When I first made it out to Iceland, I was picked up by my hotel for the first night from a transport van, and as soon as our driver started the vehicle, I was introduced to the culture of Iceland. A heavy metal song that I had never heard before started to below out of the speakers as the singer shouted about the importance of thunder. Of course I was curious about what I was listening to, so I looked at the dash and was to the song we were enjoying was called, “The Son of Odin”. At first I thought it was just a silly coincidence, but the more I wandered around Iceland, the more I saw that the people of Iceland still hung on to their Norse roots and there was a lot of evidence about how much their lives were shaped by this mythology. This was not more evident when I made it to the town of Holmavik on the edge of the West Fjords and visited their museum, The Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery.
Of course, being a big fan of fantasy literature and Dungeons and Dragons, this was a must do for me. I will admit that it is not a place fore everybody, and it is a little quirky, but it is really interesting as it explores the use of witchcraft in this corner of Iceland. Grimoires and strange spells were more common in this part of Iceland during the 16th and 17th centuries than you would have suspected. Many of the traditions stemmed back to Norse mythology and what they would do in order to get what they wanted, and this museum went through this history, explaining some of the runes used, the spells performed, and the people burned at the stake during this period.
Like I said, this museum is not for everybody. There is some very explicit sights that can be found there, and it could easily scare younger children. They do not hold anything back as they show sea rats, dead bodies busting through the floor, and a skin suit that was taken from the lower half a dead man and used to gain wealth for the sorcerer who wore it. Each exhibit caused more shock as I went through the museum but it was fascinating what extent people took in order to survive in the harsh conditions of Iceland, and how much they held on to these old traditions in the face of a country that was under the umbrella of Christianity.
If you do find yourself in the West Fjords and wish to see this museum, it is not hard to find. It is off of the main road, Highway 61 when you get into Holmavik which you pretty much have to drive through if you wish to visit the rest of the fjords. It costs about eight U.S. dollars for admittance to the sights. All of the explanations of the pieces are written in Icelandic, but if you ask, the attendant at the museum will give you a book that corresponds with the numbers of each spot and translates it into English for you. It is also connected to a restaurant and a book shop that has a lot of books over the runes you will see and the history of the area. If your stomach can handle it, it is worth a visit, and will change the way that you look at Iceland. Like many of the countries of the world, it will highlight that dark past that is always on the edges of what you see, but can’t really get to the heart of.