Before And After – Some Norwegian Ghosts

In keeping with Dana’s idea about posting a ghost story a day, here are two Norwegian stories – you’ll see that the first one isn’t precisely a ghost story in the classic sense of the word, but there’s a definite creepy otherworldliness to it. Both of them are folk stories which were collected about two hundred years, but are probably much older than that. They come originally from Scandinavian Folktales, translated by Jacqueline Simpson, but I’m retelling from memory as I haven’t got the book by me.


Long ago, two beggar children, a boy and a girl, arrived in a village. Nobody recognized them, and they were pale and ragged and looked as if they had been through a great deal of hardship. As they stood in the street, they stopped passersby and inquired “Shall we sweep, or shall we rake?”

All of the passersby laughed and said “Sweep, sweep by all means – for by sweeping you will be sure to catch everything, but if you rake you will miss most of what you want to dispose of.”

The children disappeared that evening and were never seen again, but days later the Black Plague struck the village, and scarcely anyone was left alive. Then they remembered the children, and lamented that they had advised them to sweep, for, they thought, if they had advised them to rake, many more might have been spared.

This is one of a number of Norwegian legends about the Black Plague – it’s worth noting that while all of Europe was hammered by the plague, Norway statistically probably got the worst of it. In that context, it’s not surprising that stories about it were still being circulated in 1800.


One Christmas Eve a woman stayed up and sat by the fire, because she did not intend to go to sleep, but rather wished to attend Midnight Mass. However, she fell asleep in spite of this and when she woke up she heard the church bells ringing for the start of Mass. In a panic, she rushed out of the house and got to the church just in time for the Mass to start.

As the Mass proceeded she became increasingly uneasy and had a feeling that something was wrong. Everyone in the pews around her seemed oddly still and pale, and their responses to the Mass were quiet and joyless. Halfway through the Mass, she realized to her horror what was wrong – everyone there whom she recognized was already dead. As she sat, afraid to move, the dead people began to notice her and glare and grumble under their breaths. Shortly before the end of the Mass, a woman whom she recognized as a neighbour who had died not long before took her by the arm and whispered that she must leave before the end, or else the others would set upon her and kill her. The woman left the church and ran home, with the sound of ghostly shouts echoing behind her. She stayed inside until sunrise, when she attended the Dawn Mass. The ghosts were no longer there, and the Mass attended only by the living, so she was able to stay safely to the end.


3 Responses to Before And After – Some Norwegian Ghosts

  1. Dana says:

    Wow, that first one is really creepy. I probably shouldn’t have read it right before going to bed!

  2. Sonetka says:

    I know – I read it three years ago when I was looking up Christmas-related stuff and it’s stuck in my head ever since. I suppose part of the creep factor is that there was nothing “earned” about it – you know how in a lot of fairy tales, travelers will mistreat a beggar and then be punished for it, but the villagers didn’t mistreat the children – they just answered a question for which they had no context. The image is very vivid – I remember last year when we were rereading “A Christmas Carol” and came to the bit where Scrooge sees Ignorance and Want, and all I could think was “Shall we sweep or shall we rake?”

  3. nyasia jennings says:

    awww i got to do a project on this stuff and you gave me a good ending next time ill like a scary one plz thx

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