Iceland is a beautiful country with a fascinating history. Over the past decade, the tourism spike in Iceland has brought this island nation to the forefront in a way it has never been featured before. People all over the world are enthralled by Iceland, but did you know that this country also has a fascinating history and culture that goes back more than a thousand years?
Iceland was first inhabited in 874 AD by Norse settlers from countries like Norway. Many of them were lords and kings escaping the tyranny of Harald the Fairhaired, because he was trying to unify all of Norway under himself as the only king.
Over time, Iceland became settled by many more Norsemen and Vikings, whose explorations by ship sent them westward. It is thanks to this cultural link that Iceland is so entwined with viking and norse lore, which has been handed down throughout the generations over the past 1,000 years.
With them, the vikings brought their Norse religion. From the time Iceland was founded until about 1000 AD, Norse paganism, a polytheistic religion brought from Scandinavia, was at the core of the country’s belief system. At the centre of the Norse religion was the worship of the gods Odin and Thor. There were many other gods and goddesses worshipped by believers as well. Within the Norse religion also existed the belief in supernatural creatures, like elves and trolls. This is probably why Icelanders, even today, still tend to believe in fae folk such as these!
At the start of this new millenia, however, Christianity began to take hold in Iceland. This is largely thanks to the king of Norway at the time, who pushed his influence, and as a result, Christinanity became the state religion in Iceland around 1000 AD.
The Norse religion still survives in modern times in Iceland. There has actually been a powerful resurgence in recent years, and a new temple to the Norse gods was even built in Reykjavik very recently. Today, the old Norse religion is called Ásatrú.
Folklore is a very strong part of Iceland’s culture, and goes beyond the belief in trolls in elves. The Icelandic sagas are a particular spot of pride among Icelanders. The sagas tell the epic stories of major characters and events which occurred between the 9th and 11th centuries. This period of time is aptly referred to as the “Saga Age.”
Icelandic belief is strong in many different folktales. Across many parts of the country, even to this day, some rock formations are believed to be the form of trolls frozen by the sun. Hvítserkur is one such example of a formation that is surrounded in this belief.
Another example of Icelandic folklore that still runs strong is the story of the Yule Lads. The Yule Lads are said to be the 13 sons of Gryla, Iceland’s resident Christmas witch. The Yule Lads all come on a different night in the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. They all play different pranks on Children, and leave them different gifts.