The Two Sigurdurs – An Icelandic Ghost Story

There are many different types of ghosts categorized in Icelandic ghost stories. Apart from zombies and spectres, there are also “fylgjur”, spirits that attach themselves to a person and útburður, a child left outside to die.

Then there are many different reasons why people come back as ghosts. Some come back to get revenge on the person who killed them; some come back to keep a promise; others hunt their loved ones, while others come back to guard their money. They cannot be apart from it. The following story fits into that category.

There are many stories of those who have not been able to part with their wealth on earth and therefore visit it after death. All such ghosts are called money demons, and many were extremely stingy while alive.

wooden chests in National Museum, icelandic ghost story
It’s possible the ghosts buried their treasure in a chest like this. National Museum of Iceland.

Such ghosts are on the move every night; they then count their money and play with it in various. Before they died, they placed their treasure in a place they could visit again in privacy after death. They must stow their treasure away before dawn because they cannot see the light of day, like elves when they hold parties during Christmas or trolls on their night strolls. They will do everything to get into their coffin again, even give up where their treasure is hidden.

Read more about Icelandic ghosts, spectres and zombies here.

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The Two Sigurds

A farmer once had a son named Sigurdur, who was so ill-tempered that no one could live in peace with him.

One day, a man named Sigurdur came to the farmer’s house and asked him for shelter for the winter, which the former consented to give him. The stranger did nothing but play the flute, and the farmer’s son became so fond of him that he cared for nobody else.

In the spring, the stranger went away, and Sigurdur became so sick of home life that he also left the farm and searched for his beloved namesake. He went from house to house, parish to parish, and district to district, continually asking for Sigurdur. At last, at a certain priest’s house where he made the same inquiry, they told him that a man of that name had just died there and lay in the church. After being admitted into the church, the boy sat by the open coffin, intending to watch over it all night.

At midnight the corpse of Sigurdur (for it really was his friend) rose from the coffin and left the church, but his namesake sat still and awaited his return. At dawn, the corpse came back, but Sigurdur would not let him, despite his pleas, return to his coffin before telling him how he had spent the night outside the church.

mammon, icelandic ghost, money demon
Mammon by Louis Le Breton, via Wikimedia Commons

So, the dead man said, “I have been looking over my money. Now I must get into the coffin.”

“No,” replied the other, “you must first tell me where your money is.”

“In one of the corners of the family room,” said the other.

“How much is there of it?”

“One barrelful.”

“Did you do nothing,” again inquired the youth, “besides counting your money?”

The corpse denied it. But when the living Sigurdur pressed him to tell him how he had been employed, the other answered, wanting to be let in his coffin, “Well, then! I have killed the priest’s lady, who has just had a child.”

“Why did you commit so mean a crime?” asked Sigurdur.

“Because,” replied the corpse, “I tried to seduce her during her lifetime, but she always resisted my persuasions.”

“How did you kill her?”

The dead Sigurdur answered, “I drove all the life in her body into her little finger.”

“Can she not be revived? “Asked the youth.

“Yes! If you can untie the thread around her finger without shedding any blood, she will come to life. And now I really must get into my coffin.”

The other only allowed him to do so on his promise that he would never try to move again.
In the morning, as soon as the sun had fully risen, Sigurdur left the church. When he entered the family room, he found everybody plunged in grief. On asking them what the matter was, they told him that the priest’s wife had died in the night, and nobody could tell her complaint. So, he asked permission to see her, which he was granted. Having gone up to the dead woman and undone the cord he found round her little finger, he urged the life from it into her body, and she sat up alive and well.

Then he told the priest about his interview with the corpse of Sigurdur and, to prove his words further, showed him the money hidden in the comer of the family room. The priest thanked him warmly for his excellent service; after this, Sigurdur became as much beloved as he had before been hated.

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