Kirkjuból witch trial

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The Kirkjuból witch trial was perhaps the best-known witch trial in Iceland. It took place in Kirkjuból in 1656, in what is today Ísafjörður.[1]

The plaintiff in the trial was pastor Jón Magnússon, who had been suffering poor health since 1654. He contended that his illness, as well as what he described as demonic disturbances in his household and in the surrounding district, were brought on by sorcery practiced by two members of his own congregation, who also sang in the choir, a father and son both named Jón Jónsson. The elder Jón confessed to owning a book about magic and that he had used it against Jón Magnússon. The son also confessed to having made the pastor ill and of having used magical signs and farting runes (Fretrúnir) against a girl. (The curse of farting was intended to be relentless; to not only humiliate the victim, but also to bring about chronic abdominal discomfort and weakness).

Both father and son were found guilty of sorcery and were executed by burning at the stake. After they were executed, the priest was awarded all their material holdings. Claiming that the disturbances and sicknesses did not cease, he then accused a Thuridur Jónsdóttir, the daughter/sister of the Jónssons, of witchcraft. The case was brought to Thingvellir, was dismissed and the woman let free. She later countersued for wrongful persecution and was vindicated. She was awarded the pastor's belongings as compensation.[2] In Iceland, magic was often practiced and not necessarily associated with the Devil, but the religious and secular authorities, influenced directly or indirectly by Denmark and Germany, had a different view on the subject.

Victims of the Icelandic witch hunt[edit]

In Iceland, in contrast to many other countries, the majority of people executed for witchcraft were male.

This is a sample of the executed in Iceland. Women were normally drowned, while men were burned:

  • 1625 – Jòn Rögnvaldsson á Melaeyrum í Svarfaðardal.
  • 1654 – Þórður Guðbrandsson frá Trékyllisvík á Ströndum (Undrin í Trékyllisvík).
  • 1654 – Egill Bjarnason frá Trékyllisvík á Ströndum (Undrin í Trékyllisvík).
  • 1654 – Grímur Jónsson frá Trékyllisvík á Ströndum (Undrin í Trékyllisvík).
  • 1656 – Jón Jónsson eldri frá Kirkjubóli í Skutulsfirði (Kirkjubólsmálið).
  • 1656 – Jón Jónsson yngri frá Kirkjubóli í Skutulsfirði (Kirkjubólsmálið).
  • 1667 – Þórarinn Halldórsson frá Birnustöðum í Ögursveit við Ísafjarðardjúp.
  • 1669 – Jón Leifsson frá Selárdal í Arnarfirði (Selárdalsmálin).
  • 1669 – Erlendur Eyjólfsson frá Ströndum (Selárdalsmálin).
  • 1671 – Sigurður Jónsson úr Ögurhreppi við Ísafjarðardjúp.
  • 1674 – Páll Oddsson í Ánastaðakoti á Vatnsnesi.
  • 1674 – Böðvar Þorsteinsson frá Snæfellsnesi.
  • 1675 – Magnús Bjarnason úr Arnarfirði (Selárdalsmálin).
  • 1675 – Lassi Diðriksson (Selárdalsmálin).
  • 1677 – Bjarni Bjarnason úr Breiðdal í Önundarfirði.
  • 1677 – Þorbjörn Sveinsson (Grenjadals-Tobbi) úr Mýrarsýslu.
  • 1678 – Stefán Grímsson brenndur í Húnavatnssýslu.
  • 1678 – Þuríður Ólafsdóttir (Selárdalsmálin), (The only woman executed by burning.)
  • 1678 – Jón Helgason (Selárdalsmálin).
  • 1681 – Ari Pálsson hreppsstjóri.
  • 1683 – Sveinn Árnason (Selárdalsmálin).

In fiction[edit]

The witch trial inspired a film by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson in 2000 called "Myrkrahöfðinginn", or "The Prince of Darkness". The film's storyline departs markedly from the original court records and the account written by Jon Magnusson in the 17th century, which is known by the title Píslarsaga Síra Jóns Magnússonar, or Story of Sufferings of Jon Magnusson.


  1. ^ Þorvarðardóttir, Ólína (2001). Brennuöldin (1 ed.). Iceland: Háskólaútgáfan. p. 119-216. ISBN 997954414-7. 
  2. ^ Hastrup, Kirsten (1989). "Iceland: Sorcerers and Paganism". In Bengt Ankarloo, Gustav Henningsen. Early Modern European Witchcraft. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 393-401. ISBN 0198203888. 

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