Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

The Passion-Saga of Thurid Jónsdóttir: A Tale of Witchcraft and Revenge

Iceland, 1655. The reverend Jón Magnússon is convinced that he's bewitched.

The devil haunts him whenever he tries to carry out his priestly functions. His livestock have fallen ill. One of his servants is struck dumb.

Obviously, someone has hexed him.

His suspicions fix on two of his parishioners, a man and his son, both named Jón Jónsson. (The vast majority of Icelanders accused of, and executed for, witchcraft were men.) He denounces the two to the sheriff and they are brought before the local court on charges of witchcraft.

A search of their home turns up galder-books and galder-staves. Galder—sung magic—has long been a primary form of magic in the North. (The word derives from galan, “sing, chant,” as in nightingale, “singer by night,” and gale, the “singing" storm.) One gales (chants) the spell and rists (engraves) it on a stave to “set” it.

On this evidence, both father and son are condemned. Both are burned alive.

But the burnings do not end the haunting.

The reverend Magnússon's suspicions now fix on the daughter and sister of the executed, Thurid Jónsdóttir. He accuses her and she is brought before the court on suspicion of witchcraft.

But Thurid fights back.

She invokes an old Icelandic legal principle known as the tylftereiður, the “judgement of twelve.” Twelve uninterested parties swear to her innocence before the court, and she is automatically cleared of all charges.

Then she strikes back.

She charges Magnússon with wrongful death, and sues for damages.

The court finds for Thurid. She is awarded all of Magnússon's property by way of compensation.

Ruined and greatly aggrieved, the now-impoverished Magnússon writes a self-pitying account of his sufferings, audaciously titled Pislarsaga síra Jóns Magnússonar, “The Passion-Saga of Rev. Jón Magnússon.”

But Magnússon's self-justification has unintended consequences.

For it preserves the story, and the story's real hero is clearly Thurid, daughter of a magic-working family.

Even in an age of injustice, some stories have happy endings.


Kirsten Hastrup, “Iceland: Sorcerers and Paganism.” In Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries (1998), ed. Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen. Oxford.






Last modified on
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


Additional information