Video | Iceland

The Deacon of Dark River: An Icelandic Ghost Story

In this short video, storyteller and poet Svanur Thorkelsson tells and illustrates one of the most famous ghost stories in Iceland, The Deacon of Dark River, often told at Christmastime. The story features a deacon, his fiancée Guthrun, his horse Faxi, a ghost, and a sorcerer. We hope you enjoy!

Over the many harsh centuries of the Little Ice Age, which in Iceland lasted until the latter part of the nineteenth century, Icelanders did not produce much traditional art at all. They composed no music for they had no instruments, they did not paint any masterpieces for the lack of materials, and they did not chisel forms in marble, for there is none in the land.

Artistically they were limited to the medium most of us share: the human voice, our language. For this reason, they became master storytellers, writing their tales down when they could, but mostly telling them to each other during the long evenings, when they all shared common quarters in the baðstofa, where people would also eat and sleep.

Many of our stories draw upon the vast material in the Sagas, a bulk of literature written in Iceland in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. They are made up of adventure fantasies and fairytales, romantic novels, chronicles, and textbooks, written to preserve the cosmology of Nordic peoples for the future.

In this story you’ll notice that in Icelandic folklore, ghosts often speak in verse, repeat the last word of each phrase, and are not able to say the word for god. And at the end of each story, the storyteller traditionally recites, “The cat on the bale, stuck up his tail, over is this fairy tale.”

About the Author

Svanur Thorkelsson

Svanur Thorkelsson

Storyteller and Poet

Svanur (Swan) Thorkelsson is an Icelandic storyteller, poet, and bard. For the past twenty years, he has mostly worked in the travel industry in Iceland, but his work as a guide and a storyteller has also taken him to Greenland, Ireland, England, Israel, and South Africa.

Just recently he completed recording the audiobook reading of Beowulf for Audible in the original old Anglo-Saxon language.

Svanur's passion has always been the rich legacy of Icelandic lore, legends, and the sagas. He has specialized in bringing them to life as he takes his fellow travellers exploring the magical landscape of his homeland.

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