This is one of the characters you find most mentioned when it comes to Norwegian folk legends. It has a numerous of meanings, beyond being a dead person. The description that usually goes again is that someone broke a promise and the dead comes back to remind the person of the betrayal.
Otherwise you have explanations for the phenomenon such as: a ”attganger” is a corpse that does not rot because of a misdeed. Or ”attganger” was someone who had a score to settle. What they could have forgotten to do was things like: they had forgotten to sharpen their knives before they died, or they returned because some had been unkind to them while they lived.
From one valley in Norway, called ”Osterdalen”, it is a tale of a child who dies and comes back. The child plays with his sisters and brothers, and family is getting so used to the dead child that they forget that he really is dead.
”Attganger” could also return because they wanted to be of some sort of help. If a marriage had been good, they were around to be some help for their spouse like finding things they could not find anymore. Several folk legends tells about a wife returning to help their dear husbands. The first folk legend you find below is a cruel one. The source of the story is: Peter Lunde Kynnehuset Vesteegdske folkeminne I, 1923.
The story goes like this:
This happened around 1870 when a man took his own life on a mountain farm in Aaseral. It was uneasy on pasture after that, people were too scared to be there, so pasture stood deserted.
But it was one that would set off and try and dare to be there one night and find out how it was.
In the middle of the night he woke up and the dead stood in front of him and stared at him.
– How are you where you are?, asked the man in bed.
– I do not feel that bad now, but I a, worse when the time pass on, said the dead. – Do not talk like this!, said the other. – You scare me. You must leave me.
Then the dead took knife and cut his own neck and the blood splattered up against the wall and then he fell down and was gone.
And here there is a little more optimistic tale that also is suitable for the Christmas approaching:
The courageous boy
Source: Moltke Moe, Folkeminne from Bøherad
There was this place that was so haunted on Christmas Eve that the people who lived there had to leave their own home.
One Christmas a boy came travelling and asked for a place to stay that evening. The people said that they wished he could stay, but the place was haunted and they themselves could not be there and far less could they have guests. – What do you give me if I lie here in the night and gets rid of the ghost for you?, asked the boy. – Oh if he wanted to do that, it should not be missing on the payment, they replied. So they agreed; boy went in and lay down and the owners left.
When it was getting dark, a large black dog came into that sniffed around the walls in all the rooms, then it left. Then came a number of people with a coffin which they sat on the floor. When they left, the boy approached the coffin, looked at the corpse and removed the shirt. The by put the shirt on and gave the corpse on his own ragged shirts.
Then he went and lay down. At the same time, the corpse, an old man stood up from the coffin. – How are you? Need a new shirt ?, asked the boy. – No, no, I do not. But I have hidden some money in here and I get no rest because of them. But if you on Sunday tear down the fireplace and takes the money, take some yourself and give some to the poor, then I will have peace. Yes, the boy promised to do so.
After a while, the entourage came and retrieved the coffin. The boy lay down to sleep. In the morning the people came back, while the boy was asleep. He remained with them over the weekend. When Sunday came, he did what he had promised. And since then it was quiet in the house.