Books Read in 2011

Tessa's books-read-2011 book montage

Clockwork Angel
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Iceland Reports: Ghosts!

That's right, ghosts.

Iceland is a dark, cold piece of rock, surrounded by deep, freezing ocean. There is little daylight in the winter. On the darkest days in December, there are max 3 hours of not-so-bright daylight. This is countered in the summer where a month or so is daylight 24 hours. But the summers are short, and the winters are long.

Turf house

It was only last century when the last person stopped living in "turf" houses. Most stopped living in them around 1900, though. As you can see from the picture, there are not many windows. In the darkest, coldest nights, people would get together and tell stories, since there wasn't much else to do. Many of those stories were ghost stories. People genuinely believed in ghosts, and Icelandic folklore is packed with such stories.

Icelandic Legends : Collected by Jón Arnason

My favourite is "Djákninn á Myrká" or "The Deacon from Dark-River." The deacon was courting a young woman from another farm. Her name was Gudrun. He had invited her to a Christmas party and was on his way to pick her up when a bridge broke under him and his horse "Faxi". The night after, a man came riding on his horse to pick Gudrun up. Gudrun couldn't see his face because the moon was obscured by clouds. They rode silently until they reached a river. The deacon spoke:

"The moon travels, death rides. Don't you see a white spot on the back of my head, Garun, Garun?" [he couldn't say her name properly, because "Gud" means "God", and ghosts couldn't say "God"]

Gudrun lifted his hat and saw his skull glinting in the brief light from the moon. When they reached Dark-River (Myrka), they dismounted and the deacon said:

"Wait here, Garun, Garun, while I move Faxi, Faxi, into the graveyard, graveyard."

When the deacon took his horse into the cemetery, Gurdun got scared as she watched him open a grave. She ran to ring the church bells, but at the same time, the deacon grabbed her other hand. Before they had left Gudrun's home, she'd only had time to put her coat on one arm, and so the last thing Gudrun saw of the deacon was when he fell into the grave with her coat, and dirt poured over him from all sides.

That wasn't the end, though. The deacon haunted Gudrun for weeks, and she couldn't be left by herself. Her parents hired a sorcerer (yup! A whole bunch of those magic folks here too!). He hid until the deacon came for Gudrun. When the deacon stood over her, the sorcerer jumped forward and exercised him back into the ground. He rolled a big rock over him and told him to rest there forever. It is said that the deacon still rests under that rock.

I love this story for three reasons: It used to scare the hell out of me as a kid; Margit Sandemo, a Norse author, used it in one of her 43 series Isfolket books (Icepeople), and those are my favourite series of all time; and there's a very cool Icelandic song, with very cool lyrics about that ghost story.

Image borrowed from:

There are loads of other stories as well. Places were far between, landscape raw, and weather bad. There were very few roads, and those that were were often narrow paths that got lost in the snow. Travelers would get lost on their way and die. They'd haunt the living that crossed their path. Sorcerers (wizards? It's hard to call them wizards, because I keep picturing guys with pointy hats in starry robes - Discworld, anyone?) conjured them up in cemeteries to do their bidding and such.

The fun thing is that Icelanders generally still believe in ghosts. The tales are so imprinted in our society, that I've only met one Icelander in my entire lifetime who truly doesn't believe in ghosts (he's very scientific-minded). You'll hear some people say that they don't believe, but then they dive into discussions about that one time they thought they heard something, or how their brother went berserk once because he thought he saw a ghost, or how their grandmother can see ghosts all the time. Those people are also likely to have gone to a psychic medium.

Image borrowed from:

I believe in ghosts. If I didn't, I'd be calling my grandmother a liar. She's been able to see ghosts ever since she was a child. She used to play with one on the farm she grew up in. I've probably said this before in my blog, but it's amazing when she tells me about these sightings. She walks into a church with only a few people inside. She sits down and looks back to see that the church is packed with people. She also wants her body to be cremated after she dies, because she sees so many ghosts lingering by their graves after they've been buried, but when she goes to the "cremated sites" she doesn't see any ghosts or feel any sort of presence. Oh, and she doesn't really call them "ghosts", more like "dead people." She only talks about this to her family, she's not one of those people who go out and make money out of it.

Do you believe in ghosts?


  1. Okay, now I have the Ghost Busters theme song in my head. *laughs*

    I do believe in ghosts, though. Sometimes I feel the energy of places that are haunted (even before I find out that they are haunted), but I can't say I've seen a ghost in person. I still believe in them, and I think it is awesome Iceland has such a strong tradition of ghosts and ghost stories. I love things like that!

  2. Gha! Thanks for putting that Ghost Busters song in my head!

    I also love all things supernatural - I intend to continue with these kinds of entries over the next few weeks (Icelandic folklore).

  3. You're welcome! *laughs*

    And, that's awesome! I love folklore from other countries.

  4. Part of the fun my family had living in Iceland was pretending that things like elves and such were real. With that type of countryside it wasn't hard.

  5. Hehe, I used to go outside my town when I was a teen (I lived close to the Blue Lagoon) in the moss-covered lava field and see all sorts of shapes in the rocks. Icelandic landscape is so unique and so raw that it fires up your imagination.

  6. I love folklore!
    I lived in Germany for three years, and the apartment I was in was not only old, but nestled into a forest. I've heard sad WWII stories about that forest, so I assumed the residents and plenty of ghost stories. None. At least not the German residents I talked to. I thought that was kind of strange. Such an old country with no ghost stories?

  7. Germans are a bit touchy when it comes to the WWII, so I understand that they try to avoid stories related to that at all cost. The whole thing was a huge, black ink spot in their history.

    I think that most European countries have ghost stories, and Germany probably does in some places. But I don't know...they had street lamps and roads way before we did. Maybe they didn't have to rely on storytelling as much as we did, because maybe there were more things to do recreational-vise in Germany than in Iceland.

  8. I definitely believe in ghosts. In fact, I frequently blog about it.

    I just saw that you signed up for the writer's platform building crusade over at Rach Writes. I signed up as well, so I thought I'd stop by and say hello.

  9. Neat! Very nice to meet you, Quinn.

  10. My parents bought an old Catholic Church and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast (and home). But, after 7 years, not one ghost. We think maybe the old Catholics were just too proper to come back and haunt it (but if they did, it could bring in business).

  11. Haha, yeah, maybe they were too Catholic to return in spirit. I know that many would jump at the opportunity to sleep in a haunted house, but I would never in a million years do it. I know I probably wouldn't actually see one, but with my overactive imagination, I'd be checking every corner before going to bed and half expecting to see a face next to me on my pillow *shudders*

  12. Good to know, Erica...since I might travel to stay in the B and B! I haven't decided if I believe in ghosts yet or not. But I would probably envision one regardless if someone told me the place I was staying in was haunted. (By the way, Catholic *raises hand* right here! :0)) Thanks for sharing this, Tessa. Iceland sounds beautiful. Online writing forums and blogs are such fun ways to learn about the world and meet people I otherwise would not. (You could host a Halloween Blog Fest where everyone shares a ghost story from their hometown, state, country, etc!)

  13. That's a brilliant idea! Why don't I come up with ideas like that?

  14. I'm a scientist, so technically, I don't. Except that I kind of do. :) I haven't personally experienced them, but I have friends who have, and my mom and sister are pretty sure they heard someone walking in the hall of their old house many years ago.

    Nice to meet you, fellow Crusader. :)

  15. Hi Alison and nice to meet you :)

    I know what you mean about not really believing, but still kind of do. I'm posting a blog about elves soon ;) I know, you all probably think I'm crazy by saying that, but the post will explain why (has to do with roots as well).

  16. There are many things that we do not understand about existence beyond our own dimension. The science of Physics has been wrestling with this for years. Do I believe? Yes, until totally disproved by scientific method there exists all possibilities.

  17. That is very cool info about Iceland. I do like to read about Norse mythology, and others as well. They feel fresh to me : )

  18. Paula: I agree. As long as nothing is proven 100% I'm going to allow myself to believe in things that people don't generally see.

    Bekah: The Norse mythology is very crude and rough. I like that, and it reflects the Icelandic/Scandinavian landscape and way of life way back then (except for Denmark - how come Denmark gets to be so green, flat, without a single mountain or a waterfall?). Did you know that the people used to throw animal blood on their walls in honor of the gods? I just learned this last week. Of course, now when I think about vikings, I can't get the image of Eric Northman out of my head *drooooool*