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.

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

A nithing pole topped with the severed head of a horse was erected on the land of a spiritual community known as Sólsetrið in Kjalarnes in the capital area this weekend, RÚV reports. Nithing poles derive from ancient pagan tradition and are erected to curse the receiver. The residents of Sólsetrið have been involved in disputes in recent months, and believe the pole is related to these feuds—or media coverage of them.

Linda Möll runs Sólsetrið as a spiritual community whose practices include cacao ceremonies, singing, dancing, and drumming. The community also holds what have been called “tantric festivals,” and it’s these events that have recently drawn criticism and ire. “That’s the basis for all of this and I respect that,” said Linda Möll in a recent interview. “At the same time, I also respect that I’m an individual who is different, who is approaching life in a different way, is choosing a way of life that perhaps poses another worldview and maybe I can build a bridge to a better world.”

Residents avid equestrians

The underlying threat of the nithing pole did not escape the residents of Sólsetrið, who as avid equestrians, were doubly distressed by the event. “I take this as a threat,” said resident Kristjana Þórarinsdóttir. “That’s just the way it is—there’s no other way to take it. My husband Guðni is the chairman of the national chapter of equestrian associations—how else are we supposed to understand this? We’re horse people and I think if anyone knows Guðni or knows anything about him, the first thing that they’d think of is that he’s a horseman. That’s what characterizes him best and you can’t read this as anything other than a threat,” she concluded. Even so, it’s difficult to say who specifically the threat is directed at: Kristjana and her husband, or Linda Möll and the people she lives with.

After discovering the nithing pole, Kristjana said she rushed up to their stables to make sure that the horse wasn’t one of their own. Luckily, all of her animals are safe, but Kristjana says she’s afraid to return home for now. “I feel ill,” she said. “It’s disgusting.”

Well-publicized feuds

Kristjana also stated that she didn’t think that Linda Möll herself was behind the atrocity; the community’s feuds have been much-discussed of late in the media and she believes anyone could be behind it.

The residents of Sólsetrið are still trying to make sense of the event. “This can’t be because of some neighbor dispute,” Linda Möll concluded. “We could have had this conversation over a cup of cocoa. And who deserves to receive a message like this? I don’t think anyone deserves this.”

Police and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority removed the horse head around noon on Friday and the incident is under investigation.

The nithing pole in the sagas

One of the most famous uses of a nithing pole appears in Egill’s saga (ch. 60, here translated by W. C. Green in 1983):

And when all was ready for sailing, Egil went up into the island. He took in his hand a hazel-pole, and went to a rocky eminence that looked inward to the mainland. Then he took a horse’s head and fixed it on the pole. After that, in solemn form of curse, he thus spake: ‘Here set I up a curse-pole, and this curse I turn on king Eric and queen Gunnhilda. (Here he turned the horse’s head landwards.) This curse I turn also on the guardian-spirits who dwell in this land, that they may all wander astray, nor reach or find their home till they have driven out of the land king Eric and Gunnhilda.’

This spoken, he planted the pole down in a rift of the rock, and let it stand there. The horse’s head he turned inwards to the mainland; but on the pole he cut runes, expressing the whole form of curse.