The Sorcerers in the Westman Islands – An Icelandic Zombie tale

There is such a thing as an Icelandic zombie, which has been a part of our culture since before the settlement. In Old Norse, zombies were called draugur, which in today’s language means ghost. Zombie stories are generally categorized with other ghost stories. The main difference is that a living person brought them back. The person was usually a sorcerer, and they brought them back to do their bidding.

The famous zombie in the Icelandic sagas is from Grettis Saga. Grettir meets and fights Kárr the Old, a “draugur” protecting his burial mound, and Glámur, a revenant.

When Jón Árnason published his book on Icelandic folktales and legends, he said that waking up the dead is so rare these days that people cannot agree on which method should be used if they’d want to do so.

Zombies from here and here.

Some say that to create an Icelandic zombie, you need to take one of the dead person’s bones and enlarge it with magic so it becomes a man. Then you can send it to whomever you want to scare. If the person, who got sent the zombie, is knowledgeable enough to pick out the magical bone or mention the zombie’s name, they become powerless.

Read more about Icelandic ghosts, spectres and zombies here.

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The Sorcerers in the Westman Islands

When the Black Death raged over Iceland, eighteen wizards formed an alliance. They went out to Vestmannaeyjar and planned to protect themselves from death there as long as possible. When they saw the plague starting to ease from the land, they wanted to know if anyone would live. They agreed to send one of them ashore and decided on one who was neither the greatest nor the least in their sport. They took him ashore and said they would send him a zombie that would kill him if he didn’t return before Christmas. This was early Lent. The man went and walked for a long time and came to many places. But nowhere did he see a man; the farms were open, and corpses lay scattered.

At last, he came to a closed farm door. He wondered at that, and now he hoped to find a living man. When he knocked on the door, a young and beautiful girl answered. He greeted her, but she ran round his neck and wept for joy at seeing a man, for she said she thought no one survived but herself. She asked him to stay with her, and he agreed. They now went in and talked a lot. She asked him where he came from and where he was going. He told her that he had to return before Christmas. She still asked him to stay with her as long as possible. He took such pity on her that he promised her that. She told him that no one was alive near the farm because she had gone for a week in every direction and found no one.

Now it was almost Christmas, and the Islander wanted to leave. The girl begged him to stay, saying that his companions would not be so cruel as to make him pay for it even if he stayed with her. He let himself be persuaded, and now it was Christmas Eve. He was going to leave, no matter what she said. She realizes her begging is no longer enough and says: “Do you think you will reach the islands tonight? Or don’t you think it would be better to die here with me than die somewhere along the way?” He realized time was too short and decided to sit by and await his death.

The Zombie Arrives

It was late at night, and he was despondent, but the girl was the happiest and asked if he saw how the Islanders were feeling. He said they had sent the zombie to the country, and it would arrive today. The girl lay down on her bed, but he lay above her. He said that now he was getting sleepy. Then he fell asleep. The girl sat on the bed, woke him up regularly, and let him tell her where the zombie was. But the closer it got, the more soundly he slept. Finally, when he said that the zombie had arrived at the farm, he fell asleep so that she could not wake him up. It wasn’t long before she saw the rust-brown vapor enter the farm.

This vapor slowly glided towards her and became a human form there. The girl asks where it is going. The zombie told her all his business and asked her to get off the bed “because I can’t get over you.” The girl said that then it will have to work for it. The zombie asked what it was. The girl asks to see how big it can get. The vapour agreed and now becomes so big that it fills up the whole town. Then the girl says: “Now I want to see how small you can become.”

The zombie said it can become a fly, and it transforms into a fly and was going to fly under the girl’s hand and into the man’s bed. But instead, it flew into a sheep’s leg that the girl was holding, and she put a plug in the hole. She then placed the leg with the zombie in her pocket and woke the man up. He woke up quickly and was very surprised that he was still alive. The girl asked him where the zombie was. He said he didn’t know what happened to it. The girl then said that she had long suspected that the islands’ wizards weren’t so great. Now the man was delighted, and they both enjoyed the festival immensely.

But towards the end of the year, the man started to become reserved. The girl asked what was wrong with him. He said the sorcerers on the Islands were creating another zombie, “and they will amplify it. It will arrive on New Year’s Eve, and it won’t be easy to save me.” The girl said there was no point in dreading the future, “and don’t be afraid of the Islanders’ zombies.” She was now the happiest, and he felt ashamed that he was so low. On New Year’s Eve, he said the zombie had arrived on land “and is traveling quickly because it is powerful.” The girl said that they will go out, and he follows. They walked until they came to a single bush. She stopped and pulled out a few twigs, revealing a stone slab. She lifted up the slab, revealing a vault underneath.

They went down into the vault, which was dark and scary. The only light source was a dim light coming from a candle in a skull. A terrifying man lay alone on a bed by the light. His eyes were like blood, and he was so hideous that the Islander has a hard time looking at him. The man says, “It’s surprising to see you, foster mother. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, and what should I do for you now?” The girl then told him everything about her travels, the man, and the previous zombie. The man asked her to show him the sheep’s leg.

She did so, and the man changed in demeanor when he accepted the leg. He rolled it and stroked it all over. Then the girl said: “Help me quickly, foster father, because now the man is starting to become sleepy, which is a sign that the zombie has arrived.” The man took the plug from the leg, and the fly emerged. The man stroked the fly, patted it, and said: “Now go and receive all the zombies from the Islands and swallow them!” Then there was a big crash, and the fly went out and grew so big that one of its wings took over the sky and the other the ground. It ate all the zombies from the Islands, and now the man was safe.

They returned home from the vault and settled on the girl’s farm. Then they made love and multiplied and multiplied and filled the earth.

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