Icelandic Folk Legends: Tales of apparitions, outlaws and things unseen, page 5
When he arrived at the boulder again it was open. Jón went in and found an ailing man lying on a bed of sheepskin. This was the same man who had appeared before him. He greeted Jón warmly and said, “You have done well to come. Soon my twelve-year stay here shall be over. I was sentenced to death for committing incest and fled here. I knew stone masonry; I took tools with me and carved out this stone, as well as other smaller ones in the area for storage. This one here has proven himself a most loyal ally,” he added, pointing to a large, black dog that lay at his feet with its gaze fixed on its master. “This I ask of you, that you keep me company in my remaining hours,” said the outlaw.
“Then I will run home and inform of my absence,” answered Jón. The outlaw agreed.
Jón ran home and asked for leave to take a long journey. He was granted his request. When he returned to the boulder its occupant was still alive. He told Jón, “All my earthly belongings I bequeath to you, including this chest of money at my feet and the black dog, who shall prove a most valuable and devoted friend. I also ask that you bury me here, next to the boulder.”
Jón promised to do so, and thanked the outlaw for the gifts. He then remained with him until he died. Jón prepared the body for burial and buried it next to the boulder as the outlaw had requested. After securing the black dog’s affections he returned home and related all to Helga. He told her that they were now exceedingly wealthy, adding, “And let us now move to the boulder.” They ran off secretly to the boulder and remained there until Helga’s parents died; after that they returned to the farm and lived there until they were both very old. Thus ends this story.
In Brúaröræfi, in the Icelandic outback, is a valley named Kiðuvalladalur with a mountain rising high above it. That might be the location described in this tale.
The Hidden Woman’s Curse
In the middle of the last century there lived a man named Jón Árnason; he was a bachelor and resided with his mother and father in Bárðardalur valley, north Iceland. Jón is reputed to have been a keenly observant and trustworthy man.
Once Jón went to transport sulphur along with several other men from the sulphur mines south of Lake Mývatn, in the north. The nearest resting place to the mines was Heilagsdalur valley and those travelling back from the mines usually took a break from their journey there.
Nothing of consequence is known to have happened to the men on their journey back from the mines, that is until they reached Heilagsdalur valley. There they unsaddled their horses and set up camp for the night.
That same night Jón dreamt that a woman of strong build and dressed in blue appeared before him. She asked Jón to rise and accompany her, which he did. They walked for a distance, until Jón began to have grave doubts about what he was doing and decided that it would be safer to return to the camp. The woman pleaded with him to go with her and assured him that no harm would befall him; on the contrary, he would have much good fortune if he did. Yet Jón remained adamant and they parted ways.
In the morning Jón’s companions woke to find him missing and began searching for him. After a time they saw him running towards them. They asked him where he had been but Jón gave no answer. The group then decamped and set off for home.
Two or three nights after arriving there, Jón dreamed that the same woman appeared before him as when he slept in Heilagsdalur valley. She was furiously angry and said something to this effect: “You did an ill deed, Jón, by not coming with me when I asked you the last time. I want you to know that my request was without guile and sprang from a most dire need. My daughter was in the throes of giving birth and could only do so with the assistance of a mortal being. Had you delivered me and her from that awful predicament you would indeed have become a man of great fortune; instead she has died a horrible death. From now on your life shall be filled with adversity and misfortune, though even that is not punishment enough for you. I cannot rest without giving you scars to remember me by.”
She then walked over to Jón, put one hand to his throat and tightened her grip like a vice, so that he woke with a start. As he opened his eyes, he saw the woman vanish.
Jón soon experienced such intense pain and swelling of the throat that it was close to unbearable. Nothing could alleviate his suffering; rather it increased in severity until those around him began to fear that this strange and sudden affliction would end his life. What the cause of it was he told no one.
On the third night of his illness Jón dreamed that another woman dressed in blue appeared before him, this one somewhat more kindly. She said: “My sister does you an injustice, for you could not have known her intent when she asked you to accompany her; thus you suffer unfairly. I want to help you, as best I can. Tomorrow, if you are well enough, take your horse and ride to Krosshlíð slope, to the north of Ljósavatnsskarð mountain pass. An abundance of herbs and grasses grow there. When you are about halfway up you will come to a brook; follow it until you have reached the center of the slope. There, in a grassy hollow, grow some herbs that you must take and lay on your throat. You shall find them by my direction.”
Having thus spoken, the woman disappeared. When Jón woke up he felt worse than ever; yet he managed to mount his horse and ride to Krosshlíð slope. There he found the herbs, as the woman in blue had instructed, and as soon as he laid them on his throat his pain disappeared. Within a few days Jón had recovered completely and he lived on to become an old man. It is said, however, that he came up against a great deal of adversity in his life and that he did not tell anyone the story of the hidden women until much later in his life.
Satan Takes a Wife
There once were a mother and daughter who lived together. They were women of substantial wealth and the younger one was considered an excellent prospect for marriage. She had a number of suitors, none of which she accepted. Consequently people began to believe that she intended to live a chaste life and to serve God, for she was extremely God-fearing. This was something that Satan could not tolerate. He disguised himself as a young man, courted the girl, and eventually proposed marriage. His intention, of course, was to gradually win power over her. Satan managed to make himself appear so honest and sincere that the girl accepted his proposal, the contract was drawn up and they were married. But on their wedding night, when he was about to lie down with her, he found her so pure and untainted that he could not bear to be near her. He came up with the excuse that he must have a bath prepared for him if he were to get any rest at all. Thus a bath was prepared, in which Satan proceeded to sit the entire night.
The following day he wandered outside, thinking only of how to extract himself from this hapless situation. By chance he met a man walking down the road, with whom he made a deal to replace him as the girl’s husband. He then cast the guise he had assumed over the man. In exchange, the man promised to let Satan have his oldest child when it reached the age of seven; he would bring the child to the place where they were now standing and leave it there. The man then went to the girl, who assumed him to be her husband and received him happily. Their relationship flourished and she bore one son, whom they both loved very much.
Time passed, and when the boy was six years old his father took to brooding for long periods of time. His wife pressed him as to the reason for his melancholy and eventually he told her the entire story. Her response was that she had indeed been too long deceived; nonetheless she proposed a solution.
On the boy’s seventh birthday, his father took him to the place where he and Satan had last parted, drew a circle around it and consecrated the place with holy song. He then remained with his son until the evening. Before leaving he told him that, no matter what he would see that night, he must not step out of the circle unless it was at the bidding of someone who extended a hand into it in Jesus’ name. When the boy’s father had gone, various friends and acquaintances began to appear who tried to entice him out of the circle with delicacies and sweets. Next, his parents appeared and alternately asked kindly or demanded angrily that the boy co
The Church Builder
There once lived a man at the farm Reynir, in Mýrdalur valley, south Iceland. He was to raise a church there, but lacked wood for its construction. The haymaking season was upon him and there were no carpenters to help him with the building, thus he began to fear that the church would not be constructed before the onset of winter.
One day he was wandering about in his fields with a heavy heart when a man approached and offered to build the church for him. In exchange the farmer was to guess his name before the construction was completed; if the farmer failed to do so then he was to give the man his only son, who at that time was five years old. The farmer agreed to this.
The stranger then began working, focusing on few things outside of his work and speaking very little. As a result the construction of the church moved along quickly and the farmer gradually realized that if this pace were to continue it would be fully built by the end of the haymaking season. At this he became increasingly despondent but felt that he could in no way alter the course of events.
One day in autumn, when construction of the church was nearly completed, the farmer wandered out beyond the edge of his hayfield. He came to a knoll and lay down. Suddenly, from within the knoll, he heard chanting, as though a mother were singing to her child. This is what he heard:
Finnur, your father, will not make you wait
Much longer for your little playmate.
This was sung over and over again. The farmer was greatly relieved when he heard this; he walked homewards directly and went straight to the church. Inside, the stranger had just finished fitting the last board for the altar and was about to fasten it. The farmer said, “It looks as though you shall soon be finished, Finnur, my friend.” When the stranger heard this he received such a jolt that he dropped the board and vanished. He has not been seen since.
There once was a parson who was both wealthy and kind. He was newly married when this story took place, to a young and beautiful woman whom he loved very much. She was considered one of the most exceptional women in the region at that time. Yet there was one flaw in her behavior that upset the parson greatly: every Christmas Eve she would disappear without informing anyone where she went. The parson entreated her to tell him, but she always replied that it was none of his business. This was the only thing that cast a shadow on their otherwise harmonious marriage.
Once, the parson happened to take in a young drifter. The youth was small and feeble-minded, yet it was whispered that he knew a great deal more than most people. Time passed and Christmas approached. On Christmas Eve the youth was in the stable, tending the parson’s horses. Suddenly the parson’s wife came in and began conversing with him on a variety of subjects. Then, without warning, she took a bridle from beneath her apron and put it on him. This bridle was endowed with such magical powers that the youth passively allowed the parson’s wife to mount him, after which he bolted out of the stable and off, like a bird taking flight. He flew across mountains and valleys, rocks and cliffs, crossing anything they encountered along the way.
After some time they arrived at a small house. The parson’s wife dismounted and tied the youth to a peg that was sticking out of the side of the house. Then she went around the front and knocked at the door. A man answered and greeted her with delight before leading her inside. As soon as they had gone in the youth freed himself and also managed to remove the bridle, which he kept with him. He then crept onto the roof of the house and through an opening was able to observe what was happening inside. He saw twelve women sitting around a table; the man who had come to the door was number thirteen. The youth recognized the parson’s wife among them. These women bore the utmost respect for the man. They were recounting to him various tales of their trickery and cunning and the parson’s wife boasted that she had come riding on the back of a living man. The master of the house clearly considered this a tremendous feat and declared reverently that riding a living man was a hag ride of the highest order. He added that her powers of witchcraft must be exceptional, “For I have never known anyone to achieve that, except myself.” The rest of the women grew very excited and entreated him to teach them this particular craft. The man then placed a book on the table; it had grey pages and was written in glowing embers, or with letters that were the color of glowing embers. The letters radiated light throughout the entire house, this being the only source of light there was. The master of the house then began teaching the women how to use the book, explaining to them the nature of its contents. Meanwhile the youth outside listened carefully, hanging onto every word.
Morning approached and the women began saying that it would soon be time to leave; thus the lesson was brought to an end. Then each woman took out a glass, which they handed to the master of the house. The youth could see that the glasses contained a red liquid, and that the man drank this liquid before handing the glasses back to the women. Each then cordially took their leave of him and left the house. The youth noticed that each of the women had her own bridle and each rode some object: one had the leg bone of a horse, another a jaw, a third a shoulder blade, and so on. They mounted their steeds and rode off. The parson’s wife, however, could not find her mount anywhere. In a mad fury she raged around the house and just when she was least expecting it the youth hopped down from the roof and immediately bridled her. He then mounted her and set off for home. He had learned enough that night to steer the parson’s wife in the right direction, and they journeyed without incident until they were back in the stable from which they had departed. There the youth dismounted, fastening the parson’s wife so that she remained inside the stable. He then went into the house and recounted his journey to the farm people, telling them where he had been, what he had seen and where the parson’s wife was now. Naturally all were very shaken, particularly the parson. Then the parson’s wife was brought in and the truth was demanded from her. In the end she confessed that she and eleven other parsons’ wives had been enrolled in the so-called Black School, that Lucifer himself had been instructing them in witchcraft, and that a mere one year remained of their study. She also said that Lucifer had demanded to be given their menstrual blood as payment; this had been the red liquid that the youth had seen in the glasses. Having thus confessed, the parson’s wife was duly punished for her wicked ways.
Fostered by a Hidden Woman
There once was a small child, scarcely two years of age, that had just learned to speak. One day this child believed it saw its mother walk behind a knoll in the hay field. It followed her until the knoll had blocked the farmhouse from view; then the woman walked into the knoll and the child followed. The child, who was a girl, was brought up by the hidden woman until she was thirteen. The hidden woman, who was elderly, was very kind to the girl and taught her many things, both intellectual and practical. She learned all the Psalms and songs that were commonly known in Iceland at the time, and she also learned others, which had a spiritual quality but which nevertheless seemed foreign and strange. The girl never saw anyone other than her foster mother and she was very content, though she had a hazy remembrance of having lived somewhere else at one time.
Eventually the hidden woman contracted an illness that led to her death. Before she died she thanked the girl for her loyalty and devotion and said that it would now be best for her to return to her parents’ care. She told her that they would remember her and that she would marry, be prosperous and well liked by all who knew her. The hidden woman then gave the
The girl became a woman of extraordinary good fortune. She married a kind and wealthy man, their marriage lasted many years and they had a number of children, all of whom became well educated. One autumn day, when she was an old woman, she went to church with her husband to take the sacrament. She wore the headdress that the hidden woman had given her. That evening, after returning from church, she removed the headdress and was preparing to lock it away when she noticed that the veil was torn. She then called her husband and children to her and told them this story, offered them her wisdom and advice, and then retired. She fell asleep and never woke up again.