Tuesday, October 7, 2014

1600: Aarslev And Beyond

The 400+ year old Aarslev incident, often described as "Denmark's oldest UFO case", has been featured in many Danish books and publications over the years. At the same time, there has been a lack of information about the case available in English. My intention is to make up for that with this post, but beyond simply re-hashing and translating the existing Danish material, I will offer some new perspectives as well.

Even if one takes a sceptical approach to the Aarslev incident, there is enough evidence to suggest that something spectacular happened - something which touched many of the witnesses deeply and affected the broader community at the time. It truly is one of the most fascinating, and best documented, Danish Fortean cases.

A Strange Encounter In A Field Near Randers

Aarslev Enge is an area of field about 10 kilometers south-east of Randers - Denmark's 6th largest city, located on the eastern part of the country's mainland. Today, a stroll through the Aarslev area probably wouldn't spark anything beyond the most pedestrian thoughts, but one Wednesday more than 400 years ago something extraordinary happened here that shook the locals to the core. 

Before midday on the the 30th of April, 1600, a group of townsmen were gathered for the annual event of cleaning a local stream, Alling Å. While waiting for the local Alderman to assess the situation, the workers decided to take a rest by the stream. After reaching the conclusion that nothing further could be accomplished that day, due to an unforeseen buildup of water in the stream, the Alderman announced that the work was to be postponed and that everyone were free to leave. 

Then, as people were preparing to go, the Alderman suddenly spotted something “like a big wagon” rising from the fields in the distance, together with a group of strange figures moving inside and around it. When he first drew attention to it, the townsmen thought he was joking, but they soon realized that this was not the case. At first, many of the witnesses tried to explain the sight as a flock of cattle running berserk and whipping up dust, but eventually they all began to see what the Alderman was seeing.

The figures became more discernible too, as the "wagon" moved closer (though some later described it as if it "dissolved" along the way). To the witnesses they were clearly humanoid, but a lot taller, fatter and more broadshouldered than normal people. Most of them seemed to be dressed in black, except for two who wore "bloody red" garments, and one who wore a white, long piece of clothing with a black band across. 
The ones dressed in red were a bit slimmer than the rest, but still very much taller than the average person at the time. They all appeared to be engaged in some "playful battle", using something akin to spears or swords with which they lifted each other up into the air. Occasionally, the red figures were surrounded some kind of smoke.

Workers depicted lying down before the arrival of the “wagon”. Unfortunately, no known images of the entitites exist to my knowledge.
By now, a local farmer and some women had also joined the large group of onlookers, and one can only imagine the amount of disbelief and anxiety among those present. At some point the Alderman cried out that everyone should fall to their and knees pray to God for it to disappear again. 

Shortly after that, another character joined the "battle". This guy wore a large white “thing, like a hat" on top of his head, and attacked and eventually scared away the figure with the white clothes. The "wagon" and the rest of the apparitions now started to retract towards a wooded area in the background, with many of the townspeople chasing after them (to no avail). Eventually, it disappeared completely, seemingly into the woods. The whole thing had lasted around 30 minutes.

Aftermath - Investigation And Implications

The Aarslev incident, as related above, was originally investigated and documented by a local nobleman, Holger Rosenkrantz, who lived at the nearby manor Rosenholm. His
 long-term plan was probably to spread the story even further via pamphlets, as stories of signs and revelations were usually printed in that format at the time (no newspapers yet existed). But apparently it never happened - at least, none such has ever been discovered. Rosenkrantz' original report is believed to have been destroyed in a fire in 1826, but a copy from 1760 still exists in the Danish Royal Library. 

In 1909 the report was more widely published, together with an introduction and postscript by cand. mag. Søren Hansen, in Randers Historical Society's yearbook. Here the incident was explained away as a misidentified waterspout which, together with a superstitious and authoritarian mindset, produced an advanced collective hallucination. While I won't dismiss that possibility completely, I think it sounds a little too convenient. In any case, this isn't the angle that I am interested in here.

The connection with flying saucers actually wasn't made until a few decades ago, when Danish folklorists started looking at the case in light of more recent developments within the UFO field. Since then, Fortean researchers such as Lars Thomas have written about the case, and it has even begun to feature prominently in popular history books. All the good work highlighting and analyzing the incident from a modern perspective aside, we can almost solely thank Holger Rosenkrantz for the survival of this rich account. Had it not been for his enthusiastic investigation and documentation of the story, it probably wouldn't be around today, except as hearsay or watered down folkore. 

Holger Rosenkrantz “The Learned One” (1574-1642)

Rumors of the incident spread quickly, and it was mentioned during sermons in several churches throughout the greater Randers area the following days. This is how Holger Rosenkrantz encountered the story and became interested in knowing more. On the 12th of May, Rosenkrantz visited Aarslev Church in order to get testimony from the local priest and seven witnesses to the events. Afterwards, he talked to them all individually and made them swear on the bible. He then met with a few additional witnesses, including some of the women that had joined the group towards the end. Later that day, four people joined Rosenkrantz on his trip back to Rosenholm, where they told their story at a larger congregation.

During Rosenkrantz' investigations, he learned that Aarslev priest Hans Pedersen Brun had heard a very loud, thundering noise that same day, accompanied by a terrifying voice which called out to him in a moaning fashing "Væ! Væ! Væ!". This happened while he was walking through the nearby woods, where he also met some local boys who had heard the noise, but not the voice. Rosenkrantz later deduced that priest Brun's experience with the latter took place exactly at the time when the "wagon" was disappearing, and that it happened in the exact same stretch of woods.

Aarslev Church in recent times.

The Broader Perspective

Rosenkrantz' passsion for the case shines through in his writings, and it did not appear out of nowhere. In the years leading up to the event, he had undergone some sort of religious identity crisis, which had caused him to become - using modern terminology - a born-again Christian. Looking at Rosenkrantz' report it indeed becomes clear that he believed this event to be a sign of warning from God to non-believers.

Spiritual (re)awakening was of course not an uncommon phenomenon during those days, in part due to the Reformation and the catholic church's harsh reaction to it. In this case we can also add the factor of the century shift, which is always a period of heightened awareness. These sentiments were further fueled by the many wars, natural catastropes, rampant hedonism and the plague spreading through Europe at the time. 

It may also be significant that the 30th of April is the day of Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night in English, Valborgsaften in Danish), named after the German saint Walpurga. It would be natural to speculate that this played some part in enforcing Rosenkrantz's beliefs, but actually he doesn't mention it anywhere. Walpurgisnacht is of course also notorious for being the date of the Great Witches' Sabbath, and the early 1600's was a period of intense witch hunts, even in Denmark. 

It appears, however, that even though Walpurgisnacht was celebrated in Denmark at the time of the Aarslev incident, the day did not become associated with witches and their flight to Brocken until the mid-1600's. Furthermore, this association is not mentioned anywhere in the Danish records until 1708. In fact, we may have to look at it the other way around: perhaps events such as the Aarslev case helped fuel the superstition about the diabolical nature of this date over the years.

Walpurgisnacht is not celebrated in Denmark anymore. Instead we celebrate Skt. Hans Aften (Saint Johns Eve), on the 23d of June, where we still burn witches in effigy (see picture). Overall, it is this date that is connected with witches in Denmark these days.

Originally I started digging deeper into the Aarslev case some years ago, after having read the (then) recently published Wonders In The Sky by Chris Aubeck and Jacques Vallée. I couldn't find any mention of the Aarslev incident in the book, and I discovered to my surprise that it wasn't that well known outside of Denmark. At the same time, I was struck by how many other of the cases in it featured the same kind of details. Take for example no. 138, from the year 1395:

"In the land of Languedoc [France], a big star and five small ones were seen in the sky. These, as it seemed, attacked and sought to fight the big one, which they followed for half an hour. Also a voice was heard in the sky, shouting. Then a man was seen, who seemed to be made of copper, holding a spear in his hand, and throwing fire. He grabbed the big star and hit it; after which, nothing more was seen."

Moving further into the future, the following excerpt (from case no. 170 in WITS) is from 1523, originally found in the Chinese book Stories In A Summerhouse Of Flowers:

"One day when it was raining without stopping the teacher observed two ships sailing over the woolly clouds above the ruins, in front of his house. On these two ships that measured more than ten fathoms [over sixty feet], two tall men were busying themselves, each one twelve feet tall and wearing a red hat and multicoloured clothes. They held a pole in their hands...".

There is also an incident (case no. 227) that took place 20 years after Aarslev, in Geneva, Switzerland, where:

"Two suns were seen, one red and the other one yellow, hitting against each other... Shortly afterwards there appeared a longish cloud, the size of an arm, coming from the direction of the sun, which stopped near the sun, and from that cloud came a large number of people dressed in black, armed like men of war. Then arrived other clouds, yellow as saffron, from which emerged some 'reverberations '(?) resembling tall, wide hats, and the earth was seen all yellow and bloody. The sun became double and it all ended with a raift of blood.”

Furthermore, all of these cases have parallels to the legend of The Wild Hunt (associated with Odin/Woten in Northern Europe and King Valdemar IV in Denmark, specifically), as well as the Danish tales of “Knarkevognen” (vogn means wagon or vehicle). Both are usually accompanied by loud noises and figures in the sky. 

Peter Nicolai Arbo's Asgårdsreiein (1872), one of the most famous Norse representations of The Wild Hunt

Regarding the entities seen around the Aarslev "wagon", it should also be mentioned that there is something of a Danish folkloric tradition regarding “long spirits", sometimes wearing tall hats and colored garments. Often these are connected with loud voices too (an example of this is found during the Køge Huskors affair, which i covered in the June 2014 issue of Phenomena Magazine). There are many other examples of tall entities throughout Evald Tang Kristensens folklore compilations, more specifically in "Danske Sagn..." volume five, section 8. It is quite possible that the Aarslev incident was an inspiration for such tales, which then mutated and spread to all over the country.

Aarslev, Haarslev And Beyond

This final section is to be considered optional for the understanding of the Aarslev case. But for those interested in synchronicities and other "paranormal" events, I have found some interesting correlations and additional material that relates to the incident. 

In a compilation of Danish folklore tales, Sagnenes Danmark by Gorm Benzon, I found an account that is evidently more than just a local legend. It was originally documented in the journals of Bishop Jacob Madsen, during his visits to different parishes around Denmark during the years 1587-1606. In 1601, a priest in the town of Haarslev on Fyn (Funen) handed Bishop Madsen an account of an angelic visitation from the previous year:

Between the 16th and 17th of April, 1600, a woman had heard a voice similar to that of a crying child repeat a strange sentence 3 times in old Danish: "O Wæ Och Voch, O Wæ Och Voch, O Wæ Och Woch Offuer All Wærdenn!". Then on the 30th of April, she was adressed by a loud voice claiming to be an angel of god, while praying. The angel told her to be strong in her faith, and to not be afraid. God would be on her side, and it was her duty to spread His true word to everyone around her. If people would still not change their ways following that, He would come down on them and their "kræ" (usually this refers to animals) in a very bloody way.

Shortly afterwards, the woman had gone to the local priest and told him about the experience and the message she had received. The priest then had a long series of discussions with other religious authorities in the region, before finally taking a stance on the matter. They suspected that it could be a trick played on them by the catholic church, in an attempt to challenge the town's blossoming protestant agenda. Specifically it is mentioned that clergymen in the area were in the process of removing old catholic relics from the churches when all this happened, which made them all the more suspicious of it being a hoax. They finally ignored the story. 

In 1601, a few months after Bishop Madsen heard about the story, Denmark was struck by a plague which lasted 3 years. One of it's symptoms was that it attacked the lungs, making people cough up large amounts of blood - thus fitting neatly into the prophecy of the "angel". It is unclear what exactly the Bishop made of all this, but Benzon mentions that to this day, it is possible to find more remnants of catholicism in the churches on Fyn than in the rest of Denmark.

A page from Bishop Jacob Madsen's journal.

There are some details in the account above, that I find particularly interesting, and which the attentive reader might already have picked up on. The fact that the visitation experience took place on Walpurgis Night, the same year as the Aarslev sighting, is remarkable. Secondly, there is the matter of the crying voice that was heard in both accounts. Looking closer at them, it becomes clear that they are very similar phonetically. This is also the case of the names Haarslev and Aarslev, although I do have to mention that while looking through Bishop Madsen's visitation journals, I discovered that there is actually also a town called Aarslev on Fyn, which makes me think that it was probably a somewhat popular geographical name. Still, it is an interesting coincidence.

Rosenholm Castle, from an old postcard (Date and year unknown)
As a final element, I have included a few Rosenkrantz-related legends that I also found in Gorm Benzon's book series. 

A few years before his death in 1642, Holger Rosenkrantz was teaching a group of students at Rosenholm, which by now was a well known centre of religious studies. Discovering that he had forgotten an important book at the library, he sent one of his students to fetch it. When the student reached the library, he was very surprised to see Holger sitting in a chair and reading the very book that he had been sent to retrieve. Although he found this odd, he decided that for some reason old Holger was playing a trick on him; He had apparently taken a shortcut to the library and was now testing him. 

The student went back to class, but when he arrived empty-handed he was asked why. The student then told what he had seen, and Rosenkrantz and the rest of the class walked together to the library, where indeed they found the doppelgänger sitting and reading. When finally Rosenkrantz asked "are you or am I the real Rosenkrantz"? Rosenkrantz saw this as a sign that his death was near, which in fact it was. He died a few years later.

According to Benzon, a supposed psychic lady was sleeping at Rosenholm many years after Holger Rosenkrantz' death, when she had a vision of him and his wife Sophie Brahe (niece of Tycho Brahe). She described the details of the clothes they were buried in down the smallest details, something which would have been difficult for her to know. Curiously enough, the coffins of Holger and his wife were actually resting in a room adjacent to the one she was sleeping in at the time, due to renovations in the crypt. 

Maybe old Holger hadn't yet given up on his mission, one that began so many years earlier in a little village known as Aarslev.


  • Askholm, Ib: Livets varsler: Om Fødsel, Tilværelse Og Skæbne. Askholm (1999)
  • Benzon, Gorm: Sagnenes Danmark (1985)
  • Holbek, Bengt & Piø, Iørn: Fabeldyr og Sagnfolk. Politikens Forlag, 2. Ed. (1979)
  • Kristensen. Evald Tang: Danske Sagn Som De Har Lydt I Folkemunde (Vol. 2 & 5)
  • Kæseler, Arnold: Heksetro og Hekse på Mors. Fortiden (1998)
  • Madsen, Jacob: Biskop Jacob Madsens visitatsbog 1588-1604. Udgiverselskabet for Historisk Samfund for Fyns Stift (1995)
  • Michaelsen, Jørgen: Synet i Årslev Enge in Lokalhistorisk Forening for Sønderhald Kommune (2000)
  • Rosenkrantz, Holger: Et mærkeligt Syn i Aarslev Enge den 30te April 1600 in Historisk Årbog Fra Randers Amt (1909)
  • Rosenkrantz, Palle (ed.): Rosenholm og Rosenkrantzerne: En Monografi. Koppel (1924)
  • Rosenkrantz, Palle: Rosenholm I Skiftende Tider. Jyllands-Posten, August 17th (1941)
  • Thomas, Lars: Det Mystiske Danmark. Aschehoug (2005)
  • Vallée, Jacques & Aubeck, Chris: Wonders In The Sky. Tarcher (2010)

- Extra special thanks to Chris Aubeck and Yannis Deliyannis, and other members of the Magonia Exchange group for their valuable input, and for expanding my knowledge of these kinds of cases over the last couple of years.


  1. Fascinating stuff. The accounts of warring in the sky are extremely similar to the India vedic texts. Those accounts in the vedas talk a lot about thunderbolts being carried or hurled, reminding me of the "spears" referred to here. The humanoid creatures were apparently visible to witnesses as well....and their "wagons, crafts, or ships" were known as vimanas. Thank you for shedding light on our human history, ~Namaste

    1. Thank you, and yes, I agree. Theres so many universal correlations between these stories, when you start looking into it.