Iceland in the 17th century was certainly not a pleasant place where to conduct a peaceful existence: natural disasters and difficult climate, constant pirate raids, an economical unbalance between the social classes. Only the most wealthy citizens could afford to live in stone buildings, while the farmers were leading a terribly harsh life. As it usually happen in situations where hope for improvement is scarce and the access to knowledge even more so, even in the chill Iceland many people turned to witchcraft as an intellectual escapism from a life full of difficulties.

Below: the outside of the Museum, picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Naturally, magical practices were not allowed and they were prosecuted even there, to the ends of the world

Christianity became the official religion in Iceland around the year 1000, but the previous pagan culture could not be eradicated overnight. The two religions then, like in many other places in the world, got mixed up, blending rites and beliefs so that many enchantments would make use of Christian symbols like the sacramental wine, to bring benefits to those who would perform them. The magic experts were focusing on obtaining mainly practical results, so things like a favourable climate, more milk from the animals, and other requests on less pragmatical subjects, even though still utilitarian, like obtaining the gift of the invisibility.

Below: picture by Jennifer shared via Boyer/Flickr

In the city of Holmavik, on the West coast of the country, there is a little odd Museum, the Strandagaldur, known as the The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, dedicated to the occult practices which were widespread throughout the country in the 17th century.

Below: the undead finds its way through the floor

Below: picture by Jennifer shared via Boyer/Flickr

There are trousers made out of human skin, the nábrók, which were supposed to guarantee to its owner an unlimited richness, but the method required to tailor them was so odd and terrible that perhaps the attractiveness of having them was rather low; the magic logs, used for several purposes: from the chance to see ghosts to the power of making someone fall in love; weird creatures called “tilberi”, snake-like animals with 2 heads which, once summoned through a complex ritual, would have helped stealing goat’s milk from the neighbourhood.

“Tilberi” – strange snake-like magical animals with 2 heads

Below: picture by Bernard shared via McManus/Flickr

The Museum has been launched in 2000 by a group of people who wanted to bring a flow of tourism in the area, thanks to the fame of the region, the one of Westfjords, which still holds folklore aspects, stories, legends, linked to the magical traditions of the past. The collection of objects, replica in reality, required many years of research on ancient tests,records and other sources.

Below: picture by Jennifer shared via Boyer/Flickr

Initially the local population was opposed to the creation of this kind of museum, but the great flow of visitors and the resulting economical return, changed everyone’s mind about it.

Viking Sacrificial goblet

Below: picture by Bernard shared via McManus/Flickr

Sigurður Atlason, one of the founders of the museum, knows that the visitors are attracted by the most macabre and sensational aspects of the exhibition, but he cares about emphasising  how the Strandagaldur wants to be a warning against that which hunt that, although different yet with many similarities, was so condemned centuries later but terribly imminent into our modern globalised society.

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