Jóra in Jórukleif

There once was a girl named Jórunn, a farmer’s daughter from the south of Iceland. She was young and had a promising life ahead of her, but was considered rather temperamental. She kept house for her father.

One day a horse-fight was held a short distance from the farm. One of the fight-horses belonged to Jóra’s father and was a great favourite of hers. She and other women were present at the fight, but when it progressed, Jórunn saw that her father’s horse was beginning to falter. She became very upset and angry and finally went totally berserk, ran into the fray and tore the hind leg off the other horse.

She then ran, so fast that none could catch her, with the leg in her hands, until she came to where the Ölfusá river fell in a waterfall over some cliffs. There she tore a huge rock from the cliffs and threw it into the middle of the river where the waterfall was, and then used it as as a stepping-stone to cross the river. Since then the place of her crossing is called “The Troll Woman’s Leap” or Tröllkonuhlaup in Icelandic (interestingly, the link gives a different account of how the stepping stone came to be).

She then continued on her way, in the direction of Þingvellir, until she reached the mountain called Hengill, where she settled in a cave that came to be known as Jóra’s Cave (Jóruhellir), Jóra being the name she was called by after becoming a troll. She was the worst kind of monster and would kill both men and beasts.

It was Jóra’s habit to climb a mountain top in the mountain range and sit there for hours on end. It has since been known as Jóra’s Saddle (Jórusöðull). It is not far from her favourite lookout spot, from where she had a good view over the road that passed nearby. From there she would run down to the road to rob or kill travellers for her food. After becoming a man-eater he turned into such a horrible monster that she laid waste to all the nearby farms and people stopped using the road. Attempts were made to hunt her down and kill her, but to no avail.

Just as it seemed that there was no way of killing this monster, a young man from Iceland travelled to Norway to spend the winter there. He went to see the king and told him of this monster and the trouble she had caused and asked him for advice on how to kill the troll.

The king advised him to go to Jóra at sunrise on Whitsun morning, because
“there is no monster so evil nor a troll so strong that it will not sleep then,” said the king.
“You will find Jóra asleep, face down. Here is an axe I want to give you,” said the king and handed the young man an axe decorated with silver.
“Hit her with this axe between the shoulder-blades. When she feels the pain she will turn around and say: ‘Hands, stick to the shaft.’ To which you should reply: ‘Shaft, release the axe-head.’ Both of these things will happen. Jóra will then roll into the nearby lake, with the axe-head stuck between her shoulder-blades. The axe-head will later be found in a river that will be named for it, and that place will become the site of Iceland’s general assembly.”

Thus spoke the king. The young man thanked him for the advise and the gift of the axe, and returned to Iceland in the spring. There he followed to the letter the king’s advice and killed Jóra. The axe-head was found on the bank of the river that has since borne it’s name: Öxará.

The banks of the river became the site of Iceland’s general assembly, so the whole of the king’s prophesy came true.

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Notes:
  • Jóra is pronounced Yora.
  • The meaning of the name Þingvellir comes from “þing” = “assembly, gathering, parliament” and “vellir” = “large areas of smooth level ground”. It was the site of the Icelandic general assembly from settlement times until the 18th century.
  • I have left out most of the locations except the ones that matter for the telling of the story.

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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