April 18, 2019

Halloween in Iceland

by Águsta Björg Þorsteinsdóttir
Halloween in Iceland

We do not have bats. We do not have mummies. We do not have werewolves. And when you think of it, we do not even have regular wolves! But despite that most traditional ‘scary ingredients’ being missing, and the fact that this Americanized Halloween is not officially celebrated in Iceland, Icelanders are changing the local traditions and trying to make Halloween their own.

It’s just simply too much fun to miss out on. So whether it’s through cartoons, movies or video games, Icelandic children are being lured by the charm of dressing up as a scary figures, and let’s face it… the sweets that go along with it. And as so often happens, the parents and the marketplace are dancing to the children’s tune so now you can find pumpkins and creepy decorations in most grocery stores in Iceland come late October, which was not so 4-5 years ago! But it’s not just the young people that are fascinated by this American tradition. The older ones are starting to dress up as well with Halloween parties being all the rage, often with an Icelandic twist, so they are called Hallóvín, word play literally meaning “Hello wine”!

So now you know all about Halloween in Iceland. But would you like to get really scared? I know I’ve already told you about our lack of Halloween ingredients, but what we’re lacking in mummies, we make up with our rich folklore. When mixed with the dark, dark months of winter it’s easy to let your imagination get the best of you! Take a look at these 5 great Icelandic horror stories and try not to let them mess with your head!

  1. Djákninn á Myrká (The Deacon of Dark River) Probably the most famous ghost folktale in Iceland, the story tells of a deacon who lived on a farm called Myrká. He was courting a girl, Guðrún, who lived on the farm Bægisá located across from the river Hörgá. Shortly before Christmas the deacon rode on his horse Faxi to Bægisá to invite Guðrún to a Christmas feast at Myrká, promising to arrive back on Christmas Eve and accompany her. As he rode back home to Myrká the bridge over the river collapsed, causing him to fall off his horse, and suffer a severe head injury. His body was found the next day and he was buried a week before Christmas. On Christmas Eve Guðrún was getting ready for the feast, as no word of the deacon’s death had reached Bægisá. She heard knocking on the door and another woman answered, but saw no one. Guðrún, thinking he must be playing a game, rushed out only giving herself time to put on one sleeve of her coat, holding on to the other. Outside she sees the horse Faxi and a man she assumes is the deacon. Guðrún gets up on the horse behind the deacon, and they ride away in the moonlight. There is no mention of any conversation between the two, but once the had ridden a while, the horse stumbles causing the deacon’s hat to tilt up, revealing his bare and battered skull in the moonlight. The Deacon speaks: “The moon fades, death rides. Don’t you see a white spot on the back of my head, Garún , Garún?“  (He was not able do say her name correctly, since Guð- means God, and ghosts cannot mention his name.) She replied, “I see, as is“. After that, they did not speak a word until they came to the deacon’s farm Myrká. When they got off the horse, the deacon spoke again. “Wait here Garún, Garún. While I move Faxi, Faxi (the deacon’s horse) over the fence, fence”. (In Icelandic folklore, ghosts often speak in verse, repeating the last word of each line.) When Guðrún noticed an open grave in the graveyard, she felt the deacon trying to pull her into it. By luck, she was only wearing one sleeve of her coat, and when the deacon pulled on her empty sleeve, she was able to break free, run away, toll the church bells and alert the people at Myrká. The deacon then plunged back into his open grave, with her coat sleeve in his hand, and the grave filled up. It is said that the deacon haunted Guðrún from then on and did not stop until an exorcist was summoned to put his ghost to rest. Guðrún was never the same. This tale has inspired many paintings, poems, songs and more.
  1. Móri Icelandic male ghosts are usually called mórar, or móri in singular. The name is derived from the clothes they wear, a brownish sweater and a hat or farmers hood – the type of clothing poor people wore in Iceland centuries ago. Írafells-Móri is a story that is said to have taken place in the beginning of the 1800’s. It tells of a man called Kort, who won the heart of a beautiful woman called Ingibjörg. The two soon got married and made their home at Möðruvellir farm. Ingibjörg had many other suitors who became resentful and in a jealous reprisal decided to get a sorcerer to send the newlyweds an evil spirit to corrupt their happiness. The sorcerer chose a young boy, who was said to have died of exposure, and woke him up as he was still warm or not fully dead. He was to follow the couple and their family for nine generations and do them much harm. This is said to have been very much the case, as he both killed their animals and destroyed their food. Because Móri was reawakened only half-dead he still needed to be fed and to sleep, so there always needed to be an extra plate laid out for him at the table and a place to rest in the house,or else he would take his revenge. One late evening a young boy came to Möðruvellir and asked to stay for a night. He was offered to either sleep on the floor or, if he choose to do so, in Móri’s bed. He chose the bed. That night the boy was not able to sleep as Móri would not let him be. A bad storm rattled the country that following day and the poor boy could not continue on with his journey and so had to stay another night. Some of the household members came up with the idea to fasten knives around the bed so that their sharp points lined with the edge of the bed. That night the boy slept the whole night through, it is likely that Móri did not dare to come close to the sharp knife blades. Móri never did any person any physical harm, but remained a menace to the family until the curse was finally lifted.
  1. Móðir mín í kví, kví (Mother mine in pen, pen) Another very famous story, and surely the saddest one, is Móðir mín í kví, kví. A young housemaid on a farm became pregnant. After giving birth, she set the child out to die of exposure (not an uncommon act in this country, until the act became harshly punishable by law). Soon after she was invited to a feast, common at the time, called Vikivaki. However, she felt she had no clothes to wear to such a festival and so bitterly decided to stay at home. That evening she, along with another milkmaid, went milking the ewes in the pen. She was complaining to the other woman about not having clothes to attend the feast. Suddenly, from below the floor, they heard the following song:

    Mother mine in pen, pen You needn’t be so sad, sad, I will give you my castoff rags, So you can dance, And dance.

    The young women thought she recognized the voice of her child, that she had let die of exposure.  She was so startled that she lost her wits and remained demented the rest of her life. Do you dare to listen to the child singing?

  1. The Hvítárnes Hut Many stories have been told about haunted mountain huts in Iceland. You can just imagine how horrifying it can get in the harsh wastelands in the Icelandic highlands. One of these huts is the Hvítárnes hut, east of Langjökull glacier, which is said to have been haunted for a very long time. In the summer of 1929 a few mountain men were getting ready for sleep. One of them asks not to be awakened, even though if he sleeps unsoundly. That night his company was awakened by his unrest and decided, against his wishes, to wake him up. He was very displeased by this because he had seen a woman that he believed had only one arm and wanted to see more of her. It is not known whether or not he ever saw her again. Around the mid-20th century a group of herdsmen stayed in the hut. Suddenly their dogs started to act uneasy and bark. They then heard a big commotion as if a large herd of horses was running around the hut. They went out to see what was going on, but everything went silent as if nothing had happened. Soon after, another group stayed at the hut. They started talking about how they had heard that it was haunted. One of the men didn’t think much of it and made fun of those who did. As he then went to go up the stairs to the sleeping loft he came flying back down, like someone had thrown him. Luckily he only suffered minor injuries. People have also talked about hearing voices, seeing cars but no tire marks and of someone cooking in the kitchen! Many others have reported to have seen a one-handed woman around the hut. They say that she is a resident of an old farm ruin close to the hut, and that she had fallen in love with a local boy and gotten pregnant. The boy did not share her feelings and as he heard of the pregnancy, drowned her in the Hvítá River. Would you be able to fall asleep soundly?
  1. Höfði Haunted houses are a classic motive in the horror story genre and we have a good one for you! Höfði house was built in 1909, originally designated for the French Consulate but today it is used for official city functions. It is perhaps best known as the location of the 1986 Reykjavík summit meeting of Ronald Reagan, president of the USA and Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR, a step towards the end of the Cold War. For most its unofficial resident is however the most intriguing. The stories vary, some talk of an old custodian of the house, who walks around the grounds with a lantern in his hand, unhappy with the usage of the house. Another legend tells that the house is built on a Viking burial site, which might explain the frequent raids on the liquor cabinet. The most consistent story though, is that of the White Lady. Some say her name is unknown, but former resident Einar Benediktsson, beloved poet and lawyer, believed it to be the ghost of a young woman named Sólborg Jónsdóttir, who had poisoned herself following his judgment in a notorious court case. Sólborg followed Einar to the house and was so persistent in her haunting that he finally was forced to sell it and move away, but Sólborg stayed. Other inhabitants have not been able to live in the house for long either, they have complained about bumps in the night and a mysterious white cloak that immediately reappears after it is removed from an upstairs wardrobe. One resident blamed the cloak for his depression and insisted that if you wore the cloak you would die instantly!

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