It’s my stop on the Hauntings Anthology Blog Hop today, and I’m delighted to be hosting K.S. Barton, to tell us about the inspiration behind her story, Fury of the Cursed Ship… Make sure you order your copy today, to read this, and a host of other hauntingly-good stories – click here!
A Norsewoman shipwrecked in a cursed land. Does she dare enter the ghostly barrow to confront the undead’s fury?
When I was approached to write a ghost story for the Hauntings anthology, I was very excited. I love creepy stories of supernatural beings, and the Norse world has some very scary creatures.
My mind immediately went to the Norse draugr (drahg-er) or aptrgangr (ahp-tur-gahn-ger), horrible undead men who terrorized the area surrounding their barrows. I couldn’t think of much that was scarier than them. If you’re familiar with The Lord of the Rings movies, think of the Uruk-hai and you’ll have an idea of what the draugr/aptrgangr were like. Pretty terrifying.
Draugr, Aptrgangr, and Haugbui
The reason I mentioned two different terms for these ghosts is that both are used to describe basically the same creature. Even though they are called ghosts in the old stories, they are like zombies, animated corpses with corporeal bodies. Unlike many zombies in modern stories, the Norse aptrgangr were clever. What a terrible combination! Undead and smart.
The word used most often is draugr, which is the term for a ghost. It is related to the Old Norse word ‘drag’, which means the same as it does in English: to drag. It implies that these creatures possibly dragged their limbs, again implying they were more like zombies than ghosts.
The word aptrgangr literally means ‘after-walker’ so that’s pretty self-explanatory!
The Norse also believed in barrow dwellers, the haugbui (howg-boo-ee), which means, well, barrow-dweller. Unlike the draugr, the haugbui could not leave their barrow, so they were less of a threat to the people and livestock who lived in the area. If a haugbuilived nearby, I’m sure the locals would have left it alone and avoided it, especially at night.
Terror of the Draugr
People in the Norse world were justifiably terrified of the draugr. They were enormous, and either had the skin of the dead, which was blue black or they were very pale. Because of their size, they were heavy, and that’s probably why their name is derived from the word ‘drag.’
Draugr were also incredibly mean and violent. No friendly ghosts in this world! If a human or livestock came into contact with a draugr, then it meant almost certain death. In the stories, people and livestock were found with their necks broken and every bone in their bodies smashed.
If a draugrhaunted an area, the locals might flee. I don’t blame them. Of course, a hero would arrive to rid the area of their undead, and that’s why we know about these monsters—they are part of the stories of Norse heroes.
Not only were draugr strong and violent, they could curse humans. As if the massive strength wasn’t bad enough! Some people would lose their wits at seeing one. Plus, the draugrcould sink into the ground. That gives me the shivers.
Like other zombies and vampires,draugrcould pass on their undead status. If it didn’t smash all your bones, it might turn you into one of them. So it’s basically a lose-lose scenario if you have a run-in with one of these monsters.
Norse Stone Ships
These creatures were the perfect ghosts for a Viking story. But what about the setting? That’s when another feature of Norse society presented itself to me.
The Scandinavian landscape, especially Sweden, is littered with death barrows, rune stones, and stone ships. There are twenty-seven stone ships throughout Sweden alone!
These stone ships are burial sites with the stones set up in the formation of a ship. It’s so fascinating that the Norse people would go to the trouble of erecting these monuments, which must have taken considerable time and effort. They are like miniature Stonehenges in the shape of a Viking longship. The Vikings loved their longships. It’s another indication of how important the longship was to the Norse people during the Viking age. The Viking longship is sometimes referred to as ‘technology’, and it’s an apt term. They were cleverly built with a shallow draft that allowed them to sail right up onto land without needing a dock or pier. It also made it so they could travel down rivers inaccessible to larger craft. Hardly any body of water could stop a Viking longship. They even made it down the Seine all the way to Paris!
These two aspects of Norse society came together for my story. I wanted to use a stone ship as the setting and the draugr would be my ghosts.
Since there are so many stone ships, I had to decide which one to use as my inspiration. After doing a little online search, I decided on Ale’s Stones (Ales stenar in Swedish), a massive monument that overlooks the Baltic Sea located in the Southern Sweden area of Scania. It’s an Iron Age monument from 1,400 years ago, although there is some evidence of a burial mound under the stones from as far back as 5,000 years ago. Archaeologists discovered a clay pot with buried human remains that dated back much farther than the stones above ground.
One thing I like about Ale’s Stones is that they are of great size, and, like Stonehenge, seem to be placed in a way to observe the cycles of the moon. They catch the sun and moon at certain times and the light bisects the ship. The sun sets at the north-western corner of the ship in summer and rises on the opposite end in winter.
Ales stenar is made of fifty-nine boulders. The stones at the bow and stern are three meters high and twice as tall as the others. There is even a rudder stone to the right of the bow boulder, at the same spot where the steersman would have been in a real Viking longship. I could picture a ghostly steersman at the rudder, his captain (or skipper as they called them in the Viking age) giving him orders. The outline is sixty-seven meters long and nineteen meters wide at its widest point.
Also mentioned with Ale’s Stones was Kåseberga, a small fishing village at the base of the bluff where the stone ship can be found.
A stone ship burial site and a fishing village within sight of it—the setting for my story was formed!
I still needed something to link together the undead and the stone ship. What better for a ghost story set in the Viking era than a curse? The Norse took great stock in curses, and they are mentioned throughout the old stories. My imaginings of a ghostly steersman and his skipper took firmer shape as cursed, doomed sailors.
A Story is Born
Frightening undead creatures, a stone ship circle, and a curse. My story, Fury of the Cursed Ship emerged out of all these pieces.
Into all of this, I threw an unwitting woman, who is at the heart of it all. As with many of my books and stories, I wanted to highlight the strength of an ordinary woman. My character, Aesa, is literally thrown onto this land near the haunted stone ship and must contend with the doomed, cursed, undead sailors. Will she survive? You’ll have to read it to find out!
K.S. Barton lives in the desert of Tucson, Arizona and writes stories of love and adventure set in the Viking age. Reading and writing have always been a part of her life, and she works as a reading tutor at the public library. When she isn’t tutoring or writing, you can find K.S. Barton either dancing or practicing Aikido, in which she holds a third degree black belt. In addition to her love of Vikings and Norse culture, K.S. is a self-professed Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars (original trilogy only!) geek. She has an M.A. in Humanities and has always loved to learn about history through stories.
You can visit her website at https://ksbarton.com
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