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The Deacon of Myrká on Christmas Eve

This ghost story or folktale about The Deacon of Myrká is well known though we do not know the original author. This story takes place in the Eyjafjörður region of Iceland.

So it happened in days of old there lived a deacon from the church at Myrká. He loved a serving maid named Guðrún who lived on a farm on the opposite side of the valley. The great Hörgá River separated the betrothed couple.

The deacon had a horse named Faxi who had a long gray mane. Shortly before Christmas, the deacon rode Faxi across the frozen river to the farm where Guðrún lived. He wanted to ask her to accompany him to the Christmas festivities at Myrká and promised to return for her on Christmas Eve.

Now, before his journey across the river, there has been a deep freeze and heavy snowstorm. The river was covered in ice and the deacon crossed it without incident. But on his return journey, the ice had thawed a bit and was beginning to break up. When the deacon reach the river, he realized that the floating ice and floodwaters would keep him from crossing. He traveled up the banks of the river until he came to an ice bridge. He urged Faxi onto the ice. When they reached the middle of the river, the ice broke beneath the weight of the deacon and the horse, and they plunged into the icy waters.

The next morning, a farmer noticed the deacon's horse grazing in his field, saddle and bridle still on him. Wondering what had happened to the rider, the farmer combed the riverbanks. Eventually, they found the deacon's body at a place called Þúfnavellir Point. The floating ice had torn the flesh off the back of the deacon's head and his bare white skull was clearly visible. The farmer brought the body back to Myrká and it was buried during the week before Christmas.

The constantly changing weather kept news from traveling across the river and Guðrún never received word of her beloved‘s death. On Christmas Eve, Guðrún dressed in her best clothes and eagerly awaited the deacon's arrival.

Later that evening there was a knock on the door. A young woman who was with Guðrún answered it but found no one there. Thinking that darkness was the cause, she said, “Wait, and I will bring a light.“

When she closed the door, the visitor knocked again. Thinking it must be the deacon, Guðrún hurried across the room. Slipping one arm into the sleeve of her riding cloak and flinging the rest over her shoulders, she said, “Somebody is playing a trick on us. I will go outside and see for myself. “

When she opened the door, Guðrún saw Faxi and the man she thought was the deacon. Without a word, the man lifted Guðrún onto his horse and climbed up in front of her. Neither spoke as they rode toward the river. When they reached the bank, Guðrún saw that ice covered all the water except a rapid black stream flowing down the middle. Faxi walked across the ice and jumped over the quickly flowing current. As the horse leaped into the air the man’s hat fell forward onto his face.

The moon came out from behind a cloud and Guðrún saw his white skull. The man said,

The moon is gliding; Death is riding; See the white place on the back of my head, Gah-roon, Gah-roon?

Guðrún was in shock and could not speak. So in silence, they rode to Myrká. They dismounted when they reached the covered gate beside the church cemetery and the man said:

Wait for me here

Gah-roon, Gah-roon,

While I take my Faxi, Faxi Beyond the hedge to the field.

And he led the horse away.

(He pronounces her name, 'Garún' because the name, 'Guðrún' begins with Guð which is the Icelandic word for God and ghosts cannot say the word, 'God.')

Guðrún stood frozen in horror until she spied an open grave just beyond the gate. Realizing that the man was a ghost, she turned and ran toward the church. The ghost seized Guðrún from behind, grasping the edge of her cloak so fiercely that it tore from her at the seam of the sleeve. When Guðrún reached the safety of the church, she turned and saw the ghost leap headlong into the open grave, her cloak clutched to his side. Heaps of earth from both sides of the grave fell in over him and refilled the hole.

Too terrified to go anywhere alone, Guðrún grabbed the church bell rope and pulled on it until she had roused all the farm folk in Myrká. She told them her story and they confirmed that indeed the deacon was dead. She must have been traveling with his ghost.

Later that night the deacon rose again from his grave and began searching for Guðrún. He found her in her bed. Since none of the villagers were able to sleep that night, they all heard the sound of him trying to drag her away.

The deacon returned for Guðrún every night for several weeks. But the villagers never left her alone. Not for a moment. Even the priest from a neighboring village sat with her and read from the Psalms of David to protect her from the deacon's ghostly persecution.

Finally, they sent for a sorcerer from the west who was skilled in the art of witchcraft. He dug up a large stone and placed it in the middle of Guðrún‘s room. When the deacon's ghost arrived for his nightly hunting, the sorcerer seized him and forced him under the rock. The sorcerer cast a powerful spell that banished the passionate demon.

The demon to this day lies in peace beneath that stone. Eventually, the town of Myrká returned to its peaceful ways. Guðrún struggled to recover from her fear and sorrow, but those who knew her best say she was never the same again.

Myrká is west of Akureyri as appears on this Icelandic Roots map.

The story is based on Jón Árnason's Icelandic Folktales. Taken from the book, Hildur, Queen of the Elves, and Other Icelandic Legends retold by J. M. Bedell.


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