Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The story of a corpse in Egtved

As it is christmas time, this short tale told by the mother of a man called Kristen Kabel in the Danish town of Egtved to Evald Tang Kristensen (1843-1929) may be appropriate:

Once when they had dug a grave in the cemetery in Egtved, they found a complete corpse. The coffin had rotted until it crumbled, but the corpse looked as if it had only been a few days since it was put in the ground. It was a man from Torsted, who had been buried for some years, and he had had a girlfriend who lived in a house in Egtved. It was close to christmas, so the corpse was but on a bier up in the church and should lie there during the christmas days, and of course they told the priest of it. But then on christmas eve when the people at the rectory had dined, they began to talk about the corpse, and they promised a crazy old cowherd who wanted a drink, that if he went to the church and gave the corpse a spoonful of porridge, then he would get half a pint of brandy. When he got there and bended over the corpse, it locked its arms around his neck and told him that he should carry it down to a house in Egtved town (the one in which his girlfriend had lived). So when they got there, the dead man knocked on the window, and a woman came and opened for him. Then he asks her if she will stretch out her right hand to him as she had done once before. 'You have sworn by that hand that you would have me, but you didn't keep your promise.' So now she should give him the hand again, but she dared not, and then she ran to the vicar and asked him what to do. He said that she shouldn't give him her hand, but her right glove on a stick. In the meantime, the cowherd was standing with the dead man on his back. So she acted on the vicar's advice, and when she withdrew the stick, the glove was pressed into dust. Then she told the cowherd that he should take the dead man and put him back to where he had taken him. He did, and on christmas day, when people went to church, they were curious to see the corpse, but when they got there, only a bit of dust was left. Now he had found peace.

The story is no. 902 in volume 5 (concerned with stories of ghosts and haunting) of Evald Tang Kristensen's famous collection of Danish folklore, Danske Sagn som de har lydt i Folkemunde. The volume was originally published in 1897. The translation is mine.

Egtved is a town in Jutland in Denmark which is famous for the find of a Bronze age woman, the so-called Egtved girl. Pictures and information (in Danish) on the church and cemetery in Egtved is available here.

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