30 September 2011

Icelandic folk-tale: Dead Man's Skull

Cruentation was accepted as proof in murder cases in several European countries well into the 18th century. It was an accepted belief that the wounds of murdered people would start to bleed in the presence of the murderer, and here is an Icelandic variation on the theme:


Once upon a time a grave was being dug in the graveyard of an Icelandic country church. As will often happen in old graveyards when graves are being dug, some bones from an old burial came up with the soil, and among them was a skull. This particular skull had a knitting needle stuck right through it. 

The minister took the skull into his keeping and the next time he said a mass the took it to church with him and when the congregation had all entered the church, he put it on a shelf above the church door. After the service, he and his helpers exited the church ahead of the congregation and observed the people as they left the church. 

Nothing unusual happened, but when they checked to see if anyone was still inside, they found a very old woman covering behind the church door, and they had to force her to leave the church. As she walked through the doorway, three drops of blood fell from the skull and onto her head. She then said: “All dark deeds must come to light in the end.”

She then confessed to having murdered her first husband by thrusting the needle through his head. She had been very young when they were married and had been forced into the marriage against her will. She had prepared the body for burial herself, and no-on else had examined it. Later she had married another man, but he was now dead. 

Her punishment for this deed was death by drowning, as was the custom in those days for women who had killed their children. 

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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