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The Ghost and the Farmer's Daughter

"The Deacon of Dark River" from an 1864 publication

Iceland’s history is filled with folklore stories of trolls and hidden people, but also legends of magic, ghosts, and mysterious happenings. Once such story comes from North Iceland, although its exact origin and author are unknown. In this story, a ghost speaks to a girl named Guðrún, but calls her Garún. As the legend goes, it is because “Guð” is the Icelandic word for God and ghosts cannot speak the word for God or angel. Instead of “Guðrún”, the ghost can only say “Garún”. In Icelandic folklore, ghosts often speak in verse, repeating the last word of each line, so repetition is a good indicator you’re in the company of a ghost. In case you ever run into one....


The story of the Deacon and Guðrún:


There once was a deacon who lived on a farm called Myrká. He was sweet on a young girl named Guðrún, who lived across the river Hörgá, on a farm called Bægisá. Just before Christmas one year, the deacon was traveling home to Myrká, returning from a visit with Guðrún. A sudden storm blew in and the deacon was caught in terrible weather. As his horse Faxi attempted to cross the river Hörgá, the deacon fell, hitting his head and drowning.


The next day, the deacon’s body was found by a farmer and buried. News traveled slowly and Guðrún didn’t find out about his death. The next week, on Christmas Eve, she waited for him to arrive at Hörgá, to celebrate the holiday together. When he arrived, she rushed outside to see him. He simply held out his hand, and although she only had one sleeve of her coat on, she grasped his hand and he pulled her up. His face was hidden by a hat and scarf and he didn’t greet her, but took off toward the river Hörgá.


When they reached the river, Faxi tripped and the deacon’s hat fell forward. Guðrún saw the gash on his head by the light of the moon.

The deacon said, “The moon fades, death rides. Don't you see a white spot on the back of my head, Garún , Garún?"


She replied, “I see, what is.”


Crossing the river, they rode in silence until they reached Myrká. When they dismounted, the deacon spoke again.

“Wait here Garún, Garún. While I move Faxi, Faxi over the fence, fence.”


As Guðrún waited, she felt herself being pulled toward the graveyard. As she drew closer, she saw an open grave and felt the deacon trying to pull her into it. Since they had begun their journey so quickly, she had never pulled her coat on fully and was still wearing only one sleeve.


Fortunately, when the deacon pulled her, he had grasped her by the empty sleeve. She was able to free herself and run away. She watched the deacon disappear into the grave and the ground filled in, realizing that the deacon was dead and she'd encountered his ghost.


For weeks, Guðrún was haunted by the deacon's ghost. When the disturbance caused others at Bægisá to lose sleep, an exorcist was summoned to put the deacon's ghost to rest. It must have worked, because nothing more is written about Guðrún.


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