Pretty Land But It Can Kill You…Memories of Iceland

Nov 15th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles

Well, it has been a while and quite a lot has happened in my life. Some of it awesome, some of it mundane, some of it not so great. For the last five to six weeks I have been dealing with a bout of pneumonia which included an eight-day stay in the emergency room. That was the result of bringing the creeping crud back from Iceland to Texas – a difference of about 60 degrees in temperature. That little shock sent me to where I currently continue my struggle against this stuff. Some days are good, some days are bad. But that was not the fault of the trip or of the organizers – just something that did happen to me. That was the bad.

The good stuff, and the focus of this post – a trip to Iceland. Actually more than a trip, it was billed as “A Pagan Pilgrimage Through Iceland’s Magical Landscape” by Land Sea Sky Travel for their “Hiddenfolk, Witches & Elves” tour. Believe me, it was quite the tour. The three presenters for the tour were Cat Heath, Morgan Daimler, and Vyviane Armstrong, who were such wonderful people to not only learn from but also to interact with on a daily basis. Cat and Morgan lead talks and rituals at various locations, centered on the folklore and myths surrounding the absolutely incredible landscape we found ourselves in, while Vyviane worked tirelessly to keep our trip on schedule and with the fewest bumps possible throughout.

For myself, this was the second time I had been in Iceland. The first time was in the early 1990s when I was working with cryptographic communications in a B-52 bomber squadron. Our aircraft encountered an issue and had to land at the airport in Iceland (a shared runway at that time between US Armed Forces and the civilian airport). I was asked if I wanted to see Iceland and came up to the upper deck where the cockpit is located. I noted that Iceland “looked like an airport” which the aircraft commander thought was hilarious as he ushered me back to the lower deck, where no windows were located. So I was quite interested in returning and seeing what Iceland really looked like.

The initial sights of Iceland were of the more urban areas around Keflavik and Rekyavik. The world looked a lot like 1980s mainland Europe. The first day of the tour was spent seeing a couple of very nice museums and walking through a large park. Admittedly, it was a nice way to burn off some jet lag, even if I did arrive two days prior to do just that. After this, we drove to our first destination, a cozy little hotel area located at the edge of a small river and on top of some hot-spring geysers. The locking mechanisms on our cabins proved to be a little odd to handle, and at one point Morgan and her roommate were locked inside their cabin, something that was easily attributed to the fair folk of the area. I spent part of one evening walking the trail over the river to one of the geyser locations – alone. It was very obvious that there were eyes all around me watching, keeping a close perspective on what I was doing. As the sun began to set and darkness started to take hold (a little quickly), I hurried back to the cabin.

Subsequent aspects of our tour took us to other areas in our quest to head north to the northern edges of Iceland. We stopped at a location where an Elf-Church was located in a terrain that looked as if we were on another planet. The rocky terrain looked like nothing I had ever seen. Added to this was a feeling that this land was old and very alive. Almost as if we were trespassing into someone else’s yard. It was noted many times by nearly everyone on the tour that the Gods were very present here in Iceland, as well as the Fair Folk, Elves and Others.

I noticed in various places that there were stones and carvings specifically left for the Spirits of the Land. Icelanders are apparently very aware that they share their land with Others and that good relations are key to staying there. During the trip, we all found out that these Spirits and Fair Folk can be quite intrusive…even in small ways. Living a life with two Trickster Gods, I am used to these little pranks showing up in life from time to time, so I was amused at the stories of folded socks showing up on beds, disappearing and reappearing articles of clothing, and the lack of change available to pay bills with. I certainly wasn’t prepared to lose an entire pair of jeans on the trip – not to mention that these were my favorite pair. I am a meticulous packer, so it wasn’t as if I was going to inadvertently leave any clothing behind. Apparently, denim fetches a good price at the Goblin Market.

Grýla is a mythical giantess living in the mountains of Iceland.

As the trip noted, this is a pilgrimage, not just some tour. There were rituals that were undertaken, planned to some degree and somewhat impromptu. Morgan and Cat did a wonderful job of facilitating these particular moments. Some done in the sunshine, some done in windy and very cold conditions. All done in very public locations. The first ritual, everyone seemed slightly apprehensive, as if everyone expected a rude intrusion by an irate fundamentalist Christian to happen at any moment. But after that first time, the rituals were done with a group completely in harmony and focus with the moment. Along with the rituals were teaching groups that Cat and Morgan brought to us. Using their exceptional research skills, they taught us about the various aspects of folklore and mythology of the island, as well as pieces of Icelandic history. While I had a tendency to remain near the outside edges of these teaching groups, I learned so much as well as enjoyed some of the wonderful stories these two brought to their presentations.

The landscape was incredible. Like I noted, some of the landscape was so foreign that it seemed we were on another planet. In other places, majestic mountains rose out of nowhere to juxtapose against houses placed down in the valley. No foothills. Just a mountain that rose out of nowhere, making the houses look like models on a train set. The weather was a dramatic difference from time to time, reminding you of the raw power that Nature can focus in an area over a short amount of time. And as I noted, the Gods, the Spirits of Place, the Spirits of Ancestor – all immediately within reach. Many folks commented on this throughout the trip.

At the hotel/inn that we stayed at in the northern part of Iceland, I got sick and stayed behind for one of the days. I was the only one that did. it was quiet. It rained HARD. The Spirits of Place were everywhere. I was asked why I was here. I was asked who I was. I did my best to reply in ways that I felt could be understood. Then I was told to leave money in the morning. ‘What money’ I asked. ‘The coin’. Was the response. I had a single coin of Icelandic money, but I could hear the refusal when I retrieved it from my money pouch. ‘Your money’ was the response. I only had one quarter in the pouch. the next morning, I walked out to the grove of trees, and at the corner post facing south-west (back towards the United States), I placed the quarter. Heads-up. Followed that with a quiet thank you to the Spirits of Place for allowing us to have a safe visit to Their land and headed back to the bus for the long trip back to the airport.

The location where I left ‘my money’ as requested of me…

 

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