Deacon of Dark River
One of the spookiest Icelandic ghost stories, Djákninn á Myrká, happens at Christmas and features a deacon and his horse Faxi.
Retold by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson.
There once was a deacon who lived at the farm Myrká in Eyjafjörður, North Iceland. He was engaged to a woman called Guðrún, who lived at Bægisá, on the other side of the river Hörgá. The deacon had a grey horse with a thick mane he called Faxi.
Before Christmas, the deacon rode to Bægisá to invite Guðrún to the celebrations at Myrká. He said he would pick her up on Christmas Eve, then returned to Myrká. The deacon assumed he could ride across Hörgá, which had been frozen solid earlier. But due to a sudden thaw, the ice broke and the deacon fell into the river.
The next morning, a neighbouring farmer found Faxi wet and shivering and the deacon dead on the riverbank. The back of his head was severely wounded, probably from a block of ice. The deacon was buried at Myrká the week before Christmas.
No one had been able to inform Guðrún about the tragedy and in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, she started getting ready. There was a knock on the door. 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 went outside, 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 and a man whom she took to be the deacon. They didn’t speak but he helped Guðrún up on Faxi’s back and then mounted the horse himself, sitting in front of her. They rode off. Suddenly, the deacon’s hat lifted. At the same time, the moon broke through the clouds, lighting up the deacon’s naked skull. He spoke:
“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”.
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. In the graveyard, Guðrún noticed an open grave. Frightened, she ran towards the church and grasped the bell chord. Suddenly, the deacon was back, trying to pull her into the grave. Lucky for her, the deacon had grabbed her loose sleeve, tearing it off at the seams. He fell backwards into the grave and the dirt was swept in from both sides. Frantically, Guðrún ran the church bells until the people of Myrká came running.
In the night, the deacon’s ghost returned and continued haunting Guðrún every night after that. Eventually, a sorcerer was called to Myrká. When the deacon appeared, he made the ghost retreat south of the farm and disappear into the ground. The sorcerer rolled a rock on top and there, the deacon remains trapped till this day. Guðrún returned to Bægisá but never fully recovered from the ordeal.