The Burning-Age in Iceland

The Burning-Age in Iceland

The concept of "witch-hunting" is well known. During a 300 year period, 15th-18th century, about 40-60 thousand people were executed in Europe for some sort of sorcery or witchcraft. During these times the fear for magic was great in the whole continent and Iceland was no exception.

The so-called Burning-Age started in Iceland the year 1654 when three men were burnt in Trékyllisvík, a small town in the North-West of Iceland. The first burning, though, took place 29 years earlier when Jón Rögnvaldsson from Svarfaðardalur was executed for sorcery. The last burning in Iceland was in the Western fjords (Arngerðareyrarskógur) the year 1683 and that burning marks the end of the Burning-Age, even though a man was burnt in Althing two years later but that was for blasphemy.

An Icelandic magic manuscript from the 17th century

In other European contries, mainly women were accused of sorcery and put in flames. Witch-huntings were frequent and magic was mostly linked to women. The opposite was true in Iceland. In total, 20 men were burnt – but only one woman! Her name was Þuríður Ólafsdóttir and she was put in flames, as well as her son, Jón Þórðarson, in 1678 after being accused for (there were no tenable evidence) being responsible for the illness of the pious Helga Halldórsdóttir in Selárdalur.

In Iceland, about 170 people were accused of sorcery and magic but contrary to the lawsuits in Europe, only about 10% of them were against women. What might the reason be?


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