Monday, 16 November 2009

Haralde ou Hrappe

Rob Brautigam has recently added quite a number of new cases to his Shroudeater web site, one of them listed as coming from my native country, Denmark. He is referring to a paragraph in the second volume of Augustin Calmet's Dissertation, which is shown above, the story of 'Haralde ou Hrappe, Danois'. Here in the English translation of Henry Christmas:

'Haralde, or Harappe, a Dane, who caused himself to be buried at the entrance of his kitchen, appeared after his death, and was wounded by one Olaüs Pa, who left the iron of his lance in the wound.'

Calmet refers to this story because he discusses the nature of the apparition or revenant: 'This Dane, then, appeared bodily. Was it his soul which moved the body, or a demon which made use of this corpse to disturb and frighten the living? Did he do this by his own strength, or by the permission of God? And what glory to God, what advantage to men, could accrue from these apparitions? Shall we deny all these facts, related in so circumstantial a manner by enlightened authors, who have no interest in deceiving us, nor any wish to do so?'

Calmet does not mention the source of the story of Hrappe, but it can be found in one of the Icelandic Sagas: Laxdæla Saga. Written in the 13th century, the Saga covers the story of seven generations of settlers in the Laxdæla region of Iceland from the 9th to the early 11th century, Hrappe or Hrapp being introduced in chapter X:

'Hrapp was the name of a man who lived in Salmon-river-Dale, on the north bank of the river on the opposite side to Hoskuldstead, at the place that was called later on Hrappstead, where there is now waste land. Hrapp was the son of Sumarlid, and was called Fight-Hrapp. He was Scotch on his father's side, and his mother's kin came from Sodor, where he was brought up. He was a very big, strong man, and one not willing to give in even in face of some odds; and for the reason that he was most overbearing, and would never make good what he had misdone, he had had to fly from West-over-the-sea, and had bought the land on which he afterwards lived. His wife was named Vigdis, and was Hallstein's daughter; and their son was named Sumarlid.'

The death and return of Hrapp is dealt with in the Saga's chapter XVII:

'It is said of Hrapp that be became most violent in his behaviour, and did his neighbours such harm that they could hardly hold their own against him ... but his power waned, in that old age was fast coming upon him, so that he had to lie in bed. Hrapp called his wife Vigdis to him and said, "I have never been of ailing health in my life, and it is therefore most likely that this illness will put an end to our life together. Now, when I am dead, I wish my grave to be dug in the doorway of my fire hall, and I want to be placed in it, standing there in the doorway. In that way I shall be able to keep a more searching eye on my dwelling."

After that Hrapp died, and all was done as he said, for Vigdis did dnot dare do otherwise. And evil as he had been to deal with in his lifetime, he was even more so when he was dead, for he walked again a great deal after his death. People say he killed most of his servants in his ghostly appearances. He caused a great deal of trouble to those who lived near, and the house of Hrappstead became deserted, since Vigdis, Hrapp's wife, had taken herself west to her brother's house and settled there with all her goods. Things went on like this, until men went to find Hoskuld and told him all the things Hrapp was doing to them, and asked him to do something to put and end to this. Hoskuld said something should be done, and he went with some men to Hrappstead, and had Hrapp dug up, and taken away to a place where cattle were unlikely to roam and men unlikely to venture. After that Hrapp's walking-about abated somewhat...'

The ghost of Hrapp returns in chapter XXIV where he is confronted by Olaf the Peacock whom we are introduced to in chapter XVI. This is the character Calmet calls Olaüs Pa, 'Pa' being the nickname 'peacock':

'One evening the man who looked after the dry cattle came to Olaf and asked him to make some other man look after the neat and "set apart for me some other work."

Olaf answered, "I wish you to go on with this same work of yours."

The man said he would sooner go away. "Then you think there is something wrong," said Olaf. "I will go this evening with you when you do up the cattle, and if I think there is any excuse for you in this I will say nothing about it, but otherwise you will find that your lot will take some turn for the worse."

Olaf took his gold-set spear, the king's gift, in his hand, and left home, and with him the house-carle. There was some snow on the ground. They came to the fold, which was open, and Olaf bade the house-carle go in. "I will drive up the cattle and you tie them up as they come in."

The house-carle went to the fold-door. And all unawares Olaf finds him leaping into his open arms. Olaf asked why he went on so terrified?

He replied, "Hrapp stands in the doorway of the fold, and felt after me, but I have had my fill of wrestling with him."

Olaf went to the fold-door and struck at him with his spear. Hrapp took the socket of the spear in both hands and wrenched it aside, so that forthwith the spear shaft broke. Olaf was about to run at Hrapp but he disappeared there where he stood, and there they parted, Olaf having the shaft and Hrapp the spearhead. After that Olaf and the house-carle tied up the cattle and went home. Olaf saw the house-carle was not to blame for his grumbling. The next morning Olaf went to where Hrapp was buried and had him dug up. Hrapp was found undecayed, and there Olaf also found his spearhead. After that he had a pyre made and had Hrapp burnt on it, and his ashes were flung out to sea. After that no one had any more trouble with Hrapp's ghost.'

Although Iceland was once under Danish rule (and many people in Iceland still speak and read Danish), I think it is a bit misleading to talk of Hrapp as a Dane.

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