Specter Bridegrooms

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 365
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2022


  1. Sweet William's Ghost (Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry).

  2. The Specter Bridegroom (England).

  3. The Lovers of Porthangwartha (England).

  4. The Deacon of Myrká (Iceland).

  5. The Abbess and the Devil (from the unpublished papers of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  6. A Ghost as Husband (Netherlands).

  7. The Pale Lover (Austria).

  8. The Lover at the Bedroom Window (Austria).

  9. The Lover's Ghost (Hungary).

  10. The Girls and Their Suitors (Lithuania).

  11. Siegfried and Chriemhilt (German-American).

  12. The Ghost Husband (Native American).

  13. Notes and Bibliography (including sources for additional versions of this folktale type in the English and the German languages).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Sweet William's Ghost


There came a ghost to Margaret's door,
With many a grievous grone,
And ay he tirled at the pin;
But answer made she none.
Is this my father Philip?
Or is't my brother John?
Or is't my true love Willie,
From Scotland new come home?
Tis not thy father Philip;
Nor yet thy brother John:
But tis thy true love Willie
From Scotland new come home,
O sweet Margret! O dear Margret!
I pray thee speak to mee:
Give me my faith and troth, Margret,
As I gave it to thee.
Thy faith and troth thou'se nevir get,
Of me shalt nevir win,
Till that thou come within my bower,
And kiss my cheek and chin.
If I should come within thy bower,
I am no earthly man:
And should I kiss thy rosy lipp,
Thy days will not be lang.
O sweet Margret, O dear Margret,
I pray thee speak to mee:
Give me my faith and troth, Margret,
As I gave it to thee.
Thy faith and troth thou'se nevir get,
Of me shalt nevir win,
Till thou take me to yon kirk yard,
And wed me with a ring.
My bones are buried in a kirk yard
Afar beyond the sea,
And it is but my sprite, Margret,
That's speaking now to thee.
She stretched out her lilly-white hand,
As for to do her best:
Hae there your faith and troth, Willie,
God send your soul good rest.
Now she has kilted her robes of green,
A piece below her knee:
And a' the live-lang winter night
The dead corps followed shee.
Is there any room at you head, Willie?
Or any room at your feet?
Or any room at your side, Willie,
Wherein that I may creep?
There's nae room at my head, Margret,
There's nae room at my feet,
There's no room at my side, Margret,
My coffin is made so meet.
Then up and crew the red red cock,
And up then crew the gray:
Tis time, tis time, my dear Margret,
That I were gane away.
No more the ghost to Margret said,
But, with a grievous grone,
Evanish'd in a cloud of mist,
And left her all alone.
O stay, my only true love, stay,
The constant Margret cried:
Wan grew her cheeks, she clos'd her een,
Stretch'd her saft limbs, and died.

The Specter Bridegroom


Long, long ago a farmer named Lenine lived in Boscean. He had but one son, Frank Lenine, who was indulged into waywardness by both his parents. In addition to the farm servants, there was one, a young girl, Nancy Trenoweth, who especially assisted Mrs. Lenine in all the various duties of a small farmhouse.

Nancy Trenoweth was very pretty, and although perfectly uneducated, in the sense in which we now employ the term education, she possessed many native graces, and she had acquired much knowledge, really useful to one whose aspirations would probably never rise higher than to be mistress of a farm of a few acres.

Frank Lenine and Nancy were thrown as much together as if they had been brother and sister. Although it was evident to all the parish that Frank and Nancy were seriously devoted to each other, the young man's parents were blind to it, and were taken by surprise when one day Frank asked his father and mother to consent to his marrying Nancy. The old man felt it would be a degradation for a Lenine to marry a Trenoweth, and, in the most unreasoning manner, he resolved it should never be.

The first act was to send Nancy home to Alsia Mill, where her parents resided; the next was an imperious command to his son never again to see the girl. The commands of the old are generally powerless upon the young where the affairs of the heart are concerned. So were they upon Frank. He, who was rarely seen of an evening beyond the garden of his father's cottage, was now as constantly absent from his home.

Rarely an evening passed that did not find Nancy and Frank together in some retired nook. The Holy Well was a favorite meeting place, and here the most solemn vows were made. Locks of hair were exchanged; a wedding ring, taken from the finger of a corpse, was broken, when they vowed that they would be united either dead or alive; and they even climbed at night the granite pile at Treryn, and swore by the Logan Rock the same strong vow.

Time passed onward thus unhappily, and, as the result of the endeavors to quench out the passion by force, it grew stronger under the repressing power, and, like imprisoned steam, eventually burst through all restraint. Nancy's parents discovered at length that moonlight meetings between two untrained, impulsive youths, had a natural result, and they were now doubly earnest in their endeavors to compel Frank to marry their daughter.

The elder Lenine could not be brought to consent to this, and he firmly resolved to remove his son entirely from what he considered the hateful influences of the Trenoweths. He resolved to send him away to sea, hoping thus to wean him from this love madness. Frank, poor fellow, with the best intentions, was not capable of any sustained effort, and consequently he at length succumbed to his father; and, to escape his persecution, he entered a ship bound for India, and bade adieu to his native land.

Frank could not write, and this happened in days when letters could be forwarded only with extreme difficulty, consequently Nancy never heard from her lover.

A baby had been born into a troublesome world, and the infant became a real solace to the young mother. Young Nancy lived for her child, and on the memory of its father. She felt that no distance could separate their souls, that no time could be long enough to destroy the bond between them.

The winter was coming on, and nearly three years had passed away since Frank Lenine left his country. It was Allhallows Eve, and two of Nancy's companions persuaded her--no very difficult task--to go with them and sow hemp seed.

At midnight the three maidens stole out unperceived into Kimyall town place to perform their incantation. Nancy was the first to sow, the others being less bold than she.

Boldly she advanced, saying, as she scattered the seed:

Hemp seed I sow thee,
Hemp seed grow thee;
And he who will my true love be,
Come after me
And shaw thee.

This was repeated three times, when looking back over her left shoulder, she saw Lenine; but he looked so angry that she shrieked with fear, and broke the spell. One of the other girls, however, resolved now to make trial of the spell, and the result of her labors was the vision of a white coffin. Fear now fell on all, and they went home sorrowful, to spend each one a sleepless night.

November came with its storms, and during one terrific night a large vessel was thrown upon the rocks in Bernowhall Cliff, and, beaten by the impetuous waves, she was soon in pieces. Amongst the bodies of the crew washed ashore, nearly all of whom had perished, was Frank Lenine. He was not dead when found, but the only words he lived to speak were begging the people to send for Nancy Trenoweth, that he might make her his wife before he died.

Rapidly sinking, Frank was borne by his friends on a litter to Boscean, but he died as he reached the town place. His parents, overwhelmed in their own sorrows, thought nothing of Nancy, and without her knowing that Lenine had returned, the poor fellow was laid in his last bed, in Burian Churchyard.

On the night of the funeral, Nancy went, as was her custom, to lock the door of the house, and as was her custom too, she looked out into the night. At this instant a horseman rode up in hot haste, called her by name, and hailed her in a voice that made her blood boil.

The voice was the voice of Lenine. She could never forget that; and the horse she now saw was her sweetheart's favorite colt, on which he had often ridden at night to Alsia. The rider was imperfectly seen; but he looked very sorrowful, and deadly pale, still Nancy knew him to be Frank Lenine.

He told her that he had just arrived home, and that the first moment he was at liberty he had taken horse to fetch his loved one, and to make her his bride. Nancy's excitement was so great, that she was easily persuaded to spring on the horse behind him, that they might reach his home before the morning.

When she took Lenine's hand a cold shiver passed through her, and as she grasped his waist to secure herself in her seat, her arm became as stiff as ice. She lost all power of speech, and suffered deep fear, yet she know not why. The moon had arisen, and now burst out in a full flood of light, through the heavy clouds which had obscured it. The horse pursued its journey with great rapidity, and whenever in weariness it slackened its speed, the peculiar voice of the rider aroused its drooping energies. Beyond this no word was spoken since Nancy had mounted behind her lover. They now came to Trove Bottom, where there was no bridge at that time; they dashed into the river. The moon shone full in their faces. Nancy looked into the stream, and saw that the rider was in a shroud and other grave clothes. She now knew that she was being carried away by a spirit, yet she had no power to save herself; indeed, the inclination to do so did not exist.

On went the horse at a furious pace, until they came to the blacksmith's shop near Burian Church-town, when she knew by the light from the forge fire thrown across the road that the smith was still at his labors. She now recovered speech. "Save me! Save me! Save me!" she cried with all her might. The smith sprang from the door of the smithy, with a red-hot iron in his hand, and as the horse rushed by, caught the woman's dress and pulled her to the ground. The spirit, however, also seized Nancy's dress in one hand, and his grasp was like that of a vice. The horse passed like the wind, and Nancy and the smith were pulled down as far as the old Almshouses, near the churchyard. Here the horse for a moment stopped. The smith seized that moment, and with his hot iron burned off the dress from the rider's hand, thus saving Nancy, more dead than alive; while the rider passed over the wall of the churchyard, and vanished on the grave in which Lenine had been laid but a few hours before.

The smith took Nancy into his shop, and he soon aroused some of his neighbors, who took the poor girl back to Alsia. Her parents laid her on her bed. She spoke no word, but to ask for her child, to request her mother to give up her child to Lenine's parents, and her desire to be buried in his grave. Before the morning light fell on the world, Nancy had breathed her last breath.

A horse was seen that night to pass through the Church-town like a ball from a musket, and in the morning Lenine's colt was found dead in Bernowhall Cliff, covered with foam, its eyes forced from its head, and its swollen tongue hanging out of its mouth. On Lenine's grave was found the piece of Nancy's dress which was left in the spirit's hand when the smith burnt her from his grasp.

It is said that one or two of the sailors who survived the wreck related after the funeral, how, on the 30th of October, at night, Lenine was like one mad; they could scarcely keep him in the ship. He seemed more asleep than awake, and, after great excitement, he fell as if dead upon the deck, and lay so for hours. When he came to himself, he told them that he had been taken to the village of Kimyall, and that if he ever married the woman who had cast the spell, he would make her suffer the longest day she had to live for drawing his soul out of his body.

Poor Nancy was buried in Lenine's grave, and her companion in sowing hemp seed, who saw the white coffin, slept beside her within the year.

The Lovers of Porthangwartha


The names of the youth and maiden who fixed the term of the Lover's Cove upon this retired spot have passed from the memory of man. A simple story, however, remains, the mere fragment, without doubt, of a longer and more ancient tale.

The course of love with this humble pair did not run smooth. On one side or the other the parents were decidedly opposed to the intimacy which existed, and by their persecutions, they so far succeeded, that the young man was compelled to emigrate to some far distant land.

In this cove the lovers met for the last time in life, and vowed under the light of the full moon, that living or dead they would meet at the end of three years.

The young woman remained with her friends -- the young man went to the Indies. Time passed on, and the three years, which had been years of melancholy to both, were expiring.

One moonlight night, when the sea was tranquil as a mirror, an old crone sat on the edge of the cliff "making her charms." She saw a figure--she was sure it was a spirit, very like the village maiden--descend into the cove, and seat herself upon a rock, around two-thirds of which the light waves were rippling. On this rock sat the maiden, looking anxiously out over the sea, until, from the rising of the tide, she was completely surrounded.

The old woman called; but in vain--the maiden was unconscious of any voice. There she sat, and the tide was rising rapidly around her. The old woman, now seeing the danger in which she was, resolved to go down into the cove, and, if possible, awaken the maiden to a sense of her danger. To do this, it was necessary to go round a projecting pile of rocks. While doing this, she lost sight of the object of her interest, and much was her surprise, when she again saw the maiden, to perceive a young sailor by her side, with his arm around her waist. Conceiving that help had arrived, the old woman sat herself down on the slope of the descending path, and resolved patiently to await the arrival of the pair on shore, and then to rate the girl soundly.

She sat watching this loving and lovely pair, lighted as they were on the black rock by a full flood of moonshine. There they sat, and the tide rose and washed around them. Never were boy and girl so made, and at last the terrified old woman shrieked with excitement. Suddenly they appeared to float off upon the waters. She thought she heard their voices; but there was no sound of terror. Instead of it a tranquil murmuring music, like the voice of doves, singing:

I am thine
Thou art mine,
Beyond control;
In the wave
Be the grave
Of heart and soul.

Down, down into the sea passed the lovers.

Awestruck, the old woman looked on, until, as she said, "At last they turned round, looked me full in the face, smiling like angels, and, kissing each other, sank to rise no more."

They tell us that the body of the young woman was found a day or two after in a neighboring cove, and that intelligence eventually reached England that the young man had been killed on this very night.

The Deacon of Myrká


A long time ago a deacon lived at Myrká, in Egafjördur. He was in love with a girl named Gudrún, who dwelt in a farm on the opposite side of the valley, separated from his house by a river.

The deacon had a horse with a gray mane, which he was always in the habit of riding, and which he called Faxi.

A short time before Christmas, the deacon rode to the farm at which his betrothed lived and invited her to join in the Christmas festivities at Myrká, promising to fetch her on Christmas Eve. Some time before he had started out on this ride there had been heavy snow and frost, but this very day there came so rapid a thaw that the river over which the deacon had safely ridden, trusting to the firmness of the ice, became impassable during the short time he spent with his betrothed. The floods rose, and huge masses of drift ice were whirled down the stream.

When the deacon had left the farm, he rode on to the river, and being deep in thought did not perceive at first the change that had taken place. As soon, however, as he saw in what state the stream was, he rode up the banks until he came to a bridge of ice, on to which he spurred his horse. But when he arrived at the middle of the bridge, it broke beneath him, and he was drowned in the flood.

Next morning, a neighboring farmer saw the deacon's horse grazing in a field, but could discover nothing of its owner, whom he had seen the day before cross the river, but not return. He at once suspected what had occurred, and going down to the river, found the corpse of the deacon, which had drifted to the bank, with all the flesh torn off the back of his head, and the bare white skull visible. So he brought the body back to Myrká, where it was buried a week before Christmas.

Up to Christmas Eve the river continued so swollen that no communication could take place between the dwellers on the opposite banks, but that morning it subsided, and Gudrún, utterly ignorant of the deacon's death, looked forward with joy to the festivities to which she had been invited by him.

In the afternoon Gudrún began to dress in her best clothes, but before she had quite finished, she heard a knock at the door of the farm. One of the maidservants opened the door, but seeing nobody there, thought it was because the night was not sufficiently light, for the moon was hidden for the time by clouds. So saying, "Wait there till I bring a light," went back into the house. But she had no sooner shut the outer door behind her, than the knock was repeated, and Gudrún cried out from her room, "It is someone waiting for me."

As she had by this time finished dressing, she slipped only one sleeve of her winter cloak on, and threw the rest over her shoulders hurriedly. When she opened the door, she saw the well known Faxi standing outside, and by him a man whom she knew to be the deacon. Without a word he placed Gudrún on the horse, and mounted in front of her himself, and off they rode.

When they came to the river it was frozen over, all except the current in the middle, which the frost had not yet hardened. The horse walked onto the ice, and leaped over the black and rapid stream which flowed in the middle. At the same moment the head of the deacon nodded forward, so that his hat fell over his eyes, and Gudrún saw the large patch of bare skull gleam white in the midst of his hair. Directly afterwards, a cloud moved from before the moon, and the deacon said,

The moon glides,
Death rides,
Seest thou not the white place
In the back of my head
Garún, Garún?

Not a word more was spoken till they came to Myrká, where they dismounted. Then the man said,

Wait here for me, Garún, Garún,
While I am taking Faxi, Faxi,
Outside the hedges, the hedges!

When he had gone, Gudrún saw near her in the churchyard, where she was standing, an open grave, and half sick with horror, ran to the church porch, and seizing the rope, tolled the bells with all her strength. But as she began to ring them, she felt someone grasp her and pull so fiercely at her cloak that it was torn off her, leaving only the one sleeve into which she had thrust her arm before starting from home. Then turning round, she saw the deacon jump headlong into the yawning grave, with the tattered cloak in his hand, and the heaps of earth on both sides fall in over him, and close the grave up to the brink.

Gudrún knew now that it was the deacon's ghost with whom she had had to do, and continued ringing the bells till she roused all the farm servants at Myrká.

That same night, after Gudrún had got shelter at Myrká and was in bed, the deacon came again from his grave and endeavored to drag her away, so that no one could sleep for the noise of their struggle.

This was repeated every night for a fortnight, and Gudrún could never be left alone for a single instant, lest the goblin deacon should get the better of her. From time to time, also, a neighboring priest came and sat on the edge of the bed, reading the Psalms of David to protect her against this ghostly persecution.

But nothing availed, till they sent for a man from the north country, skilled in witchcraft, who dug up a large stone from the field, and placed it in the middle of the guest room at Myrká. When the deacon rose that night from his grave and came into the house to torment Gudrún, this man seized him, and by uttering potent spells over him, forced him beneath the stone, and exorcised the passionate demon that possessed him, so that there he lies in peace to this day.

The Abbess and the Devil


About a hundred years ago [in the eighteenth century] a noblewoman from Oberland was engaged to marry a very handsome officer. Shortly before their marriage he was called to the field of battle, where he remained. The noblewoman was so beside herself that in her despair she cursed God.

In the night the devil came to her in the form of her beloved, and he called upon her to pledge her soul to him. In return he would accompany her, in this form, as long as she lived. Further, he would give her great magic power. She agreed to this, and the devil remained with her. He was not exactly invisible, but still secret, and no one knew about him.

After a while he advised her to enter a convent, which she did. She would now lock herself in her cell with her beloved, while her phantom form was praying in the church. She gained the reputation of great piety, and soon afterward became the abbess.

From this time forward miraculous events began to occur in the convent. Most prominently, from time to time several nuns were attacked with long-lasting and unknown ailments, which she was able to cure through her apparent intercession. Thus her holy reputation grew ever greater.

The first suspicion came from several children who often visited the convent. The abbess, who loved children, would show them magic tricks whenever she was alone with them. She told others about this, although she had strictly forbidden them to do so. Above all, the abbess would ask the children if they would like her to make some little mice for them, whereupon the table would immediately be crawling with small, tame mice.

The children were too young for one to give much credibility to their talk, but once a young nun, on her way to church, passed by the abbess's cell and heard the abbess whispering lightly with a man's voice. Curious, she looked through the keyhole and saw the abbess and an officer. But when she entered the church she saw the abbess's form praying there before the altar, and she feinted with fright. Afterward she reported what she had seen.

The abbess was arrested in her bed that night. She very forward, saying that she would get up and go along with them if they would just reach her stick to her. Someone standing there threw the first stick to her that came to hand, but she refused it, asking for a specific other one. They took note of this and refused to give it to her, in spite of her cunning pretenses. Even after she was put in jail, she continued to try to get hold of the stick through all kinds of tricks, but to no avail.

She finally lost her daring, and shortly before she was executed, she confessed. If she had gotten hold of the stick, no power on earth would have been able to restrain her. She was finally burned to death, after having confessed many things.

A Ghost as Husband


In North Holland at Bobeldijk, across from the Berkhout Church, the following took place: On June 25, 1616, a ghost appeared to a well-known woman. It was in the form of her husband Cornelius Theuniss.

She asked: "Who is there?"

He answered: "It's me, your husband."

She said: "He cannot be here. He is at sea."

"I was too late," he replied. "The ship had already sailed."

"How did you get into the house," asked the woman.

"Very easily," he said, and lay down with his arms on the bed cover.

He was wearing a broad-brimmed felt hat. She bent back the wide brim several times in order to see if it really was her husband. Both from his form and from his voice she determined that it could only be her husband, so she told him to come to bed, which he did.

Still in doubt, she paid close attention as he took off his stockings, in order to see if he had such thick feet as her husband, and she saw no difference. When he lay down next to her, she felt him, and he was as cold as ice, even though it was in the middle of summer. This frightened her, and from the bottom of her heart she called upon God for help and support.

With this the ghost disappeared and never returned.

The Pale Lover


With the beginning of spring, many men and boys from Paznaun [in Tyrol] go to neighboring Switzerland to find work, primarily as masons. Once such young lad said fond farewells to his dear friends and relatives and set forth on foot. His beloved walked with him some distance, carrying his bag. The two of them made arrangements to meet later at a certain place.

In the summer, especially at Pentecost, it was not unusual for the relatives and girlfriends to make a pilgrimage to nearby Einsiedeln, where they met their dear friends.

Late one evening, after a long delay, the girl mentioned above met her beloved at the pre-arranged place. He seemed to her to be very pale, tired, and sad; and he spoke very little.

They walked together for some distance. They came to a churchyard, and the lad told his beloved to wait for him while he went into the church to pray. It was already night, and the moon shone brightly. Considerable time passed, and her beloved did not return to her from the church.

Perplexed, the girl went to the sexton who lived nearby and told him of her concern.

He said to her: "My dear girl, the man you are talking about died a short time ago and is buried here. Go right now to the graveyard, pull down your underskirt and leave it lying there. Then hurry back here, or something evil will befall you."

The girl did what she had been told to do.

Early the next morning the scraps of her tattered underskirt were seen hanging on the grave crosses.

The Lover at the Bedroom Window


Two unmarried people were in love with each other. In the evening the lad often visited the girl who lived some distance from him. Once when he had not come for a longer time the girl grew sad and anxious, thinking that he had abandoned her.

One night the moon shone very brightly, and her beloved appeared at the girl's bedroom window, awakening her. As she sat up in bed, he called out:

The bright moon lights the sky,
The dead ride quickly by!
Darling, are you not afraid?

When the girl replied "No," he grabbed her and ripped her to pieces.

Her beloved had died during his longer absence.

The Lover's Ghost


Somewhere, I don't know where, even beyond the Operencian Seas, there was once a maid. She had lost her father and mother, but she loved the handsomest lad in the village where she lived. They were as happy together as a pair of turtle-doves in the wood. They fixed the day of the wedding at a not very distant date, and invited their most intimate friends to it; the girl, her godmother -- the lad, a dear old friend of his.

Time went on, and the wedding would have taken place in another week, but in the meantime war broke out in the country. The king called out all his fighting-men to march against the enemy. The sabres were sharpened, and gallant fellows, on fine, gaily-caparisoned horses, swarmed to the banners of the king, like bees.

John, our hero, too, took leave of his pretty fiancée; he led out his grey charger, mounted, and said to his young bride, "I shall be back in three years, my dove; wait until then, and don't be afraid; I promise to bring you back my love and remain faithful to you, even were I tempted by the beauty of a thousand other girls."

The lass accompanied him as far as the frontier, and before parting solemnly promised to him, amidst a shower of tears, that all the treasures of the whole world should not tempt her to marry another, even if she had to wait ten years for her John.

The war lasted two years, and then peace was concluded between the belligerents. The girl was highly pleased with the news, because she expected to see her lover return with the others. She grew impatient, and would sally forth on the road by which he was expected to return, to meet him. She would go out often ten times a day, but as yet she had no tidings of her John. Three years elapsed; four years had gone by, and the bridegroom had not yet returned. The girl could not wait any longer, but went to see her godmother, and asked for her advice, who (I must tell you, between ourselves) was a witch.

The old hag received her well, and gave her the following direction: "As it will be full moon tomorrow night, go into the cemetery, my dear girl, and ask the gravedigger to give you a human skull. If he should refuse, tell him that it is I who sent you. Then bring the skull home to me, and we shall place it in a huge earthenware pot, and boil it with some millet, for, say, two hours. You may be sure it will let you know whether your lover is alive yet or dead, and perchance it will entice him here."

The girl thanked her for her good advice, and went to the cemetery next night. She found the gravedigger enjoying his pipe in front of the gate.

"Good evening to you, dear old father."

"Good evening, my lass! What are you doing here at this hour of the night?"

"I have come to you to ask you to grant me a favour."

"Let me hear what it is; and, if I can, I will comply with your request."

"Well, then, give me a human skull!"

"With pleasure; but what do you intend to do with it?"

"I don't know exactly, myself; my godmother has sent me for it."

"Well and good; here is one, take it."

The girl carefully wrapped up the skull, and ran home with it. Having arrived at home, she put it in a huge earthenware pot with some millet, and at once placed it on the fire. The millet soon began to boil and throw up bubbles as big as two fists. The girl was eagerly watching it and wondering what would happen. When, all of a sudden, a huge bubble formed on the surface of the boiling mass, and went off with a loud report like a musket. The next moment the girl saw the skull balanced on the rim of the pot.

"He has started," it said in a vicious tone.

The girl waited a little longer, when two more loud reports came from the pot, and the skull said, "He has got halfway."

Another few moments elapsed, when the pot gave three very loud reports, and the skull was heard to say, "He has arrived outside in the yard."

The maid thereupon rushed out, and found her lover standing close to the threshold. His charger was snow-white, and he himself was clad entirely in white, including his helmet and boots.

As soon as he caught sight of the girl, he asked, "Will you come to the country where I dwell?"

"To be sure, my dear Jack; to the very end of the world."

"Then come up into my saddle."

The girl mounted into the saddle, and they embraced and kissed one another ever so many times.

"And is the country where you live very far from here?"

"Yes, my love, it is very far; but in spite of the distance it will not take us long to get there."

Then they started on their journey. When they got outside the village, they saw ten mounted men rush past, all clad in spotless white, like to the finest wheat flour.

As soon as they vanished, another ten appeared, and could be very well seen in the moonlight, when suddenly John said:

How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;
How beautifully march past the dead.
Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

"I am not afraid while I can see you, my dear Jack."

As they proceeded, the girl saw a hundred mounted men; they rode past in beautiful military order, like soldiers. So soon as the hundred vanished another hundred appeared and followed the others.

Again her lover said:

How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;
How beautifully march past the dead.
Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?

"I am not afraid while I can see you, my darling Jack."

And as they proceeded the mounted men appeared in fast increasing numbers, so that she could not count them; some rode past so close that they nearly brushed against her.

Again her lover said:

How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;
How beautifully march past the dead.
Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

"I am not afraid while I see you, Jack, my darling."

"You are a brave and good girl, my dove; I see that you would do anything for me. As a reward, you shall have everything that your heart can wish when we get to my new country."

They went along till they came to an old burial-ground, which was inclosed by a black wall.

John stopped here and said to his sweetheart, "This is our country, my little Judith, we shall soon come to our house."

The house to which John alluded was an open grave, at the bottom of which an empty coffin could be seen with the lid off.

"Go in, my darling," said the lad.

"You had better go first, my love Jack," replied the girl. "You know the way."

Thereupon the lad descended into the grave and laid down in the coffin; but the lass, instead of following him, ran away as fast as her feet would carry her, and took refuge in a mansion that was situated a couple of miles from the cemetery. When she had reached the mansion she shook every door, but none of them would open to her entreaties, except one that led to a long corridor, at the end of which there was a dead body laid out in state in a coffin. The lass secreted herself in a dark corner of the fireplace.

As soon as John discovered that his bride had run away he jumped out of the grave and pursued the lass, but in spite of all his exertions could not overtake her.

When he reached the door at the end of the corridor he knocked and exclaimed, "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man."

The corpse inside began to tremble at the sound of these words.

Again said Jack, "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man."

Now the corpse sat up in the coffin, and as Jack repeated a third time the words "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man," the corpse walked to the door and opened it.

"Is my bride here?"

"Yes, there she is, hiding in the corner of the fireplace."

"Come and let us tear her in pieces." And with this intention they both approached the girl, but just as they were about to lay hands upon her the cock in the loft began to crow, and announced daybreak, and the two dead men disappeared.

The next moment a most richly attired gentleman entered from one of the neighbouring rooms. Judging by his appearance one would have believed it was the king himself, who at once approached the girl and overwhelmed her with his embraces and kisses.

"Thank you so much. The corpse that you saw here laid out in state was my brother. I have already had him buried three hundred and sixty-five times with the greatest pomp, but he has returned each time. As you have relieved me of him, my sweet, pretty darling, you shall become mine and I yours; not even the hoe and the spade shall separate us from one another!"

The girl consented to the proposal of the rich gentleman, and they got married and celebrated their wedding feast during the same winter.

This is how far the tale goes. This is the end of it.

The Girls and Their Suitors


A girl had a suitor, and the suitor died. After she had mourned for a few weeks she went to a dance with one of her girlfriends whose fiancé also had died. On their way they passed by the graveyard.

Standing there, they said, "Get up, you brothers. Who else will take us to the dance?"

After they had walked on the two dead ones arose and followed after them. The girls had scarcely entered the room where people were dancing when the two suitors came inside as well and danced with them. While dancing the girls stepped on their partners' feet, and they noticed that their boots were empty, so they knew that they were dancing with dead men.

The dead men swung the girls about so hard that they almost danced them to death. The girls asked for permission to go outside and get some fresh air, but their partners did not want them to leave.

The girls finally said, "We'll hang our keys at the doorway, and when you hear them rattling, you'll know that we've come back inside," so the men agreed to let them go outside.

The men heard the keys rattling, but the girls did not return. Instead they they ran and ran and ran until they came to a spinning room. They ran inside and hid behind the stove.

An old woman was in the spinning room drying flachs. The girls begged her that if anyone came she should not let them in.

After the dead men had waited a long time for the girls they took after them, following their footsteps.

They came to the spinning room and said, "Good evening! Did two girls come in here?"

The old woman said "No."

The two said, "They ran to this place. They must be here."

The old woman said, "Sit down, my sons. I'll tell you about how flachs suffers."

The two sat down and listened. She told them how flachs was sown, harvested, carded, spun, woven, bleached, sewn, worn, patched, and finally how the ragman collected it and made paper from the scraps.

When the old woman finally came to the end of her speech the rooster crowed, and the two dead men had to leave.

As they departed they said, "It is your luck that with her speech the woman kept us from following you."

With that they disappeared from sight, and the two girls remained alive.

Siegfried and Chriemhilt


A youth of the name of Siegfried, having paid a visit to his promised bride, rather singularly called Chriemhilt, crossed the mountains during a thunderstorm and disappeared.

Sixty-five years, a month, and a fortnight later the bride, now grown to an old woman and still unmarried, received a visit from this lover, who appeared on horseback, still wearing the costume habitual in the time when he had been lost to knowledge. This interview took place, according to the tale, in the presence of children. The old woman afterwards explained that she had been accosted by her lover, who was under the impression that he had remained only a few hours in the mountains with the spirits, whose splendid palaces and golden streets he described, and who were able to pass at will and in a moment from one end of the mountains to the other.

The woman refused to accompany him, and one of the spirits of the mountain appeared, who claimed the suitor as his captive. At the prayer of Chriemhilt, however, he consented that after her death the prisoner should be released, and reunion effected in heaven.

Such is the folktale, obtained from the relation of one of the children present at the advent of the suitor, and who in after days narrated the incident.

The Ghost Husband

Native American

A young Lakota died just before marrying a young girl whom he loved. The girl mourned his death, so she cut her hair here and there with a dull knife, and gashed her limbs, just as if she had been an old woman.

The ghost returned and took her for his wife.

Whenever the tribe camped for the night the ghost's wife pitched her tent at some distance from the others, and when the people removed their camp the woman and her husband kept some distance behind the main body. The ghost always told the woman what to do; and he brought game to her regularly, which the wife gave to the people in exchange for other articles.

The people could neither see nor hear the ghost, but they heard his wife address him. He always sent word to the tribe when there was to be a high wind or heavy rain.

He could read the thoughts of his wife, so that she need not speak a word to him, and when she felt a desire for anything he soon obtained it for her.

Notes and Bibliography

Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale type 365

"Specter Bridegroom" stories are classified as type 365 in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale classification system. For more information about folktale types see:

Bibliography of Type 365 Folktales

Texts in the English Language

  1. "The Deacon of Myrká," Jón Arnason, Icelandic Legends, translated by George E. J. Powell and Eiríkur Magnússon (London: Richard Bentley, 1864), pp. 173-177.

  2. "The Deacon of Myrka," Jacqueline Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 132-136.

  3. "The Dead Bridegroom," John Lindow, Swedish Legends and Folktales (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), no. 98, pp. 191-193.

  4. "The Drowned Sailor of Saint Levan" Tony Deane and Tony Shaw, Folklore of Cornwall, The Folklore of the British Isles (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975), pp. 108-109.

  5. "The Execution and Wedding," Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England; or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (London: John Camden Hotten, 1871), pp. 256-258.

  6. "The Fair Maid of Clifton," Katherine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pt. B, v. 1, pp. 449-450.

  7. "Grey Is My Skull, Garun, Garun!" Jacqueline Simpson, Scandinavian Folktales, Penguin Folklore Library (London: Penguin Books, 1988), pp. 107-109.

  8. "The Gypsy Girl and Her Dead Fiancé," Lone Thygesen Blecher and George Blecher, Swedish Folktales and Legends, The Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), pp. 43-45.

  9. "The Lovers of Porthangwartha," Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England; or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (London: John Camden Hotten, 1871), pp. 247-248.

  10. "The Lovers of Porthangwartha," Katherine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pt. B, v. 1, pp. 526-527.

  11. "Pleasant and Delightful," Tony Deane and Tony Shaw, Folklore of Cornwall, The Folklore of the British Isles (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975), pp. 81-82.

  12. "Seven Bones," Ruth Ann Musick, Green Hills of Magic: West Virginia Folktales from Europe (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970), no. 20.

  13. "Shakespeare's Ghost," Tristram P. Coffin and Hennig Cohen, Folklore in America, (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1970), pp. 37-38.

  14. "The Spectre Bridegroom," Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England; or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (London: John Camden Hotten, 1871), pp. 233-239.

  15. "The Spectre Bridegroom: A Traveller's Tale," Washington Irving, The Sketch Book.

  16. "The Spectre Bridegroom," Katherine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pt. B, v. 1, pp. 577-578.

  17. "The Suffolk Miracle," Katherine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pt. B, v. 1, pp. 586-589.

  18. "Yorkshire Jack, an Execution and a Wedding," Katherine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pt. B, v. 1, pp. 603-604.

  19. "The Young Gypsy Girl and the Forest Guard," (Latvia), Diane Tong, Gypsy Folk Tales, (San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), pp. 197-199.

Texts in the German Language (Texte in deutscher Sprache)

  1. "Costandini und Garentina", Martin Camaj und Uta Schier-Oberdorffer, Albanische Märchen, Die Märchen der Weltliteratur (Düsseldorf: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1974), Nr. 44, S. 168-170.

  2. "Der tote Bräutigam", Karoly Gaál, Die Volksmärchen der Magyaren im südlichen Burgenland (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1970), Nr. 14.

  3. "Die Äbtissin und der Teufel", Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, Märchen aus dem Nachlaß, herausgegeben und erläutert von Heinz Rölleke (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1979), Nr. 26.

  4. "Garun, Garun, fahl ist mir der Schädel", Kurt Schier, Märchen aus Island, Die Märchen der Weltliteratur (Köln: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1983), Nr. 35, S. 182-183.

  5. "Lenore" [3 Erzählungen], Kurt Ranke, Schleswig-Holsteinische Volksmärchen, Veröffentlichungen der Schleswig-Holsteinischen Universitätsgesellschaft (Kiel: Ferdinand Hirt , 1962), Bd. 1, S. 276-278.

  6. "Lenore", Achim von Arnim und Clemens Brentano, Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Alte deutsche Lieder (Heidelberg: Mohr und Zimmer, 1808), Bd. 2, S. 19. Unterschift zu diesem Gedicht: "Bürger hörte dieses Lied Nachts in einem Nebenzimmer."

  7. "Lenore", Ulrich Benzel und Walter Kniepert, Sudetendeutsche Volkserzählungen, Schriften des Volkskunde-Archivs Marburg, Bd. 10 (Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 1962), Nr. 134.

  8. "Lenore", Gottfried August Bürger. Entstanden 1773. Erster Druck: Göttinger Musenalmanach, 1774.

  9. "Sehnsucht nach dem Gatten", Karoly Gaál, Die Volksmärchen der Magyaren im südlichen Burgenland (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1970), Nr. 15.

  10. "Wilhelms Geist" [Übersetzung von Percys "Sweet William's Ghost"], Johann Gottfried von Herder, Von deutscher Art und Kunst, 1773.

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Revised August 23, 2022.