|The exorcism of a ghost. Engraving by E. Portbury after F.P. Stephanoff|
Happy Monday, readers. Let’s talk poltergeists.
A particularly sinister haunting was said to have taken place in Iceland in 1807. The following narrative of the “Ghost at Garpsdal” was dictated by the local minister, a Sir Saemund, in June of 1808. Rather than try to paraphrase, I thought it best to simply publish it in this eyewitnesses’ own words:
In Autumn, 1807, there was a disturbance by night in the outer room at Garpsdal, the door being smashed. There slept in this room the minister’s men-servants, Thorsteinn Gudmundsson, Magnus Jonsson, and a child named Thorstein. Later, on 16th November, a boat which the minister had lying at the sea-side was broken in broad daylight, and although the blows were heard at the homestead yet no human form was visible that could have done this. All the folks at Garpsdal were at home, and the young fellow Magnus Jonsson was engaged either at the sheep-houses or about the homestead; the spirit often appeared to him in the likeness of a woman. On the 18th of the same month four doors of the sheep-houses were broken in broad daylight, while the minister was marrying a couple in the church; most of his people were present in the church, Magnus being among them. That same day in the evening this woman was noticed in the sheep-houses; she said that she wished to get a ewe to roast, but as soon as an old woman who lived at Garpsdal and was both skilled and wise (Gudrun Jons-dottir by name) had handled the ewe, its struggles ceased and it recovered again. While Gudrun was handling the ewe, Magnus was standing in the door of the house; with that one of the rafters was broken, and the pieces were thrown in his face. He said that the woman went away just then. The minister’s horses were close by, and at that moment became so scared that they ran straight over smooth ice as though it had been earth, and suffered no harm.
On the evening of the 20th there were great disturbances, panelling and doors being broken down in various rooms. The minister was standing in the house door along with Magnus and two or three girls when Magnus said to him that the spirit had gone into the sitting-room. The minister went and stood at the door of the room, and after he had been there a little while, talking to the others, a pane of glass in one of the room windows was broken. Magnus was standing beside the minister talking to him, and when the pane broke he said that the spirit had gone out by that. The minister went to the window, and saw that the pane was all broken into little pieces. The following evening, the 21st, the spirit also made its presence known by bangings, thumpings, and loud noises.
On the 28th the ongoings of the spirit surpassed themselves. In the evening a great blow was given on the roof of the sitting-room. The minister was inside at the time, but Magnus with two girls was out in the barn. At the same moment the partition between the weaving-shop and the sitting-room was broken down, and then three windows of the room itself—one above the minister’s bed, another above his writing-table, and the third in front of the closet door. A piece of a table was thrown in at one of these, and a spade at another. At this the household ran out of that room into the loft, but the minister sprang downstairs and out; the old woman Gudrun who was named before went with him, and there also came Magnus and some of the others. Just then a vessel of wash, which had been standing in the kitchen, was thrown at Gudrun’s head. The minister then ran in, along with Magnus and the girls, and now everything that was loose was flying about, both doors and splinters of wood. The minister opened a room near the outer door intending to go in there, but just then a sledge hammer which lay at the door was thrown at him, but it only touched him on the side and hip, and did him no harm. From there the minister and the others went back to the sitting-room, where everything was dancing about, and where they were met with a perfect volley of splinters of deal from the partitions. The minister then fled, and took his wife and child to Muli, the next farm, and left them there, as she was frightened to death with all this. He himself returned next day.
On the 8th of December, the woman again made her appearance in broad daylight. On this occasion she broke the shelves and panelling in the pantry, in presence of the minister, Magnus, and others. According to Magnus, the spirit then went out through the wall at the minister’s words, and made its way to the byre-lane. Magnus and Gudrun went after it, but were received with throwings of mud and dirt. A stone was also hurled at Magnus, as large as any man could lift, while Gudrun received a blow on the arm that confined her to her bed for three weeks.
On the 26th of the month the shepherd, Einar Jonsson, a hardy and resolute fellow, commanded the spirit to show itself to him. Thereupon there came over him such a madness and frenzy, that he had to be closely guarded to prevent him from doing harm to himself. He was taken to the house, and kept in his bed, a watch being held over him. When he recovered his wits, he said that this girl had come above his head and assailed him. When he had completely got over this, he went away from Garpsdal altogether.
Later than this the minister’s horse was found dead in the stable at Muli, and the folks there said that it was all black and swollen.
These are the most remarkable doings of the ghost at Garpsdal, according to the evidence of Sir Saemund, Magnus, Gudrun, and all the household at Garpsdal, all of whom will confirm their witness with an oath, and aver that no human being could have been so invisible there by day and night, but rather that it was some kind of spirit that did the mischief. From the story itself it may be seen that neither Magnus nor any other person could have accomplished the like, and all the folk will confirm this, and clear all persons in the matter, so far as they know. In this form the story was told to me, the subscriber, to Samuel Egilsson and Bjarni Oddsson, by the minister himself and his household, at Garpsdal, 28th May, 1808. That this is correctly set down, after what the minister Sir Saemund related to me, I witness here at Stad on Reykjanes, 7th June, 1808.
[Note: Andrew Lang, who published this narrative in his “The Book of Dreams and Ghosts,” added, “Notwithstanding this declaration, the troubles at Garpsdal were attributed by others to Magnus, and the name of the ‘Garpsdal Ghost’ stuck to him throughout his life.”]