From Iceland — Introducing: Hugleikur and the Monsters

Introducing: Hugleikur and the Monsters

Published July 29, 2008

Vol. 1: 'The Deacon of Dark River'

Introducing: Hugleikur and the Monsters
Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Hugleikur Dagsson

Vol. 1: 'The Deacon of Dark River'

We spoke about the need to enlighten our English-speaking friends on the joys of Iceland’s sinister creatures, and how they could be put to good use in arts, literature and music (as they have been). “I think the galore of old Icelandic ghost stories and monster tales are a criminally under-utilised. […] The Christmas Cat [homicidal feline that prays on poor kids during Christmas] isn’t even used that much. And that’s a beautiful monster. In our past and our stories, we’ve got this massive database of monsters and mythological creatures,” remarked Hugleikur.

We concluded that those of you who haven’t heard about the Nykur, Grýla, Fjörulalli, Gilitrutt or any of the other mythological beings that have plagued rural Icelanders throughout the ages really are missing something. But don’t you fret: as of this very article, you will be able to read about a different and exciting Icelandic ghost, monster or elf in every issue of the Grapevine. And the best part is that Hugleikur himself has agreed to use his vast drawing skills to properly illustrate each subject.

The Deacon of Dark River
The first mythological being to be featured in the series is the dreaded Deacon of Dark River (“Djákninn á Myrká”). Not only is he one of Iceland’s best known ghosts, he is also the subject of a well-known disco-funk hit (“Garún”, by Mannakorn). His unfortunate tale has been told around Icelandic campfires for centuries, and while it isn’t exactly scary, it does its job by being super eerie.

The story goes that an unnamed deacon at the farm Myrká (“Dark River”) in Eyjafjörður had invited his girlfriend Guðrún, a maid to the priest at neighbouring farm Bægisá, to a Christmas party at Myrká. He was to pick her up the day before Christmas day and escort her to the party. Riding his horse Faxi home through stormy weather, after delivering the invitation, the doomed deacon fell into a river when a bridge broke under the weight of his horse. His head was bashed on a river rock, and he drowned.

His cold, cold remains were discovered by a neighbour the next day, and he was buried the week before Christmas. However, typical Icelandic winter weather combined with those dark ages’ lack of proper telecommunications prevented the deacon’s girlfriend from hearing anything about his untimely death. She therefore got dressed and ready for the scheduled time of party-pickup – which went ahead as scheduled, funnily enough.

Now, Guðrún couldn’t get a straight look at her beau on their way back to Myrká, as lighting conditions at that time of year are typically horrible. Somewhere along the way, however, the deacon’s steed jumped, lifting his hat slightly and giving Guðrún a glimpse at his bare scull in the process. Although recently deceased, the deacon had retained his poetic powers and recited the following improvisation:

Moon glides,
Death rides.
Do you glimpse a white spot in the back
of my neck
Garún, Garún

This of course tipped Guðrún off to the fact that her beloved deacon was dead – that she was in fact on her way to party with a zombie. For ghosts have no love for the name of God (the “Guð” in “Guðrún”) and prefer not to utter it. So he called her Garún in his abstract poem, which ultimately foiled his evil plot.

Guðrún was a smart one, and pretended not to notice anything about skulls or weird poetry. She kept quiet, but when they got to Myrká, the zombie-poet deacon asked her to stay while he put away his horse. Absently looking around while she waited, Guðrún spotted an open grave in the cemetery she was standing by and this freaked her out for she realised the deacon intended to take her down with him.

In a state of panic, she started to furiously ring the church bells, alerting the folks at Myrká to come help. Deacon wasn’t happy with this turn of events, as he had wanted a companion for his cold and lonely grave. He thus tried to grab Guðrún, but she had luckily failed to put on her coat entirely so the deacon only got half a woman’s coat as grave-companion.

The good people of Myrká soon came to the rescue and Guðrún was calmed down and put to bed. Unfortunately, the dead deacon was oblivious to her attempts to blow him off and kept coming back to bother her. Talk about a shitty date. In the end, they had to get a wizard from Skagafjörður to get rid of him. He did that using his patented wizard tricks, which involved rolling a heavy rock on top of the deacon’s grave. Unfortunately, the story goes that Guðrún had gone irrevocably insane by the time he got the job done. The moral of the story is thus: if your stupid ex-boyfriend keeps stalking you from beyond the grave, call a wizard (some thugs will do if he’s alive).

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