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Icelandic folk-tale: The Whale of Whale Lake

Geirfuglasker (Great Auk rock) is a small island off the coast of Reykjanes in southern Iceland, that was one of the last refuges of the great auks before they were hunted to extinction. 
Hvalvatn is a lake in western Iceland, situated in the highlands above Glymur, the country’s tallest waterfall.
Power poets (kraftaskáld) were people who could do magic with their versification, and were thought very highly of.

Once upon a time some men sailed out to Geirfuglasker, presumably to hunt great auks. Due to high breaking waves they had to leave one man, whose name was Gísli, behind in the island when they left for home, and it was believed that he must have been swept off the island and drowned.

A year later another expedition went out to the island and found Gísli there alive and in good health. They brought him back to the mainland, but although he was asked about his stay in the island, he would not talk about it much. However, someone was able to get out of him that he had been staying with two women, and that the younger of them was expecting his child.

A short time later he attended a church service in Hvalsnes, with many others. When the service was beginning a woman came into the church and put down a cradle with a baby in it, covered by a red cloth. She then walked out of the church.

After the service the minister asked everyone in the church if anyone was familiar with the baby or of anyone was willing to have it christened, but no one came forward. The minister then turned to Gísli and asked him straight out if even he did not know the baby and if he wanted to have it christened. He denied this adamantly.

At that moment the woman came back into the church, looking very angry. She told Gísli severely off, saying that he owed her his life, had been with her for a year and had this baby with her and was the worst kind of scoundrel for pretending not to recognise the baby and for refusing to have it christened. As punishment for his caddish behaviour she laid on him a curse, saying that he should become the worst sea-monster in Faxa Bay.

The minister wanted to speak to the woman, but she grabbed the cradle and left with the baby and no-one could stop her. She was never seen again in those parts, but the red cloth from the top of the cradle got left behind and was thereafter used as an altar-cloth in the church.

Gísli became disturbed and ran straight into the sea, where he turned into an evil whale-monster and attacked boats in Faxa Bay, causing a great deal of damage and distress. Finally the people there asked a power poet to draw the whale up on dry land with some power verses. He did this and drew the whale up the river at the bottom of Hvalfjörður (Whalefjord), up the waterfall Glymur and up into Whale Lake (Hvalvatn). There he is still but is only seen as an omen of hard winters or great events.

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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