One section of Jón Árnason’s Icelandic Legends deals with divine punishment. Those stories are treated somewhat differently and have a more serious content than the other stories about God, The Devil or other divine interactions, which show that the evil actions of men are to be punished by God.

In the introduction to the divine punishment stories, it says:

“In itself, it cannot be directly said that they are of Christian content since very similar ideas appear in paganism among the Germans, and from there come the so-called divine judgments in the narrower sense of the word. Suddenly, the tone of such stories as they now pass by word of mouth is, on the whole, ecclesiastical or moral. The stories should therefore be mentioned here as they have not previously been mentioned on various occasions.”

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The Raven at Skíðastaðir

Photo: Bombtime, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A wealthy farmer lived at a farm called Skíðastaðir in the north of Iceland, which stood under a steep and very high mountain. He had many household servants and kept them sharply at work, summer and winter. In summer, he was wont to keep his people so hard at work that no maid was ever allowed to be at home at the farm for cooking. He had them cook on the Sabbath and finish the cooking for the whole week, thus hindering them from going to church or hearing the Word of God read at home.

Amongst other of his servants, there was a girl who, although dissatisfied with her place, the household ways, and the ungodliness of the farmer, had for a long while served at Skíðastaðir. She was of a peaceful temper and ready to do all she was bidden, wherefore she was beloved by her masters and fellow servants. It had most often fallen to her to cook on Sundays, but she got no other reward than to have the scourings of the pans for her share.

One winter was particularly hard, insomuch that both men and beasts died from starvation. The farmer at Skíðastaðir refused all help and aid to his fellow parishioners who asked for help for themselves and their beasts. He drove many needy men from him with harsh refusals instead of kind assistance. Neither were the servants at Skíðastaðir so well fed (although enough provisions were always at hand) that they could ever afford any aid to hungry visitors.

However, this girl always tried to leave some of her meals for those who came needy and hungry to Skíðastaðir.

Photo: Copetersen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This winter, all creatures were so worn out with hunger that they were found, in heaps, dead on the ground. Not even a hungry sparrow could find as much food as he could pick up in his little bill for a long time. Therefore, as is their wont in such times, the ravens flocked to the different farms to get hold of whatever eatable was cast out in the house sweepings. This was their only support this winter.

The kindly girl tried to throw out, in the sweepings of the kitchen, as much as she could of small scraps of food to help the poor, starving ravens. This she continued to do, and one of the ravens became so attached to her that he followed her nearly everywhere, outside the house. The following spring and summer, he used to come home to Skíðastaðir early in the morning to get his breakfast from the girl’s hand. She always had something in store for him and amused herself much with him.

One Sunday morning, the girl had risen very early to boil the stirabout for the household. She tried to scrape the pot before her raven friend came, hoping to please him with the scrapings. Just as she had done scraping the pot, she heard the voice of her friend outside. She went out with the scrapings in a large ladle and put them out where she had been wont to put them before.

But the raven first began hopping round the ladle and then fled away, a short distance, into the field.
The girl ran after him with the ladle. Still, he would not yet take the scrapings. It flew a short distance from her and waited for his kind friend, who followed him, not knowing what could possibly be the matter with her poor raven that had hitherto always devoured the scrapings with a raven’s appetite.

This game continued until the raven had made the girl follow him to a good distance from the home field. She was beginning to think of returning home and letting her raven alone.

While this was going on between the raven and the girl, the people at the different farms that stood in the valley opposite Skíðastaði saw a man in white garments walking along the ridge of the high mountains which stood over Skíðastaðir with a staff in his hand, till he came to a spot on the mountain, just above the farm. Here he stopped at the very minute the girl was about to leave the raven and struck with his staff on the mountain. At once slid down a large piece of it, ever increasing in its fall, and rolled over the farm. It destroyed every house and every life in the place, except that of the girl. Then she broke out into loud praises to God for having thus saved her from a terrible death with the aid of a raven.

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