A Nisse (Danish/Norwegian) is a creature from the 1600’s thought to mean, “Dear little relative,” in old Norse.
They were believed to live in the home or garden to protect as well as aide in chores for the family when treated well. When disrespected, Nisse were said to be little tricksters, move things, harm or even kill people.
Thought to have only four fingers and to be only two feet tall, these shapeshifters had the ability to be as tall as a human male. Depicted with a long white beard, as well as a hat that went over the eyes, some people insisted they had no facial hair and they were hiding their one and only eyeball beneath their hat. Others thought their eyes and ears were pointed.
Despite the darker side of the folklore, these creatures were thought to be the Scandinavian version of St Nicholas. Acknowledged most generally at the time of the Winter Solstice.
Also similar was the Tomte which meant, “Garden fellow,” they have various depictions depending on the European country they hail from and the Christian influence later in generations.
According to Wiccapedia:
The nisse or tomte was in ancient times believed to be the “soul” of the first inhabitor of the farm; he who cleared the tomt (house lot). He had his dwellings in the burial mounds on the farm.
Once Christianity became more prevalent in the area the Nisse and Tomte were demonized along with many other non Christian folklore creatures, showing up even today as the goblins in many children’s story tales.
Continuing on from Wiccapedia: The belief in a nisse’s tendency to bring riches to the farm by his unseen work could also be dragged into the conflicts between neighbours. If one farmer was doing far better for himself than the others, someone might say that it was because of him having a nisse on the farm, doing “ungodly” work and stealing from the neighbours. These rumours could be very damaging for the farmer who found himself accused, much like accusations of witchcraft during the Inquisitions.
Funny how many homes have these little, but mighty Norse creatures in their homes today as decorations inside and out in the garden, having no knowledge of who they truly were.