There once was a deacon who lived at the farm Myrká in Eyjafjörður, North Iceland. His name is not known but he was engaged to a woman by the name of Guðrún, who was a servant at the vicarage Bægisá, on the other side of the river Hörgá. The deacon had a gray horse with a thick mane he called Faxi, which he rode wherever he went.
Some time before Christmas, the deacon arrived at Bægisá, inviting Guðrún to join the festivities at Myrká on Christmas Eve. The deacon spent the night and when he bid Guðrún farewell the next morning, he said he would come pick her up on Christmas Eve in time for the celebrations.
The days before the deacon’s visit, heavy snow had fallen, the weather was frosty, and a thick layer of ice covered Hörgá river, which ran between the two farms. Then there was a sudden thaw and snow melt, causing the water level in Hörgá to rise considerably and the ice to break, making the river impassable.
When the deacon rode back to Myrká, he didn’t take into consideration the sudden weather change and thought he could ride across Hörgá on the ice. But the river was no longer frozen and so the deacon rode up along the river until he found a spot which was still icy all the way to the other bank. The deacon rode onto the ice but mid-river the ice broke and he fell into the river.
The next morning, a farmer from Þúfnavellir, a neighbouring farm, saw a horse with a bridle and saddle outside his fence and recognised the deacon’s Faxi. This made him concerned because he had noticed the deacon ride to Bægisá the day before but hadn’t seen him return. The farmer approached Faxi, which was wet and shivering, and suspected the worst. He walked along Hörgá, looking for the deacon, an eventually found him dead on the riverbank.
The farmer went to Myrká to inform them of the tragic news. When they came to pick up the body, they noticed that the back of the deacon’s head was severely wounded, probably from a block of ice which had hit the deacon’s head after he had fallen into the river. The deacon was buried at Myrká the week before Christmas.
From the fateful day the deacon left Bægisá and until Christmas Eve, Hörgá had remained impassable due to continued thaw, and so no one could have informed Guðrún about the passing of her fiancé.
However, on Christmas Eve, the weather had turned calm and cool and Guðrún started looking forward to the party at Myrká.
In the afternoon, Guðrún started getting ready and was almost finished when she heard a knock on the door. Someone else answered but there was no one outside.
Darkness had fallen but the moon was full, casting an eerie glow on the landscape whenever there was a hole in the cloud cover. Guðrún told the girl who had answered the door that it was probably for her and that she would go outside. She grabbed her coat and, in a rush, only put on one of the sleeves but slung the other over her shoulder.
Outside, Guðrún saw Faxi in front of the door and a man standing next to the horse, whom she took to be the deacon. They didn’t speak but the man helped Guðrún up on Faxi’s back and then mounted the horse himself, sitting in front of her.
They rode off and neither of them uttered a single word.
When they had almost reached Hörgá, they rode up a hill and when Faxi ran down the other side, the deacon’s hat lifted. At the same time, the moon broke through the clouds, lighting up the deacon’s naked skull. Then, he broke the silence:
“The moon glides, Death rides;
Can’t you see the white spot at the back of my head, Garún, Garún?”
Terrified, Guðrún realised that the deacon must surely be dead, because he could no longer say the first part of her name “Guð”, or “God”. “I see what is,” she responded and then fell silent again. When they arrived at Myrká, the deacon stopped outside the graveyard and said:
“Wait here, Garún, Garún, while I take Faxi, Faxi, away from the yard, yard.”
The deacon left with the horse and Guðrún looked into the graveyard. There, she noticed an open grave and became very frightened. She ran towards the church and grasped the bell chord. Suddenly, the deacon was back, grabbing her from behind, trying to pull her into the grave. Guðrún was lucky that she had been in such a rush to put on her coat, because the deacon grabbed hold of the loose sleeve and pulled so hard that he tore it off at the seams. The deacon fell backwards into the grave, still holding on to the torn sleeve, and the dirt was swept in from both sides.
Frantically, Guðrún ran the church bells until the people of Myrká came running. They took her inside the farm and told her what had happened to the deacon. That same night, after Guðrún was in bed and the lights had been turned off, the deacon’s ghost returned, tormenting Guðrún. Terrified, she screamed, waking everyone. The ghost disappeared but always returned after dark and Guðrún could never be left alone at night.
Eventually, a sorcerer from Skagafjörður in Northwest Iceland was called to Myrká. He ordered that a huge rock be dug up and moved to the farm.
In the evening, after darkness had fallen, the deacon arrived and tried to enter the farm. But the sorcerer started chanting, barring the deacon’s entrance, making the ghost retreat south of the farm and disappear into the ground. The sorcerer then rolled the rock on top and there, the deacon remains trapped till this day.
After this, there was no haunting at Myrká and Guðrún returned to Bægisá. However, she never fully recovered from the ordeal.
Retold by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson.