Hrafnkell Lárusson: Mysterious and forbidden death
Suicide has been known in human societies since the oldest known manuscripts were written – and probably much longer. Attitudes towards suicide have evolved through the centuries and been shaped by religion and legislation. Suicide is shrouded in mystery and raises questions and triggers strong feelings and responses. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the general rule in Icelandic law was that those who committed suicide should not be buried in a graveyard and their remains were treated differently than of those who died from disease, accidents, or of other normal causes. Suicide was a taboo and could have serious consequences for the living relatives of the deceased, both social and financial. This article is divided into two main parts, followed by a conclusion chapter. In the first part, it is discussed how past attitudes towards suicide in Iceland appears in Christendom, folk beliefs, and the development of legislation during the medieval period and up to the 19th century. In the second part, the findings of a study on documented suicides in annals covering the years from 1400 to 1800 will be revealed. The main point here is the number of documented suicides in the annals, how they are distributed in the 17th and 18th centuries, how they were divided by gender, what kind of burial they got, etc. The focus is on the emphases of the writers of the annals when it came to suicide.
Keywords: History, suicide, annal, Christianity, Iceland