Origin of Horse Head Used for Pagan Curse Still Unknown

Capital-area police are still trying to determine the origin of the severed horse head that was mounted on a stake on the land of a small capital-area community last week, RÚV reports. The grotesque totem, which derives from ancient pagan tradition, is called a nithing pole and is intended to curse the receiver.

See Also: ‘I take it as a threat’: Nithing Pole Erected at Local Commune 

DCI Stella Mjöll Aðalsteinsdóttir says that police have not received any reports of missing horses. Icelandic horses are microchipped, but this is no use to authorities in this instance, either: the head used on the nithing pole was severed above the neck, where its chip would have been located. Police are still awaiting the final report from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), but are conducting their own parallel investigation, which Stella Mjöll said she was unable to comment further on at time of writing.

Animal did not suffer

Police believe it unlikely that the head was taken from a slaughterhouse, as there are strict rules about the disposal of byproducts at such facilities. According to the information that MAST has been able to provide about the animal thus far, the horse was two years old and was killed with a single shot to the head. Sigríður Björnsdóttir, a veterinarian of equine diseases at MAST, noted that the head has not started to rot, which either means that the animal was shot shortly before the nithing pole was erected, or that the head was stored in a refrigerator beforehand.

Under Icelandic law, horse owners are permitted to slaughter their animals without a veterinarian present, as long as it is done correctly. Thankfully, this seems to have been the case with the horse in question. Hallgerður Hauksdóttir, chair of the Animal Welfare Association of Iceland, says the organization will not be investigating the incident themselves, as it does not appear that the animal suffered.

Nithing poles in recent years

As mentioned, nithing poles are used in pagan tradition to curse the receiver. It is only considered a true nithing pole if a horse head is used.

One of the most famous uses of a nithing pole occurs in ch. 60 of Egill’s saga, which was written around 1240 AD, but nithing poles—or symbolic variations thereof—have been erected in Iceland several times in much more recent memory.

The last instance of a real nithing pole being erected was in the Reykjavík suburb of Breiðholt in 2012. In that case, it remains unknown who the pole was intended to curse, or where the horse head was sourced.

In 2006, a farmer in Otradalur in the Westfjords attempted to curse a neighbor using a nithing pole topped with a calf’s head. The man was charged with making a threat on the neighbor’s life.

In 2018, an opponent of salmon farming erected a nithing pole topped with a cod’s head in Bíldudalur in West Iceland.

At Least 35,000 New Apartments Needed in the Next Ten Years

Iceland needs to build 3,500 to 4,000 apartments a year in order to stabilize the housing market, RÚV reports. The last few years have seen a boom in housing construction, but this has recently slowed, possibly due to pandemic-related factors. Even if construction picks up again, however, market observers believe more aggressive action is needed to stabilize the market in the short-term.

See Also: Iceland’s Real Estate Prices See Highest Increase in Nordic Region

The local housing market gradually recovered after the 2008 financial crash, and the last three years in particular have seen considerable development. In 2021, a record 3,800 apartments were built. Even so, housing prices in Iceland have risen faster than anywhere else in Europe, driven up by the dwindling supply, as well as increased purchasing power and low interest rates.

New population projections from Statistics Iceland have thrown the housing shortage into stark relief; the country is growing at a faster rate than previously projected, which means that it’s imperative that Iceland have more housing as soon as soon as possible. “In our opinion, and the opinion of local municipalities, roughly 35,000 apartments will be needed in the next ten years,” said deputy director of Iceland’s Housing and Construction Authority (HCA) Anna Guðmunda Ingvarsdóttir. But instead of construction picking up to meet this demand, it’s actually slowed.

“Instead of around 3,000 apartments being built this year and next,” explains Anna Guðmunda, “we’ll have around 2,800-3,000. When what we really need is to be building 3,500 apartments—or better yet, 4,000.”

Reason for stall is uncertain, but could be pandemic-related

The exact reason for the housing construction slow-down at a time when demand and prices are at their highest is a bit of a mystery. Many have suggested that there are simply not enough plots available for new builds, but according to the HCA’s data, this doesn’t seem to be the reality.

“The land issue […] is not as big a problem as has been suggested,” said Anna Guðmunda. “As an example, [the HCA] compared capital-area municipal associations’ development plans. We found that it would actually be possible to build 14,001 apartments now, provided that the plots are actually fit for construction and that those who own the plots are ready to get started. So what’s really holding things up—that’s something we need to take a closer look at.”

This analysis is in line with editor and Kjarninn journalist Jónas Atli Gunnarsson’s findings. “If you look at the statistics, there’s not really a shortage of plots,” he explained. “A lot of construction permits have been issued over the last three years, but hundreds of them are still unused. If that was the real estate market’s main bottleneck, all these permits would be new.”

“It could be the pandemic,” he continued. “We’ve had various economic downturns over the last two years and uncertainty about the economy reduces investors’ willingness to put money into developing residential properties. Then there is the supply chain breakdown, which reduces the number of construction supplies we get, and then lockdown protocols have reduced construction activity because people haven’t been able to come to work. So there are a lot of reasons why people aren’t building.”

No quick fixes

Even if there is a boom in construction, it will still take years for the market to fully recover, Jónas Atli continues.

“We’ve had this hiccup in the construction market—it takes so long to build apartments. So even though construction is booming now, it will take two years for new builds to go on the market. If demand remains this high in the meantime, we’ll continue to have this tension.”

Jónas Atli believes that in order to stabilize the market, municipalities should focus their attentions on construction, while the government and the Central Bank should work on slowing demand.

“This is done by lowering the maximum loan-to-value ratio, it’s also done by raising interest and maybe by setting limits where people can only buy maybe two or three apartments as investments. But these aren’t popular measures.”

And no matter what, there are no quick fixes to this situation, Jónas Atli continues.

“Unfortunately, any quick fixes wouldn’t work in the long-term. There is only one good solution, and that’s the long-term solution: building more.”