Tag Archives: Christianity

The Secret of Skriðuklaustur

For four weeks, I studied this stone wall above the old monastery, trying to catch it in a light that revealed it. My gut told me that these rocks were culturally-altered, but nothing came clear that I could identify — nothing that couldn’t also be explained by geological processes of decaying, exposed basalt. The archaeological team came to the same conclusion, so used the rock as support for a viewing platform … while also protecting it from the weather. Clever.

So, what do you think?

I was pretty sure that there was a raven in this sculpted gouge, worn out by some peri-glacial river long ago.

And ravens are important in Norse mythology, and, if you’ll look below the raven’s wing, the raven’s companion, the god Oðin, was known, like Christ, to hang on a cross from time to time.

Was there a language here? It’s simply not possible to tell, although we do know that some of the patients at this hospital had come from Greenland — what kind of glyphing had they brought with them? Deep within the monastery, the rocks suggest some kind of talismanic scratching of simple crosses into the rock in the near-dark, but here, in the light?

Was the old practice of tracing natural forms in the rock to gain their power. One wouldn’t have to carve. One would receive the energy, without any intermediary art. It is the reverse of normal pictograph-making, where a pattern is worn by a finger dipped in fish grease and sand and run thousands of times over the same groove, to transfer power that can then be picked up by the sea, but here, where is no sea, and no humanly-created shapes? Might they be, nonetheless, humanly-imagined and traced? Here, look again, later in the afternoon…

There was a ritual in the Monastery of Maulbronn in Germany (far older than this one), of pouring wine into a crack in the stone, so the simple monks could catch it in their fingers… so good, they said, it was “eleven finger wine.” The spirit of God in the wine, in other words, united with the spirit in the rock, a fine Christian symbol, and came to life through the hands of monks lifted to their mouths. Might the same thing have been happening here? We’ll never know, but we’ll never know if it didn’t, either.


The most beautiful church in Iceland.

Mosfellskirkja, Mosfellsdalur

And probably the most political. Like all churches, it is a face of the state. If you want to know what political power looks like, look here. That most Icelanders don’t actually go to church is not the point. It’s not about “going to church.” It’s about the survival of an ancient balance between outward and inward lives, i.e., in modern terms, Iceland. In other words, this, too, is church:

Hafrafell, The Mountain of the Sea

And ravens. Mountain of ravens, too.

It is about holding on. So, when you come to a church in Iceland, don’t drive by. Stop.


That’s the old church in the foreground, in memory at least. But, a thousand years, what’s that? Nothing at all.

Iceland’s 1000-Year-Long Balancing Act

Elf House, Church, School, Playground. Out of these pillars, the country is built.Þorgeir’s balance from the Þing (the parliament; Þorgeir was the speaker of the house, tasked with deciding the spiritual future of the country) in the winter of 999-1000, in which he decided that the country would be Christian, politically, and either pagan or Christian privately, continues to this day. Intriguingly, the Álfar, “the other people” of pagan tradition, remain hidden. One can see their homes (above, for example), as one could see pagan homes in the Christian Iceland of late 1000, but the pagan content is as hidden now as it was then. But it is OK for children to play there — children who are the foundation of the state. So, it’s not that hidden!

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.



Only in Iceland

Here in Grundarfjörður, a horse trailer and a boat are both parked together in the harbour on an Autumn day. Fish and horses, eh.  That’s the Icelandic way.

p1350418Does that not suggest that this country is a harbour, or a series of them? Are not both journeys, into the sea of the mountains or the sea of the waves, the same journey? And this third journey, up?

p1350312Life here is a shore.

p1360069It is a dangerous place of passage, a place of setting down, departure and return, and a place of harbour and shipwreck at once, but it is the only one there is. It is a tidal zone, for humans.



Valdimar Goes to Church

Note that he borrows Jacob’s Ladder, just like Gunnar did in Vikivaki.p1350310


Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it….


Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Genesis 28


At the end, you might have to jump. This is called “a leap of faith.” Good knot work to hold the ladder in place will make that easier for you.


The White Christ

This is Öxarárfoss, diverted a thousand years ago off of  the Kerlingar Lava Field to bring water to the Alþing, or parliament, at þingvellir, the meeting wall.


Here it is up close.


Closer? Sure!


I mention these famous falls because of Gunnar’s book Hvide Krist, or The White Christ. It appeared in 1934.


In 1935, it appeared in German, as Der Weiße Krist.


This term, “The White Christ” doesn’t mean “Racially-white Christ” in nordic culture, although I suspect it was read that way in 1935 Germany, which was attempting to convert the Christian church to its racial programs. It is, actually, obscure. Some theories are that it’s a reference to the white baptismal robes that initiates had to wear in early Icelandic Catholicism, that it’s a reference to submission, a perception of a lack of manliness in the insistence of priests not to father children, and that it’s a reference to Christ’s Origin in the Mediterranean, the White Sea of the ancient cultures at the middle of the earth (Turkey and the Caucasus), who wandered north to become the scandinavians and which the viking founders of Iceland would have known well. Here is the ancient Turkish compassflag

In this conception, the Red Sea is to the South, the Black Sea is to the North, the White Sea (the mediterranean) is to the West, and the blue waters of the Caspian Sea to the East. The map comes into even better focus when overlaid over Jerusalem:


This is the compass. Christ is the eastern direction, towards the rising sun. Now, with that in mind, let’s look again at the Meeting Wall and its waterfall.


From the blood of the birches, bleeding out of the earth, the landscape rises to white heights in the east. The falls are in balance, in the centre. The white mountains can also be viewed as purity, ascension to Heaven, wisdom, or the bald head of an old man, who also signifies wisdom, but that’s likely a stretch. The red blood …



…can be seen as both Christ’s sacrifice and the blood law of the pagans who shared early Iceland with its early Christians. A balance was found at the Alþing of 999-1000; Christianity was adopted, to end vicious, counter-productive blood feuds; paganism was permitted, but not in public. In other words, the Church became the public face of the state; what happened in a man’s house or his heart was his own affair. This dual nature of the country was rearranged violently over the centuries, but that’s another story. In this one, one more issue is important. It’s this:


This is the Oxá, the Ox River, after it breaches the upper rift of the Alþing and enters the parliamentary centre proper. It was here that in the violent history of Iceland’s colonialization witches were drowned and criminals were beheaded, right here…p1330534

… right where the white blood of the glaciers enters Christian law before spilling out onto a plain of blood. An accident? I hardly think so. So, what was Gunnar up to in this book published by the Propaganda Ministry of the Third Reich?der-weise-krist-von-gunnar-gunnarsson-1935


Just telling a Christian story in early iceland? Giving a warning that could be read any way his readers wanted? As a parable of a populist Lutheran belief in a satanic pope at the head of a bloody church, the roman emperor himself and thus the man who threw Christians to lions for sport? As a warning about the dangers of assuming a messianic role, and the blood that would follow? All of them? None? Some for the Germans perhaps, even if not for Gunnar?


Grave Figure, Freiburg, Germany

The Christian Philosopher Martin Heidegger was running the ancient university of Freiburg for the Nazis in that year. He would have known this sculpture well. It wasn’t a year for staying on the sidelines.

1934 was the year that the Third Reich, under its ‘messiah’ Adolf Hitler, who believed in blood as a mystical force, attempted to unify Nazism and Christianity under a nationalist banner: truly a Western and not an Eastern anti-Christ. Only a close reading of Gunnar’s book will unpack Gunnar’s method. Until I get to that, here’s the Christ who glances to the east at death, and, just out the window behind me as I took this image, Gunnar’s grave on Viðey.

p1340064Has this figure been whitewashed? I leave you with this contemplation of the point at which Christianity and the land meet. Is this not, in a land-sense, the cross?


Iceland’s Lonely Shrines

Groves like the one below are ever-present in Iceland. They are a cross between a will to live, a claim to land, a museum and a graveyard. They are houses for both the living and the dead, on the sites of old turf houses. Almost every farm has one.p1340417

They are places of deep feeling, loss, and connection. A cathedral in France or Germany is a more expensive form of this same art form, but no more permanent, just as these groves are worthy of no less honour and respect. They are, in a sense, what viking ships become after 1000 years.