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Dala Horse: Adorable Swedish Souvenir…or Devil’s plaything?

The Dala Horse, a classic symbol of Sweden

souvenir dala horse stockholm sweden red gamla stan

Dala horse sits among the trolls and other souvenirs in a shop window in Gamla Stan.

If you are obsessed with Swedish design like I am, you are probably familiar with the wooden Dala horse (Dalahäst) — it’s often used as a colorful accessory in Swedish decor.  Although the originals are hand carved and painted in Dalarna, you can find Dala horses in shops all over Stockholm.

The Controversial History Behind the Famous Dala Horse

Why are Dala horses so famous? Where did they come from?

In my research, I learned that there is some controversy surrounding the origins of the Dala horse.  There is no doubt that Dala horses were first carved hundreds of years ago, deep in the Swedish woods, as a way to pass the time during long winter nights.  But could there also have been a more sinister reason for their creation?

According to British author Chris Mosley, Dala horses may have been used in 17th century devil worship rituals.   Mosley points to wooden horses found in Viking graves and theorizes that when Christianity took root, wooden horses were made covertly as links back to the old pagan religions.

The horses are even referenced in Swedish witchcraft trial documents. I was surprised to learn that not only does Sweden have a history of witchcraft trials, but also that these trials, witnessed by none other than Salem’s Cotton Mather, may have served as the “inspiration” for the Salem trials.

I would have loved to read more in Mosley’s book, The Magic Horse “Devil’s plaything” that became a national symbol, but the $359 price tag on the out-of-print book halted further research.  (Tip: do not try googling “Dala horse” and “devil worship” unless you want to be directed to questionable websites, including several wiccan communities).

The Dala Horse Today– a Popular Swedish Souvenir and a Symbol of Good Luck

But those days of pagan worship are long forgotten, and now the Dala horse is nothing more than a beautiful craft and a popular a symbol for good luck.  Dala horses can be spendy, running up into the hundreds of dollars, depending on the quality and size.

carved Dala horse unpainted SwedenOne way to save is to buy a naked Dala horse and paint it yourself.

DSC03591If you are in the market for a painted horse, they come in many colors.  Red is the most traditional.

black dala horse hand painted sweden white dala horse sweden

Dala horse in Gamla Stan

I found some cheaper options at shops in the tourist areas– these were only about $60 US, but weren’t nearly as nice as others I saw costing double or triple that amount.

If a Dala horse sculpture doesn’t fit in with your decor or budget, you can also buy Dala inspired objects.  Some of the items I found in Stockholm:

dala horse candle wood souvenir sweden stockholm

Dala horse candlesticks.

dala horse trivet swedish souvenir sweden

A Dala horse trivet made of lightweight cork.

swedish korkunderligg swedish cooking tool

Dala horse provstickas. (Note to my Swedish readers– can anyone tell me what these are used for?)

swedish toy souvenir kids stockholm

Dala horse toy.

sweden magnet dala horse souvenir

Dala horse magnet.

swedish crisp bread crackers knacke
You’ll even find the colorful horse adorning grocery store items, like this Swedish crisp bread.

Have you bought a Dala horse in Sweden?  Share in the comments below! 

For more on Sweden check out this post:
Live a Swedish Fairytale at the Christmas Market

All photos by Souvenir Finder, copyright 2014 and may not be used without express permission.

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25 Responses to Dala Horse: Adorable Swedish Souvenir…or Devil’s plaything?

  1. jenniesisler 01/25/2014 at 5:22 pm #

    I find it interesting how any time early Christians confronted an ideology that was foreign to them, they immediately considered it was the work of the devil. I refuse to believe that something as pretty as that blue horse is meant for devil worshippers. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • Kristin Francis 01/25/2014 at 5:39 pm #

      Hi Jen, thanks for commenting! I agree, the hysteria around the witch trials in the US and abroad is pretty hard to believe. The horse is definitely adorable, I hope to visit Dalarna one day to watch them being made!

  2. Ray Laskowitz 01/25/2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Thanks for this. We have one. A red horse. Nobody seems to know why we have it or how it came to be here. But, at least I know what it is now thanks to you.

    • Kristin Francis 01/25/2014 at 7:38 pm #

      Haha that is so funny Ray! It’s good luck, so take care of it! : )

      • Ray Laskowitz 01/25/2014 at 9:23 pm #

        I think we got it in Malmo, Summer2012. But, that’s only thing I can think of.

  3. Andy 01/26/2014 at 3:16 am #

    Is this the most recognisable symbol for Sweden, or would you say there is something else?
    Also-what does Dala mean? Just curious 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 01/26/2014 at 11:06 am #

      I’m no expert on Sweden so I can’t say what the most recognizable symbol is– I was just citing other sources–my guess would be the flag. I think Dala derives from Dalarna, the area where the horses are made.

      • Andy 01/26/2014 at 3:04 pm #

        Ahh..makes sense 🙂

    • Eirik 10/27/2014 at 10:27 am #

      The Dalahästarna are certainly one of the most recognizable symbols of Sweden. Other prominent symbols include the three golden crowns, and Moder Svea, a woman in armor and a sword standing by a lion. And for some people, a moose.
      The name Dala does come from Dalarna, the region of Sweden where they are made. Dalarna means “The Valleys”, so you could say Dalahäst translates to “Valley Horse” or “Horse From the Valley”. It’s related to the English word dale.
      Dalarna is the area of Sweden which is arguably closest to the ancient Swedish traditions. They’ve kept many of the oldest customs alive–in fact, in some areas of Dalarna people were still using a variation on the Viking runes to write Swedish all the way into the 1800s!

      • Kristin Francis 10/27/2014 at 6:36 pm #

        Thanks so much for your insight and detailed explanation, fascinating! I would love to go back to Sweden for a longer visit and visit the Dalarna area– on my wish list!

  4. fingknitcoolgal 01/26/2014 at 8:07 am #

    I’ve seen those beautiful horses around London too! However, I never knew that they could be associated with devil! How fascinating. I love history (^0^) x

    • Kristin Francis 01/27/2014 at 1:35 pm #

      Haha yes go back 400 years and who knows what you can find! I thought it was amusing more than anything– I did want to read that pricey book to read more, but it’s not even available at the New York public library.

  5. sueslaght 01/27/2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Kristin can you tell me what the provstickas are used for? I have visions of small children poking each other with them but my guess that is not the intended purpose. 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 01/27/2014 at 2:18 pm #

      Haha I wish I knew– I did google it but I couldn’t really figure it out– it is some sort of kitchen tool. I’ll edit the post and ask my Swedish readers for help!

      • sueslaght 01/27/2014 at 2:20 pm #

        No worries just curious. 🙂 it reminds me of a baking tool I have that you insert into a cake to see if it’s done. Although this looks thicker…

    • Eirik 10/27/2014 at 10:35 am #

      As a Swedish speaker myself, I think I can help here. “Provsticka” roughly translates to “test-poke”, and it’s used to test things like cakes to see if they are finished baking, similar to sticking in a fork or a toothpick. It’s just a longer, more specialized tool for that.

      • Kristin Francis 10/27/2014 at 6:34 pm #

        Thank you so much! That makes sense, now I wish I’d bought one, they’re so cute (and useful).

  6. Laxman Prajapati 02/26/2014 at 12:44 am #

    Wow!!!! nice.. 🙂

  7. Jody 04/09/2014 at 11:19 am #

    Provstickas are a type of toothpick, I believe.

    • Kristin Francis 04/09/2014 at 11:57 am #

      Thanks Jody! That makes sense!

  8. Anonymous 06/12/2014 at 6:54 am #

    A provsticka is used like sueslaght describes… to check if the food is ready. Mainly used for our national dish – cooked potatoes =), but works for all forms of food that supposed to “go soft” when ready I guess!

  9. Christina 06/12/2014 at 7:01 am #

    A provsticka is used like sueslaght describes… to check if the food is ready. Mainly used for our national dish – cooked potatoes =), but works for all forms of food, that supposed to “go soft” when ready, I guess!

    Btw do you have any suggestions what to give to a foreigner, when they leave Sweden, after a three month stay? … Would a Dalahäst be a nice gift?

    BR
    //The Swede 😉

  10. Adrian Johnson 10/29/2015 at 7:08 pm #

    IKEA occasionally has mass-produced large wood Dala horses — I have seen them in natural wood, plain white, red, and black. My daughter in law bought 4 of them and made an (admitedly heavy!) wheel-chandelier with a “Four horses of the Apocalypse” theme: she had one white, one black, one red, and painted the fourth yellow-green. It was suspended by 4 black chains and had 8 LED candles on it; wasn’t scary, just cute.

  11. Athar Shah 12/25/2015 at 8:10 am #

    I have one made of glass, gifted to me by one of my Swedish friends. I would love to upload a picture but don’t know how.

  12. Anonymous 01/23/2016 at 9:33 am #

    It is possible to buy Dala horses second hand in Sweden if you know where to look and they are obviously older but worth getting I purchased two in the outskirts of Goteborg and paid a lot less.

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