December 6, 2023

A Tale of Two Grims

A Tale of Two Grims Or: If you encounter these guys, you’re probably on a side quest

The church yard is dark and appropriately spooky as you approach. An eccentric old man back in the village tasked you with stealing the holy book from the altar of this small church and what do you know, this might actually be easy. You slink from the trees and into the graveyard that surrounds the church, using the crumbling old headstones for cover. As you crouch, you realize that you aren’t alone. There is a tall figure cloaked in black standing among the graves, and though you can’t see its eyes, you know that it is watching you. 

So much for an easy side quest. You’ve got the attention of a kirkegrim. 

According to folklore from a few Scandinavian regions, the first soul in a new churchyard becomes its guardian. To spare a human from this fate in the afterlife, animals would be buried (often alive) to take up the mantle, and a church grim was born. The unlucky animal was most often a dog, boar, lamb, goat, or raven, and the grim would take on the form (at least in part) of this animal and roam the church grounds. If you happened to bump into a grim, it was an omen that something big was going to happen–good or bad. However, if you were at the church with nefarious intent, say to steal something, encountering a grim was only bad news. 

There’s no reasoning with or tricking a grim. If you’re up to no good, they will know. This creature only has one job, and it will do whatever is needed to protect its church, from scaring you away to throwing down in an actual fight. Remember that this thing is either undead or a spirit, so a fight isn’t going to be easy and if you only have regular weapons on hand… Well, hope you’re ready to make that graveyard your home. 

There is a way to confront a church grim and possibly even receive visions about what the future holds: Year Walking. This elaborate ritual must be performed on New Year’s Eve and involves a day of fasting alone and away from any human contact, then traveling to a church while encountering visions and other supernatural creatures along the way. 

Speaking of other supernatural creatures, if you find yourself on an adventure that involves seeking a grim, don’t immediately bow out. “Grim” doesn’t only refer to an animal-faced nightmare lurking in churchyards–depending on where you are, it could be a fossegrim. 

This style of grim is a waterfall-dwelling musician that pretty much wants nothing to do with you. However, if you bring him food, he might pass on his supernatural musical ability. Of course, there’s a catch. The grim is, to put it lightly, very picky. You have to secretly throw a white male goat over a northbound waterfall on a Thursday evening, OR smoked mutton stolen from your neighbor on four consecutive Thursdays if you want to get his attention. If he’s not happy with your offering, he’ll only teach you to tune a fiddle, which is useful but decidedly unimpressive. If he approves, however, he’ll… well, maim you a little bit. The grim will slide your fingers over fiddle or harp strings until they bleed. But after that, you’ll play like an absolute monster. Not a bard? You sure are now. 

No matter which type of grim you encounter, you can expect an absurdly specific set of hoops to jump through for a payoff that is probably not worth it. But it’s all about the journey and not the destination, right dear adventurer?