Throughout its history, Iceland has preserved a rich tradition of Germanic Magic. Amidst its rugged and imposing landscape, Magic didn't remain relegated to the fringes of society; instead, it served as an indispensable tool for daily survival. This tradition persisted even through the process of Christianization and continued for centuries, up to the present day. Rather than being extinguished, events that should have eradicated heathenism seemed to fortify Icelanders' faith in their native culture. From Iceland, heathen Magicians spread their practices to Europe, influencing the emergence and development of numerous esoteric organizations like the Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Knight Templars, and Hermeticism. Today, heathen traditions still endure in Iceland, carrying both ordinary and profound significance.
In the 19th century, these concealed practitioners of ancient Germanic Magic and heathenism began to emerge from obscurity, openly practicing the old Magic. Consequently, we now have access to spell books, the names of renowned sorcerers, and step-by-step procedures for medieval Germanic-Icelandic Magic.
We will endeavor to explain some of the events that demonstrate the continued practice of Magic in Iceland, spanning from its earliest practitioners who engaged in blood sacrifices to the contents found within medieval spell books. Additionally, we will explore the surprising endurance of pagan traditions in modern-day Europe and the broader Western world. While the subject matter may appear dark, esoteric, and, at times, peculiar due to biased reporting by Christian and later secular sources, it ultimately provides valuable insights into how Germanic heathen Magic has managed to survive.
In the late 9th century, King Harold Heinrich sought to conquer all of Norway with the support of the Christian Church. To establish a Christian-style monarchy in the nation, he garnered backing from various factions. However, not all citizens embraced this notion. Consequently, a group of Norwegians, accompanied by their Celtic slaves, embarked on a westward journey in search of political and religious freedom. Upon reaching Iceland, they founded a society deeply rooted in their native heathen traditions.
Rejecting the new Christian concept of a single monarchy governing the nation, Iceland's leadership adopted a decentralized and democratic approach, with local priest-chieftains assuming authority.
These leaders convened annually at the Althing, a grand assembly where legal cases were adjudicated, and matters of governance were decided. Remarkably, the Althing continues to this day as Iceland's national parliament. During its early days, Icelandic governance lacked a central authority capable of enforcing judgments. Instead, the responsibility for carrying out sentences rested with the family of the aggrieved party.
When someone was found guilty of a crime, they could face outlawry, a situation where the law ceased to protect them. Consequently, they risked harm or even death without legal consequences. Alternatively, the guilty party could make amends by paying a predetermined sum known as weregild to the harmed individual. Each crime carried a specific monetary value. Importantly, the government did not profit from these transactions; they merely facilitated justice.
The early Icelandic settlers practiced a religion they had brought with them from Norway, which was rooted in ancient Germanic heathenism. It's important to clarify that "heathenism" is not used pejoratively but rather to describe a religious practice that differed from the more widespread Christian beliefs of the time. This Icelandic heathen religion allowed for a significant degree of individual freedom. Some Icelanders worshiped Odin, while others prayed to Freyja or other Norse deities. Conversely, some may have adhered to no religious faith at all. Meanwhile, the Celtic slaves likely had ties to Christianity. This diversity reflects the Icelandic society's tolerance for religious differences, with heathenism prevailing as the dominant faith. Within this heathen belief system, a strong tradition of sorcery and Magic thrived.
By all accounts, Icelandic Magic can be categorized into two distinct types: Galder and Seither. Galder is generally considered a more honorable form of Magic, while Seither was viewed as shameful.
Essentially, these can be likened to light and dark Magic, although it's important to note that these moral connotations were not contemporary but seem to have been added later by Christian chroniclers who sought to defame and discourage the practice of Germanic Magic, especially Seither, because it formed the foundation of all Magic, including Galder. Thus, one should take the labels of light and dark Magic with a grain of salt. In reality, the differences between these two types of Magic were primarily technical in nature.
The practice of Galder appears to be deeply rooted in one's consciousness. It could be described as the more grounded of the two, lacking a better term for comparison. Engaging in Galder may be likened to assuming a kind of Magical persona or an alter ego. In contrast, practitioners of Seither would enter a trance-like state, seemingly possessed by something entirely different. This bears resemblance to what other parts of the world might call shamanism, likely inherited from early Germanic practices.
I won't delve too deeply into the nature of Magic, but allow me to explain that Magic involves the manipulation of energy using your mind or willpower. Runes are the Magical tools bestowed upon us by Odin for precisely this purpose, and comprehending the meaning and energy of each rune necessitates the use of your left brain or consciousness. To effectively harness the power of Runes, one must cultivate their willpower through meditation and chanting, activities primarily associated with the right brain.
The Christian authorities recognized this and, as a result, defamed the use of Seither, labeling it as "black Magic," "Satanism," and the domain of women who were "easily seduced by Satan." Consequently, Christian authorities and chroniclers asserted that a man who practiced Seither was homosexual and, by extension, unmanly.
While most Seither practitioners did not necessarily engage in Rune Magic, many did. Runic Magicians were likely the most renowned among them. The combination of Galder and Seither was a common practice, and Rune Magicians could be found among both men and women throughout Northern Europe, often belonging to the most respected strata of society. Notably, in Iceland, practitioners of Galder were predominantly male. This male-dominated aspect of Icelandic Magic would resurface during Iceland's Witchcraft Trials and subsequent executions.
The general technique of runic Magic involved three procedural steps. Firstly, the Magician would carve the symbols onto an object, occasionally creating a Bindrune from the chosen Runes for the conjuring. Secondly, the Runes or Bindrunes would be colored with the Magician's blood or the blood of an animal. Finally, a verbal incantation would be recited over the Runes, believed to unleash their Magical energy for the Magician to harness and employ for their intended purpose. These ancient, old-world methods of Magic would soon undergo significant changes due to the increasing Christianization of Europe.
By the year 1000, most of Northern Europe, including Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, and England, had officially embraced Christianity. However, Iceland resisted this change. While Iceland outwardly accepted Christianity, very little changed in practice. Public sacrifices were prohibited, but there were no laws against privately adhering to the old faith. Pagan traditions, such as ceremonial sacrifices and the consumption of horse flesh, continued without significant opposition. Icelanders even permitted the exposure of infants, a practice involving leaving unwanted newborns outside to face the forces of nature. The conversion to Christianity was a gradual process, with the turning point occurring around 1030. During this time, Iceland entered an era of peace, and domestic conflicts became less frequent. Individual Icelanders became more open to exploring Christianity, and Icelandic scholars began to travel abroad, returning with knowledge from other Magical traditions that were secretly spreading across Europe.
Regarding religion, Icelandic Christianity did not strictly adhere to Christian doctrine. Icelanders who joined the church did not renounce worldly pleasures, and old traditions like polygamy and witchcraft persisted even among church members. These older practices began to merge with the Christian ideas brought by traveling clergymen. This era of Icelandic "witchcraft" is remembered as a peculiar and self-contradictory period. While Christianity explicitly condemned witchcraft as heretical, Christian elements began to infiltrate Icelandic Magical practices. Figures from exclusively Christian traditions began to appear in Icelandic spell books, and elements of Catholicism were incorporated into verbal incantations.
Unfortunately, this era also represents a dark age in our understanding of Germanic Magic practiced in Iceland. Works composed during this time depicted earlier Viking-age practices, and very few original Magical materials were recorded. Instead, we must rely on sagas and folk tales written afterward. While not entirely factual, Icelandic sagas typically have some basis in reality. Most notably, they point to a priest named Sæmundr Sigfússon, considered the most knowledgeable man of his time in Magic. It is believed he compiled the Elder or Poetic Edda. Sæmundr Sigfússon, better known as Sæmundr the Learned (1056–1133), was an Icelandic priest and scholar.
Sæmundr is renowned for his studies abroad. While it was previously believed that he studied in France, modern scholars now suggest that his studies took place in Franconia. In Iceland, he established a long-lasting school in Oddi, located in the southwest of the country. Oddi derives its name from Odin, and there was a longstanding Icelandic belief that the term "Edda" had its roots in "Oddi." However, later Christian scholars mistakenly interpreted "Edda" as meaning "grandmother." Sæmundr was a member of the Oddaverjar and the father of Loftur Sæmundsson. Loftur Sæmundson was known for teaching Germanic Magic, Mythology, and Lore, particularly to his renowned pupil, Snorri Sturluson, who went on to write the Prose Edda.
Sæmundr Frodi claimed to have attended a mysterious institution known as the Black School, which later Christian references dubbed the "Black School of Satan." This Black School likely blended Germanic Magic with Hermetic Magic and Christian Gnosticism, possibly located in Germany or France (Frankia). In Iceland, Saemundr Sikhfusan was generally regarded as a virtuous individual. The Oddi School often appeared in ancient Icelandic Magical texts simply as the Black School, attesting to its popularity among those dedicated to sorcery and the preservation of the old heathen religion.
Around 1118, the Age of Peace in Iceland began to deteriorate as foreign powers sought control over the island. External pressures resulted in political conspiracies and corruption, leading to instability within Icelandic society. Old conflicts and blood feuds resurfaced. Nonetheless, this period witnessed a flourishing of Icelandic culture, particularly in literature. Icelandic authors composed many now-famous national sagas, and the works of the poet Snorri Sturluson, both prose and poetry, thrived. As previously mentioned, Snorri had attended the Oddi school and incorporated occult rituals into his description of the old heathen Germanic religion in the Prose Edda. Some of these rituals likely incorporated ideas from Hermetic and Christian Gnostic traditions that Sæmundr Frodi had encountered during his time in Germany and France.
This era marked a period of cultural equilibrium bridging the past and present, during which Icelanders successfully fused their native traditions with Christianity. Unfortunately, this period would prove short-lived.
The Protestant Reformation commenced in the early 1500s. In 1536, Denmark officially adopted this reformation, and it was anticipated that Iceland, as a Danish territory, would follow suit. However, Iceland faced considerable pressure to embrace the European Christian tradition. Despite this pressure, Icelanders resisted due to their country's isolation and cultural conservatism. Consequently, the Reformation did not swiftly gain ground in Iceland, leading to a protracted conflict between 1536 and 1550. Ultimately, the Protestant faction prevailed, culminating in the execution of Icelandic Bishop John Harrison in 1550.
In the aftermath of the Reformation, Iceland endured economic and political exploitation by Denmark. In 1602, Denmark effectively cut off Iceland from the rest of Europe. Danish traders and clergy, acting as government representatives, ruthlessly exploited the Icelandic population. Severe penalties, including the death penalty, were imposed for moral transgressions such as heresy, with the assets of those sentenced to death accruing to the Danish crown.
In response to signs of societal decline, Danish and Icelandic antiquarians, covertly affiliated with the Oddavettir or Oddi School, leveraged their influential positions within the government and Church hierarchy to initiate a concerted effort to safeguard Iceland's pagan heritage during this period. This endeavor encompassed the preservation of sagas, the Eddas, as well as spell books and Magical manuscripts, providing invaluable insights into the Magic practiced during that era.
Two Icelandic Magicians who were members of the secret Oddi underground were Gottskalk Nikúlásson (1469-1520) and Halldor Danielsson. Gottskalk, renowned for his association with "black Magic" and political scheming, left behind a spell book called the "Raudskinna," which contained some of the darkest Magic known, primarily sourced from earlier Heathen times. "Raudskinna" means "red skin" because the book's cover was made from dyed red skin. The text was inscribed in Runes, and Gottskalk used gold ink for writing. Gottskalk was known as the most powerful man in Iceland and the most influential member of the secret order throughout its history.
After Gottskalk's death, the Magician Galdraloftur became obsessed with necromancy, attempting to summon Gottskalk's ghost to obtain his spell book. This era is marked by an insatiable thirst for knowledge and power.
Another significant work from this period is the "Grylukvædi," a book compiled in two parts. The first part was written in the Roman alphabet, while the second part used encoded Runes to conceal its true meaning. According to the sagas, reading the first part could still save one's soul, but the second part condemned the reader for eternity. Unfortunately, copies of these books did not survive due to the crackdown on Magic during the Protestant era, leading to their immediate destruction if discovered.
Iceland eventually joined the wider European trend of suppressing perceived witchcraft threats. On October 12, 1617, King Christian IV of Denmark officially outlawed Magic across his lands, which included Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland. Penalties ranged from exile or fines for non-sorcerer citizens to immediate execution for genuine sorcerers. However, in Iceland, it took 13 years for the law to be locally published, and its implementation was surrounded by confusion. This resulted in chaotic proceedings orchestrated by secret practitioners of Magic within the government and Church bureaucracies.
Iceland's witch trials were distinctive in terms of gender and class. Unlike the rest of Europe, where witch trials mainly targeted women, Icelandic witch trials predominantly accused men. This divergence was a result of the gender-divided nature of Icelandic society at the time. Magic in Iceland was primarily associated with Runes, considered a masculine discipline. Only a few exceptions existed, with some women facing trial for specific forms of Magic, which were generally frowned upon by other sorcerers.
Class also played a role in Icelandic witch trials, with most victims being lower-class men. Higher-status individuals, when accused, were typically acquitted. Most members of the Heathen underground were from the higher echelons of society.
One exceptional case, known as the "Kirkjubol Affair," unfolded over five years, from 1655 to 1660, shedding light on the procedural aspects of witch trials and the cultural dynamics involved when one was accused of witchcraft. This case revolved around Reverend Jón Magnússon, whose life had been unremarkable until then. I won't delve into this episode in detail, but it is worth investigating.
Throughout Iceland's history, numerous Icelandic books emerged that contained lore, spell work, or various forms of Magical tradition. Among these, there are books attributed to John the Learned, which encompass spells and rune work. Additionally, a 1400 Icelandic Physicians' manual includes distinctly Magical remedies invoking Odin, Thor, and Freya. While many such materials are fragmented due to the passage of time, one spell book remains fully intact and stands as the most significant and renowned of all Icelandic Magical texts.
Given the historical context of its creation, the survival of the Galder book is truly remarkable. This book, written sometime in the latter part of the 1500s, serves as an index of 47 spells. It is believed to have been assembled by a combination of Icelandic Magicians and Danish scribes during the Protestant period. In 1682, the book came into the possession of a Danish villager before being transferred to Stockholm and included in the National Academy of Sciences, where it resides to this day. The Galder book provides no commentary or opinions on Magic but rather presents specific incantations and spells, offering insights into the theology of early Icelandic sorcerers.
The spells contained in the Galder book encompass a diverse range of purposes. Protection spells are the most common, with 18 of them promising protection from various harms, whether Magical or mundane. Additionally, nine spells promise good fortune in various ways, while six spells offer protection against thieves, indicating the authors' concern about theft. Finally, one spell even promises invisibility. These spells, taken together, are mostly positive and benign in nature.
Furthermore, the "Galder Book" presents various darker forms of Magic in addition to what has been discussed. These encompass a wide range of practices, starting from low-level mischievous spells such as one to induce flatulence in a victim, to more malevolent ones, including curses that harm another's livestock or compel a woman to fall in love. Surprisingly, the spell book also incorporates elements of Christianity. Nine of the spells exhibit a paradoxical Christian framework by referencing Christian texts or seeking assistance from Christian figures, while eight spells reflect Judeo-Gnostic influences. Furthermore, five spells overtly merge Christian beliefs with Germanic paganism.
When examined in conjunction with other Icelandic sources, the "Galder Book" outlines a pantheon of gods that includes gods, goddesses, giants, and other supernatural beings. Several deities, including Odin, Thor, Freyja, and Balder, are specifically invoked, and Loki frequently makes appearances. Trolls and elves are referenced in many spells as potential agents for fulfilling Magical intentions.
Additionally, giants and Valhalla, the dwelling place for honored warriors who die in battle, are mentioned. Remarkably, demonic figures from Christianity are also invoked in the book, as seen in spell 43, where the invocation includes references to Thor, Odin, Frigg, Freya, Satan, Beelzebub, and other gods and goddesses dwelling in Valhalla. This illustrates a growing fusion between Christianity and the old pagan religion, with the aim of demonizing the old pagan gods.
Traditional Icelandic pagan gods are not strictly categorized as good or evil, unlike the Christian dichotomy of Satan and Jesus. Over time, Christians began to assign pagan gods to these roles, often associating the old gods with Satan. This, of course, contributed to Christian theology. Aggressive and dark Magic tended to invoke the names of heathen gods, while Christian elements predominated in protective spells. However, this fusion of beliefs did not take root as firmly in Iceland as it did in other places. The Icelandic tradition maintained a trinity of Germanic heathen gods, Christian entities, and Christian demons, with pagan deities never being completely vilified and Christian entities never being wholly accepted as holy or good.
The subject of how Magic actually works is remarkably identical to our modern explanation of how Magic works. While they did call on various Gods and demons to help with the spells, they never questioned that Magic was real. This is because Magic was a fundamental part of the life of heathens. For this reason, they did not dwell extensively on these questions; if their spells worked, that was sufficient. But if we study the book, we can discern the causality that Icelandic sorcerers associated with their craft. Just like today, their explanation was willpower.
Willpower emerges as a fundamental aspect of Icelandic Magic. Icelandic Magic appears to operate on an intensely concentrated form of one's willpower, serving as its foundation. Willpower is a cornerstone of Icelandic Magic and many other European Magical traditions. Several spells emphasize the importance of strong faith or passionate desires, while others encourage practitioners to skip evening prayers to maintain a focused mindset. Some spells even require fasting or physical hardship, as discomfort was believed to enhance emotional concentration. This willpower, once harnessed, would be channeled through Runes, incantations, human blood, or a combination of these elements, transforming shallow desires into mystical Magic.
As we explore the history of Magic in Iceland, we discover that early Icelanders did not see it as a matter of belief; it was a factual part of their reality. Magic was not a belief system but a practical aspect of their lives, akin to acknowledging the color of the sky or the existence of celestial bodies. Considering this historical context and approaching these traditions with empathy enables us to gain a genuine understanding of the world as it once was.
Brief Study how Magic was an integral part of Heathen Society which survived Christianization.