15 July 2011

Friday night folk-tale: Gunna’s Fumarole

The Icelandic word “hver” can refer to different kinds of geothermal phenomena, such as a hot spring (hver), a fumarole (gufuhver) or a mud pool (leirhver). The fumarole in question is located in Reykjanes, in an area with several other attractions like the old Reykjanes lighthouse and one of several places in Iceland where the continental divide between Europe and North-America is clearly visible. 

There was a judge or lawyer named Vilhjálmur who lived near the current location of the town of Sandgerði in the last half of the 17th and into the 18th century. He had a standing feud with an old woman named Guðrún, nick-named Gunna, over a cooking pot he had taken from her, probably as payment for a debt. The old woman was so angered by this action that she made threats and promised she would get revenge.

Guðrún died and Vilhjálmur attended the funeral and headed home that same night, but on the following day he was found dead in Reykjanes. His body was all broken up and covered in purple bruises. 

The body was taken to his home in Kirkjuból and the local minister was asked to keep watch over it at night because everyone was certain that Gunna had become a draug – a very powerful ghost. This proved to be correct, and the minister had a hard time preventing her from taking the body. 

The ghost got more and more powerful and now the widow of Vilhjálmur died suddenly and Gunna was blamed for it. Then people who were passing through the area would find themselves getting inexplicably lost, and some went completely out of their mind, all because of the ghost of Gunna, who was now so strong and powerful that she was visible even to those who did not possess second sight. Soon she had become such a monstrous nuisance that neither man nor beast could stay unharmed in the area.

At this point the local people decided that enough was enough, and as none of them could handle the ghost they sent for a minister named Eiríkur who lived in Vogsósar. He was a benevolent sorcerer and knew how to handle ghosts and supernatural monsters, but didn’t like to display these talents. Since they suspected that he would be loath to help them, they sent him a supply of brennivín, which he was known to like.

The men who were sent to ask Eiríkur for help gave him the brennivín and humbly asked for his help in ridding them of the ghost. Before they started on their way back, he gave them a ball of yarn and told them to trick Gunna into taking the trailing end of the yarn and then the ball would take her where she could do no harm. 

They returned and did what he had told them to do. Gunna readily grabbed the yarn-end and immediately the ball started rolling and pulling her with it. The last that was seen of them both was when the ball plunged into a large fumarole, pulling Gunna in with it. Since then the ghost of Gunna has not done any harm, and the fumarole has borne her name. 
Gunna's Fumarole
Some say that the ball plunged into the fumarole but the trailing end was long enough to not pull her completely in, so she walks in a half-crouch in circles around the edge of the fumarole, as she doesn’t want to go into its fuming depths. 


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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