Halloween. The season for ghastly ghost stories. No need to worry about facts at all! That’s why I’m skipping my usual routine. Oh yeah! I’ve hunted the web for Viking hauntings that do not rely on facts!
Vikings and All Hallows’ Eve?
Did the Vikings know or celebrate Halloween? Probably not. The name Halloween is the Scottish shortening of Allhallows-even, the evening before the day of All Saints.1 Halloween is famous for its atmosphere and rituals, such as lighted candles in cemetries.
Some believe Halloween has pagan roots as it falls during the same time as the Celtic feast of Samhain, that marks the start of winter. Others deny this. So, quickly moving on to the Scandinavians. They, too, celebrated their own version with two feasts. Álfablót marked the end of the harvest season and they sacrificed to the elves, the spirits of the deceased. Not long afterwards, they celebrated Dísablót, the start of winter, with sacrifices to the dísir, the female spirits and ghosts.2
The Old Norse sagas and folktales are full of ghostly creatures and eerie events from the Viking Age. Take, for example, Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks in which a young woman awakens her father’s ghost in his burial mound to get the magical sword they buried him with.3 And what about the tale of the Viking Stötte? He stole a magic ring from the gods. In return, they turned him into a living skeleton on fire and bound him to the mast of a ‘ghostly, black-hulled longship’ forevermore.4
Enough already – let’s go to the ghosts and sightings!
10. Vikings in Minnesota
It isn’t a secret that many Norwegian immigrants settle down in Minnesota in the nineteenth century. They bring with them their language, traditions and many old stories. The word Viking is found as the name of a town, and also for the American football team.
When the Kensington runestone is discovered, suddenly, everyone starts believing the Vikings really could have travelled as far as the American Midwest! But the hype is short-lived and the stone turns out to be a fake. And whilst the town of Viking has plenty of hauntings, there’s nothing remotely connected to actual Vikings.5
9. The Aerial Ship of Clonmacnoise
The aerial ghost ship of Clonmacnoise is a wonderful story. Some believe there is a Viking connection. Mostly, because the tale has been passed down history not only in Irish medieval chronicles, but also the thirteenth century Norse Konungs Skuggsj.
One day, as the monks attend mass at the monastery, a ship appears in the sky above Clonmacnoise. The anchor rope comes down from the clouds and hooks on to the monastery. A crewmember swims (!) down and tries to free the anchor rope. The monks eventually close their gaping mouths and help him release the ship. He swims back up, and the ship sails away overhead.6
Alas, the Viking connection is hard to find. The original story is probably the one in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, recorded for the 740s.7 And the first recorded Viking attack only took place in 795. Moreover, the Norse text actually refers to the Irish sources and none of the texts refer to it as a Viking-related event.8
This must end in a poetic way, though. For even Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about the ship. You can read the text via the link in the footnote.9 But better yet, watch him reciting the poem on Youtube video.
8. The Kjalvegur (The Kjölur route)
There is a mysterious, ancient trail in Iceland’s highlands. It winds its way through a deserted and desolate scenery between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers. The stories about this route are as old as the sagas. It was inaccessible during the winter and a shortcut across the island in the summer. And marked by little else than piles of stones. Oh yes, and haunted. Supposedly, it was crowded by ghosts and highwaymen who scared travellers and robbed them of their pocket money.
After the Middle Ages, nobody remembered the trail anymore. Until the outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife, Halla settled near a hot spring in the mid-eighteenth century.
Until this day, the Kjalvegur is a rocky dirt road used by hikers and horse-riders.10 Meanwhile, let’s just imagine there might be some Vikings among the ghosts on the trail…
7. The Viking Ghosts of Lindholm Høje
Definitely eerie is the first cemetery on the list, Lindholm Høje in Denmark. It dates back to the Vendel period (before the Viking Age) and has many Viking Age burials with stones, some in the shape of boats (up 130!), and cremations.11
You will bump into a few Viking ghosts should you choose to wander here around at night… or Halloween! But there are no recorded apparitions of Vikings or gory tales. Just whispers of rumours…
6. Chingle Hall, Lancashire
In 1260, Adam de Singleton built a house in Goosnargh called Chingle Hall. Today, experts consider it the most haunted house of Lancashire. One can write a book about the dark history of the house itself. For our hauntings, we stick to the wooden beams.
Wooden beams, you say? Yes. Scientists have studied these supporting beams and confirmed them as Norwegian oak. Which, of course, leads to the comfortable conclusion that the wood came from a wrecked Viking longship found in nearby Ribble Valley.12
I can reassure you that nothing about this story is traceable as a fact. Apart from the house.
5. Viking ghosts of Bloody Corner
And in the winter of this same year the brother of Ingwar and Healfden landed in Wessex, in Devonshire, with three and twenty ships, and there was he slain, and eight hundred men with him, and forty of his army. There also was taken the war-flag, which they called the Raven.13The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 878.
Those who walk the North Devon beaches on a clear night – will hear the battle noises and see the shadows of fighting warriors.16
These hauntings are part of a trail of conflicting sources and studies until the present day. Local historians claim the site at Bloody Corner as the place where Hubba the Dane died fighting a local earl. A certain Charles Chappel and later Terry Bailey raised commemorative stones for Hubba and the battle.14 However, as yet, archaeology debunks the myth of Hubba being slain on the road between Appledore and Northam. Excavations on-site point toward a later battle fought in 1069 rather than Hubba and his men.15
4. Coppergate Shopping Mall, York
The ultimate ghost town in Britain must be York. And it has very strong ties with Vikings and a turbulent history throughout the Viking Age. Medieval sources overflow with events and recordings of Vikings.
The spectacular excavation in the 1970s revealed even more about Viking Age York. After the dig was finished, the Coppergate Shopping Centre emerged over the site. And that’s when the hauntings begin… the ghosts were not pleased… and the shop owners have suffered the consequences:
Doors were mysteriously wrenched off their hinges; and Marks & Spencer’s seems to have unwittingly recruited shelf-stackers from “the other side”, and the regular staff have had to get used to goods being moved overnight from one part of the store to another.17
But wait, there’s more: “Here are told many stories of bearded Vikings appearing, lights going off on their own and things brushing past shop assistants.”18
Another Viking phantom in York, is the Viking warrior who haunts the areas around St Saviour’s Church on St Saviourgate. Fallen during the battle of Fulford Cross? Who knows…19
3. The Viking of Canvey Point
A Viking ghost also haunts the area at Canvey Point, the Thames estuary near Essex and reportedly walks the mudflats on a regular basis. Descriptions in books talk of a tall, fierce-looking warrior complete with beard and long moustache, clad in Viking Age armour with his sword hanging and clanking from his belt.
We know the Vikings raided the area and used Benfleet nearby as a base camp. In 894, Edward the Elder fought and defeated the Vikings from Benfleet. So, it makes sense for this ghost to roam around here…20
2. The Viking Ghost of Tynemouth Castle
Tynemouth castle looks out over the North Sea and the River Tyne. The castle dates from the fourteenth century, but the priory inside dates back to the seventh century. It is said that a Benedictine order lived here, with monks clad in black.21
The first raid of the Vikings on the priory is recorded in the year 800, and very likely other years thereafter. In any case, there was much activity from the Scandinavians in this area. It is here and then, that the Viking story begins… 22
As the Vikings raided the British shores and one party landed on the beach near Tynemouth priory. One Viking, Olaf, is wounded in battle and nursed back to health by the monks in the priory. He stays with the monks who accept him as their own. Then, one day, the Viking band returns to launch a new attack on the priory. This time, Olaf’s brother is killed. Black Olaf is overcome by his brother’s death and said to have died whilst praying in the chapel. Today, his spirit still wanders the priory and castle grounds, looking out to the sea.23
1. Newfoundland Viking Ghost Ship
This tale of local fishermen in Newfoundland seeing a Viking longship on the waters nearby. So far, it has returned several times but only every thirty years! One will hear be the sound of paddles hitting the water, words spoken in a strange language, and a horn being blown before the ship sails into sight. For the full story, see the Youtube video!
Another version of the story dates back to the nineteenth century of a woman seeing men she doesn’t know and can’t place, carrying a boat she doesn’t recognise, from the water up and over the hill.24
I hoped you enjoyed going off the beaten track with me! Let me know if you have any good Viking ghost stories!
- ‘Halloween (n.).’ Etymology Online. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Victor Rouă, ‘Did The Vikings Celebrate Something Similar To Halloween?’ The Dockyards. Published 30 October 2016. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
Victor Rouă, ‘Halloween, Its Ancient Celtic Origins, And The Emerald Isle.’ The Dockyards. Published 31st October 2014. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
Maria Kvilhaug, ‘The Old Norse Halloween or Day of the Dead: Alfablót (Sacrifice to the Elves).’ Freya Völundarhúsins | Lady of the Labyrinth´s Old Norse Mythology Website. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Eleanor Parker, ‘A Viking Ghost Story.’ A Clerk of Oxford. Published 31 October 2012. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Bess Lovejoy, ’10 Tales of Legendary Ghost Ships.’ Mental Floss. Published 3 July 2015. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
Kevin Hile, Ghost Ships. (Farmington Hills: KidHaven Press, 2009), pp. 13–14.
Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, The Big Book of Mysteries. (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010), pp. 104. ↩
- For the football team, see www.vikings.com.
Charles A. Stansfield Jr, Haunted Minnesota. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2012), pp. 36.
Atimian, ‘Kensington Runestone.’ Atlas Obscure. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
The search list for haunted places in Viking, Minnesota on Haunted Places. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Richard Rankin Russell, Seamus Heany: An Introduction. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), pp. 156. ↩
- For the annals, see: The Annals of Clonmacnoise, being annals of Ireland from the earliest period to A.D. 1408. Edited by Denis Murphy (Dublin: University Press for the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1896).
Michael McCaughan, ‘Voyagers in the Vault of Heaven: The Phenomenon of Ships in the Sky in Medieval Ireland and Beyond.’ In: Material History Review. Volume 48.1 (1998), pp. 171–172 [pp. 170–180].
Bryan Sentes, ‘When a sighting report is not.’ Skunkworks. Published 8 September 2019. ↩
- Donnchadh Ó Corráin, ‘The Vikings and Ireland.’ In: The Viking world edited by Stefan Brink, and Neil Price (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 428–433.
John Carey, ‘Aerial Ships and Underwater Monasteries: The Evolution of a Monastic Marvel.’ In: Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium Volume 12 (1992), pp. 16, 21 [pp. 16–28]. ↩
- Seamus Heaney, ‘Lightenings viii.’ Nobelprize.org Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Theodoros Karasavvas, ‘The Kjolur Route: Haunted Highway and Ancient Viking Shortcut in Iceland.’ Ancient Origins. Published 20 March 2017. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
Information about Kjölur/Kjalvegur on Guide to Iceland. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
‘Kjolur.’ Iceland Travel. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- DHWTY, ‘Buried for One Thousand Years: The Eerie Graveyard of the Vikings.’ Ancient Origins. Published 4 July 2016. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- ‘Chingle Hall, Goosnargh, England.’ Ghost–stories.co.uk. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ‘Inside Lancashire’s Most Haunted Hall.’ Lancashire Post. Published 25 October 2017. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
‘Chingle Hall, Goosnargh, England.’ Ghost–stories. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Anonymous, ‘The Anglo–Saxon Chronicle | 878.’ The Avalon Project | Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Yale University. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- ’At last, a fitting memorial to Viking warrior Hubba.’ North Devon Gazette. Published 6 October 2010. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- ‘Devon & Dartmoor HER.’ Heritage Gateway. Last Edited 3 November 2017. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Daphne Bugler and Colleen Smith, ‘The Viking ghosts which still haunt this bloody corner of Devon and 11 other spooky legends you have never heard of.’ Devon Live. Last Updated 19 October 2019. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Joanna Moorhead, ‘York, the ultimate ghost town.’ The Guardian. Last Updated 26 October 2011. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
Ian, ‘Marks & Spencer, York.’ Mysterious Britain and Ireland. Last Updated 1 December 2018. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- ‘Ghostly Tales of York.’ The Guardian. Published 15 May 2010. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Summer Strevens, ‘Haunted York – A Journey through York’s Criminal Haunts.’ *On: Yorkshire Magazine. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Ian, ‘Viking Of Canvey Point.’ Mysterious Britain and Ireland. Last Updated 4 October 2012. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
For more on the Benfleet and the Vikings: ‘Project Viking.’ AGES AHA. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Lee D. Munro, ‘5 Haunted Places to Visit on England’s North East Coast.’ The Spooky Isles. Published 11 June 2014. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
‘Tynemouth Castle.’ CastlesFortsBattles. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- ‘Tynemouth.’ England’s North East. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- ‘Viking Ghost of Tynemouth Castle.’ Great Castles. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩
- Barbara Smith, Great Canadian Ghost Stories: Legendary Tales of Haunting from Coast to Coast. (Victoria, CA: Touchwood Editions, 2018), chapter ‘Visitors from the Past’.
Dale Jarvis, ‘A phantom Viking longship in Fortune Bay, Newfoundland.’ Dale Jarvis – Storyteller and Author. Published 13 November 2012. Last Accessed 26 October 2019.
Virginia Lamkin, ‘Newfoundland’s Viking Ghost Ship.’ Seeking Ghosts. Published 1 February 2015. Last Accessed 26 October 2019. ↩