This is a post about some of the quiet, hidden places I stumbled across, becoming a ‘dumb tourist’ by accident, the Icelandic belief in trolls, and the story of how the troll or being that guards a volcanic sinkhole became an honorary member of the Wasteland Warriors.
The Icelandic name for elves, trolls and other faerie-type beings is Huldufolk (“Hidden People”) and a questionnaire in 1998 showed over half of Icelanders straight-up believed in their existence while a substantial portion of Icelanders did not rule it out. And I love this! You can even attend Elf School.
Street art in Reykjavik
I once read an interesting theory; places that experience extreme forces of nature are more likely to believe in beings like elves, trolls and a range of specific gods/goddesses, as they help explain the natural phenomena. I’m not sure that’s correct. Great Britain’s about as temperate as you get, yet the different fairy/faerie/fay things that legend says inhabit the mainland and surrounding tiny islands would fill several books. That’s without going into specific areas- Somerset and Norfolk have their own native creatures, for example! (If you want me to do some exploring and go into detail, let me know.)
Besides, having done some research now I’m back, the creatures are not blamed for freak waves, strange weather or volcanic eruptions- they simply inhabit the country and live in enchanted rocks, cliffs and pools.
Like this rock arch, maybe? 😉
There are many kinds of Huldufolk- from elves (smaller versions of humans) and trolls (big with varied personalities- they turn to stone in sunlight) to the Yule Lads- 13 prankster brothers who live in caves with their ogre parents, and cause mischief! (Named after their particular quirks, eg “Door Slammer” and “Candle Stealer”).
Roads have been diverted or built to accommodate certain areas that belong to these creatures. In 2015, a road intended to pass through a sacred spot in one of the lava fields was diverted due to contant breakdowns, equipment failures and odd accidents.
Icelandic parliament member Arni Johnsen survived a car accident which destroyed his SUV. He attributes his escape (unharmed) to the Huldufolk living in the boulder he crashed by. In order to protect the 30-tonne boulder and the creatures living in it, he arranged to have it transported to his garden. The whole story is here. 🙂
I didn’t see any creatures myself but I did find places that simply felt special. Like this.
Maybe it was the novelty of finding unbroken, unfenced, unsanitised landscape- after all, this was on my first day. Maybe it was instinct that said “everything’s okay” as we could hear no other noise- no traffic, no people- except the water and birdsong, while birds flew overhead. That surely must be nature’s ‘all clear’ for any creature. Maybe it was the presence of beings with a foot in our dimension and a foot in another. Who the heck knows??
We followed the cliff face around and looked back- isn’t it gorgeous?
The first time I looked, I didn’t see this for what it was- something kept making me do double takes until I realised what was ‘different’. It’s manmade! I have absolutely no idea what it is and I considered putting it in next week’s blog which is about urban exploration (abandoned things) but it fit here better.
Outside of Reykjavik, most towns hold around a thousand people- maybe two or three. Outside of the towns, there are tiny houses- either traditional looking with red roofs, or blending into the landscape, with wood, glass and occasionally black paint… or covered in grass. Some of these are tiny summer houses, others are lived in year round. The area near our first ‘troll spot’ had summer houses, some of which even had hot tubs! I want one.
Then there are the shapes in the land: trolls are said to become stone when touched by the sun’s rays, and there are many places in Iceland with bizarre and beautiful rock formations- many named after trolls! Even the sculptures are made to blend in or accentuate the landscape. The first picture is natural, the second is manmade:
I didn’t get a chance to see Hvitserkur, which is said to be a petrified troll- but next time I will… 😉
Photo by Tony Prower
What about goblins? Well, I’m not saying the boiling sulphuric mud springs of Namaskard are smelly but David Bowie just turned up and offered me a crystal ball… 😛
If you do not understand this reference, I may cry.
This place is like an alien landscape… and smells like rotten eggs. If this is not the inspiration for the Bog of Eternal Stench in Labyrinth, I don’t know what is!
These are pools of boiling sulphuric mud. They looked thoroughly unappetising but the area was warm. As I mentioned in my last post, I loved Iceland’s attitude to common sense and endangerment. A couple of small signs saying “stay on the path”, a few small wooden bridges and a thin rope barring the way to the more ‘intense’ areas. I’d be really interested in statistics- are there more or fewer accidents in Iceland than in a place where every loose stone has a nearby warning banner?
As such a place is uninhabitable for us puny humans, is it such a strange idea that other creatures use this place as a playground when we aren’t looking? Creatures with no sense of smell? Look- a troll footprint… 😛
The thick grey mud coated my boots but at least they were safe to wear in the area. Other tourists were modelling some very attractive blue plastic bags taped over their shoes!
We stopped by Godafoss (“Waterfall of the Gods”) after seeing some postcards in a supermarket and deciding that looked interesting! It turns out that Godafoss had a key role in what could have become a religious war; in the year 1000, Icelandic parliament debated whether to embrace Christianity or continue worshipping the old Norse gods. The parliament was divided but after a day and night of meditation, pagan priest Porgeir Ljosvetningagodi converted to Christianity and threw his pagan god statues into Godafoss. The council compromised, making Christianity the official religion of Iceland but leaving pagans free to practice in their own time. As a pagan myself, that’s a nice compromise!
Look at the rainbow. 🙂
Though we knew we would be way too early for a proper Northern Lights display, we saw some very strange and interesting things in the sky. From a pre-aurora red ‘dot’ and light shining out of the sea, to spontaneous rainbows and anvil-shaped storm clouds that looked straight out of Mount Doom, I’m not surprised that sometimes people say Iceland looks like a parallel universe. I’ve travelled a lot. A hell of a lot- and I have never seen so many strange things in so few days. There’s definitely ‘something’ here, even if it’s a mindset rather than a presence.
This photo does not do the colours justice. The light spot just above the horizon on the left was bright red and the light from the sea (this was taken at sunset on the EAST coast) was much brighter.
There has been very little editing on these- some cropping and straightening but that’s about it.
Back to those music videos from “Of Monsters and Men”… This is “Little Talks“, and it’s beautiful. There are Icelandic artists who have left sculptures with faces on, but I didn’t see any. Either way, the strangely sculpted and enormous landscape in the video is far closer to the real thing than I thought. Size reference- there’s a car in the photo.
There’s no car in this one but the mountain is a similar size to the one above.
Not everything was enormous- I found some tiny beautiful things too. I know this is part of a mussel shell and isn’t a fairy wing but it looks like it and that makes me happy. And this tiny teeny flower. There were lots of them!
I loved the lack of graffiti and rubbish (more on that next post!) The few things I found were tiny organic sculptures and compared to the crisp packets, banana peels and drinks cans I’ve seen everywhere else, this was a beautiful change. There were SO many little piles of rocks everywhere that people were leaving instead of crap tagging and initials scratched into fenceposts, and I loved them…
I’m not sure the Icelandic people do. Back to the “Dumb Tourists in Iceland” article; one of the “please don’t” points involved making cairns. Cairns have a hugely significant use historically- they’re rock piles used to indicate directions or mark graves when burials haven’t been possible. There are cairns ALL OVER Iceland. Some are ancient. One (which I didn’t see) is thought to be the oldest structure in Iceland, put there by the first Viking to sail there!!!
Obviously, ancient cairns are protected and still used as landmarks.
The thing is, some people have been making new ones all over the place. This could be very misleading if they are being used to guide somebody, and when made from the wrong rocks/put in the wrong area the effect can damage the wildlife- like using rocks taken from that fragile moss from my last post.
I’d thought they were a beautiful alternative to graffiti and while, luckily I didn’t build anything big, on volcanic rock or any structure that would not be washed away in a few hours, the photo above on the right is my little rock pile. I’m not sure if it counts as a cairn or not but either way, the more people visit, the more rock piles there are and anything in a great quantity ends up being damaging. Here’s an article all about it.
Ancient cairns. Photo by Darren Lloyd.
These may be manmade but there’s something so strange and haunting about seeing them- possibly because we don’t actually know why some of the older ones were made. Graves, watch posts, religious offerings? Maybe, for me, the mystery is part of the beauty…
While I’d like to say the places below were straight out of a faerie story, maybe it’s more accurate to say that faerie stories were clearly told after seeing places like these. If they aren’t the homes of trolls or other Huldufolk, I don’t know what are!
I was once asked if I had arrived at an exploring location only to leave due to an ominous ‘feeling’. I’m going to talk about this in a video but the very short answer is ‘no’. However, the places below gave me the same feeling as that stone circle I found at the beginning of this post. A feeling that there was something else there- not necessarily magical, malevolent or even aware of my presence, but something that suggested I should be the one to acknowledge and be aware of it.
I quietly greeted the places and introduced myself. I talked about why I was there. It became very important to me that I explain I meant no harm, and how beautiful I found the country. With the sinkhole above, I felt the need to ask before climbing down to sit on that jutting rock. After a few seconds and I hadn’t exploded, I got in to have a look around. I’d have loved to stay in there longer but my companions were freezing and this had been a detour.
Just as I was climbing out, I dropped my Wacken/Wasteland Warriors top. THIS top.
I was stuck. I once lost a long sleeved top in a forest in Norway and though I had retraced my steps, I never saw it again and decided the trolls could have it as a present. But I really, really REALLY like this top. I told whatever creature or force that guarded the pool that if I survived the slippery, freezing cold, sharp rock strewn climb down to get it, and then the climb back up, I would make it an honorary member of the Wasteland Warriors tribe for life. I survived; so thanks and welcome to the tribe. 😀
Now, just LOOK at this wonderful map. I LOVE sea monsters and was seriously considering this style of map as a tattoo on my feet for a long time.
I found it in an article about the specific Huldufolk legends in Iceland. The Landvaettir (“Land Wights”) are Iceland’s guardian spirits. The legend tells that a Danish king wanted to invade. He tried to invade the Icelandic shore from North, South, East and West in the form of a great whale but found each direction was protected by a huge creature; a dragon, a bird, a bull and a giant. These creatures are on Icelandic currency and the coat of arms. And I found the bird on a mountain.
If the three peaks are his head and wings, then one of the long tracks downward is the tail.
There are so many legends and faerietale-esque places that I saw. There were a couple of occasions where my phone lost battery so I was unable to document and film them! This last thing concerns a teeny bit of advice from a project I’m working on and I’ll tell you all about on Youtube.
You don’t have to believe in magic or trolls to appreciate the beauty in anything. You don’t have to believe in other dimensions if you don’t want to- your mind is quite capable of creating worlds all on it’s own. To quote Morpheus, “the mind makes it real.” But… life has an extra dimension if you do believe that there are things that cannot be explained- that could be called magic. My advice for life is to do something magical- but if you don’t believe in magic, do something that makes you wish, just for a second, that you did.
Here’s mine: If I had footage of the game I played with a seal (yes really), I’d have used that but as I have none, this is me standing under a waterfall. I’d never stood under a waterfall before. <3
Next post: I go searching for abandoned places, discuss the most depressing film I’ve ever seen and go berserk. 😛