Iceland, Part 2


We spent another day in Reykjavik and visited the Settlement Exhibition (no pics), which I thought was a really fabulous combination of new tech and old school museum display. My favourite part, which is going to be hard to describe without a visual, was a series of small videos showing the landscape around Reykjavik, with ghostly outlines of the 3rd and 4th century inhabitants. It was really effective and simple. In much the same way the museum included the ghostly outlines of complete objects (almost like a white line drawing) behind an archeological shard or remnant of the real thing. It was a nice way to use an archeological fragment that survived centuries without creating a replica.

We also went to the Saga Museum, which was also fun but informative. The museum is made up of tableaux (occasionally gruesomely violent) telling the history of Iceland. Trip Advisor notes that many of the wax figures are actually based on inhabitants of current day Iceland, including the hot dog vendor down the street. I’m not sure of the veracity of that tale, but it certainly adds to the mystique. Also, you can dress up as a Viking at the end, which I totally did (all the while admiring the beautiful linen tunics and realizing that I pretty much dress like a current day Viking, minus the sword and hat). In any case, we were about to start a trek to see the Witchcraft Museum, so I was particularly interested in the witches and sorcerers, of which there were many. Like so many places, prophetesses (like Þorbjörg in the photo above) were valued, if feared, until the imposition of Christianity, when nasty things happened. The picture below is of Sister Katrin who was burned at the stake in 1343 for slander and heresy (or, you know, being a woman, although Iceland holds the dubious title of being the only European country to burn more male than female witches).


From Reykjavik we made our way north west to the west fjords and Hólmavik where we headed for the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft.


I have *a lot* to say about this museum, most of which I’m turning into a chapter right now.


It’s run by a sorcerer, for starters, who will make your dinner (delicious fish stew!) in the restaurant afterwards if you’re lucky. Like many micro-museums it is a collection of real artefacts and replicas, with intensely detailed labelling based on extremely in-depth historical research supplemented with a few flourishes (like a skeleton crawling out of the museum’s floor, and a pair of “necropants,” the description of which boggles the mind).


The necropants were a tool to gather wealth by supernatural means. Basically a sorcerer would make a pact with a living man that he would be flayed upon his death. The sorcerer would then make a pair of pants from the dead man’s flesh and wear them, and would find the scrotum constantly full of coins. But beware! If the sorcerer died in the pants before passing them on, his body would become full of lice. Better to pass them on to someone else who might benefit from the constant coinage.



This little milk stealing cutie (a tilberi) was one of the few pieces of magic attributed to women in Iceland (although a number of women were burned at the stake nonetheless).


One of my favourite parts of the museum was the huge genealogy found upstairs (no pics – it was really hard to photograph). It showed the family and community connections among people who practiced and admitted to witchcraft, those who accused others of practicing witchcraft, and those who were arrested and killed for practicing. Essentially it shows the working out of social and family relations in various bloody ways, and it also illuminates how power was enacted through fear and accusations of witchcraft. It was totally fascinating to see how some families with power and wealth, including women in those families with little other power, could attribute their own illnesses or bad fortune to the witchcraft of others. Those others would then be arrested and often burned at the stake.

The Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum had everything I love in a micro-museum, ranging from fanatic devotion to a topic, to real and fake relics, a small budget, and the attached restaurant just kind of made it for me. Also, just a note, if you follow @SorceryMuseum on twitter there are some farting runes to prevent Trump from winning!


My other work on plastics elbowed in on the beach in Hólmavik. We’ve been collecting and counting plastics pollution in the Great Lakes, and the beaches in Iceland were similarly covered, mostly in relics from the fishing industry. This one was nice though – the bottom is a whale bone, and the top is a piece of styrofoam, worn by the sea to look almost natural.

Next, on to Bildudalur and the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum.

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