Tekist á við yfirnáttúruna á Íslandi á miðöldum - verkefni lokið

Fréttatilkynning verkefnisstjóra


The main goal of the project was to engage with definitions of the paranormal (supernatural, occult) in medieval Iceland. Various sources were consulted, such as sagas of Icelanders, Sturlunga saga, bishops' sagas, the Eddas and legendary sagas. 

Heiti verkefnis: Tekist á við yfirnáttúruna á Íslandi á miðöldum
Verkefnisstjóri: Ármann Jakobsson, Háskóla Íslands

Tegund styrks: Verkefnisstyrkur
Styrkár: 2012-2014
Fjárhæð styrks: 19,715 millj. kr. alls
Tilvísunarnúmer Rannís:  120629

The main focus of the project has been on one hand how the paranormal is defined and categorised, specifically relating to the concepts which are used and their meaning. On the other hand the focus was on the experiences of individuals and their access to the uncanny and the otherworld. The participants were particularly interested in language itself and the cognitive dealings with the other. Various aspects of the paranormal and paranormal experiences have been explored (otherworldly creatures, witchcraft, miracles, dreams) and these have been put into context with gender, the concept of time and social issues. Thus our aim was both a further clarification at the role of the paranormal within society and locating it firmly within the human psyche rather seeing it as an external force.

The project has revealed that it is fruitful to regard the definitions and the taxonomy of the paranormal as a part of the research topic, and that the same applies to the focus on the human experience. But if paranormal beings are not real, then why should our focus be directed towards them and away from the humans who experience these phenomena? As the principal investigator states in his book manuscript: “By not treating paranormal figures as a part of the natural fauna of the world and thus transferring our focus from the external to the internal, the unreal paradoxically becomes real again. Instead of unreal paranormal apparitions external to humanity and reality, our subject becomes certain internal experiences that must be considered to be real in the mind of the witnesses, and, presumably, also the narrators of the accounts through which they are related. Internalised thus, each troll becomes a perichoretic part of the human consciousness, immanent in humanity but somehow retaining an aspect of its inhuman identity”. This also casts new light on the sources themselves, often described in the secondary literature as realistic: “While it is true that the sagas are realistic especially in their fairly direct relevance to the realities of their medieval audience, the trope of realism has two inherent dangers: one is the constant use of the term realism defined according to modern scientific notions of reality, and the other is a negation of the symbolic value of the fantastic which may misinform saga interpretation.“ The project has shown that the new focus on the paranormal is valuable in various interpretations of the sagas, as shown in the individual studies that have emerged from it.

The main products of the project have either already arrived or will do so in 2016-17. They include a monograph (by the principal investigator), an anthology (by most of the participants and their collaborators), two articles by the principal investigator, three doctoral dissertation and six MA theses, and are listed here.

1. Ármann Jakobsson, The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North, completed in draft, will be sent to an international scholarly publisher, spring 2016.

The provisional chapter titles of the books are at this point: Preface: The Jitterbug, Troll, The Truth is Out There, Categories, Unreal Fauna, Cave, Petrified, Troll Space, Trollspeak, Witchcraft Epistemology, Causality, Rationalism in the Lava Field, Zombies in the Crack, Goði as Exorcist, Troll on Your Doorstep, Never Forget, The Confidence of Youth, Popular, Cultural Hegemony, Immigrant Song, Oedipal Conflict, The Witchfather, Don't Feed the Trolls, Coprophagy in the Fields, Please! Let Me In!, The Fragile State of Humanity, Time the Devourer, My Parent, Myself, Ties Unravelled, Gravity, Troll and Control.

2. Pararnormal Encounters in Iceland 1150–1400, ed. by Ármann Jakobsson and Miriam Mayburd, articles due in 2015, will be sent to a publisher in 2016.

This is the provisional table of contents of the volume (as in Dec 2015):

Arngrímur Vídalin: Demons, Muslims, Wrestling-Champions: A History of Blámenn from the 12 th to the 19 th Century 
Ármann Jakobsson: Troll Space
Ásdís Egilsdóttir: Miracles: Extraordinary everyday events
Martina Ceolin: The Paranormal as a Generic Marker in Saga Literature
Christopher Crocker: The skeptical language of dreams in medieval Icelandic saga writing
Sarah Eriksen: Traversing the Uncanny Valley: Glámr in Narratological Space
Gunnvör S. Karlsdóttir: Joca sanctorum in Icelandic 14th-Century Hagiography
Anna Katharina Heiniger: Tracing Liminality in the Íslendingasögur
Shaun F. D. Hughes: Putting the Paranormal in its Place: The Situatedness of Supernatural Encounters in Three saga Narratives.
Ingibjörg Eyþórsdóttir: Darra ðarljóð , vision or witchcraft? The poem and its context in Nial's saga, seen from the 13th century's point of view.
Kolfinna Jónatansdóttir: Gylfaginning in light of early medieval eschatology
Sean Lawing: Disfigured but not Damned: The Burial of Body Parts in Old Icelandic Grágás
Andrew McGillivray: Freyr in Hliðskjálf: Movement and Setting in Gylfaginning chapter 37
Andrea Maraschi: Þórgunna's dinner and other meals on the threshold between this world and the other
Miriam Mayburd: Kumlbúa þáttr and the paranormal event
Marion Poilvez: Loss of rights, loss of duties: meeting a criminal in the Íslendingasögur
Steven Shema: Prose Encounters of the Blurred Kind: Supernatural Spillover into the Prosecution of Violence in Medieval Icelandic Narratives
Zuzana Stankovitsová: Following up on female fylgjur: A re-examination of the concept in light of the source material
Sandra Bailiff Straubhaar: Ok flýgr þat jafnan: Just what did Böðvarr bjarki kill?
Yoav Tirosh: The prescient man's body as a gendered Other
Védís Ragnheiðardóttir: “Þat var meir af vél en karlmennsku”: Masculine identity in Viktors saga ok Blávus
Þórdís Edda Jóhannesdóttir: Fighting the Paranormal: The Jomsvikings Battle

3. Ármann Jakobsson, „Beware of the Elf!: A note on the Evolving Meaning of Álfar,“ Folklore 126 (2015), 215–23.

4. Ármann Jakobsson, „The Taxonomy of the Non-Existent: Some Medieval Icelandic Concepts of the Paranormal,“ Fabula 54 (2013), 199–213.

5. Andrew E. McGillivray, Preparing for the End: A Narrative Study of Vafþrúðnismál, PhD dissertation, submitted and defended in 2015.

6. Christopher W.E. Crocker, Did I dream that? Paranormal Dreams in the Íslendingasögur, PhD dissertation, to be submitted Feb 2016.

7. Gunnvör S. Karlsdóttir, Verk af verki. Um ritun Guðmundar sagna biskups á 14. öld, PhD dissertation, to be submitted April 2016.                             

8. Timothy Bourns: The Language of Birds in Old Norse Tradition, MA-thesis, completed 2012.

9. Hildur Ýr Ísberg: Óbærilegur eðlileiki tilverunnar: Fötlun, lækningar og náttúra í Sturlunga sögu, Morkinskinnu og sögum Jóns Ögmundarsonar og Þórhalls Þorlákssonar, MA-thesis, completed 2013.

10. Védís Ragnheiðardóttir: Kynjuð yfirnáttúra: Samband kyngervis og galdurs í meykóngasögum, MA-thesis, completed 2014.

11. Ingibjörg Eyþórsdóttir: Darraðarljóð – gluggi til annarra heima. Galdur, seiður, leiðsla eða sýn?, MA-thesis, completed 2014.

12. Steven Shema: Grímr-Visaged War: Viking Age Battle, With an Eye to Performance, MA-thesis, completed 2014.

13. Zuzana Stankovitsová: “Eru þetta mannafylgjur”: A Re-Examination of fylgjur in Old Norse Literature, MA-thesis, completed 2015.

  Additional publications: In addition to his two peer-reviewed articles (see above), Ármann Jakobsson published four other articles pertaining to the project, Ásdís Egilsdóttir one peer-reviewed article and two other articles. Terry Gunnell published five peer-reviewed articles, Stephen Mitchell two and Torfi Tulinius two pertaining to the project. The student participants have all finished articles that have been accepted for publication.

Seminars and lectures: The project organised two seminars, in September 2012 and April 2013, with most participants in attendance. The project organised popular sessions at the ICMS in Kalamazoo, the IMC in Leeds and the Hugvísindaþing in Reykjavík in 2013. In 2014, it organised sessions at the ICMS in Kalamazoo and at the Hugvísindaþing in Reykjavík. It furthermore sponsored individual lectures and presentations, all in all around 60 lectures.


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