FACTS ABOUT ICELANDIC HISTORY
Manmade cairns (piles of stones) can be seen all around the country. In past times, these cairns served the vital function of guiding travellers along old routes. Some of these striking landmarks have names and stories attached to them. All old cairns in Iceland are protected by law.
The country discovered by the first Viking settlers in the late 9th century A.D. was a terra incognita, a virgin land. Seafaring Celtic monks may have reached Iceland ahead of the Norsemen but the material evidence for this is equivocal. In any case, these hermits sought solitude rather than a new land to claim and colonise.
One of the four landvætti ("guardian spirits of the country") said to protect the four quarters of Iceland from invasion is a mountain giant (South). The others are a poision-spitting dragon (East), an eagle whose wingspan fills whole valleys (North), and a ferociously bellowing bull (West).
Most of the first Icelandic settlers worshipped the pagan pantheon of gods and goddesses: Þór, Óðinn, Freyr, Freyja and others. The worship of these old gods was not a centralised or organised religion, however: individuals chose which gods they favoured especially.
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