Iceland and Scandinavia have a rich history of witchcraft and Nordic shamanism that’s still popular today.
Iceland continues to preserve its history and culture in its small island nation and many folk customs still live on today alongside Christian and Lutheran practices.
Iceland experienced witch hunts that occurred between 1625 and 1686; however, the majority of the accused were male compared to the majority of women that were accused in mainland Europe.
Twenty-two men and only ten women were accused on witchcraft during that time period; of the accused, twenty-one men and only one woman were found guilty and burned at the stake.
The Kikjuból trial was the most famous which occurred in what is now Ísafjörður, Iceland.
In this post, we’ll look at the following:
- A crash course in Icelandic 101
- Pronunciation of common Norse names and words (the Icelandic way)
- Resources to learn more about Icelandic Witchcraft and Norse Witchcraft
Icelandic Witchcraft: Let’s Learn Icelandic 101
Let’s begin with a crash course in Icelandic or as it is in Icelandic: Íslenska.
Icelandic is spoken by only around 314,000 native speakers (as of 2015) and is the closest living language to Old Norse, which has changed less significantly than other Nordic languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian.
Icelandic has evolved over the centuries from Old Norse to Old West Norse to Old Icelandic and finally to modern Icelandic.
The second language closest to Old Norse and Icelandic is Faroese (spoken in the Faroe Islands), which is similar to Icelandic using many of the same words with a twist on pronunciation and spelling (a bit of a mix of Icelandic and Norwegian.)
To get a feel of what Faroese sounds and looks like, check out this hit song by Eivør Pálsdóttir.
To get a basic sense of Icelandic:
- Icelandic has three genders for its nouns and adjectives: masculine, feminine and neuter.
- Icelandic has four cases for conjugating verbs: past, present, future and subjunctive.
- Icelandic has four cases for conjugating nouns: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Each of these cases is also conjugated according to its gender and if singular or plural.
- Adjectives conjugate to match the case and gender of the noun.
- Verbs don’t conjugate according to match the gender of the speaker or object of the sentence (unlike Russian or Ukrainian.)
Think of it as Latin conjugations – if you studied Latin or are familiar with it, then you may have a knack for learning Icelandic!
For most people learning basic Icelandic, they might not want to get into details about conjugations, but it’s important to know the last one: genitive.
Patronymic (or Matronymic) Names
This case (genitive) is used for patronymic names.
Icelanders usually don’t have family names and use patronymic (or matronymic if the child isn’t to be named after the father); however, some Icelanders have family names for example if the family name is old or comes from Norwegian, Danish or another language.
In either case, the ‘last name’ becomes father (or mother)’s first name (in genitive conjugated form) and the suffix -son (son) or -dóttir (daughter) is added to the parent’s genitive conjugated first name.
A common mistake is that some non-Icelandic speakers will simply add the two parts together or add an extra “s” which is grammatically incorrect.
Patronymic and Matronymic Name Examples:
Sturla Sturluson (Sturla’s father is Sturla; Sturla son of Sturla)
Karl Egilsson (Karl’s father is Egill; Karl son of Egill)
Anna Bjarkardóttir (Anna‘s mother is Björk; Anna daughter of Björk)
The Icelandic Alphabet
To begin, Icelandic has a 32-letter alphabet which two of these letters (Ð/ð and Þ/þ) are not found elsewhere in other Germanic or Latin languages.
A Á B D Ð E É F G H I Í J K L M N O Ó P R S T U Ú V X Y Ý Þ Æ Ö
a á b d ð e é f g h I í j k l m n o ó p r s t u ú v x y ý þ æ ö
Icelandic used to use the letter Z but this letter has been dropped from modern usage in the mid- to late 20th century.
Some places still use this letter for historical purposes such as the name of Verzlunarskóli Íslands (Commercial College of Iceland) and it’s not uncommon to see some shops use the letter Z in the word verzlun meaning “commercial.”
The consonants B, D, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, P, S, T and V are similar sounding to the English language.
There are exceptions to the rule depending on the placement of these letters in a word (and vowels), but we’ll explain that later.
J is pronounced as the English Y (as a consonant) or German J.
The consonant Ð / ð is as TH in THAT
The consonant Þ / þ is as TH in THIN
X is as in LOX or LACKS
If you don’t have an Icelandic keyboard, you can install an Icelandic keyboard setting on your phone or computer to type the letters.
If you can’t install it, you can write Ð / ð as DH or dh and Þ / þ as TH or th – the final letter should not be written as P or p.
The vowels A, Á, E, É, I, Í, O, Ó, U, Ú, Y, Ý, Æ, Ö are different than English:
A – A as in FAR
Á – OW as in COW or HOW
E – AI as in AIR
É – YE as in YES
I – I as in HIT
Í – EE in SEE
O – AW in LAW
Ó – O as in OH!
U – as in EUX like in French or EU in FEU in French
Ú – as in OO like in LOO or BOO
Y – I as in HIT
Ý – EE as in SEE
Æ – sounds like EYE or as I (the pronoun)
Ö – sounds like UR as in URGENT or LURK
Exception to the Rules in Icelandic Pronunciation
Now that you have the basics, what people may not realize it that Icelandic isn’t as easy as it looks just because you have the individual vowels and consonants known.
There are some pronunciation exceptions that change depending where a consonant or a vowel is in the word and what consonant or vowel comes before or after the letter.
Here’s a quick run down of these Icelandic grammar rules:
This one is tricky to describe. The closest sound is in French when the EUILLE sound in FEUILLE (meaning LEAF in French.)
If you can pronounce FEU (“FIRE” in French) take the EU and add EE to the end of it.
Here is a sample of what AU / au sounds like.
RL or LL –
When RL or LL are together at the middle or an end of a word, this sounds like TTL as in SETTLE or KETTLE.
The exception to this is the word “Halló” which comes from English (hello) and is pronounced HALLO.
Here is a sample of what RL sound like in the word KARL (meaning “guy” or “man”) hint: it’s the same sound as LL.
When F is in the beginning of a word, F sounds like the English letter F.
When this letter is at the middle or end of a word, it sounds like the English letter V.
If F is before the letter N or L in the middle of a word, it sounds like B or M (a sort of comination of these two letters.)
Here is what the word hrafn (raven) sounds like.
NK or NG –
When a vowel (A, I, O, U, Y) is before NK or NG, the vowel changes to sound like the equivalent vowel with an accent (Á, Í, Ó, Ú, Ý). NK or NG sound like the same as in English like in BANK or SING.
Here is an example of what BANKI (bank) sounds like.
However, even in Icelandic, there are regional dialect differences between the North of Iceland, the South of Iceland, the Westfjords and Eastern Iceland.
Some people don’t pronounce BANKI as the audio above and will pronounce it BANK-IH (similar to the English word BANK). However, that particular pronunciation isn’t common.
This is pronounced as G except when a vowel comes before it and the letter J or the vowel I comes right after it; in that situation the G becomes like the Icelandic J.
Examples: AÐ SEGJA (to say) or AÐ FLÚGJA (to fly) or the name BRAGI or HUGINN.
P – This sounds like a P except when it comes before the letter T, then P is pronounced as the letter F. Example: Ég keypti bók (I bought a book) (pronounced Yeg kayftih bohk).
Small side bar: Icelandic doesn’t have indefinite articles (i.e. no word A or AN) in the language, only definitive articles (i.e. THE) which come after the noun and conjugate with the noun based on singular, plural and the case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive.)
Examples of words with definite articles attached:
maður – man; maðurinn – the man.
Kona – woman; konan – the woman.
Barn – child; barnið – the child.
EY or EI –
This is pronounced like EY or AY as in HEY or HAY.
When RN is after ó or é the sound is similar to dn.
Example: að fórna (adh fohrdna) = to sacrifice; or hérna – hyedna = here.
This is pronounced between the sounds KW and KV. It is a mix of a W and V sound.
This combination in Icelandic is only found at the beginning of a word.
Example: Hvað? (the question word: what?) sounds like here.
Vocabulary for Norse / Icelandic Witchcraft
Here are some common words found in modern Norse Witchcraft that are pronounced the Icelandic way that can be tricky:
Norn / Nornir – Witch / Witches (plural)
Völva / Völvur – Seeress / Seeresses (plural)
Spákona / Spákonur – Psychic (Forteller) / Psychics (Fortellers)
Galdur – Magic
Galdrabók / Galdrabækur – Magic Book / Magic Books
Skuggabók – Book of Shadows
Seiður (Seiðr) / Seiðkona – Seidr (Seidhr) (Norse magick/shamanism)
Óðinn – Odin
Ás / Æsir
Hávamál – Havamal (Words of the High One)
Völuspá – Prophecy of the Seeress (from the Poetic Edda)
Egilssaga – Saga of Egill
Valkyrja / Valkyrjur – Valkyrie / Valkyries
Jötunn / Jötnar – Giant / Giants
Rún / rúnir (rune / runes)
Valhöll (in English / other texts as Valhalla)
Example of Icelandic:
Here is a reading of the first three verses from the Hávamál in Icelandic and English.
Listen here to it in Icelandic.
áður gangi fram
um skoðast skyli,
um skyggnast skyli,
því að óvíst er að vita
sitja á fleti fyrir.
Gestur er inn kominn
hvar skal sitja sjá?
Mjög er bráður
sá er á bröndum skal
síns um freista frama.
Elds er þörf
þeim er inn er kominn
og á kné kalinn.
Matar og voða
er manni þörf,
þeim er hefir um fjall farið.
At every door-way,
ere one enters,
one should spy round,
one should pry round
for uncertain is the witting
that there be no foeman sitting,
within, before one on the floor
Hail, ye Givers! a guest is come;
say! where shall he sit within?
Much pressed is he who fain on the hearth
would seek for warmth and weal.
He hath need of fire, who now is come,
numbed with cold to the knee;
food and clothing the wanderer craves
who has fared o’er the rimy fell.
Want to learn more Icelandic?
Try these resources to learn Icelandic from home:
Icelandic Witchcraft – Resources
Iceland has a rich history of witchcraft which famously has the Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery in Hólmavík which has a replica display of the infamous Nábrók (Necropants) and an image on the the aforementioned website. FYI, it‘s definitely NSFW or not suitable for minors!
Sigils are popularly known to those who are familiar with Norse magick such as the Ægishjálmur (Helm of Awe) and Vegvísir (Way Post).
A majority of witchcraft texts and works on Icelandic witchcraft date back hundreds of years which sigils are commonly found in books such as the Sorcerer’s Screed by Skuggi.
You can get a copy of the Sorcerer’s Screed for yourself from Icelandic Magic.
Want to know how to put it all together?
Try these books:
Icelandic Magic: Practical Secrets of the Northern Grimoires by Stephen E. Flowers, Ph. D.
The Galdrabók by Stephen E. Flowers, Ph. D.
If you’re looking to work with the Runes (rúnir), try here:
For where to start on Norse Witchcraft:
The Wilder Craft – The Nordic Path: A Beginner’s Guide to Norse Witchcraft; Part 1- Resources
Norse Texts to Read:
Íslendingasaga – Saga of Icelanders
Snorra-Edda (The Prose Edda)
Konungsbók (The Poetic Edda)
Hávamál (The Words (Language) of the High One)
Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress)
Some of the above texts can be found online, in bookshops and digitally through Kobo or Kindle.
That’s all for now! We hope to bring more about Norse and Icelandic witchcraft in the future.
*audio recordings recorded and voiced by Stacey B., ©2020 TarotPugs
Images designed in Canva.
*Updated: August 3 2020