The opening scenes of The Elements are based in one of the most enigmatic natural locations – a bare-boned nature stripped of all the comfort found in wild overgrown places.Tiveden is a radical place with a radical history: Places of sacrifice. The heart of it known as Trollkyrka, or Troll Church Mountain. A radical place that just demanded a radical story.

The name is very old and disputed. -Ved is cognate to English Wood and the first part of its name, Ti-, either means “god” or refers to the god Tyr. Tiveden separates Närke from Västergötland, and was formerly a frontier between the Geats and the Swedes. And let it be said, that Tiveden is very rugged – like no other place I’ve ever been to before. Nobody knows the exact boundaries, but it is usually said that the northern border for Tiveden is made up of Lake Skagern, Finnerödja and Laxå. The southern border by Karlsborg and Lake Vättern. In the west by Älgarås, Hova and the Göta Canal whilst Askersund constitutes the eastern border. 1983 the government took the decision to create Tiveden National park. Until then the area had been a Swedish Crown-land. Tiveden National park was opened by His Majesty the King on 22 June 1983.

Wolf Cave in the Tiveden National Park, Sweden

The history here is really quite extraordinary, since the park today has never been inhabited: too rugged, too rocky, too difficult to get to. Even though it is not remote at all by Swedish standards. It’s seeing a place and sensing the power of isolation that is the difference. I happened to be in Sweden in the fall of 2006 and was struck by the vibrance of this season in that typical Swedish landscape: boulders left from the ice age and trees covered in moss, the scatter of dry leaves. Isolation. nature. Here was a setting for characters removed from the comfort zone of their ordinary lives, a place for things to happen. That was just the beginning. Returning home I then began a process of research. Little did I know this was something to consume myself and my life for the next ten years.

Highwayman’s Pass – featured in Fear Of Naked Ground

Tiveden struck me as the perfect place to begin The Elements – the concept had grown in the meantime to a full-blown mystery thriller though the writing had barely begun. Tiveden is very rugged – like no other place I’ve ever been to before. So began the process of crafting by scene visiting. This country blew me away. But this was just the beginning. It was researching the history of this place that really made an impression beginning a process of story-weaving based on little known but historically accurate legend-digging that makes the Prologue a truly original mystery-thriller. 

Trolls Hill Church

The centre piece for both the crime and the setting is a rock formation in the middle of the church called in Swedish, Trollkyrka, meaning ‘Troll’s church’ or Troll Church Mountain. A radical place that just demanded a radical story. This bare rocky hill-top served as a pagan sacrificial ground for centuries after Christianity became the dominant religion in Scandinavia. It may have been used as late as the 19th century, when popular tradition still held the mountain to be off-limits for Christians. 

I’ve hiked, in the interests of scene-scouting, the park and have visited this place twice in the last seven years. It still got the heart racing. This place was a perfect setting for a crime: Remote, a blood-history that goes back to the dark ages (this is for real) – with a history for pagan sacrifice so tantalising that a poem was written about it, known as the Trollkyrka Rites:

Old people used to say: No Christian can go there. The mountains of the troll church belong to the heathen trolls. If a Christian ventures there, he will come to grief.

Trollkyrka rock formation, Tiveden National Park

The landscape plays a profound central part in the drama, the crime investigation leading to a discovery of a hidden past no one really understands, until it is already too late. Local tradition relates that the mountain was used not long ago for heathen rites and that anyone who was not initiated and saw it risked either to be buried in a bog in the forest or sworn into the brotherhood. These precautions clearly indicate that the rites took place as late as the period 1604–1735, which was a time when there was a penalty of death on practicing such rituals. The rites are described in a folk poem documented by the folklorist Carshult (1941) when he documented the traditions on Skaga stave church. 

By Mark David  

The Trollkyrka Rites

The procession creeps on a meandering path preferably unseen to the Troll mountains/hills. A mass shall be held for three days, this will be the beginning of the holiday. The frock is long, so it reaches down to the ground, the socks are sharply pointed, the hood is pulled down so that the holes for the eyes fit. Everybody looks alike except for the height, the prelate counts their number.

The password is given in a low voice, the prelate blows three times in a horn. The fire is kindled with nine kinds of wood, that is old custom. A sacrifice is offered to the spirits, everyone is sprinkled with the blood. The best part is gifted to spirits, what remains is to be consumed by the men.

In the midnight hour, when stars glitter, the prelate asks for silence and this is obeyed by all the men. They fall down onto the ground, the prelate looks grimly at the heavens. And incantations and summons echo in the dells the prelate is summoning spirits. Everyone received an answer to their question, no one heard from another man what the answer was.