Category Archives: Christian Iceland

Viking Hydro Power Station

In the 9th century, long, long before Nicola Tesla, the vikings of Iceland changed the course of the Öxá, to create a waterfall in þingvellir. The sagas tell that it was named after a troll that used to chop up early parliamentarians with an axe — surely a witty reference to early spiritual struggles in Iceland, which was grounded simultaneously by at least three spiritual traditions: Norse, Irish and Christian. Wikipedia tells how the waterfall was used to provision campers with water.I will merely point out a couple things. First, the Icelandic killing fields were in this river, either by the drowning of witches, ie reunion with the troll, or by beheading on a rock in the water, ie the cancellation of Christian belonging, as a form of organic justice. This was hydro power before the industrial age. We now call it “nature” and “beauty.” Those are only industrial terms. Beware.

Secret, Spiritual Iceland

Presumably, the boundary in the image below meant something once. I’m no expert, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to be a turf wall, laboriously cut and stacked, replaced by a wire fence, and replaced by nothing at all except memories of where a boundary once was.
And again:

This is not likely a sign of increasing wealth. Nor is this near-obsolete set of boundaries at Kirkjubærjarklaustur. There’s a stone wall, and a row of birches, for the graveyard, and then a mysterious fence, with one electrified strand, even, serving no purpose now except to mark a boundary for a summer student with a weed whacker.

Fortunately, some boundaries are still full of power. Here’s the sky above the Hvitserkur ogre.

Still, these other boundaries speak of something profoundly Icelandic. Here’s the churchyard again, with its wall…

… and without (by leaning over it.)

Trees and stone: that’s two walls, one for those looking out and one for those looking in. The turf wall is no human barrier…

… and neither is the churchyard:

But it matters a lot whether you are looking in to life, from grass to stone to trees to grass, or looking out from grass to trees to stone to grass. Isn’t all of this the behaviour of people who have spent a long, long time with sheep?

And with the gentle ways of herding them?

This is old, old technology, that only works with respect that goes out at the same time it comes in.

And understands life as a series of seasons.  This is not the modern world, yet it is still alive, and you can enter it in Iceland, and then, well, and then you’ve walked through the gate.

Make no mistake. The image of Reykjavik above and the one of Smyrlabjörg below are the same.No one will tell you why. If you have to ask, you haven’t walked through the air to the air.

The Artistic Windows of Iceland Part 2

The windows of Iceland are for neither looking in nor looking out, but for display of earthly objects in the light of the sun, which makes them sacred: talismans, spells, and prayers. It is an exquisite and complex art form, quite separate from the 1960s New York art that saturates the Harbour Gallery (and which is also beautiful.) In their windows, the people speak; in their galleries, they create a window for the world, based on this style.

Tomorrow, let’s go for a gallery tour.

Poetry and Technology in Iceland

The approach of winter on northern earth is described by the angle of the earth to the sun, but look …

… is it not a story of light rather than mechanics? Here in Grundarfjörður, is it not a story of the light  …

…separating from the dark earth and so revealing it?

It is not a scientific description, and yet as the light falls the earth becomes more purely light, and more purely cold.

Light is cold, in other words. This is wisdom, too. If we’re going to beat global warming, that light is going to need the respect now given to mechanics and technology. So is the cold, because they are the same. It’s not a linear understanding; it’s a global one. It is earth-thought.

Technology is not the end to science. It’s great stuff, but it’s not the goal, whatever the goal might be, or if it is the goal, then the goal is not of this earth, and that is a judgement humans have no right to make.

These are hard ironies. If technology is the path away from the cold,  it is the path away from the sun.


It is the path away from the earth.


The knowledge and traditions of how to live with the earth are not lost. Here are two operating manuals. There are more.

The poets still know something of the earth.


It can be read by the sun. They know how to do this: how to read the sun, the earth and themselves on the body’s face.


They embody the sun. Fences aren’t for the light, and yet they cut it, nonetheless, …


… until the world becomes a series of fences. These are hard ironies, but not causes for despair; they still catch the light.


We can still follow it, but one thing remains primary. We have a right to the sun, to the earth, and to the cold.


The cleverness of ancient methods of mediation between earth and light are a richness of capacity rooted in ancient verse forms.


Make no mistake. This stuff can be read in detailed literary ways, and that’s an important tool for entering this technology. Read more by clicking here. Still, until you can read it in the earth, you have not entered its light.


Discarding this light, simultaneously of sun and earth and cold and warmth and mind, for physical technology is exactly what it sounds like: discarding them, and all their alternative forms of warmth…

… for physical technology, which is important.

But the path remains the old one.

It is to make people out of the earth. It is to bring the wanderers home.

Here’s one manual:

Here’s the obligatory legal warning to users.

Here’s another one of the manuals.

Here’s Gunnar’s quote from the title page, expanded in its original context:

He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. John 10:1-5

Here’s its expansion:

11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 

In other words, look after your sheep; look after your land; be a man about this:

Gunnar left his hireling life in Europe

… and went to farm sheep in Iceland, from this house at Skriðuklaustur …

… after writing that. Was it a mistake? Well, he didn’t last long there, but the commitment was real.

And so Easter comes.

And so light comes.Gunnar meant that poetry and the land and honour were one. It was not literature. It was not a metaphor. This is not a metaphor.

The end of tools is to erase the tools.

The Ghosts of the Irish in Iceland

When the Norse and their female Irish slaves arrived in Iceland in 870, there was already a colony of Irish monks on the south coast, living in caves and living in splendid isolation with their God. There are accounts of them living in what became known much later as the monastery site of Kirkjubaerjarklaustur. There is just something about the place.  First, a look around in the summer sun. iceland-day-3-to-5-051 iceland-day-3-to-5-043 iceland-day-3-to-5-044

Here’s the “Church Floor”, basalt columns eroded by ancient waves.iceland-day-3-to-5-054 iceland-day-3-to-5-053

And the rumoured centre of Irish life.iceland-day-3-to-5-046

And now in the summer rain. Note the change of light!p1010115p1010068

Here’s the “Nun’s Falls”, from a much later catholicism.

p1010066p1010111And now some late Autumn (2016)  pics, with the sun barely making it above the sea.p1320200 p1320223 p1320198
A splendid place for meditation and prayer!

Unwilling to share the purity of God with heathens, the monks left in their skin boats. Their ghosts remain. I wonder if the women were sad to see them go.

Hofstadakirkja in the Springtime

So, you’re in the North of Iceland and you get that old feeling …p1280986

… this is sacred space!


Well, it’s time to go to church. Here.






But, wait. It’s not that simple. Look at those drifts! You’ll throw a hoof. And then what? Drifts for you all March long, or forever. Brrr.


Best be careful. Scout things out.


OK, even the fences are drifts. Makes sense, right? They’re driftwood. Those Russians, eh! Well even the road is a drift.


But it looks easier than the ditch!


Take the road.


You have time for the welcoming committee, right?


The pregnant welcoming committee.


You do feel welcome, right?


Very welcome?p1280685

Good. Don’t forget to say hi to your fellow worshippers. We don’t just worship in space here, but also in time.

p1280743 Really, they’re the same thing.p1280769

Plus drifts.p1280765

And old turf house ruins.p1280801

You do, um, feel welcome, right?


Ah, the basement and community hall are drifted in. Best go upstairs.


Don’t worry, you can get in through the graveyard. This is Iceland. The dead aren’t dead, and you’ll join them soon enough. Might as well get on a first name basis now.


They have flowers, so that’s nice.


Hey, it was cold, so I wasn’t feeling all that vertical myself! Well, it sure looks nice in there. Let’s go in!


Watch your step! Ah, here we go.p1280889

And we are in!p1280862 Lovely altar.


The plastic is to keep off intruders from the dark place. The horses send them as a joke.


Ha ha ha.


Pulpit’s very nice, too.


Also Mary Queen of Heaven and her Son.


Not your typical Lutheran pair? Well, this is Iceland.p1280818

The house rules you already know, right?


And the reason the mountains sent you here? Even a bit of foundation shifting to get the nice new basement underneath for the whole community to gather hasn’t shaken him off the wall.


A bit of nationalism to sit on, ha ha ha.

p1280822 Or a bit of glory from the continent.p1280824 Art. Painted on a bit of driftwood by the looks of it.


Old friends.


It’s all about the feasting.p1280811

Well, and prayer.



And hope. This is Iceland. Be practical, and have a backup plan.p1280859

God is always listening.

p1280850And there is always music from Heaven.


Up we go to the choir loft!p1280834



Things have a different perspective from these dizzy heights.


Somehow, you are less alone.p1280870

More intimate.p1280867 More reverent.p1280865

More beautiful.p1280864

More at home.



I mean



Back you go!


To the world.


Remember to come back next time you’re in the North.p1280781

It lifts a soul up.p1280786

It does.


So remember…


…life isn’t a full stop. And it isn’t the road to Akureyri.


It’s who you meet.p1280550

And where you’re going.