Folklore Friday- Part 5: Gjenganger

Alexis Smith , Writer

WARNING: This content may not be suitable for some viewers. 


The Gjenganger is a type of ghost originating from Scandinavia. According to legend, they are completely corporeal, meaning that they have human-like bodies but are able to walk through walls and commit malevolent acts. The spirit manifests due to unfinished business; often Gjengangers were murder victims, suicide victims, or murderers themselves. They are always malicious spirits who hurt the ones they once held dear. 

Unlike most ghosts, who occasionally spook people and move things around, the Gjenganger spreads plague and disease. It can simply pinch someone, known as dødningeknip in Scandanavian culture, and the victim’s skin will turn bluish as the spirit’s infection begins. The infected flesh becomes necrotic, shriveling and dying, slowly working its way to the heart where it kills the victim. This is usually done while the victim is asleep, leaving them helpless against the creature.

The spirit appears completely human, yet to residents, it is rumored to be like a type of vampire. 

As with most creatures, there are ways to ward off the Gjenganger. Holy symbols are said to repel them. For example, a holy symbol above a door will prevent the ghost from entering, crosses hung around the neck may prevent them from delivering their dead man’s pinch, and locking doors and windows can keep the spirit from homes, since they can’t walk through walls. 

There was even a time when the fear of the Gjenganger was so large that Scandanavians took extra precautions when burying the dead. They carried the coffin containing someone who might rise over the church wall instead of through the church’s gate, and carried it three times around the church to be extra cautious. They left the shovels used to dig the grave that remained undisturbed for years. Varps, piles of rocks and twigs, would be placed on the spot where the person died (placing a rock on their grave would bring good luck), and finally, a special inscription was made inside the coffin to prevent the spirit from becoming Gjenganger.