Once there was a very small boy named Egil. Like many other children, when night came and Mani pulled His Moon chariot across the sky and Sinthgunt shone brightly in the North, Egil would curl up in his mother’s arms to sleep. As he slept, Egil would go on great journeys. Sometimes he was a warrior like his father, traveling by see and slaying trolls and dragons. Other times he climbed mountains to reach the dome of the sky, wondering what Ymir’s skull felt like. Sometimes he dove into deep waters to find sunken ships and see glimpses of the mermaid daughters of Ran and Aegir.
No matter where or how far he journeyed in his sleep, Egil could always find his way back. Why? Because when he began to dose, he would curl his fingers into his mother’s long braid and hang on. As he slept and journeyed, when it was time to return home, he never got lost because he only had to follow the rope of her hair home.
One night, as Egil was journeying to far off lands in his sleep, a visitor came to the hall. Egil’s mother rose from the bed to greet this wanderer and had to untangle her son’s hand from her hair in order to be hospitable. She didn’t return to bed that night.
When morning came Egil did not wake up. Late in the morning, when Sunna was pulling Her Sun chariot higher into the sky and burning off the mist, Egil’s mother came to wake him. No matter how she shook him, how loud she called his name, or even when she put cold snow on his face, he would not wake.
Egil was lost in his journey because when he turned to follow his mother’s hair back home, it was gone. He was stuck, far away from his home and body with no clue as to how to find his way back!
The healer came to see why the young boy would not awake. Nothing they did worked. Finally, the family called for the tribe’s shaman. The elder came in, studied the boy, and threw the bones. First they asked the Gods for aid and were told of Egil’s journey. They asked the ancestors who said he was not with them, his soul was in other realms and his mother was needed to bring him back.
Egil’s mother gathered her son in her arms and said she would do anything to bring her son back.
Finally, the shaman asked the spirits of the home what they had to say. The husvaettir came forward and said that she had noticed the boy always held his mother’s hair when he slept and dreamed. That he was not holding her hair now.
The shaman approached the mother and child and slipped her braid into the young boy’s hands. Once the rope of her hair was secured in his fingers, the shaman used their magics to call the boy forward from his journey.
Egil found his mother’s braid and followed it home. He woke, hugged his mother about the neck and said that he was so hungry for he hadn’t broken his fast all day or night. Laughing the mother held him and agreed to make him something to eat.
Once he was fed and cared for, the mother asked the shaman what they could do to keep him safe while he journeyed. Perhaps they could stop him from doing so?
The shaman explained that most children journey, some are better than others at staying out of trouble and finding their way home. They acknowledged that something should be done to make it easier for them to come back. It was likely that Egil’s mother would have to wake again and would need to bring her hair with her when she left the bed.
After some time thinking about it, the shaman returned with a gift for Egil. It was a figure of a person made from cloth. On its head, flax was woven into hair that made a long braid. They tucked the doll into bed with Egil and wrapped his fingers into its hair. This would now be its guide.
As time passed, more and more children received these dolls. Slowly, the custom changed and some children received dolls made to resemble animals. These served as guardians as well as guides – accompanying children on their journeys to protect them from dangers. Bears, wolves, foxes, owls, and other dolls became loyal companions to children until they were old enough to find their own way home from their night time journeys. Then, some kept their companions because they were so loved. Others passed them on to their descendants to continue their service.
This was the magical creation of dolls and stuffed animals.