site logo

The Marvels At Froda {273}

Categories: Modern Hauntings
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

During that summer in which Christianity was adopted by law in Iceland

(1000 A.D.), it happened that a ship came to land at Snowfell Ness.

It was a Dublin vessel, manned by Irish and Hebrideans, with few

Norsemen on board. They lay there for a long time during the summer,

waiting for a favourable wind to sail into the firth, and many people

from the Ness went down to trade with them. There was on board a

Hebridean wo
an named Thorgunna, of whom her shipmates said that she

owned some costly things, the like of which would be difficult to find

in Iceland. When Thurid, the housewife at Froda, heard of this she

was very curious to see the articles, for she was a woman that was

fond of show and finery. She went to the ship and asked Thorgunna

whether she had any woman's apparel that was finer than the common.

Thorgunna said that she had nothing of the kind to sell, but had some

good things of her own, that she might not be affronted at feasts or

other gatherings. Thurid begged a sight of these, and Thorgunna

showed her treasures. Thurid was much pleased with them, and thought

them very becoming, though not of high value. She offered to buy

them, but Thorgunna would not sell. Thurid then invited her to come

and stay with her, because she knew that Thorgunna was well provided,

and thought that she would get the things from her in course of time.

Thorgunna answered, "I am well pleased to go to stay with you, but you

must know that I have little mind to pay for myself, because I am well

able to work, and have no dislike to it, though I will not do any

dirty work. I must be allowed to settle what I shall pay for myself

out of such property as I have."

Although Thorgunna spoke in this fashion, yet Thurid would have her to

go with her, and her things were taken out of the ship; these were in

a large chest with a lock and a small box, and both were taken home to

Froda. When Thorgunna arrived there she asked for her bed to be shown

her, and was given one in the inner part of the hall. Then she opened

up the chest, and took bed-clothes out of it: they were all very

beautiful, and over the bed she spread English coverlets and a silken

quilt. Out of the chest she also brought a bed-curtain and all the

hangings that belonged to it, and the whole outfit was so fine that

folk thought they had never seen the like of it.

Then said Thurid the housewife: "Name the price of all your bed-

clothes and hangings".

Thorgunna answered, "I will not lie among straw for you, although you

are so stately, and bear yourself so proudly".

Thurid was ill pleased at this, and offered no more to buy the things.

Thorgunna worked at cloth-making every day when there was no hay-

making, but when the weather was dry she worked among the dry hay in

the home field, and had a rake made for herself which she alone was to

use. Thorgunna was a big woman, both broad and tall, and very stout;

she had dark eyebrows, and her eyes were close set; her hair brown and

in great abundance. She was well-mannered in her daily life, and went

to church every day before beginning her work, but she was not of a

light disposition nor of many words. Most people thought that

Thorgunna must be in the sixties, yet she was a very active woman.

At this time one Thorir "wooden-leg" and his wife Thorgrima "charm-

cheek" were being maintained at Froda, and there was little love

between them and Thorgunna. The person that she had most ado with was

Kjartan, the son of the house; him she loved much, but he was rather

cold towards her, and this often vexed her. Kjartan was then fifteen

years old, and was both big of body and manly in appearance.

The summer that year was very wet, but in the autumn there came dry

days. By this time the hay-work at Froda was so far advanced that all

the home field was mown, and nearly the half of it was quite dry.

There came then a fine dry day, clear and bright, with not a cloud to

be seen in all the sky. Thorodd, the yeoman, rose early in the

morning and arranged the work of each one; some began to cart off the

hay, and some to put it into stalks, while the women were set to toss

and dry it. Thorgunna also had her share assigned to her, and the

work went on well during the day. When it drew near to three in the

afternoon, a mass of dark clouds was seen rising in the north which

came rapidly across the sky and took its course right above the farm.

They thought it certain that there was rain in the cloud and Thorodd

bade his people rake the hay together; but Thorgunna continued to

scatter hers, in spite of the orders that were given. The clouds came

on quickly, and when they were above the homestead at Froda there came

such darkness with them that the people could see nothing beyond the

home field; indeed, they could scarcely distinguish their own hands.

Out of the cloud came so much rain that all the hay which was lying

flat was quite soaked. When the cloud had passed over and the sky

cleared again, it was seen that blood had fallen amid the rain. In

the evening there was a good draught, and the blood soon dried off all

the hay except that which Thorgunna had been working at; it did not

dry, nor did the rake that she had been using.

Thurid asked Thorgunna what she supposed this marvel might portend.

She said that she did not know, "but it seems to me most likely that

it is an evil omen for some person who is present here". In the

evening Thorgunna went home and took off her clothes, which had been

stained with the blood; then she lay down in her bed and breathed

heavily, and it was found that she was taken with sickness. The

shower had not fallen anywhere else than at Froda.

All that evening Thorgunna would taste no food. In the morning

Thorodd came to her and asked about her sickness, and what end she

thought it would have. She answered that she did not expect to have

any more illnesses. Then she said: "I consider you the wisest person

in the homestead here, and so I shall tell you what arrangements I

wish to make about the property that I leave behind me, and about

myself, for things will go as I tell you, though you think there is

nothing very remarkable about me. It will do you little good to

depart from my instructions, for this affair has so begun that it will

not pass smoothly off, unless strong measures are taken in dealing

with it."

Thorodd answered: "There seems to me great likelihood that your

forebodings will come true; and therefore," said he, "I shall promise

to you not to depart from your instructions".

"These are my arrangements," said Thorgunna, "that I will have myself

taken to Skalholt if I die of this sickness, for my mind forbodes me

that that place will some time or other be the most glorious spot in

this land. I know also that by now there are priests there to sing

the funeral service over me. So I ask you to have me carried thither,

and for that you shall take so much of my property that you suffer no

loss in the matter. Of my other effects, Thurid shall have the

scarlet cloak that I own, and I give it her so that she may readily

consent to my disposing of all the rest as I please. I have a gold

ring, and it shall go to the church with me; but as for my bed and

bed-hangings, I will have them burned with fire, because they will be

of service to no one. I do not say this because I grudge that any one

should possess these treasures, if I knew that they would be of use to

them; rather am I so earnest in the matter, because I should be sorry

for folk to fall into such trouble for me, as I know will be the case

if my words are not heeded."

Thorodd promised to do as she asked him, and after this Thorgunna's

sickness increased, so that she lay but few days before she died. The

body was first taken to the church, and Thorodd had a coffin made for

it. On the following day Thorodd had all the bed-clothes carried out

into the open air, and made a pile of wood beside them. Then Thurid

the housewife came up, and asked what he was going to do with the bed-

clothes. He answered that he was to burn them with fire, as Thorgunna

had directed him. "I will not have such treasures burned," said

Thurid. Thorodd answered: "She declared strongly that it would not

do to depart from what she said". "That was mere jealousy," said

Thurid; "she grudged any other person the use of them, and that was

why she gave these orders; but nothing terrible will happen though her

words are set aside." "I doubt," said he, "whether it will be well to

do otherwise than as she charged me."

Then Thurid laid her arms round his neck, and besought him not to burn

the furnishings of the bed, and so much did she press him in this that

his heart gave way to her, and she managed it so that Thorodd burned

the mattresses and pillows, while she took for herself the quilt and

coverlets and all the hangings. Yet neither of them was well pleased.

After this the funeral was made ready; trustworthy men were sent with

the body, and good horses which Thorodd owned. The body was wrapped

in linen, but not sewed up in it, and then laid in the coffin. After

this they held south over the heath as the paths go, and went on until

they came to a farm called Lower Ness, which lies in the Tongues of

Staf-holt. There they asked leave to stay over night, but the farmer

would give them no hospitality. However, as it was close on

nightfall, they did not see how they could go on, for they thought it

would be dangerous to deal with the White River by night. They

therefore unloaded their horses, and carried the body into an out-

house, after which they went into the sitting-room and took off their

outer clothes, intending to stay there over night without food.

The people of the house were going to bed by daylight, and after they

were in bed a great noise was heard in the kitchen. Some went to see

whether thieves had not broken in, and when they reached the kitchen

they saw there a tall woman. She was quite naked, with no clothes

whatever upon her, and was busy preparing food. Those who saw her

were so terrified that they dared not go near her at all. When the

funeral party heard of this they went thither, and saw what the matter

was--Thorgunna had come there, and it seemed advisable to them all not

to meddle with her. When she had done all that she wanted, she

brought the food into the room, set the tables and laid the food upon

them. Then the funeral party said to the farmer: "It may happen in

the end, before we part, that you will think it dearly bought that you

would show us no hospitality". Both the farmer and the housewife

answered: "We will willingly give you food, and do you all other

services that you require".

As soon as the farmer had offered them this, Thorgunna passed out of

the room into the kitchen, and then went outside, nor did she show

herself again. Then a light was kindled in the room, and the wet

clothes of the guests were taken off, and dry ones given them in their

place. After this they sat down at table, and blessed their food,

while the farmer had holy water sprinkled over all the house. The

guests ate their food, and it harmed no man, although Thorgunna had

prepared it. They slept there that night, and were treated with great


In the morning they continued their journey, and things went very

smoothly with them; wherever this affair was heard of, most people

thought it best to do them all the service that they required, and of

their journey no more is to be told. When they came to Skalholt, they

handed over the precious things which Thorgunna had sent thither: the

ring and other articles, all of which the priests gladly received.

Thorgunna was buried there, while the funeral party returned home,

which they all reached in safety.

At Froda there was a large hall with a fireplace in the midde, and a

bed-closet at the inner end of it, as was then the custom. At the

outer end were two store-closets, one on each side; dried fish were

piled in one of these, and there was meal in the other. In this hall

fires were kindled every evening, as was the custom, and folk sat

round these fires for a long while before they went to supper. On

that evening on which the funeral party came home, while the folk at

Froda were sitting round the fires, they saw a half-moon appear on the

panelling of the hall, and it was visible to all those who were

present. It went round the room backwards and against the sun's

course, nor did it disappear so long as they sat by the fires.

Thorodd asked Thorir Wooden-leg what this might portend. "It is the

Moon of Fate," said Thorir, "and deaths will come after it." This

went on all that week that the Fate-Moon came in every evening.

The next tidings that happened at Froda were that the shepherd came in

and was very silent; he spoke little, and that in a frenzied manner.

Folk were most inclined to believe that he had been bewitched, because

he went about by himself, and talked to himself. This went on for

some time, but one evening, when two weeks of winter had passed, the

shepherd came home, went to his bed, and lay down there. When they

went to him in the morning he was dead, and was buried at the church.

Soon after this there began great hauntings. One night Thorir Wooden-

leg went outside and was at some distance from the door. When he was

about to go in again, he saw that the shepherd had come between him

and the door. Thorir tried to get in, but the shepherd would not

allow him. Then Thorir tried to get away from him, but the shepherd

followed him, caught hold of him, and threw him down at the door. He

received great hurt from this, but was able to reach his bed; there he

turned black as coal, took sickness and died. He was also buried at

the church there, and after this both the shepherd and Thorir were

seen in company, at which all the folk became full of fear, as was to

be expected.

This also followed upon the burial of Thorir, that one of Thorodd's

men grew ill, and lay three nights before he died; then one died after

another, until six of them were gone. By this time the Christmas fast

had come, although the fast was not then kept in Iceland. The store-

closet, in which the dried fish were kept, was packed so full that the

door could not be opened; the pile reached nigh up to the rafters, and

a ladder was required to get the fish off the top of it. One evening

while the folk were sitting round the fires, the fish were torn, but

when search was made no living thing could be found there.

During the winter, a little before Christmas, Thorodd went out to Ness

for the fish he had there; there were six men in all in a ten-oared

boat, and they stayed out there all night. The same evening that

Thorodd went from home, it happened at Froda, when folk went to sit by

the fires that had been made, that they saw a seal's head rise up out

of the fireplace. A maid-servant was the first who came forward and

saw this marvel; she took a washing-bat which lay beside the door, and

struck the seal's head with this, but it rose up at the blow and gazed

at Thorgunna's bed-hangings. Then one of the men went up and beat the

seal, but it rose higher at every blow until it had come up above the

fins; then the man fell into a swoon, and all those who were present

were filled with fear. Then the lad Kjartan sprang forward, took up a

large iron sledge-hammer and struck at the seal's head; it was a heavy

blow, but it only shook its head, and looked round. Then Kjartan gave

it stroke after stroke, and the seal went down as though he were

driving in a stake. Kjartan hammered away till the seal went down so

far that he beat the floor close again above its head, and during the

rest of the winter all the portents were most afraid of Kjartan.

Next morning, while Thorodd and the others were coming in from Ness

with the fish, they were all lost out from Enni; the boat and the fish

drove on shore there, but the bodies were never found. When the news

of this reached Froda, Kjartan and Thurid invited their neighbours to

the funeral banquet, and the ale prepared for Christmas was used for

this purpose. The first evening of the feast, however, after the folk

had taken their seats, there came into the hall Thorodd and his

companions, all dripping wet. The folk greeted Thorodd well, thinking

this a good omen, for at that time it was firmly believed that drowned

men, who came to their own funeral feast, were well received by Ran,

the sea-goddess; and the old beliefs had as yet suffered little,

though folk were baptised and called Christians.

Thorodd and his fellows went right along the hall where the folk sat,

and passed into the one where the fires were, answering no man's

greeting. Those of the household who were in the hall ran out, and

Thorodd and his men sat down beside the fires, where they remained

till they had fallen into ashes; then they went away again. This

befel every evening while the banquet lasted, and there was much talk

about it among those who were present. Some thought that it would

stop when the feast was ended. When the banquet was over the guests

went home, leaving the place very dull and dismal.

On the evening after they had gone, the fires were kindled as usual,

and after they had burned up, there came in Thorodd with his company,

all of them wet. They sat down by the fire and began to wring their

clothes; and after they had sat down there came in Thorir Wooden-leg

and his five companions, all covered with earth. They shook their

clothes and scattered the earth on Thorodd and his fellows. The folk

of the household rushed out of the hall, as might be expected, and all

that evening they had no light nor any warmth from the fire.

Next evening the fires were made in the other hall, as the dead men

would be less likely to come there; but this was not so, for

everything happened just as it had done on the previous evening, and

both parties came to sit by the fires.

On the third evening Kjartan advised that a large fire should be made

in the hall, and a little fire in another and smaller room. This was

done, and things then went on in this fashion, that Thorodd and the

others sat beside the big fire, while the household contented

themselves with the little one, and this lasted right through


By this time there was more and more noise in the pile of fish, and

the sound of them being torn was heard both by night and day. Some

time after this it was necessary to take down some of the fish, and

the man who went up on the pile saw this strange thing, that up out of

the pile there came a tail, in appearance like a singed ox-tail. It

was black and covered with hair like a seal. The man laid hold of it

and pulled, and called on the others to come and help him. Others

then got up on the heap, both men and women, and pulled at the tail,

but all to no purpose. It seemed to them that the tail was dead, but

while they tugged at it, it flew out of their hands taking the skin

off the palms of those who had been holding it hardest, and no more

was ever seen of the tail. The fish were then taken up and every one

was found to be torn out of the skin, yet no living thing was to be

found in the pile.

Following upon this, Thorgrima Charm-cheek, the wife of Thorir Wooden-

leg, fell ill, and lay only a little while before she died, and the

same evening that she was buried she was seen in company with her

husband Thorir. The sickness then began a second time after the tail

had been seen, and now the women died more than the men. Another six

persons died in this attack, and some fled away on account of the

ghosts and the hauntings. In the autumn there had been thirty in the

household, of whom eighteen were dead, and five had run away, leaving

only seven behind in the spring.

When these marvels had reached this pitch, it happened one day that

Kjartan went to Helga-fell to see his uncle Snorri, and asked his

advice as to what should be done. There had then come to Helga-fell a

priest whom Gizurr the white had sent to Snorri, and this priest

Snorri sent to Froda along with Kjartan, his son Thord, and six other

men. He also gave them this advice, that they should burn all

Thorgunna's bed-hangings and hold a law court at the door, and there

prosecute all those men who were walking after death. He also bade

the priest hold service there, consecrate water, and confess the

people. They summoned men from the nearest farms to accompany them,

and arrived at Froda on the evening before Candlemas, just at the time

when the fires were being kindled. Thurid the housewife had then

taken the sickness after the same fashion as those who had died.

Kjartan went in at once, and saw that Thorodd and the others were

sitting by the fire as usual. He took down Thorgunna's bed-hangings,

went into the hall, and carried out a live coal from the fire: then

all the bed-gear that Thorgunna had owned was burned.

After this Kjartan summoned Thorir Wooden-leg, and Thord summoned

Thorodd, on the charge of going about the homestead without leave, and

depriving men of both health and life; all those who sat beside the

fire were summoned in the same way. Then a court was held at the

door, in which the charges were declared, and everything done as in a

regular law court; opinions were given, the case summed up, and

judgment passed. After sentence had been pronounced on Thorir Wooden-

leg, he rose up and said: "Now we have sat as long as we can bear".

After this he went out by the other door from that at which the court

was held. Then sentence was passed on the shepherd, and when he heard

it he stood up and said: "Now I shall go, and I think it would have

been better before". When Thorgrima heard sentence pronounced on her,

she rose up and said: "Now we have stayed while it could be borne".

Then one after another was summoned, and each stood up as judgment was

given upon him; all of them said something as they went out, and

showed that they were loath to part. Finally sentence was passed on

Thorodd himself, and when he heard it, he rose and said: "Little

peace I find here, and let us all flee now," and went out after that.

Then Kjartan and the others entered and the priest carried holy water

and sacred relics over all the house. Later on in the day he held

solemn service, and after this all the hauntings and ghost-walkings at

Froda ceased, while Thurid recovered from her sickness and became well


CHAPTER Floating Hands