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The Magical Staves of Iceland

Bjork with her Vegvísir, Runic Compass tattoo

Bjork with her Vegvísir, Runic Compass tattoo

The culture of Iceland is full of mythology and magic. From the Sagas and Eddas of the vikings; to elves and trolls and stories of witchcraft, Iceland is indeed the land of magic and magical creatures and, as it turns out,  Galdrastafir; an Icelandic word which translates to [galdra] “magical” [stafi] “sticks” or staves. You can see a examples of a few of them below and more examples of magical staves on this page.

Magical Staves: what they do and where to put them

Magical Staves: what they do and where to put them

Magic and Wrestling

The Galdrastafir were inscribed or painted in order to create magic, to bring about a desired effect or outcome. These symbols had a wide range of powers and were very relevant to what the Icelanders of the time needed; for example, there were symbols to kill an enemy's cattle, for fertility, to guide people through bad weather, to ward off thieves, and even some to bring victory during competitions of wrestling, called glíma. Glíma was and is a complete martial arts system of was a very important aspect of viking culture during the settlement period of iceland, and is mentioned in the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlason from 1220, specifically the Gylfaginning.

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Staves and Spell Books

The Icelandic magical staves are symbols found in books that tell of symbols of magic said to have power. They started to appear in the late middle-ages between the 15th and 19th centuries, but most date from the 18th century. They number in their hundreds. The staves were recorded in a textbook of magic, called a grimoire.  Grimoires, however, refer to text from mainland Europe, and the rise in popularity of the Galdrastafir maybe related to the grimoires and renaissance occultism in Europe at the time.                  

           

Magical Staves overlapping with runes

Magical Staves overlapping with runes

The grimoires were books written on vellum (calfs skin) and rare but several have been found in Iceland and would instruct the reader on how to perform spells, how to summon the supernatural, and how to create talismans. The book itself was thought to have supernatural magical power. 

An example of an old Icelandic grimoire

An example of an old Icelandic grimoire

A Link to the Past 

These galdrastafir are very connected to Germanic and Norse history, linked to the pagan gods and the rune characters that are so famous in the cultures of other Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Runes were used for writing for centuries by ancient Scandinavians until the introduction of the Latin alphabet and soon the runes and Galdrastafir were used only for personal markings, on graves and homes.

The Helm of Awe, a protection symbol, similar to the Runic Compass or "guidepost".

The Helm of Awe, a protection symbol, similar to the Runic Compass or "guidepost".

We hope you enjoyed this magic lesson and feel like you understand the history of Iceland just a bit more. Impress your friends with your new magical knowledge or try the symbols out for yourself and see if the ancient Icelanders were on to something! Nowadays in popular culture, the magical staves have become popular tattoos, and many people continue to ascribe significance to them. 

Mythology in the Landscape

And if you are looking to learn more about the mythology  that punctuates Iceland’s culture, then what better way than to know all about the symbols that kept the ancient vikings safe from harm, for good sailing or to have a wish granted? Iceland Rovers Myth and Mystery tour will take you on a journey to explore the mythology, tales and legends as well as the mythical landscape in which it found place.

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