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.
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.
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.
Still, these other boundaries speak of something profoundly Icelandic. Here’s the churchyard again, with its wall…
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?
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.
The approach of winter on northern earth is described by the angle of the earth to the sun, but look …
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…
But the path remains the old one.
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. 2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5 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 …
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.
Here’s the “Nun’s Falls”, from a much later catholicism.
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.
… 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?
Good. Don’t forget to say hi to your fellow worshippers. We don’t just worship in space here, but also in time.
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!
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.
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.
Well, and prayer.
God is always listening.
Things have a different perspective from these dizzy heights.
More at home.
Back you go!
To the world.
…life isn’t a full stop. And it isn’t the road to Akureyri.
And where you’re going.