Friday night folklore: The ghost's greeting

Iceland was unlit by street-lights longer than most other countries in Europe, and with the long winter nights, with more than 20 hours of cold, wintry darkness in December and the nearest farm often far away, it's no wonder that Icelandic folklore is rich in ghost stories.

We even have several different types of ghosts:
  • a svipur is the apparition of a person that will simply be seen but not heard or felt in any other way, often only once, and sometimes they are seen - usually by a loved one far away - before they are dead or at the moment of death;
  • a vofa is another harmless but more horrible kind, seen and heard but not felt;
  • a draugur can be benevolent, tricky or evil (or all three, depending on its mood) and is able, when fresh, to harm or kill;
  • an uppvakningur is a ghost deliberately raised, often for a specific purpose;
  • a sending is the worst of all: an uppvakningur awakened, sometimes after being deliberately murdered for the purpose, to be sent to harm someone;
  • a fylgja is a sending or uppvakningur that has become a family ghost; they will follow members of the same family for generations until their are either exorcised or they fade away.
Draugur is also a collective term used for all but the first of these ghosts. In modern times uppvakningur is used as a translation for the word zombie.

And now for the story of the ghost's greeting:

A man was walking down by the sea late at night. A ghost approached him, soaking wet and dripping sea-water, and forced him into the sea, where he waded along the shore-line. The man realised that the ghost was trying to drown him, and that he would have to take action to save his life, so he tried to stab the ghost with the iron tip of his walking stick. This was enough to make the ghost move off a bit so that the man was able to get onto the beach, and the ghost disappeared.

The man had not walked far when he met another man. He took off his hat and called out a greeting, intending to ask for directions, as he had become lost. But the other man returned the greeting by taking of not only his hat, but also his head. The walker then swung his walking stick between the head and the body, confusing the ghost so that it couldn't put the head back on and started turning around in in circles on the spot. The walker now saw where he was and was able to get home safely.

  • It is believed that when not only ghosts but also warlocks, seem to take off their head, they can not put it back on if something is passed over the neck.
  • Ghosts, as well as warlocks, trolls and the hidden people, have the ability to make people lose all sense of direction and think they are lost.
Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


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