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 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
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 healing purposes.
Tales of witchcraft and scorcery can be found in many books on
mythology and folklore.
burnings in the 17th century North Iceland
Rognvaldsson 1625. Farmer Sigurdur at Urdir in valley
Svarfadardalur suffered much from a ghost. Jon Eyfirdingur was
accused for its existence and sending it to Sigurdur to kill him
and/or cause him harm. It only managed to kill a few horses.
Magistrage Magnus Björnsson got the case. He interrogated Jon,
who denied the accusations flatly. His house was searched and a
few suspicious runic letters were found.
This discovery was
considered sufficient to sentence him to the stake at Meleyrar in
valley Svarfadardalur. His case was never confirmed by the
official court of the Parliamentary. The next burning probably
occurred nine years later, but the sources are too vague.
Erlendur Eyjolfsson 1669.
Jon Leifsson alleged shortly before his execution, that Erlendur had
tought him witchcraft. Therefore dean Pall sent governor
Torleifur Kortsson a letter, accusing Jon for allt the misgivings of
his family in valley Selardalur, and also Erlendur for being an
This was sufficient
evidence for the authorities, and Erlendur was burned at the stake in
county Vesturhop in district Hunavatnssysla the same year. He
confessed to scorcery and teaching it as well.
Magnus Bjarnason 1675.
hunt was relentless in valley Selardalur in spite of the burning of
two people. The housewife fell ill again and two of her sons as
well. Now the family blamed Magnus Bjarnason on the bay
Arnarfjordur. One magic letter was discovered and governor
Torleifur Kortsson claimed a confession. He
had Magnus transported to Tingeyrar in district Hunavatnssysla, where
he was burned.
His ancestors also lived in the Borgarfjordur area. He was
blamed for distroying eight cows and admitted to all kinds of
delinquencies after he had been sentenced, but he never confessed to
scorcery. The connection of his case to reverend Arni Jonsson's
case were a part of the reason. The reverend managed to leave
the country before a convocation had been gathered to handle his case.
Torbjorn was burned at the stake in district Hunavatnssysla
immediately after the sentence.
burnings in Iceland in the 17th century