Published October 10, 2008
“We’ve got this database of monsters and creatures in our past. A lot of their stories are fascinating, it’s a shame that they’re not used more in modern culture,” remarked comic artist Hugleikur Dagsson in an interview this summer. This prompted the Grapevine to draft Dagsson to illustrate a series of articles on these monsters of yore. For the seventh instalment in the series, Dagsson chose to illustrate “Iceland’s most vicious ghost”, the über-scary ghost Miklabæjar-Sólveig.
Along with the previously Dagsson-ified tale of the Deacon of Dark River (“Djákninn á Myrká” – issue 10), the story of Miklabæjar-Solveig is probably as close to “Gothic romance” as Icelandic folklore, with all its farmers and fishermen, gets. It has been re-told countless times over the past centuries, and has been used as the base for all sorts of artistic and cultural output.
A young woman by the name of Solveig was a resident of minister Oddur Gíslason’s manor Miklibær in Blönduhlíð, Skagafjörður in 1778. Solveig fell madly in love with the minister and went insane when he spurned her advances. After repeated attempts at her own life, Solveig was promptly placed under suicide watch. One day at dusk she managed to slip her captors grip and ran to a bunch of jagged rocks, where she commenced to slit her throat. As a worker ran to stop her, he saw her bleed to death and commented: “Now she’s with the devil.” Solveig didn’t answer, but begged him to tell the minister to bury her in holy ground.
The minister sought permission from his superiors to bury Solveig in the churchyard. They declined as Solveig had committed the deadly sin of suicide. After receiving the answer, Gíslason dreamt Solveig came up to him with an angry grin, saying that since he had declined her last wish, he himself would never rest in hallowed ground.
Soon after being buried outside of the churchyard Solveig’s ghost started haunting Gíslason whenever he was alone, for instance as he rode home from performing his services. To ensure his safety, he received an escort wherever he went.
One evening when the minister was expected to return home from his duties, Miklibær’s inhabitants heard a beating on the manor’s doors. They felt the knocking had a sinister quality to it, so they didn’t answer. They then heard something stir by the window, but before they could draw the curtains the sound of being dragged away came through.
Later that night, as the housefolk went out, they saw the minister’s horse stood in front of the house. This spooked the people, as they realised that the minister had rode home but was now nowhere to be found. After undergoing an intensive search, they decided that Solveig had finally had her revenge. The minister was never seen again, but his escort that fateful night reported that he had sent them off when his manor was in clear sight, believing himself to be in the clear.
After the search had been called off, a worker of the minister’s named Þorsteinn declared that he would not rest until he learned his employer’s fate. One night, Þorsteinn gathered a mass of the minister’s belongings and placed them under his pillow, asking a clairvoyant woman he shared a woman with to keep watch as he slept. As soon as he fell asleep, the woman saw the ghost of Solveig approach his bed and loom over his sleeping body, fiddling with his neck. Þorsteinn started thrashing in his bed, so the woman jumped and woke him, driving the Solveig away in the process. Þorsteinn woke up in a sweat, red marks on his neck, and said that Solveig had screamed at him that he would never learn the minister’s fate before proceeding to slash his throat with a mighty machete.
Solveig was not seen around after that, although the minister’s son, Rev. Gísli Oddsson, reported that she had ambushed him at his wedding night. Thus ends the sad tale of Miklabæjar-Solveig and her doomed love. Many believe it to be true; in fact the remains of Solveig were dug up in 1937 and placed in a proper cemetery.