The Dala Horse, a classic symbol of Sweden
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.
One way to save is to buy a naked Dala horse and paint it yourself.
If you are in the market for a painted horse, they come in many colors. Red is the most traditional.
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:
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.
Wednesday 1st of March 2023
I bought a Dala horse in a Welsh charity shop for £1
Monday 6th of March 2023
Thrift shops can be great places to find second hand souvenirs, great find!
Monday 22nd of January 2018
Haha, this was funny reading. I have never heard a word about the connection to the devil so I checked this out by google with "djävulen" + " dalahäst" (devil + dala horse) and spot on: It was during a wtch trial in Mora, a city in Dalarna, the church accused the dala horse to serve the devil and the "witches" was beheaded or burned.. Oldest horse is from around 1560 and it might been childrens toy as that is seen in older photographs. My father did also have one as a toy during the forties - I have this right in front of me now, worn blue color as he has played a lot with it: ) Anyway - horse was a symbol for fertility and connected to the God Frej so there is probably the oldest connection. ...And probably the reason why the church put a spell on the beautiful Dala horse. Speak of the devil came to my mind when I wrote last sentence (*rolling my eyes and look innocent* ;)
Have a nice day! Greetings from a snow covered Sweden.
Friday 26th of January 2018
Thanks for writing in! Yup google can lead you to some interesting facts! Oh I'm sure it's beautiful there, I hope to return soon!
Saturday 23rd of January 2016
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.
Friday 25th of December 2015
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.
Thursday 29th of October 2015
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.