Author Archives: Harold Rhenisch

About Harold Rhenisch

www.haroldrhenisch.com

The Two Icelands (Well, Really Three)

 

There’s the pretty one.


Borgarfjörður Eystri

And across the street, the rusty one. All the fish are gone. Beautiful, though.

 

With ruins in the foreground.


And weird driftwood art.

Neither is Iceland, though. That’s something the Icelanders keep to themselves. What they present to you in its place are charms and gestures.

You know, stuff you remember from the world.

Splitting the Earth Wide Open

In his novel Sworn Brothers, Gunnar writes engagingly of opening the green skin of the earth, forming it into an arch, and swearing an oath beneath it, before the sod is closed again, taking the oath into deep memory and deep time. So was the voyage that led to the founding of Iceland undertaken, with a few nudges from Oðin, that clever wanderer. One can see signs of this story throughout Iceland today. Have a look. The cairns will guide you to the opening.

Here we are at Geirstaðakirkja. Romantic, huh. Sturdy Viking stuff, machine-planed and the works. Note how the earth is split around the church, in traditional Icelandic turf house style. It’s a thing.

Note as well, that it’s not as romantic as it looks. Whew.

Even a Viking-Christian God needs some water for his sheep and a spare battery for his truck, and where to put that stuff, why, in behind the altar. Naturally. Power is power. But I jest. Look more closely at the surroundings. Here is Gunnar’s split Earth again. This time, a boulder broken by frost, and frost in Iceland is a force from beyond the world and deadly to humans.

Ironically, it also opens the Earth for them, and who steps forth but Lazarus drawn forth by the hand of Christ. You can go into their shared grave in the Earth…

… and you can step out again as a different person, into a different world, one cleansed by the journey…

… and then you can feast.

And then? Why, cross the sea.


With grass breaking across your prow and the wind for a sail.

The Secret of Álfaborg

You can go visit the elves in Borgarfjörður Estri, if you like.

Off to Álfaborg with you!

You can read all the magical traditions about this rock here: The Alfaborg Story.

Still, it would do your mind well to forget all that and go walking among the stone heads in the rain.

You will find magic enough as the fog rolls in.

As the contours of the land turn to air and water, you will  begin to feel like rain yourself.

Every stone takes on great significance as the sky vanishes.

And that’s the point. The fjords south of here have been abandoned. The weather is just too terrible. You are alone with rock. There is no sky, only earth that has become it, and maybe a homestead you can scratch together out of mud.

The stones, though, are a kind of sight. You see them because out of this dissolving world, they stand out. Birds use them to see. They are, in face, eyes, or islands of sight in the rain.

They are shelter. Whether they are rising from the earth or sinking into it, is not the point, because both are true at once.


On Álfaborg, one sees in at the same time one sees out. It is you who becomes the person of the stone, as you gain its vision, and see with more-than-human eyes.

Don’t even try to come home.

The University of North Iceland Graduation Exam for Everyone

In Iceland, so the story goes, you knew you were old enough to go fishing in a small boat on the big grey sea by how heavy of a stone you could lift. A pile of stones was much like a university examination is today. Here is the examination set at Skriðuklaustur, more for fun than anything.

Today no one goes to sea for cod in little wooden ships, but there are still lots of rocks to lift and measure yourself by, and, what’s harder, you can lift the with your mind…


The University of North Iceland

… to learn the language of the rain, now that gravity has torn them from their original story. Much fun can still be had.

The Christian Magic that Invented Iceland

An Old Story Telling its Knot on the Road West of Sælingsdal

Over eleven hundred years, men can cut down all the trees, keep their horses for memory, erode the soil with sheep, battle frost heaves, put in a jeep track, buy a German tractor and some good American haying equipment, and strew nitrogen fertilizer around to stay alive, but the Cross that a woman ordered hammered into a stone to hold back the elves who lived inside it remains, and you will likely think of it as a children’s story. Still, your tractor can’t do a thing with it, nor your sheep, nor your beautiful horses.