måndag 23 december 2013

Jonny Ambrius: Sällsamheter i Södra Sverige ("Strange Occurrences in Southern Sweden")

So, in Sweden, early every Christmas morning, there is service at the Church. This is called the julotta (jul = Christmas, otta = early morning), and in the olden days, you had better be there. Nowadays, it's a nice tradition for many. However, it wasn't so nice for the woman in Vallby, a village in southern Sweden, who woke up early, misread the clock, and went to the church several hours too early.

When she approached the church, nothing seemed amiss. Lights were lit, and the sound of psalms being sung with great conviction carried far. So she went inside, but when the priest turned away from the altar to face the congregation, she recognized to her horror that it was a priest who'd been dead for several years. She looked out over the congregation, and realized that it consisted only of people who'd been dead for years.

One of the dead women, who'd been her godmother, rose from her seat to to tell her to leave quickly if she valued her life, because this was the julotta of the dead, and no living people were allowed to attend it. The woman hurried towards the exit, but other dead people, annoyed at her intrusion, rose as well and tried to grab her. She just barely made it out the church doors – one of the dead got ahold of her coat and almost managed to stop her. The next morning, pieces of cloth from her coat were found on several of the graves in the churchyard.

This is just one of the many Scanian legends presented by Jonny Ambrius in his book Sällsamheter i Södra Sverige, but it certainly is one of the better. A few are classical stories about trolls trying to stop the expansion of civilization and Christianity, by sabotaging the building of churches or throwing large rocks att already-built churches (the latter sort of legends are used to explain how large rocks came to rest where they happen to rest). Many are ghost stories, some of them tied to particular castles or manors, other to certain environments – like the drowned sailors trying to work their way up from the beach to the church and cemetery so that they may rest in hallowed ground. Unfortunately for them, they need the help of a living human to get over the high wall surrounding the cemetery, and their semi-decomposed state isn't likely to gain them any immediate friends and helpers. They're also going to have to contend with the Church Grim, the guardian of the burial grounds that is the spirit of an animal sacrificed when the church was built and buried beneath it to protect it against the Devil and/or to placate the site's spirit.

Anyway, it's always amusing to read this sort of stories, and I keep wondering why Swedish comics creators don't harvest these old legends much more for story ideas – a lot of them are ready-built for comics adaptation, and already adhere to the "ironic twist" story model that was the hallmark of the old EC comics as well as the Eerie and Creepy magazines and many, many others.

Worth the read; recommended.

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