Extinct Folk Stories (IRB)


ingibjorg2I’m sure this column will raise some questions about my sanity or that of a large group of the Icelandic nation. But because I hardly ever talk about these things, and then wonder why people are so skeptical, I should maybe at least try to present them as everyday-life-topics.

I’ve told you before about Icelanders’ belief, or open-mindedness towards the existence of the hidden people, trolls, elves, fairies and what have you. Not to mention ghosts.

Icelandic folk stories are filled with such accounts and still today, we’re raised with history and literature that allows the supernatural to flourish.

Yet, in modern days we’re increasingly adopting the disbelievers’ notion that anything intangible couldn’t possibly exist and that all these old stories can be explained by the lack of electrical light and/or hysteria.

Some of them can be explained that way, no doubt, but surely not all of them. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire too.

I believe this because, well, I am one of those who experience strange things like that. And so do others around me and sometimes we exchange stories of these occurrences or seek each others’ advice.

What we don’t do, however, is run around telling everybody these stories, or exaggerate them for the sake of entertainment. Nor do we call the media to try to convince others, or merely attract attention.

No, this is something that we just find quite ordinary; we’ve read all these folk stories since childhood and simply don’t see much unusual about these things.

Which is probably why there are fewer and fewer “evidence” of these incidents being recorded, thus, people nowadays think the supernatural doesn’t exist anymore. And if it doesn’t exist now it must never have existed.

So I’ve decided to document my stories at least, just for myself, so that future generations don’t get the idea into their heads that the supernatural simply seized to exist sometime in the 20th century.

I remember when my little brother, about four or five at the time, came in from playing, asking who that woman picking flowers in the grassy slope behind our house was.

As we looked out the window, not seeing anyone, he pointed very specifically at a certain spot: “There, dressed in red.” We didn’t tell him off for making up stories, we were so used to people in our family seeing or sensing things that others couldn’t.

Then there was that time when I was 14—alone at the farm as my parents and little brother were away for a couple of nights—and one evening as I was watching TV in the living room, the radio in the kitchen suddenly blasted music.

The volume button was at max when I got to it. I looked around the empty kitchen, unplugged the radio and went back to watching the TV. What else was I supposed to do?

There was also the time I moved into a new flat and had been assembling furniture when I noticed a small pile of granulated sugar (I tasted it to make sure) on my desk.

Only, there was no sugar in my kitchen cupboards yet, I hadn’t moved any with me and still hadn’t bought groceries.

Strange, but reminded me of how my grandfather had always liked sugar, using up to a dozen teaspoons of it in his coffee. Perhaps there was no connection though, I’ll never know.

There are also numerous times when I’ve heard someone walking around in my home (any home I’ve had), and the opening and closing of doors or closets, without any movement.

Or the times I’ve heard footsteps behind me and seen a shadow over my shoulder, following me around sometimes for a whole day.

And the times the door bell rings or there’s a knock on the door, up to half an hour before someone actually arrives and calls at the door.

I’ve seen an old man from the corner of my eye, suddenly appearing in my sister’s house, then vaporizing after a few seconds.

Or the countless times I know when my phone is about to ring, or I know who’s about to call me. Or when I suddenly get someone on my mind for no apparent reason and then receive big news about that person, good or bad.

I have often known people’s names before they introduce themselves to me, or known what people are about to say. And I often see or sense some form of presence that seems to be linked to certain people.

And there are houses that I don’t like and others where I get sleepy as soon as I step inside. Sometimes it’s even just a certain spot in a house that makes me feel uncomfortable or suddenly drowsy.

And then there are the dreams. That time I dreamt that an unknown air force would drop bombs all over Iceland and that our farmhouse would break in half, with no casualties, though. And a few hours later we had a big earthquake, with no casualties.

Or when I dreamt my late grandmother who insisted I visited her grave, which I did that very day and found out that the Christmas lights—that we always put on our relatives’ graves during Advent—were not working on hers.

But usually the dreams indicate something bad happening to people around me, an illness or death, and there’s nothing I can do to change it so I really wish I’d rather not know. Which is why I never, ever tell anyone about these dreams until maybe long afterwards.

Of course, I can’t explain exactly what the supernatural is and why these things occur. But I’m willing to accept that there’s something going on around us that we still don’t have the tools to measure.

Maybe we’ll never be able to; it doesn’t bother me at all. I just find it very arrogant to assume we know everything there is to know about everything.

Supernatural stories aren’t extinct. They’re just not folk stories anymore and don’t travel around. Which is probably why so many people have stopped believing in them and have in fact become quite intolerant of those who think differently about these things.

Which again makes us less willing to tell our stories.

Ingibjörg Rósa Björnsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.