Just a short jaunt west of the black sand beaches at the Dyrhólaey bird sanctuary, if you take the right back road, you can come upon the elves out of the shadows. It is best that they blind you with the light.
An island on an island… or is it?
Women were put to death for visiting elves here on Viðey in Reykjavik Old Harbour. Now there is a shrine to Maria made out of cut glass in their honour and in honour of birth and motherhood in general.
On the other side of the island is the John Lennon Peace Tower, which beams light up into the winter darkness.
A few official Icelandic elvish sites for you. Here’s Álfaborg in Borgisfjörður Estri. After driving across the entire country to get here, I realized, duh, that I had passed hundreds of elf cities to see this one. They were everywhere, which made sense. Every fjord was isolated.
What I wanted to know was what was it that identified a place as an elf city, when other lumps of rocks weren’t? I know now that this notion of identification is essential, that spirit in rocks is a form of respect, an admission of an emotional connection, but back then I drove up the fjord to the next elf hill and climbed up it in the rain and fog and looked out at the rain and fog.
Note that it looks a lot like a turf house, with a chimney. Small versions are created by birds, who perch on top of hillocks, Icelanders will quickly point out these days, shit what they have to, and fertilize the grass, which makes a little cap for the hill. Well, maybe. Still, rocks at old turf house sites are not uncommon.
Believe me, I was drenched with rain. On the east side of the hill, there is an old sheep fold and the ruins of a house field. If I had known enough at the time, I would have found the ruins of the old turf house that accompanied them… right on the elf hill. I didn’t know enough to look. I was caught in the fog. Perhaps that was fitting.
Well, I know now it has to do with familiarity. After awhile, you become the rock. It becomes home. You haunt it. And figures appear out of another dimension of your life. At the time, though, I looked around, trying to see what and elf would see, as a clue to what a human would see that caused them to see elves.
I tracked over every trail over the mountain, reading each turn of stone as a story read in sequence, as I had learned to do with stone landforms in Indigenous country in Canada. I learned that it doesn’t help if you don’t know the underlying story. I mean, you know you are walking through a story, but what story?
And here at the old monastery at Skriðuklaustur, right behind the building, this mysterious wall, carved by lichens but most likely not entirely by lichens. I spent many, many hours, over 4 weeks, trying to read these marks in all kinds of different light. I learned a lot about lichens and their ability to make human forms!
And traffic circles in Reykjavik, even ones decorated with pipes, are there to protect elf stones more than they are there to route traffic. If you dodge traffic, and peer through the pipe you can see what someone else imagined the elves could see. It’s nice to be reaffirmed like this.
At Mosfellsbær, though, it’s pretty obvious that elfishness isn’t just a matter of smallish rocks and lichens. There’s a sense of the power of landscape that is much larger than that. The land is a body, obviously, although not a human one, and it has points of focus, or life, that are very intense.
It’s hard to tell if their mystery is from close living with elves or just from being the horses of the gods themselves, but they enjoy it if you ask. Here’s an elf hill from the southern Icelandic shore, close to the Dyrhólaey Bird Sanctuary.
You don’t have to go so far. Right in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in downtown Reykjavik, right under Lief Erickson’s statue, the elves are living happily ever after. Wander around. They’re in every schoolyard in town. But isn’t that right? Shouldn’t kids be playing with elves? Someone should tell the kid below.
And we shouldn’t get too fixated on rocks. Here on the island of Viðey in Reykjavik Harbour, a Catholic shrine has been erected on top of a famous elf hill, which consists of grass and fog, and some holes you could turn an ankle in. Women wandered out there, it is said, and went mad. I suspect that Maria knows otherwise.
In short, elves are everywhere where the world makes you lose your way and then gives it back again in its own forms. This is called madness in civilized society. It is hardly that.
Schoolyard in Reykjavik
Maybe not. The horses at Eiðar below are grazing on an elf city, of all things, and what are they doing? Sneaking grass from the ditch.
But, of course, the question is, really, do they heard living sheep? That humans have to romp after to collect? Well, kind of. Even the trolls, such as this dark and light pair at Klausturhamrar, send sheep on their way to left and right.
And the elf city at Álfaborg…
It’s just that these commands are not the same as walking across the grass to pasture. Elves aren’t safe like that. They lead you out of your own mind.
What do the sheep follow?
We might as well call it elves.
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.
Poor things, looking longingly across the gap between worlds. So do humans view their births in the language of their bodies. For the elves, though, birth is not a moment, but a location, that recurs on and on and on.
So do humans focus the strength of their bodies and the world, and move together when they move back in. So is the mind born of the world.
It is what minds, and remembers, and stays.