves as a warning to observe the Lenten fast: "This creature is otherwise known from folk beliefs to wander around ensuring that no children eat meat during the fast ... It carries a sack, into which it puts the children who have been so reckless as to breach the strict directive about fasting between Shrovetide and Easter..."
The 17.00kr. stamp shows the Niðagrísur - the 'child ghost' - which seems linked to ideas about abandoned and unbaptised children and changelings: "...there is thus the belief that children concealed at birth and murdered come back to haunt and show themselves to the living in one form or another. If we are to believe the Faroese belief, this ghost is small and chubby, bears a likeness to a child, and is no larger than a ball of yarn. The most common explanation for why they come back to haunt is that they want to have a name because they died without being christened."
The 19.00kr. stamp shows the 'beach troll', the Fjørutrøll, which in the stamp illustration appears to be some sort of animated seaweed: "The troll is said to have been terrifying. Seaweed grew and pebbles hung all over its body. When it moved it sounded as if it was dragging millstones behind it and the ground came loose and spun around it. It was so large that it could be seen above the tallest houses". That description does sound, of course, like stormy seas and treacherous tides. The beach troll seems primarily to have evolved as a way of scaring children away from dangerous parts of the coast, which considering the Faroes are small rocky islands surrounded by an often stormy ocean, must be just about all of it.
Perhaps of particular interest is the creature on the 11.00kr. stamps. this is the Marra - the 'mare'. In the Faroese version, this creature "appears at night and sits or lies on sleeping people, disturbing their sleep, causing evil dreams, and suppressing their breathing. It often appears in the guise of a beautiful woman – but is in fact an abominable monster. It wants to stick its fingers into the sleeper’s mouth in order to count the teeth. If it succeeds, the sleeping individual will die."
Apart from the teeth counting detail, this is of course the universal figure of the 'Old Hag', the Night Mare, the succubus and incubus, the creature depicted in Fusilli's famous painting. Significantly the stamp artist has depicted this creature almost as a 'Grey', with featureless face, huge black eyes, long fingers and pall-like grey skin. The traditional and modern nightmares are merging.
The stamps were issued on 30th April 2012, and you can read a fuller description of the legends associated with the creatures on the Faroe Islands Post Office website HERE, for the English version.
Besides the Iceland stamps mentioned above, some Yeti stamps issued by Bhutan a number of years back, and the UFO stamps issued by a number of countries - usually just before a violent change of regime! - does anyone know of any other stamps for a Fortean philatelic collection?