To walk the lava fields, elven trails and sleeping giants

*This post has special significance because it marks the first pilgrimage to my spiritual homeland, for which I have created a special blog for only Icelandic matters, this will be the least updated but will grow in it’s intensity, like a great Ash, for it is the documentary of my progress towards obtaining land, my journeys to the land, and eventually the creation of a small neo-tribe of those of the heathen bent, living the ways of yore in honor of the Old Gods. So here is my account of the experience in Iceland during a two day, two night stay in the land where Snorri gave us Odin. The blog is here with the post for those who wish to follow and there is a pass: (therunesarestillalive)

Iceland has been a grail pilgrimage of mine for 9 years, ever since I could loosely identify with heathenism, and the first Iceland sagas came into my hands while looking through the shelves of a grand library. It was the Heimskringla to be exact, a Viking ship on the cover, with a norse carving design. I was immediately attracted to its contents. I also borrowed a book of traditional Scandinavian poetry on the same day, and started to read. The sagas of the Kings were quite overwhelming for me at the time, but even the poetry spoke such a language that encapsulated the very essence of the way I saw my future life. From then on, I have had a growing obession with Iceland, and spent the next years of my life pouring over anything I could get my hands on relative to the Nordic tradition. Scandinavian black metal music, more Icelandic sagas, articles, history, folklore, and documentaries. Several years later with some roots put down into the culture I went to their brother country, Norway, and saw a fjord for the first time, slept in the mountains, and could breathe the preserved wood of the Oseberg viking ship. Pondering all the intimate details of the Vikings, their trades and migrations, the hard lifestyles of Icelanders, and the pure beauty of the Northern circle. I joined my first gild, and attended a moot, knowing well the ways of heathen folk already, I found my place here more solidly than any time in my life. Amongst kin, drinking horns of mead, crouching over fires, roaring galdors for the land wights, and feasting like kings and queens. This had a lot to do with Iceland actually, because we were emulating the mythic narrative of the sagas. I had taken a sacred name, acknowledged by the gild and attained a third level apprenticeship before parting with this kindred, and finding myself amongst the company of The Rune Gild.

I already had rambled over and over about the migrations of the Vikings through Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland, from the Norse home, and to roam in such a place would be such an endeavor of the spirit as well as the physical vessel. When I finally stepped afoot in the Land of Fire and Ice, I could smell the sulfur coming from the volcanic fields and geothermal waters. The sun was rising, and the air was near freezing. I had taken one of those stopovers offered by Icelandair, on my route to Scotland, and I had two days to go a’viking on this subarctic island. On the first day, I met with one of the members of my gild to leave my burden behind, and quickly pack a rucksack for two days. I had spent the entire night before scoping out hiking trails, and mapping a route that I thought was possible to travel. I quickly took to the roads, and saw that it would be hard to hitchhike on the Icelandic ring road because they were narrower than what I was used to. After a couple hours without a ride, I resorted to taking a tourist coach to Akranes. From here it wasn’t long before catching a lift to the roundabout leading out of town, and actually backtracking to the underwater tunnel in Hvalfjörður, which I had passed through going north. Then by the gods, I had the luck with me and the first person who saw me waiting pulled over, she told me she lives in Helisandur in Snæfellsness, and that only 50 or so others resided there. I had just found passage to the Snaefellsness peninsula. Trekking on through Borgarnes, and making a stop at a steam vent of geothermal water past the main settlement. The girl who picked me up said she worked in a fish plant, and had been raised here her entire life, her journey was a one off, and she was pleased to have company on the long drive. Further along the route, we stopped to take in the sights of Eldborg (Fire Castle) a crater of an elder volcano most active 5-8000 years ago. The lava fields surrounding it are of the Pa hoe hoe formations. The Landnamabok or book of Icelandic settlements narrates a most intriguing scene with a man named Thorir, old and blind, who owned a farm there, called Hrip, and came out one day to breathe the air. Suddenly he saw a savage looking sailor on a steel boat, evidently not a Viking though. He strode over to his milking pen and dug a hole with his iron stick, then left. At nighttime there was an eruption that started where he had dug, and a create was created on the farm.

After leaving Eldborg in the distance, we continued talking about the 9 Santa Clause’s that Iceland has, and about their mother, a half troll who turns to stone every day. Then arriving to the Vatnshellir cave, no one was in the vicinity because the guided walks inside the lava tube had already passed. She parked the car, and I scrambled down the volcanic stone towards the mouth of the cave, and walked until I could no more in this giant wormhole, smelling of petrichor and wet lichens. Then sneaking into the spiral stairs of the other cave downwards into the tunnel of Vættagangur, where the curved lava walls fade from the light, and the stalagmites and stalactites hide in dark recesses unable to see without aritificial light. Down here there is no sun to penetrate the deeps, and no sound, being one hundred and fifty feet into the earth. I managed to take a couple decent cave photos before going back to the surface, I didn’t end up going to the lower part called Iður because my torch was weak. The lava tunnel was created over 6000 years ago, and was only walked in by human being in the last couple thousand years or so. This far underground the heightened sense of scent awakened a very animistic sense of atmosphere.

Penetrating the surface light again, and forging on to the Snæfellsjökull lowlands, out of the rocky plateaus a town loomed into viewed, it was Helisandur. The day was waning, but I still had a couple hours of remit for exploration around the village. I bent my steps to the outskirts of this small coastal settlement for Keflavikurvör, a place noted for its history of its farmers who were once either tenants of the church or the King in his othal lands. In the Saga of Barður Snæfellsås, Bardur’s daughter Helga composed a poem here with 9 place names, it goes such; “I would be happy if I could see Burfell and Bali, both of the Londrangar, The hills of Adalthegnsholar, and Ondverness, HeiðarKolla, and Hreggnasi, and the gravels of Drittvik and Möl before the door of my fosterer” four of these can be seen from this hill, of two which I actually walk two before dusk had swept the Icelandic barren land. I thought about sleeping in a cave, but with the dying light I had no idea where to find another one, as I was already much passed the Vatnshellir (water cave). I asked about any derelict cabins or guest houses with the girl who drove me, and she told me there were mostly tourist lodgings that cost more than I had. In fact I had come to Iceland with only a few thousand krona, enough to get out of Keflavik, and buy some granola and Icelandic chocolate to live on for two days. I have been in this situations before, and I trusted the Gods and Godessed would provided. Together we scoped out an abandoned fish factory, but it was boarded up and so sign of entrance, the temperature sat around minus one degrees. Finally, she told me of a friend she had in the village, and actually hooked me up with a comfortable place to pass the night. I went for one final walk after dark before resting early to heal for my next day.

Rising early, and quickly putting hoof to pavement I started heading out of town back the way I came. Cold winds chilled me to the bone and turned my skin pale even through a sheep hair cardigan. I asked one of the locals if there was another route out of Hellisandur, and it turns out I was waiting on the least travelled road. Instead, I had to go NE towards Rif and then Ólafsvík, a town quite prominent in the Viking sagas, and a hub of a fishing port. Ólafsvík was the first to receive a license from the King of Denmark for fishing. I saw some arctic terns here, and then hitched my third ride of the day to Grundarfjörður. The road to nearby Stykkishólmur crosses a big lava field, called Berserkjahraun. This is partially warm, so that even in winter, there is not snow everywhere. The name of the lava field comes from the Eyrbyggja saga, according to which two Berserkers were slain here by their master, because one of them fell in love with his master’s daughter. An German trucker picked me up from here and dropped me off halfway between Stykkishólmur and Grundarfjörður. There was no shelter, only looming giants, like Jötuns, and a trisecting hwy, the other road going south towards Reykjavik, my destination. It started to gust snow, and rain, and I was extremely skeptical about being let out here. I couldn’t understand his accent at first and thought I would be going to a station where I could find warmth if needed but instead was let out here to my own devices. Fortunately there was a truck left by the road, methinks on purpose as the coach bus travels it frequently enough and there is a stop there, just in the middle of nowhere. It was opened, and I sat inside until I saw lights through the blustering storm. Each time running out of the truck to the highway, and thumbing it with my sign to Reykjavik. A couple trucks… One car… another… and it pulled over. Only to say there was no room and wait for the next one. I thought then maybe some Icelanders were just as cold as the weather, but then another car did come and was going all the way to Reykjavik. We travelled back through valleys and rock fields, and I took time to sleep and eat the last of my rations of chocolate, finally feeling the warm sheep wool of my sweater around me.

I arrived in Reykjavik and met with my friend once more, and we took a walk in the Hollavalagaldur cemetery where I had read of a runestone being located here. It took awhile of scouring in the dark but we found the golem, carved in runes, albeit not by Vikings, it was a grave marker. The Icelandic airwaves festival was taking place all over the island during this time, so I went into the main district, and wandered around for an hour. I headed for the Hallgrimskirkja, passing roads named after Odin, Thor, Baldr, and Heimdall, as well as a coffee shop called Cafe Loki. Iceland infuses the mythos of their heritage everywhere. I was in awe of the green stone sculpture of Leifr Erikkson and the basalt columns of the church, styled to resemble a glacier. Before retiring for my second sleep, we shared some brews, a honey beer, and an Icelandic birch snaps, making poetry for the halls of Valhalla to hear. It was only a matter of hours before I had to awake for my flight to Scotland. I left Iceland having hitchhiked over 400km in two days, with the permanent imprint of legendary landscapes in my half awake mind, a shared story, and two new companions. A place that still calls me to dwell permanently amongst the folk of the country, and the utter beauty of the island… and the elves of course.

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