Reykjavik Excursions Blog

Icelandic creatures and beasts

3 Creatures of the Night

25/6/2018 Blog

Superstition and folklore have followed human beings from the dawn of time. Even today we hear stories of rescued dogs that turned out to be rats, chupacabras or aliens in the sky.

Icelanders are no different from other people, and by adding darkness, cold winters and often dangerous and hard times into the mix, the country is rife with all kinds of beasts, ghosts and creatures which are here to make life hard for us. The following list of three supernatural creatures is, of course, far from being definite.


Tilberi. © Strandagaldur

Tilberi is a creature only women can create and own. They are made from a human rib with grey wool spun around the bone. The maker would be the Tilberi's mother. The Tilberi lived by sucking a small teat on its mother's inner thigh.

The purpose of the creature was to steal milk from other farms so the Tilberi would regularly be sent to a nearby farm to steal it from cows and ewes.

If anyone wants to have a go at creating a Tilberi, the first thing that needs to be done is to steal the rib bone from a recently buried body. However, it cannot be just any newly buried body at any time, it must have been buried on Whitsunday. Next is to steal the wool but that has to be grey and then it must be spun around the bone. But it is not over yet. Now it must be placed between the breasts – remember, only women can do this. For the next three Sundays, the communion wine must be spat on the bundle, so be sure not to miss your Catholic mass. The Tilberi grows with each spit.

Even though the Tilberi heeds the call of its mother, it is not a gentle creature. It is extremely protective of her and if she becomes pregnant while owning a Tilberi, it is impertinent to get rid of it before the baby gets born. Otherwise, the Tilberi will come and suck her dry, literally. The best way of getting rid of the creature is to send it to the mountains to collect lamb droppings. It needs to be told to collect lamb droppings from either three pastures or make three piles of droppings. But since the number three is a holy number, the assignment would kill the creature.

If there is a need to make sure if a woman owns a Tilberi, it is possible to find out by making a cross sign into her homemade butter. This, of course, only works if the woman has used the stolen milk to make butter but if she really did make it from stolen milk the butter will clump together or melt into a foam.

From where did the creature come?

It has been said that only witches created Tilberis. There are no records of it existing before the 17th century but one of those sources mentioned a witch was punished for owning one in the 1500s. The creature was believed to be responsible for the inflammatory hardening of the udder. But there is a simple way of protecting your animals, just make the sign of the cross under the udder and over the rump.



This horse-like creature lures people onto their backs and drowns them. Stories say they live in lakes, rivers or the sea, and their hoofs turn backwards while their fetlocks are on the front, opposite to regular horses.

If nykur manages to lure you onto its back, you will not be able to get off and it will run like mad back to its home underwater and take you with it. It is said that the rumbles of the ice on frozen lakes are they nykur's neighs.

To get rid of the horse, you should try and utter its name but if you do not know it, you are in trouble. Apart from being called nykur, it also goes by these names: nennir, nóni, vatnaskratti and kumbur. It really does not like the name of the devil, so if you utter them in Icelandic it will run straight to its home.

The creature is known in other Scandinavian countries, The Orkney Islands and Scotland.

From here did the creature come?

It is believed the stories about the nykur and its cousins from Scandinavia, The Orkney Islands and Scotland, served the practical purpose of keeping children away from dangerous waters. Demons and other monsters were also often used to rationalise the drowning of children and adults who had accidentally fallen into deep and dangerous waters.



Katthveli or Cat-Whale is a foul fish-like beast. As can be judged by its name, it lives in the ocean, is pink in colour, very limber and wide at the front with narrow hindquarters. Its name was sometimes written as “kattfiskur” or “catfish”, and sometimes it was simply called “kisa” or “kitty”.

It is considered incredibly foolish to mention its name out at sea, and you would generally not live long after doing so since it would hone in on you and topple your boat.

The katthveli is about 8 metres long, said to have furry whiskers, and purrs and mews. Some sightings suggest it has boars' tusks. It ranges in colour from pink to grey to brown.

Katthveli was seen quite regularly, and quite a few stories are known of fishers encountering the creature however it has not been spotted since the beginning of the 20th century.

From where did the creature come?

It is likely that someone ignorant of the world's animals saw a walrus or another bearded seal and believed it to be a beast.


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