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Friday night folklore: Son of a Ghost

Once upon a time there was a man who greatly desired to marry the daughter of a local clergyman, but was not permitted to do so. Whether this was because of her objections or those of her parents the story does not say, but he swore that he would have her when he was dead if he could not have her while he was alive. Shortly afterwards he died of anger and resentment and was buried in the cemetery next to the church where the girl’s father served. This happened just after Midsummer.

Not long after this a young man, about 20 years old, was watching over the fields around the farm to make sure that no sheep or horses could come in and eat the grass that was to be cut for the winter feed. In the middle of the night he noticed the figure of a man, dressed in a shroud, sneak from the graveyard and enter the farmhouse. He went and peeped into the cemetery and saw that the grave of the man mentioned earlier was open and empty.

The young man had heard the story of the man’s oath. He had his knitting* with him to while away the time while he watched over the fields. He took the ball of yarn and tied a knot around it so it wouldn’t unroll and he could pull it to him. He then dropped the ball into the open grave and sat down and waited by the grave with the end of the yarn in his hand. Shortly afterwards the ghost returned and was unable to re-enter the grave**. The young man told him that he would have to tell him everything if he wanted back in, and the ghost agreed to do so. 

He said the has just returned from the minister’s daughter and had gotten his way with her while she slept, that she was pregnant and would give birth to a boy who would become a minister like his grandfather. But the first time he would turn towards the congregation in front of the altar and hear the congregation answer his “The Lord be with you “ with “And with your spirit”, the church would sink into he ground with everyone in it, unless someone was brave enough to run the priest through with a knife when he turned around. The young man now gave the ghost permission to enter the grave and pulled up the ball of yarn.

Nine months later the minister’s daughter gave birth to a boy and was unable to name the father. When the boy grew up he showed himself to be intelligent and thirsty for learning and so he was sent to school, where he quickly distinguished himself. He took orders as soon as he was old enough and returned to his grandfather’s parish to say his first mass. By that time the young man who had met the ghost had become a well-off farmer in the parish. He had never told anyone what had happened that night.

On the day when the new minister was to say his first mass the farmer sat near the front of the church and when the minister turned around to say the prophesied words, the farmer stood up and pulled a knife from under his shirt and stabbed the minister in the chest. There was immediate uproar in the church, but the farmer calmly told the people to examine the vestments, which lay in a pile in front of the altar. All that was found inside was a shoulder-blade and three drops of blood that were all that the creature had from his mother. 

The farmer now told the whole story and the congregation thanked him for saving all their souls.

There are several variations of this story. In some, the girl is a clergyman’s daughter, in others a farmer’s daughter, and in some she later marries the farm hand who kills the ghost’s son. In one variation the ghost tells the man that if he tells anyone about their meeting, he will come back and kill him.

*The knitting: it was not uncommon when people were doing jobs like this for them to be expected to knit something while they were doing it, like socks or mittens.
**To prevent a ghost going back into its grave, you had to put something into the grave and it would be unable to enter it until the thing was taken away.

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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