According to Icelandic folklore, a belligerent and bullying farmer named Hrapp immigrated to Iceland from the Hebrides sometime in the 10th century. He built a farmstead called Hrappsstadir, which was adjacent to lands owned by the leading settlers of the Laxardal region in Iceland. As portrayed in the Laxdæla saga, which was centered on that region of Iceland, Hrapp and the dominant chieftain of the region, Hoskuld, jostled for power and influence in their community. Hrapp never surpassed Hoskuld in importance, yet the stubborn farmer maintained a fierce reputation in Laxardal until the day he died. He came to be known as Killer-Hrapp, but whether he gained this name before or after he died is unclear. Whatever the case, the legend of Killer-Hrapp only continued to grow after his death.
According to the saga, Hrapp died in the mid 10th century, either during the reign of King Hákon the Good of Norway (r. 946-961) or Harald II Graycloak (r. 961-970). Hrapp left his wife strict instructions for how he wanted to be buried—his wish was for his body to be laid to rest in an upright position underneath the threshold of the kitchen. The request was not unique; similar burials were made in at least three other sagas, including Hen-Thorir’s Saga, Saga of People of Svarfadardal, and the Saga of the People of Vatnsdal. Such a burial was thought to allow the spirit of the deceased to guard over the homestead and the people that were left behind.
Hrapp’s dutiful wife carried out her late husband’s wishes and buried him exactly as he had asked. According to the saga, the ritual was a success and the spirit of the deceased landowner became anchored to the farmstead. Yet, if the people of Hrappsstadir thought that the spirit would be a benevolent guardian, they were quickly and brutally shown just how wrong their assumption had been. In fact, the bullying and malicious nature of Killer-Hrapp was only amplified after his death. As the saga put it, “if it had been difficult to deal with him when he was alive, he was much worse dead, for he haunted the area relentlessly” (Laxdæla saga, chapter 17).
Life at Hrappsstadir quickly became a nightmare. It did not take long for Killer-Hrapp to live up to his name. He haunted and frightened the whole region, but he seemed to have a special hate for his farm staff. On Hrapp’s dogged targeting of this unfortunate group of people, the Laxdæla saga reported, “It is said that in his hauntings he killed most of his servants” (chapter 17). The brutal haunting eventually caused the whole population of Hrappsstadir, including Hrapp’s widow and son, to flee from the farmstead, and the region became an abandoned ghost town.
The hauntings of Killer-Hrapp began to worry other regions of Laxardal, so the farmers petitioned the chieftain Hoskuld to do something about the deadly ghost. In response to his people’s pleas, Hoskuld gathered his courage and traveled to Hrappsstadir. There, he exhumed the body of Hrapp from underneath the farmstead’s kitchen and then had the remains reburied far away in a forest. To everyone’s relief, the relocation of the body drastically reduced the number of reported hauntings in Laxardal. Yet, although Killer-Hrapp’s supernatural influence over Hrappsstadir and Laxardal had been diluted by the exhumation of his body, the ghost found more subtle means to sow mayhem in the region.
After Hoskuld had restored a semblance of order to Hrappsstadir, Killer-Hrapp’s son, Sumarlidi, returned to the property and tried to revive the farm. Not long after the young man went home, however, he was said to have become delirious and suddenly died. The people of Laxardal quickly attributed the death to the malicious spirit of Hrapp and the farmstead once again was abandoned. Sumarlidi’s mother inherited the estate after her son’s death, but she vowed to never return to that cursed land. Her apprehension about the estate, however, was not shared by her brother, the brave Thorstein Surt. Disregarding the ghost stories, Thorstein Surt packed his belongings onto a ship and set sail with eleven companions for Hrappsstadir, where he intended to bring the farm back to prominence. Unfortunately, Thorstein Surt’s dream was not realized—his ship sank in the final stretch of the trip and ten out of the eleven passengers onboard drowned, including Thorstein Surt. Next to inherit the cursed property was Thorstein’s daughter Gudrid, and her husband, Thorkel Scarf. The couple, however, pointedly left Hrappsstadir abandoned.
To the northeast of Hrappsstadir lived Olaf Peacock, so named because of his prideful demeanor and his ever-gilded fashion sense that applied to clothing and weaponry, alike. Olaf wanted to expand into Hrappsstadir and build a new farmstead on the deserted land. As a result of the hauntings and suspicious deaths connected to the region, Thorkel Skarf gladly sold the land for a measly three marks of silver. After acquiring the land, Olaf Peacock constructed the farm of Hjardarholt in a location just a short distance from Hrapp’s original farmstead.
Hjardarholt thrived, but farmhands began to report unnerving supernatural events. The epicenter of the hauntings seemed to be the cowshed for non-milking cattle, a structure located in a forested section of Olaf’s new property. The ghostly presence there was so bad that the cowherd threatened to leave if he was not transferred to another task. Instead of reassigning the man, Olaf Peacock accompanied the cowherd to the shed to help manage the cattle. While the two were working, the ghost of Killer-Hrapp appeared in the cowshed. In a comedic scene from the saga, the cowherd saw the ghost first and “suddenly came running back into Olaf’s arms” in freight (Laxdæla saga, chapter 24). After wrenching himself free of the cowherd, Olaf Peacock heroically rushed at the ghost and stabbed at the spirit with a spear (gold-inlaid, of course). The spear did not harm the ghost, but the spectral Killer-Hrapp had enough supernatural power to snap off the weapon’s gilded spearhead before spookily sinking into the ground, taking the spear with him.
Olaf Peacock interpreted Killer-Hrapp’s disappearance into the earth as evidence that the ghost’s body was located underground in that very spot. The next morning, Olaf and his farmhands grabbed their spades and excavated the earth around the cowshed. They eventually discovered Killer-Hrapp’s restless body, which was reportedly still clinging to Olaf’s lost spearhead with the inlaid gold. After the body was exhumed for a second time, the remains were burned and then the ashes were dumped into the sea. With this, Killer-Hrapp’s reign of terror finally ended.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Scene of Gudrun and the ghost by Andreas Bloch (1860–1917), based on a passage from the Laxdæla saga, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Saga of the People of Laxardal and Bolli Bollason’s Tale, by an anonymous 13th-century Icelander and translated by Keneva Kunz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.