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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Iceland

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Today is “Beer Day” in Iceland.  On this day in 1989 - yes, 1989- beer became legal in Iceland after a long and arduous struggle with prohibition.  This is the story of beer’s long journey through the Land of Fire and Ice.

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  • Kenq
    Kenq says #
    How very strange. The early 20th Century did terrible things to people's minds!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Got Corpse-Breeches?

By far the most popular exhibit at the Iceland Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery in Skáholt is its pair of nábrók, literally “corpse-breeches”: the whole, flayed skin of the lower half of a man’s body.

Looking something like the lower half of a bog body, they are, to all appearances, the whole preserved skin of a man’s feet, legs, thighs, and buttocks, complete with genitals and pubic hair. (Presumably those on display—oddly dubbed “necropants”—are mock-ups rather than the genuine item.)

Here's how to get your own pair.

First you make a deal with a living man to take his skin after death. (You can't take someone’s skin without prior permission because this would lay you open to retribution from the outraged dead.) After his death and burial, you dig up his coffin and flay the skin off his body, in one piece, from the waist down.

Then you don the corpse-breeches yourself (presumably after having tanned them in some fashion), and wear them 24/7. According to some authorities, the breeches eventually meld to your skin, although not everyone agrees on this point.

Next you steal a coin from a poor widow on Christmas, Easter, or Whitsunday. (You could translate this into Pagan as Yule, Ostara, or Midsummer, if you like). Place this coin, along with a particular runic sigil (see above) scribed on a piece of parchment, in the “purse” (i.e. scrotum) of the corpse-breeches.

Having done so, you will now never lack for cash, because there will always be plenty to be found in the magical pouch of your corpse-breeches.

Here's the catch.

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The Passion-Saga of Thurid Jónsdóttir: A Tale of Witchcraft and Revenge

Iceland, 1655. The reverend Jón Magnússon is convinced that he's bewitched.

The devil haunts him whenever he tries to carry out his priestly functions. His livestock have fallen ill. One of his servants is struck dumb.

Obviously, someone has hexed him.

His suspicions fix on two of his parishioners, a man and his son, both named Jón Jónsson. (The vast majority of Icelanders accused of, and executed for, witchcraft were men.) He denounces the two to the sheriff and they are brought before the local court on charges of witchcraft.

A search of their home turns up galder-books and galder-staves. Galder—sung magic—has long been a primary form of magic in the North. (The word derives from galan, “sing, chant,” as in nightingale, “singer by night,” and gale, the “singing" storm.) One gales (chants) the spell and rists (engraves) it on a stave to “set” it.

On this evidence, both father and son are condemned. Both are burned alive.

But the burnings do not end the haunting.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
"The Bishop Had 17 Children"

In the year 981, the German missionary bishop Friedrich arrived in Iceland along with native guide and translator Thorvald Konradsson, an Icelander who had been converted while on the Continent.

Their mission failed because a skald (a word thought by some to be kin to the English word scold) composed a scurrilous little poem about the two of them which made them the laughing stock of Iceland. They were forced to leave the island in 986 because no one would take them seriously. You can't preach to people that are too busy laughing to listen.

Iceland officially accepted Christianity in the year 1000, largely because the Norwegian king held the sons of numerous prominent Icelandic families hostage: conversion by blackmail. Being Icelanders, of course, they added the parenthetical proviso: But if you want to keep offering to the Old Gods in private, well, that's your business.

But two lines of poetry had bought the Icelanders 14 years of freedom, and more than 1000 years later, we still remember them.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Rún: A Facsimile of a Grimoire

I picked up a copy of this fascinating book from Strandagaldur (The Museum Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft). I love to see historical grimoires. Rún is particularly wonderful because it's a facsimile. Although the manuscript copied dates only from 1928, the material within it may date back as far as 1676. Two other copies of the material from around the same time exist, created in a belated attempt to gather traditional materials in the age of rising national identity. The early modern witch trials probably eliminated many more texts; it is interesting to note that like Finland and unlike the rest of Europe, men made up the greater part of those tried for the craft.

The book is full of cool information: first come the sets of runes, as the name suggests. There are alphabets for "black men" and "old women" and fools and "vagrants. There are magical staves from the simple to the complex for all kinds of magical purposes. Some look almost as complicated as vevés, others are more stark. As you might expect, there are lots of variations on the ægishjálmur.

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PaganNewsBeagle Earthy Thursday Dec 18

In today's Earthy Thursday post, the Pagan News Beagle celebrates unearthly Icelandic beauty; carbon sequestration to the rescue?; lesser-known stone circles; the wild foxes of Chukotka; the beauty of mad mushrooms.

The Nordic landscapes of Iceland take our breath away. (Note to self: add Iceland to the Beagle's bucket list!)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Thunderstruck in Reykjavik

The way I heard it, back in 1972 the heathens of Iceland petitioned the Althing—Parliament—for federal recognition. The official state church in Iceland is the Lutheran church, and everyone pays tax dollars to help support it, but there are a few other recognized religious organizations that you can designate to receive your money instead. The heathens, very reasonably, asked to be included on the list.

Parliament thought it was a joke. (Hey, it was 1972.) “Odin? Thor? Come on, this can't be serious. Recognition denied. Jeez.”

That night (almost I want to add: of course) the Parliament building is struck by lightning. Lights go out all over Reykjavik. (I should add that thunderstorms are rare in Iceland.)

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