GULLBRÁ AND SKEGGI IN HVAMM

A folktale recorded by pastor Jón Þorleifsson at Ólafsvellir.
Printed in Jón Árnason, Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og æfintýri, vol. 1, pp. 146-150. Leipzig, 1862.
English translation by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir. Licence: CC BY-NC- SA. You may cite this translation, giving full attribution, but not use it for commercial purposes, see here.

Hvamm in the Dales, the ancient seat of the Sturlungs, is located in a certain valley which is not very broad. A river runs through the valley and a farm is situated on the other side opposite from Hvamm; this farm is called Akur and there are no other farms in the valley. Akur was settled early on even though it looks like a subsidiary farm from Hvamm because Akur is mentioned already in Sturlunga saga, where Sturla says of his dream that it was as if he found himself on the slope ‘above Akur’. I have not found this farm mentioned in other sagas. Many places in this valley are named after the Gullbrá (Goldenbrow) who is supposed to have first lived at Akur and this story goes around over there in the west.

Aud the deep-minded claimed all the land along Hvammsfjord and lived at Hvamm. She had a very grand home and a lot going on. The cattle went along the eastern side of the river but there were crop fields in the valley up to the mountain slope on the western side. These fields were very fertile but it was a custom there that Aud kept the area which looked particularly fertile unsown and strictly forbade her workmen to cultivate all of the southern part of the field and they were not to have cattle stay there for grazing and if that happened, those animals should not be milked at the next milking.

It was once when Aud the deep-minded had become very old that a certain woman arrived at Hvamm, young and very beautiful to behold. She said her name was Gullbrá, no one knew from where she came or what her ancestry was. She met the estate manager but not the lady of the house herself. She asked him why the fields there south of the river were not cultivated and he told her Aud’s words. She laughed heartily and made an offer for the land: ‘I’d rather have one tussock of this than all of the Hvamm land, because I suspect that here, that house will be built and those customs practiced of which I am least fond, and give me permission for the land immediately without asking Aud’, she says. She hands him a large bag full of gold and since he both thought the gold was beautiful and Aud was no longer running the farm herself, he took the gold and gave the permission. 

Aud discovered this soon; then she dismissed her estate manager and said that he would never prosper from this gold because she suspected that this Gullbrá was well versed in magic and the worst guest, and now it had come to pass what she had suspected about the land south of the river. ‘But there will be so much good fortune attached to the Hvamm land that this will not do any harm’, she said. At that point, the estate manager grabbed the bag and intended to give it to Aud to placate her. He untied it and then a pile of worms fell out with a terrible stench, but the man went insane and died shortly after. He and the bag were buried under a pile of stones on a mountain above the land that Gullbrá had bought and since then, it has been called Ormalág (Wormpit). Aud did not renege on the purchase, but she had all fields on the south of the river put out of use, from the sea and to a gully somewhat further inside the valley; there she had three crosses erected on the rim of the mountain and that is since called Krossgil (Cross Gully) and she said that Gullbrá’s sorcery would not be able to get past these crosses while she was alive. Nor did Gullbrá ever have them touched and she was careful about letting her cattle come near them. Gullbrá had a large farm built on her land and she lived there for a long time; she called it Akur (Field) and it was later called Hofakur (Temple Field). She built a temple there and had large ritual ceremonies and performed great sorcery. But any time when she was at her magic work and she happened to look towards Hvamm, the ceremony was ruined. She said she could always see a great light in a particular place on the pasture in front of Hvamm and that this light was unbearable to her since she became forgetful and muddled in her knowledge. A similar light shone towards her from Aud’s crosses on the mountain rim; however, she said that they were not as damaging to her as the ones in Hvamm.

Aud and Gullbrá never met, not did they allow their servants to go across the river to meet and their cattle never came near each other. Aud was a Christian but she didn’t have a church on her farm. She prayed at Krosshólar, for it was impossible to see the temple at Akur from there. Before Aud died, she ordered it so that she did not want to lie in unconsecrated ground, but she said she was afraid of the heathendom’s domination and therefore asked that she be buried on the shore. It is now called Auðarsteinn (Aud’s stone) where she lays, and it is still today a general shore mark in Hvammsfjord that it is high tide when the sea has flowed just about halfway in or out when it first falls on Audarsteinn.

Gullbrá lived at Akur for a short while after Aud’s death, for although her power increased when heathenism was common and the Hvamm people adopted pagan beliefs and shrines at Krosshólar, she nevertheless did not find peace there because Aud’s burial place was at the front of her land on the shore, but her crosses further inland by the gully at the edge of the slope. Thus, she was in a sort of predicament there. Then she gave the Hvamm people the land at Akur, but in return, she got the inner part of the valley. It is very shadowy there and little sun in the summers, but most of the winter, there is no sun to be seen on the valley’s southern slope. She selected a dwelling place innermost in the valley, where it is narrowest and most shadowy, it is since called Gullbrárhjalli (Gullbrá’s Ledge).

Gullbrá did not feel strong enough to go into the valley past Aud’s crosses unless she fortified herself with her magic. She went to her temple and stayed there for a long time with lots of strange goings-on and when she came out, she had a blindfold put before her eyes, then took a certain chest full of gold with her out of the temple, and she had a large ring which was in the temple door fastened to the lid of the chest. She then mounted a horse, put the chest in front of her and held the ring, and the workmen led the horse for her. She ordered them never to look up towards the slope to the crosses. Nevertheless, the man who led her horse across Krossgil made the mistake to look up to the slope and he hesitated a bit, and because the gully was difficult to pass, but Gullbrá was spurring the horse on, it fell to its knee. At this, the chest fell forwards, but Gullbrá sat there and retained only the ring. She was so shaken by this that she took off the blindfold to see what had happened to the chest, and at the same time, the crosses on the mountain rim came into plain view. She then screamed loudly and said that there was an unbearable light shining into her eyes, then asked the men to give her her chest and ride on as fast as possible. But she threw the ring that she was holding as far away from her as she could and said that she would long regret bringing it along, ‘and I now realise that this ring is intended for some use which is of the utmost displeasure to me’.

Now, Gullbrá continued on her way. And when she had got a short distance from the gully, she started to feel a great pain in her eyes and so much so that when she arrived at Gullbrárhjalli, she had lost her vision. She lived there for a while, blind and in great discomfort, until she became gravely ill. She then summoned her workmen and ordered them to carry her to a certain ravine and ease her down with ropes. She said she wanted to lay where the sun never shone and the sound of church bells was never heard. And the ravine is so formed that there is a certain waterfall in a gully off the ravine towards the north, and a cave behind it. The ravine is very deep and the water under the waterfall is turbulent. Gullbrá went to the cave and lay down on the gold. When she had turned into a revenant in the waterfall, she laid waste to the farm at Gullbrárhjalli; when dusk fell, neither people nor cattle were able to be on the ledge or the slope and keep their life and since then, shepherds have considered it haunted, but all hauntings ceased after a church was built at Hvamm. The place to which Gullbrá had herself brought is now called Gullbrárgil (Gullbrá’s Gully) and Gullbrárfoss (Gullbrá’s Waterfall).

The ring from the temple door at Akur is still used. It is now in the church door at Hvammr. It is an enormous ring, the handle is very worn, and it is made from copper alloy; there is a very ancient copper plate under the hook which has a relief of two men wearing armour, with a helmet on their head and swords at their side in a short coat of mail. One of them is stabbing the other in the breast so that the weapon comes out on the other side.

It is mentioned in Kristni saga and other sources that when Þangbrand the priest [a foreign missionary) travelled around the West Fjords, he stopped at Hvammr; his matter was received negatively there; the lady of the house did not come out and she was performing a pagan ritual inside, but her son Skeggi belittled Þangbrand and his following meanwhile.

It is said that this Skeggi lived in Hvammr for a long time and was a strong proponent of heathenism; he himself was very knowledgeable in magic and a fervent heathen like his mother. Despite this, he was not able to vanquish Gullbrá’s ghost with his magic. She often killed his shepherds and sheep when they came to Gullbrárhjalli. Skeggi was unhappy about this, especially because he was constantly thinking about getting Gullbrá’s chest from the waterfall. He said that it was much better if it were with him than her, the dead revenant, which was true. He set off one fine day and prepared to go into Gullbrárfoss. It was a long way to go into the valley and once he got to the waterfall, dusk had begun to set. Two workmen were on this trip and they were to hold the ropes. Skeggi was lowered into the waterfall and it wasn’t long until the rope-men heard great commotion, loud noises and screams; it sounded like there was a great skirmish under the waterfall. They became very afraid at this and they were at the point of leaving, but presently, Skeggi made a signal to pull up the ropes. They did so but when Gullbrá’s chest had been pulled up to the edge of the gully, they looked to the side; it seemed to them that the entire valley below Hvamm was on fire; the flames burned between the two mountains. They were then so afraid that they ran away from the ropes and the chest fell back down into the waterfall. When they had come down from the ledge, they saw nothing unusual, but nevertheless they did not stop until they got home. Skeggi came long afterwards, in a great deal of pain; he was blue and bloody. He was carrying a large cauldron full of gold on his arm; he had filled it from Gullbrá’s chest and pulled himself up from the ravine with his hands. The fight between Gullbrá and Skeggi had been long and hard, and Skeggi had not been able to demolish Gullbrá’s ghost, for Gullbrá was never worse than after this; she killed one of Skeggi’s shepherds after another and it went so in the end that no one would herd sheep there because they all got killed.

Regarding Skeggi, he was never the same after he went in the waterfall; he was so overcome by it and the killings of the shepherds that he became bedridden. But when it got to the point when no one would herd his sheep, Skeggi got out of bed one day and went to his flock. The day and night passed without Skeggi coming home, but late the next day, he returned nearly dead, for no one dared to go look for him. He carried Gullbrá’s chest on his back. He said that from now on, her ghost would do no harm, but that he, too, would follow. Then he lay down and never got up again. He gave orders before he died that the gold in the cauldron should be used to buy wood to build a church at Hvamm. He said that the first time he went to the waterfall and wrestled with Gullbrá, he called on his friend Thor, but he let him down, and the second time, when he was in an even more desperate situation, he vowed to contribute money for building a church in Hvamm if he were freed from Gullbrá’s clutches. At this, a great light came into her eyes so that before he knew, she had turned into stone down there in the ravine and the ghost is still visible in Gullbrárfoss. Skeggi did not want to convert or be buried by the church in Hvamm, but rather, he ordered that he be buried there to the north in the pasture. That was done and Gullbrá’s chest was placed beneath his head. A large stone is there called Skeggjasteinn (Skeggi’s stone). The valley which begins there is called Skeggjadalur (Skeggi’s valley) and Gullbrárhjalli is on the south side of this valley.