In 1554, a priest in Eyjafjörður was charged with raping his sister-in-law, a minor, with the aid of grimoires found in his possession.
He was outlawed from the region and sentenced to lose one arm and both ears and to pay his father-in-law vast sums in compensation. The authorities later allowed him to keep his arm and ears, and he then became a parish priest in the Strandir region.
The first person burnt at the stake for practicing sorcery was a farmhand in Eyjafjörður named Jón Rögnvaldsson.
He was accused of having raised a ghost and sent it to do mischief on a neighboring farm. Jón denied all charges but when some pages with runic characters and signs were found among his possessions the local sheriff promptly had him burnt. The most likely explanation for this sudden execution is that the sheriff, a young man who had fairly recently gotten the job after studying abroad, decided to act swiftly and impress his superiors.
Evidently he succeeded in this because a few years later the Danish authorities demanded that he take over the position of lögmaður (one of two head sheriffs in the country) without the customary election. Twenty-nine years passed until the next fires were kindled.
In 1617 the Danish authorities sent a royal order defining punishments for witchcraft but it was probably never ratified by the general assembly at Þingvellir. In the following years mentions of sorcery become more numerous in the records, especially after the trials in the seventeen-thirties of Jón the Learned of Strandir, one of the most remarkable men of the 17th century. Jón had previously fled the Westfjords because of his criticism of the powerful sheriff, Ari in Ögur, who had ordered the killing of over 40 shipwrecked Basque whalers in 1615. Jón did not deny having practiced healing such as found in a book of charms and cures presented to the lawcourt (the table of contents is copied in the court records) but staunchly denied practicing magic or sorcery.
Jón was outlawed from the country, but after a hearing before the university court in Copenhagen and a second trial where the first verdict was confirmed, he was allowed to live out his days in the east of Iceland where he wrote a number of works, most of them for the bishop in Skálholt, Brynjólfur Sveinsson.
From 1654 when three men were executed in Trékyllisvík in Strandir only one or two court cases are mentioned in the sources until the 1670s when the witch-hunt seems to have been at its zenith. After the last execution in 1683, and especially after 1690 when a royal decree ordered that all capital offenses must be referred to the authorities in Copenhagen, the cases became fewer.
In 1719 the assembly at Þingvellir scolded a sheriff for wasting the court’s time with an accusation for magic.
This marks the end of the “burning-times” in Iceland.