Gjenganger (Norwegian: "Gjenganger" Danish: "Genganger" Swedish: "Gengångare"). In scandinavian folklore, the entity referred to as a "gjenganger" is the equivalent of a ghost, but with several large differences from the modern, western perception of ghosts. The term "gjenganger" and its other Scandinavian counterparts, can be directly translated into English as revenant. A more meaningful interpretation would be 'someone who has returned from the afterlife'.


A "gjenganger" could have several reasons to return from the afterlife. Murdered people could seldom sleep peacefully in their graves. The same went for their murderers. People who had committed suicide often came back as "gjengangere", because Christian tradition held that "self-killers" were fit neither for heaven nor hell. At other times, people came back from the grave because they had left something undone. Most often they needed someone to help them do this, before they could finally be at peace.


The biggest difference between modern ghosts and the "gjenganger" is that the "gjenganger" in the Scandinavian tradition took on an entirely corporeal form. It normally had no spectre-like qualities whatsoever. In older traditions the "gjenganger" was also very malicious and violent in nature, coming back from the grave to torment its family and friends. In the way they acted, and in the extensive precautions their relatives took to make sure they stayed in their graves, "gjengangere" are more akin to eastern-European vampires than modern-day ghosts.

Viking Age

This tradition of the violent "gjenganger" goes back to the Viking age, where they are present in many of the Icelandic sagas, among others: Grettis saga, Eyrbyggja saga and The Saga of Eric the Red. In this tradition, the "gjenganger" was a mortal creature. An example of this is Grettir slaying the "gjenganger" Glåm with his sword. These Viking-age "gjengangere" were often called "draugr", and the two are likely to be different names for the same phenomenon.

ca. 1900

In slightly newer tradition, the "gjenganger" remains a violent entity, though in a less direct way, now becoming more of a disease-spreader. These "gjengangere" would attack people with their so-called "dødningeknip" (dead man's pinch). This would result in the living persons skin becoming sunken and blue where the gjenganger had pinched them, and this often led to disease and death for the afflicted person. The pinch was often administered when the person was asleep. Both the "huldrefolk" and "nøkken" were also accused of doing the same, using bites instead of pinches, often aimed at the victims face. This belief in beings attacking people in their sleep was used as a warning against going to sleep in specific places (near the graveyard, mountains or water respectively).

In later Swedish folklore, a distinction is made between the traditional "gjenganger" and another type of ghost known as "gast". Whereas the "gjenganger" looked virtually identical to a living human, the "gast" was known to be transparent and/or skeletal in appearance, sometimes it also had sharp fangs and claws, thus making it impossible to see who the phantom had been while alive. And whereas the Swedish version of the "gjenganger" (unlike its counterparts in other Scandinavian countries) were usually said to be rather harmless, it was the "gast" who was known to cause diseases. They were also known to cause accidents and scare people for no apparent reason other than that they enjoyed doing so.

Protection and Prevention

People had numerous ways of both defending themselves against the "gjenganger", and stopping people from becoming one in the first place. A few of them are mentioned here:
* Crucifixes and Christian incantations to ward off the "gjenganger".
* Painting symbols, especially the cross, with tar above your door was said to ward off all kinds of supernatural powers.
* When a person was buried, the coffin was carried over the church wall instead of through the gate (to stop him from coming back)
* For the same reason, the coffin was carried three times around the church before being buried.
* The shovels used to dig the grave were left behind, often on the grave itself in the shape of a cross.
* If the coffin was carried to church on a sleigh or other wooden transport, the transport should be left behind to rot, or be used by poor people as firewood.
* Perhaps the oldest example we have of an attempt to stop someone from coming back as a "gjenganger", is a runic inscription from the 6th century. It was written on the inside of the grave, facing the dead and reads:

:"New Norwegian:" ::For Birginga riste broren runer ::Kjære syster mi, skån meg!

:"English:"::For Birginga, the brother carved runes::Please my sister, spare me!

A tradition that deserves special mention is that of the "varp". A "varp" is a pile of stones or twigs which often marks a place where someone has died. It was believed that when you passed this place, you should throw another stone/twig on the "varp", to commemorate what had happened there. Doing so would sometimes bring luck on your further travels, while not doing so would result in bad luck and dangerous accidents. Many of these "varps" have now disappeared, especially the ones made out of twigs. But in a few places the "varp" is marked with a sign or something similar, and the tradition is kept alive to this day, though in a much looser, and often joking, manner.

Modern perception

Ever since spiritualism came to Scandinavia around the beginning of the 20th century, the perception of the "gjenganger" has been gradually altered. Today it mostly compares with the modern perception of ghosts, most often being ethereal in form, and non-violent in nature. The word "gjenganger" is seemingly being used less and less, the contemporary word "spøkelse" (ghost) having mostly taken over.


* Hodne, Ørnulf (1995) "Vetter og skrømt i norsk folketro"
* Hodne, Ørnulf (2000) "Mystiske steder i Norge"
* Sivertsen, Birger (2000) "For noen troll"

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужна курсовая?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ghost — A ghost is said to be the apparition of a deceased person, frequently similar in appearance to that person, and usually encountered in places she or he frequented, the place of his or her death, or in association with the person s former… …   Wikipedia

  • Scandinavian folklore — Painting by John Bauer Scandinavian folklore is the folklore of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Swedish speaking parts of Finland. Collecting folklore began when …   Wikipedia

  • Deildegast — In Norwegian folklore, a deildegast is a type of ghost connected with the sanctity of border stones, and what happened to those who dared to move them. The deildegast tradition was most prevalent in the southern parts of Norway and is also… …   Wikipedia

  • Henrik Hertz — Henrik Herz Henrik Hertz (* 25. August 1798 in Kopenhagen; † 25. Februar 1870 ebenda) war ein dänischer Schriftsteller. Hertz stammte aus dem jüdischen Bildungsbürgertum Dänemarks. Er studierte Jura und veröffentlichte 1870 anonym sein Gjenganger …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Alfe — Elfe  Cet article concerne la créature imaginaire. Pour les autres significations, voir Elfe (homonymie). Manga Elfe Un elfe est une …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Alfes — Elfe  Cet article concerne la créature imaginaire. Pour les autres significations, voir Elfe (homonymie). Manga Elfe Un elfe est une …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Changeling (Folklore) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir changeling. Deux trolls avec leur changelin Dans le …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Changeling (folklore) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir changeling. Deux trolls avec leur changelin Dans le folklore européen, un changelin ou cha …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Craken — Kraken Pour les articles homonymes, voir Kraken (homonymie). Pieuvre géante attaquant un navire français au large des côtes d …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Daugr — Draugr Les draugar (pluriel de draugr) sont des revenants de la mythologie nordique. Ils sont le plus souvent décrits dans des sagas norroises rédigées entre le XIIe et le XIVe siècle. Ils se comportent en général en parfaits humains, si ce… …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”