The Yule Cat and Ghoul Cat are two monstrous mythical cats sure to keep you on your toes in Iceland, particularly on dark, cold winter nights.
By chance, did you get a pair of warm mittens, socks, or a sweater for Christmas or the holiday you celebrate? If not, and you live in Iceland, that means the Yule Cat or Jólakotturinn may eat you. The cat, which towers over houses, will peek in the window. Then, it will see if you’re wearing a new winter garment. If not, you might end up on the cat’s menu.In appearance, the Yule Cat resembles a massive, fluffy Norwegian Forest Cat similar to a Maine Coon. Some experts believe the Maine Coon is a descendant of the Norwegian Forest Cat, once kept on Viking boats.
The Yule Cat Starts Prowling After December 25
Now, most of us may not think of warm winter clothing as particularly exciting. However, this Icelandic winter myth makes wearing new, warm, cozy clothes essential! Like the Krampus in Europe and Namahage in Japan, these stories teach/horrify misbehaving kids into obedience.
Notably, the Yule Cat encourages people to gift warm winter clothing to everyone. Since a main export in Iceland has historically been wool, this doesn’t seem to be by chance, encouraging a strong work ethic. Thus, the story served to keep families, including kids, busy making wool clothing all winter.
Following December 25, the Yule Cat begins the annual purge, hunting naughty kids in the night. For those unfortunate souls who didn’t receive new warm winter clothes, well, the Yule Cat may not be amused.
Suddenly, those ugly Christmas sweaters and stockings take on new significance.
Although some have called the Yule Cat a sort of feline fashion police, it seems the creature is more focused on utility, not style. If you are wearing something new and warm – you will avoid the Yule Cat another year.
In other versions of the Yule Cat, you may live, but the cat will steal your presents and food instead. Then, you may wish you were dead?
The Yule Cat Lives with Ogress Grýla
This massive cat belongs to Grýla, or “the Growler,” a monstrous troll or ogress with 13 prankster children called the Yule Lads. This ogress lives in a mountain cave and, like a bloodthirsty Grinch, descends into the villages.
At one time, Grýla ate her husband because he bored her. But that’s not all she eats.
Like Santa, she arrives annually with a big sack, but that’s where the comparison stops. You see, the sack is for toting away misbehaving kids (see the pattern here?). Meanwhile, her Yule Lads give out gifts to the well-behaved children.
If Grýla gets you in the sack, then you’re on the menu unless the Yule Cat gets you first.
🥄👅 The Mischievous Yule Lads 🥔👀
For the 13 days leading up to Christmas, the Yule Lads give a gift aided by the Yule Goat. Over the years, they have taken on a softer benevolent elven look.
For the naughty kids, the Yule Lads might give them a potato. That’s not so bad. However, you might then expect a visit from Grýla or the Yule Cat. As you see, it really pays to behave in Iceland.
Like the Yule Cat, the Yule Lad “Window Peeper” peeks inside homes, but only on December 21. Previously, “Spoon Licker” arrived to lick your spoons on December 15 because that’s how he rolls. (see video below)
In 1764, the government banned telling scary stories like the Yule Cat for disciplining kids. Interestingly, in 1924, Reykjavik banned dogs as pets due to tapeworms passing to humans. Although the city eventually lifted the ban, cats remain the pet of choice. Microchipped cats can roam freely, with one cat for every ten residents in 2014, reported Smithsonian.
Follow Cats of Reykjavik to see pictures of the celebrated average-size kitties.
Below, we see an Icelandic cat has taken to wearing a winter hat. The Yule Cat would approve.
The Yule Cat is an Ancient Creature
The Yule Cat may date back to the Dark Ages, but written records started in the nineteenth century.
In 1932, the Yule Cat appeared in “Christmas is Coming” by Jóhannes úr Kötlum, an Icelandic poet and member of parliament.
Based on his poem, alternative Pop singer Björk performed a haunting version of “Jólakotturinn” or “The Christmas Cat” in 1987.
The Ghoul Cat
In Iceland, stories of fearsome mythical cats are common. The Ghoul Cat, or Urðarköttur, of the wastelands, is larger than a house cat, with entirely different habits.
For example, the giant Ghoul Cat buries itself in a cemetery, waiting for three years to erupt from the ground. During its time underground, it’s called a corpse cat. By the time it emerges, it may be the size of a dog and prowls rocky slopes for prey.
In other versions, the Ghoul Cat waits under the dirt, then snatches unsuspecting victims, human or otherwise. According to legend, the ghoulish feline can kill you simply by staring at you with its fierce eyes. Similar to werewolf stories, only silver bullets can kill it.
Freya and Her Cat-Driven Chariot
We would be remiss not to mention another Norse cat myth. As the story goes, two giant cats pull the goddess Freya across the sky. As the goddess of love and war, she was beautiful, fierce, feminine, mysterious and independent, much like the cats she loves.
See more about the Yule Cat and Ghoul Cat in the video from BuzzFeed Unsolved Network below: