05 November 2010

Friday night folklore: Dancing for the Devil

When Icelanders speak of something that seems to be merrily heading obliviously towards disaster they sometimes use the word “Hrunadans”, which literally means “the dance at Hruni”. I think there is hardly a word or combination of words that better describes the years leading up to the economic collapse of 2008. Here is the story behind the idiom:

Once upon a time there was a priest who served the Hruni parish in Árnessýsla. He loved all kinds of entertainment and parties, and it was his habit when the people had assembled in the church for the Christmas midnight mass, not to say the mass right away but to make merry with dancing, drinking, gambling and other frivolous kinds of fun for the first part of the night. His elderly mother, who was named Una, very much objected to her son’s behaviour and had often tried to reason with him and show him the error of his ways. But he persisted in having his fun and continued it for many years until the following event:

One Christmas night the entertainments lasted longer than usual. Una, who was psychic and sometimes had premonitions about the future, went to the church and asked him to stop the merry-making and say the mass. But the priest said to her: “There is still time for a little more fun, mother dear.” 

With that Una returned to the house, but returned a while later and asked him to remember God and stop the merry-making before it would end in disaster. Again he answered that there was still time for making merry, and again when she came for the third time. But as Una walked  towards the church door for the third time, she heard a voice say the following words, which she memorised:

“Loud is the noise in Hruni,
The people all hasten there,
Then they shall dance so merrily,
That all will remember.
Still there is Una,
And yet there is Una.”

When Una left the church, she saw a strange man outside the door and did not like to look of him. She was frightened of him and convinced that this was the Devil himself, come to make trouble, so she got on her son’s horse and rode like the wind to the nearest parish and met the priest there, begging him to ride back with her to prevent the impending disaster and save her son from danger. The priest went with her right away, taking with him many men, since his  congregation had not yet left after the midnight mass. But when they arrived at Hruni, they saw that the church and the churchyard had sunk into the ground with all the people in it, but loud screeching and wailing could be heard from the hole. 

There are still signs that a building stood on top of Hruni hill, from which Hruni farm and the church draw their name. But after this event a new church was built in the lee of the hill, where it has stood to this day. But there was never again any dancing in Hruni church on Christmas night.

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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