Clerical Magic in Icelandic Folklore

Clerical Magic in Icelandic Folklore

By Thomas B. de Mayo

The Societas Magica Newsletter, Issue 23 (2010)

Introduction: Iceland, which converted to Christianity only around the turn of the millennium, lay far from the center of Latin Christian culture. Nevertheless, stories from Iceland connect various church figures with necromancy, Latin magic, and the devil. For Icelanders, it was not Arabic learning, but their own heathen past which stirred anxiety. By examining tales in which clerics demonstrate unholy supernatural power, I hope to demonstrate how continental ideas about magic blended with local ones in reflecting the conditions of Icelandic society. I will begin with a recapitulation of the tale of Gerbert told by William of Malmesbury, since this forms a touchstone for the Icelandic material.

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