Category Archives: Nationalism

A Grove of Horses in Iceland

It was all forest once, in the whole country, at least by the water. Even here in Hvalfjörður, it was trees. But the trees were cleared to make pastures and to keep the Icelanders warm, and then there were no trees, and so it remains in most of the country. Because of this history…,

… horses are now trees. Stick a pale of hay in the middle of a forest clearcut 1000 years ago, and there you have it, a grove. As I’ve said. before, in this country everyone is an artist.

Colonial Iceland

Like people in all countries deeply impacted by colonial experience, including my Canada, Icelanders love putting on the identities of others, in the way people in non-colonial cultures enjoy putting on a new T shirt.

Identities on Sale in Reykjavik

Just remember, people can take them off just as easily, and that the real person is hidden: first by a self worn as an ornament of status in an imagined elsewhere (which plays out locally) and, second, by a lack of words to describe that self. In Iceland, you can meet Icelanders, but it’s hard in downtown Reykjavik or online, where Icelandic is losing ground to English. In both cases, foreigners like myself are being given a genuine, although guarded, welcome. It is, nonetheless, business, and business is business. It is not to be confused with this:

Iceland Spirituality in a Culture of Settlement

Settlement is the foundational theology of Iceland. In countries such as mine, Canada, or that of my ancestors, Germany, foundational theologies tend to be about colonization, either of the land and bodies of other people or of the self. Not in Iceland.

In Reykholt, Snorri Sturluson wrote the texts that define Norse theology. If you visit Reykholt, you will soon see that these books represent the landscape around Reykholt more than any historical theology.

In short, they are more a way of settling the land the of claiming it.

Witness the chosen motif for the altar of the old church in Reykholt. The White Christ rises as the sun…

… much like the mountain up the valley, capped with its glacier from before human time.

It is a world in which ancient binary forces, ice and fire, create a human habitat, the world, which is a kind of whirlpool in the sea of the universe, which is, really, the sea.

Human activity has eroded the primal world, but that pre-human time still delivers water and the power that defines humans.

The church itself, exists within an ancient, pagan forest, blessed as the source of nationalism. It is an accurate depiction of Icelandic culture. Sure, it’s planted, but that’s part of the point of living within a settlement.

When summer comes, Icelanders don’t take to the sea, they take to the forests. They already live in the sea. It is settlement they celebrate, and that includes placing them within the forest like the old church at Reykholt. Tourists drive through the birch forests below, take a few pictures, and drive back and away to claim that they were there, but Icelanders turn off into them and settle for the summer.

Just to the north, at Bifröst, they do it right at the bridge between worlds, and that’s the key to Iceland: this settlement right at the point at which power erupts from the land. It’s stubborn.

Perhaps, travellers to Iceland see a forest in the image below (taken at Geysir to the south east).

Perhaps they will call the old pre-human world nature …

… perhaps they will even realize, in a breathless moment, that this nature is not the Garden of Eden…

…and realize that you need tools to settle your panic in the face of such power, such as the fire hydrant in downtown (!!) Reykholt above, one of Iceland’s major urban centres, or in the pre-Christian tools facing the altar from the door to the world of the Reykholt Church below.

Balance, that’s the thing.

I mean, for those of you who can’t just drive on, because when you are at the intersection of all power in the world, either here at Bifröst …

… or here at Reykholt …

… or here in Reykjavik…

… the frame is not the golden power and will of God coming to the world out of nothing …

… but immediate and present power without symbols at all.

It’ll change you.  Do you dare settle, within, in a point of balance?

Or will you make a claim, to display your presence, such as these (illegal) tourists cairns below, above an Icelandic summer village at þingvellavatn?

Or will you turn the ancient forest into the outflow for a hydroelectric dam?

Lagarfljot at Hallormstaðir

Don’t expect the Icelanders to tell you. They don’t have to decide these things. They already live here.

On Middle Earth.

Painting the Town Red with Katrin Jakobsdottir

In some countries, “Get Angry” would not mean to become the prime minister when no one else could find a compromise to unite opposites.

But it does in Iceland. Here’s how it began four years ago.

It’s also a country in which a church fire extinguisher…

… a church door …

… and church bells …

… are all housed in red.

But then, not all countries are enlightened. You have to put your heart into it.

View from the Stykkisholmur Library of Water,
Where Women and Girls are Given Space to Play Chess

The Price of Tourism in Iceland

Most Icelanders live in Greater Reykjavik, and most live in beautiful subdivisions and new apartment neighbourhoods between the mountains and the sea. Everything is practical, tidy, and simple, in keeping with a people having to pay for maintaining a country in the face of large currencies and their power. Things get a little harder out in small towns and in the countryside, as they do in downtown Reykjavik. That’s the old part of town, the one with the greatest need for being rebuilt to better standards, and the only one that lower-earning Icelanders can afford to live in. It’s also the place where the (estimated 2.5 million this year) tourists settle. The significance? Tourists (like me, blush) with the power of foreign currencies behind them are displacing a vital part of Iceland. In touring the indigenous parts of Reykjavik, I have failed to run into other tourists, not in the suburbs and not here, right downtown. The separation is, sadly, complete. How could this be good for the soul?

Isn’t this a better tour than another visit to geysir in the orange muck?