Thursday’s Tale: Yuletide Spectres

The church yard at Maria Magdalena in Södermalm. Photo by Sandra Carpenter.
The church yard at Maria Magdalena in Södermalm. Photo by Sandra Carpenter.

“Yuletide Spectres” may take place at Christmas, but it’s downright creeepy. It comes from Sweden and I found it on-line at The Gold Scales.

Once upon on a time (I love that beginning), there lived two peasants on a homestead called Vaderas. In those days the roads were good, and the women were in the habit of riding when they wanted to go to church. One Christmas the two women agreed that they would ride to Christmas night mass, and whichever one of them woke up at the right time was to call for the other.

It was about midnight when one of the women thought she heard a voice from the window, calling, “I am going to set out now.” She got up hurriedly and dressed herself, so that she might be able to ride with the other woman; but since there was no time to eat, she took a piece of bread from the table along with her. In those times it was customary to bake the bread in the shape of a cross. It was a piece of this kind that the woman took and put in her pocket, in order to eat it underway. She rode as fast as she could, to catch up with her friend, but could not overtake her.

The way led over a little stream which flows into Vidostern Lake, and across the stream was a bridge, and on the bridge stood two witch trolls, busy washing. As the woman came riding across the bridge, one of the witch trolls called out to the other, “Hurry, and tear her head from her shoulders!”

“That I cannot do,” returned the other, “because she has a bit of bread in the form of a cross in her pocket.”

The woman, who had been unable to catch up with her neighbor, reached the church alone.

The church was full of lights, as was always the case when the Christmas mass was said. As quickly as ever she could the woman tied up her horse, and hurriedly entered the church. It seemed to her that the church was crowded with people; but all of them were headless, and at the altar stood the priest, in full dress but without a head. In her haste she did not at once see how things were; but sat down in her usual place. (How could you miss that everyone was headless?) As she sat down, it seemed to her that someone said, “If I had not stood godfather to you when you were christened, I would do away with you as you sit there. But now hurry and make yourself scarce, or it will be the worse for you!”

Then she realized that things were not as they should be, and ran out hastily.

When she came into the churchyard, it seemed to her as if she were surrounded by a great crowd of people. In those days people wore broad mantles of unbleached wool, woven at home, and white in color. She was wearing one of these mantles and the specters seized it. But she flung it away from her and managed to escape from the churchyard, and run to the poor-house and wake the people there. It is said it was then one o ‘clock at night.
So she sat and waited for the early mass at four o’clock in the morning. And when day finally dawned, they found a little piece of her mantle on every grave in the church-yard.

Seems like she was very lucky that her godfather was buried in the church cemetery. I don’t think I’ve read many stories about ghosts up and walking around on Christmas. It doesn’t seem like a very ghostly holiday to me. And why did one of the specters call her in the first place, presuming that’s what happened?

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

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