hunt in Europe started around the year 1480 and continued to the turn
of the 17th century. The Icelanders were influenced by the
Danes and the Germans during the period, but did not react until the
persecutions were dwindling around the middle of the 17th
century. It took on a different face here, as the witches and
scorcerers were condemned for using magical characters and runes to
The devil did not have much to do with Icelandic scorcery, and neither
did black magic nor torture. Much fewer witches were burnt at the
stake than scorcerers.
Around 1660, the witch hunt was dwindling in Europe. The year 1654 is
considered the beginning of the Icelandic persecution with three
people being burnt at the stake on cove Trekyllisvik in the Strandir
District. The last burning took place on the alluvial plain
Arngerdareyri on bay Isafjardardjup in the Northwest in 1683.
Possibly the first man to be burnt was Jon Rognvaldsson in valley
Svarfadardalur in North Iceland in 1625.
In addition to the twenty burnings, five are so vaguely documented, that
historians are not unanimous about them. Four of them concern males,
and only one a woman. The twenty confirmed burnings were
divided between the Westfjords (8), the North (4), and the Southwest
(8 in the Parliamentary Plains = Tingvellir).
Books of magic. Probably quite a few existed, but only seven are
clearly documented. It is difficult to decide the background of the
magic characters. Some may be traced to the mysticism of the Middle
Ages and the renascence teachings, but others suggest pagan and runic
culture. The witchcraft mentioned at trials in the 17th
century, can in many instances be found in the books of magic still
preserved in manuscript museums. The purpose of the magic characters
reveals in many instances the worries, toil, and the labour of the
Various herbs still play a role in popular belief and are considered
to be helpful, especially healing. During earlier centuries the
boundaries between scorcery, superstition and dogma on one side, and
modern medicine and natural sciences on the other, were vague.
Primitive remedies, interpretation of various natural phenomena, and
belief in healing qualities of herbs and stones, were the main reasons
Magical and natural stones
were used for many purposes. Belief in them is
ancient. They are even mentioned in the oldest codes of the country,
where it is strictly forbidden to use them or magnify their
potential. In the Middle Ages, the boundaries between witchcraft,
superstition, and dogma on one side, and medicine and modern natural
science were unclear. Nowadays many herbs and stones are used for
Tales of witchcraft and scorcery can be found in many books on
mythology and folklore.
burnings in the 17th century in the Westfjords and Strandir
1654. Sickness and hard times struck the people on cove
Trekyllisvik in 1652, especially the women, who started getting sick
after the referrendum in 1651. Then the magistrate, Torleifur
Kortsson, agreed to the demand of the mother and brothers of Gudrun
Hrobjartsdottir, that she should leave the domestic service of farmer
Tordur Gudbrandsson. She was taken dangerously ill, when her
brothers came for her, but she recovered immediately after the
departure. Again she fell ill after leaving the church there,
but was again quite well upon arrival at farm Munadarnes. Tordur
was accused for her sickness. He admitted that the devil had
appeared to him as an archtic fox and that he had used exorcism to get
his help. Tordur was burned at the stake at Kista on cove
Egill Bjarnason 1654.
When Tordur's case was investigated, suspicion of more widespread use
of witchcaraft in the area arose. Egill Bjarnason became the
centre of attention and he was emprisoned. He confessed to
scorcery and connections to the devil, who was contracted to him.
He went his errands to cause harm and havoc, killed sheep at the farms
Hlidarhus and Kjorvogur.
sentenced to burn at the stake with Tordur at Kista.
Grimur Jonsson 1654.
Just before Tordur was burned, he said that Grimur was the greatest
scorcerer of Trekyllisvik. These words lead to an investigation,
whch supported his reputation as a sorcerer. He confessed to
using runic boards from Tordur as defence against attacks of foxes on
his sheep herds. He promised to amend his ways, if he were
released from his shackles.
When he was not
released, he confessed to all kinds of scorcery, and was burned at
Kista as well.
Jon Jonsson senior 1656.
A father and a son from farm Kirkjubol, both by the name Jon, were
accused of scorcery, causing sickness and anguish to reverend Jon
Magnusson at parsonage Eyri on the bay Skutulsfjordur. They
confessed after several months' emprisonment. Jon senior
confessed to owning two books on witchcraft, having destroyed two
milking cows, and assisted his son in causing the reverend harm.
They were both
sentenced and burned at farm Kirkjubol on bay Skutulsfjordur.
Jon Jonsson junior 1656
confessed to more scorcery than his father before they were burned.
He told about unsuccessful healing attempts and having experienced the
devil in his sleep. He confessed extraordinary efforts to gain
the love of the reverend's daughter.
Jon Helgason 1678. Documented sources about the burning of
the woman, Turidur, and her son are vague. They most probably
were accused by reverend Pall in valley Selardalur of his wife's
sickness. They arrived from district Skagafjordur in the summer
of 1677 and were strangers in their new surroundings. According
to chronicles, Jon, the son, told people, that they had travelled on
foot and forded rivers without horses or ferries, which was a sign of
his mother's witchcraft. They were both
burned at the stake in district Bardastrandarsysla.
Sveinn Arnason 1683.
His accuser was dean Sigurdur Jonsson, who wrote about this case in
his chronicles. He claimed that Sveinn had caused his wife's
illness. She was the daughter of Pall in valley Selardalur.
His prosecutor was Magnus Jonsson.
He was convicted on the
spit of land called Nauteyri and burned in the forest
Arngerdareyrarskogur. According to popular belief, he was to be
transported to the Parliamentary Plains for his execution, but those
who were responsible for him did not bother.
burnings in Iceland in the 17th century