Published December 29, 2015
Firstly, there are some things you need to know about the Sagas. There are fuckloads of them. There are so many that they are classified into groups based on their characters and storylines. If you want medieval Icelanders suckling the teat of Mother Norway, there are a bajillion King’s Sagas. If it’s the Catholic church’s teat in need of a suckle, there are the Bishop’s Sagas.
If you’re in the market for Sagas about non-Icelandic things, like Troy, Charlemagne, or Alexander the Great, the Romance Sagas have you covered. For dragons and potions and shield-maidens, there are some sweet Legendary Sagas to enchant the shit out of you.
If you want hundreds of pages of the medieval equivalent of John Grisham novels with marginally more killing but way less suspense, there are the ever-touted, nation-defining, world-famous SAGAS OF THE ICELANDERS. (I would smother those words in sparkle emojis if I were allowed.) Having already introduced one of the “good ones” from this category, I now have the pleasure of turning to one of the “less good ones.” Even though it’s named after characters so minor they won’t even be mentioned here (they don’t even get haunted), you’ll see it’s actually one of the best. Because ghosts.
Shit or get off the Dritsker
This one starts with a guy called Þórólfur Most-Beard, as in “wow so hair much manly most beard” like the meme-doge. The god Þór is totally his fav and when he comes from Norway to start a farm in Iceland, he throws a piece of wood with “Þór” carved into it overboard from his ship and decides to start his farm wherever it washes ashore. This turns out to be a place on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which he then calls Þórnes. Meanwhile, Björn the Easterner, the son of a Norwegian earl named Kjallakur, starts a farm nearby.
Þórólfur Most-Beard also dedicates a mountain to Þór (Helgafell, or “holy mountain”), insisting that no one is even allowed to look at it without washing themselves first. He decides to hold all his courts at Þórsnes, except that it’s so holy to him that he won’t let anyone shit there. So he designates a special rock in the sea, which they call Dritsker (basically “poop-skerry”), where they must shit instead. The family feud that runs through the whole story begins when the Kjalleklings (Björn’s family) decide to take a literal and figurative dump on the pride of the Þórnesings.
A witch! More witches!
Then things get violent, yet remain mostly boring. There is a battle and some people die and whatever. Snorri the Priest, a Þórsnesing and the main-ish character of this Saga, makes a temporary peace by marrying into the Kjallekling clan. But more importantly, he has this younger relative named Gunnlaugur who starts studying witchcraft with Geirríður, a nice old witch over at another farm.
Gunnlaugur often takes his weird friend, appropriately named Oddur, with him. Oddur’s mother Katla is also a witch and totally wants to bone Gunnlaugur. Everytime he drops Oddur off after their witchery lessons, Katla tries to seduce him but he’s just not into cougars. She makes some snide remark about Geirríður, asking if he goes over there to “stroke the old hag up the belly” (actual line from the translation). He’s like, “Pot and kettle, hunty, cuz ur old as fuck yourself” (my translation). Then one morning he turns up on his dad’s doorstep with all his flesh apparently ripped to the bone and no memories of what happened. Magic, duh.
Burn the witch!
Later, a bunch of dudes led by a guy named Arnkell barge into Katla’s house while she’s spinning yarn, intending to apprehend Oddur for cutting off some lady’s hand. They have no luck: Katla has hidden him with magic. They leave and immediately try to barge in on her again. Now she’s trimming the beard of a goat (Oddur/magic/fucking duh) but apparently this is normal enough for them to be stumped and leave. They immediately surprise her again and now she’s just sitting at home with her pet pig. The dumbasses are fooled again.
As they leave the third time, they run into Geirríður and she takes a no-nonsense approach to this witch hunting business. She barges in, throws a bag over Katla’s head, and they find Oddur hidden under the floor. After they hang him, she admits to cursing Gunnlaugur because he was not DTF. Disappointingly, they stone rather than burn the witch, but not before she puts a curse on Arnkell and his father.
The ghost of Christmas pastry
This comes to fruition pretty quickly when Arnkell’s dad, named Þórólfur Twist-Foot, dies and comes back as a draugur or afturganga (literally “again-walker”). This is usually translated as ghost but he has a very physical reanimated corpse body that he uses to haunt his wife shitless, then witless, then she dies from insanity. Shortly after, Arnkell is brutally murdered by Snorri’s gang because they thought Snorri the Priest was a better farmer. (Um, okay.) This is all some dank foreshadowing for the much more unique hauntings later.
As is common in the Sagas, Iceland suddenly converts to Christianity and Snorri is all born again or something creepy like that. Immediately following, some lady named Þórgunna is out in the fields when it suddenly starts to rain blood on her. She knows it’s an omen, saying something like, “I bet some chump around here is gonna kick the bucket.” Then she dies.
As the pall-bearers are transporting her corpse to be buried, they get rained out and shack up in a random house to sleep. They awake find her draugur in the kitchen, ass-naked, cooking fucking food. (Probably not pastries, sorry. That was misleading.) They are all so afraid that they don’t know what to do except sit down and eat the meal she served, but only after sprinkling this new awesome drug called “holy water” on it.
Moar ghosts n stuff
Around Christmastime, shit gets really weird. People start getting ill, dying promptly, or disappearing at sea. Then they come back in draugur form every single night of the Christmas season, ignoring the living folks very rudely, and sitting around the fire to warm up. They get an extra special haunting on Christmas Eve, though, in the form of a ghost-seal bursting its head up through the living room floor. It would be fine if it was that good-news-bearing meme-seal, but it’s presumably more sinister. When they try to “club” him back down (actual translation), he only rises higher until his flippers pop out, at which point even the manly men faint (not the flippers! the horror!) and they have to get the manliest man named Kjartan to sledge-hammer it back down and cover the floor.
Nobody panic, though. Now that Snorri is a Christian, he knows exactly what to do: follow the law. So they literally summon the ghosts to court, appoint a jury, take witness testimony, find them guilty of trespassing, and then the ghosts politely peace out and Christmas is saved. Then everyone has confession because Catholicism. The story goes on to describe how organized, peaceful, and demonic-apparition-less society is now that Snorri the Priest has brought Christianity to these poor, violent, anarchist pagans. I’ll spare you that. Merry fucking Christmas.
Moral of the story: never trust Christian propaganda. Also, more pertinent to Iceland ca. 2015: don’t shit where you shouldn’t.
Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoða RECAP: The One With The Goddamn Horse
This Saga begins the same way Iceland did, and the same way many Sagas do: some Norwegian guy (this one is named Hallfreður) settles his family in Iceland to farm. Welcome to Iceland, Hallfreður. All this would normally be fine, but it becomes complicated as his son Hrafnkell turns out to be a total asshole.