A Family Portrait, Part II: Grýla, Leppalúði, & Jólakötturinn

If Icelandic folk are stellar at anything, it’s their ability to tell nightmarish stories that keep their children kind and devoted. Evermore sinister than the thirteen Yule Lads is their hideous ogress mother Grýla. She lives in a cave in the mountains with her sons, her husband, and their demon cat.

Mommie Dearest

Grýla is the ugliest, evilest ogre in all of the land. She goes in search of naughty children and when she finds them she kidnaps them, cooks them up, and eats them. (Hopefully she has the decency to add some seasoning.) Icelandic parents get a real kick out of telling their children that Grýla will come gobble them up if they misbehave.

Jón Árnason paints a lovely image of Grýla in his folk stories:

“Grýla has three heads and three eyes in each head … Horribly long, curved fingernails, icy blue eyes at the back of the head and horns like a goat. Her ears dangle down to her shoulders and are attached to the nose in front. She has a beard on her chin that is like knotted yarn on a weave with tangles hanging from it, while her teeth are like burnt rocks in a grate.”

Other accounts of the ogress have claimed her to have fifteen tails from which hang hundreds of children stuffed in sacks. She has had three husbands and hundreds of children and has been Iceland’s queen of terror since the thirteenth century.

Her latest husband, Leppalúði, is mainly described as being super lazy but is plenty evil as well. After all, any man who condones his wife cooking up kids on the grill has to have some sort of mental crack. Together, Leppalúði and Grýla make a great power couple that keeps the kids in line.

Here, Kitty Kitty

Their family cat, Jólakötturinn, is also a great terror. Also known as the Yule Cat, it goes out during Christmas time to eat people’s guts out.

It is Iceland’s tradition that every person who works hard gets a new item of clothing for Christmas. Jólakötturinn recognizes the lazy folk from their old clothing, and henceforth eats them up.

This is probably why Icelanders put in more time at work than most other European nations. If they don’t bring home the bacon to buy their loved ones that fresh new garb from Polo Ralph Lauren, their boo will be turned into Purina.

Iceland is a pretty vicious place to be during Christmas. When you’re not straining your back at the office to escape the fate of the Yule Cat, you have to make sure your kids are on tip-top behavior so they don’t get eaten by Grýla.

Meanwhile, the Yule Lads are creeping around and you have to keep your food locked in a safe. You should probably also house your livestock in high-security prisons for their own safety.

On the bright side, things should never get boring and families are bound to be strengthened when dealing with these terrors. People are brought together by horror, right? Right.

So enjoy yourself and when you’re working late at the office don’t forget to sit up straight. Also if you happen to see an abnormally large cat on Christmas, run for your life.

In case you missed it, check out A Family Portrait, Part I to learn all about the impish little Yule Lads.

If you got a kick out of this lore, please share it so that others can find it. Thanks!


Author Unknown. “Celebrating Christmas With 13 Trolls.” Iceland.is. n.d. Web. 2 December 2015.

Author Unknown. “Grýla and Leppalúði.” Thjodminjasafn.is. n.d. Web. 2 December 2015.

Magnússon, Haukur S. “The Christmas Cat.” Grapevine.is. 10 December 2008. Web. 4 December 2015.

Originally published at noxodd.wordpress.com on December 4, 2015.