Tag Archives: prayer

The Trolls’ Sheep and the Gods’ Horses

One of the attractive parts of being a human is the innocence that comes along with that. I like that. In the face of the truth (Trolls keep humans because humans keep sheep and trolls like sheep.), the myth still persists that humans keep sheep because it’s a human world. That’s sweet. Another bit of this truth thing is that humans build churches on top of elves, or, in Iceland, next door, because in Iceland things are never black and white.

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Black and White and Blue, too. Mývatnssveit.

Kodak went bust because they didn’t invent a film for this.

But I jest. The thing about the elves, though, and the churches, that matters. It’s not too many cultures that don’t see such a big problem with a strata title arrangement. Gunnar comes from that land-use plan. In a strong way, his writing is an attempt to put it down in black and white print. He, of course, missed this:

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Black and Blue

Not just a blind spot for Gunnar, but for Kodak, too.

But, again, I jest. This, however, is not a jest. This is serious. If you want to understand how humans can see elves in the world science, great grand daughter of the church, is positive contains no elves and never did, there are books you can buy for that in Iceland, and they will send you here (for example)…

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The View up to Tofúfoss and Jonsfoss from Melarett

Well, you didn’t need a guidebook for that. The thing is, the elves aren’t in the rock so much as in the human mind that is completely anchored to rock and that is an awfully hard thing to explain and shouldn’t be explained. Still, one can talk around the idea, because one consequence of it is that these elves are liable to show up anywhere, and, because people used to be really anchored to the rock, most likely around churches …

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Skriðuklaustur on the Day the Geese Chose to Come and Stay

… and pretty much twenty-four hours a day, everything that goes on between those churches and those rocks is under constant surveillance. These are the people who know the truth of the matter…

horse… but we’re not listening. So, that leaves a bit of time and wondering. Where are the elves? And, while we’re at it, the trolls? Well, here are some of the elves …

elf2Elves, Underneath the Monastery Viewing Deck

A nice new roof!

Lots of them …

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A Whole City of Elves

So, if you were going to build a monastery in the East of Iceland, and it had to be near here, where the trails to the north, south, east and west crossed, then beside the elves would probably be a good idea. Now, I’m not going to get into what I think has been done to these rocks or what their secrets are (give me a couple days), but I’d like to point out that down below the monastery, there are worse things than elves.

P1470106 Things like trolls, and … P1470121… elves under a troll enchantment. Now, to be clear: these are not Tolkein-style elves and trolls. These are some form of the human subconscious, seen through the things of the world. In this picture of psychology, however, trolls keep sheep …

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Lots of Sheep!

They are a flock that roams in a time inaccessible to human vision, but just on the edge of it. Sometimes that edge seems very close …

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Pride of the Flock

At any rate, they are beautiful sheep …

trollsheep5… with a faithful shepherd …

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… that just happens to actually be …

P1470439… more elves.  How can you take a photograph of such a story? Cameras are tools of a scientific world, and record it well, but they’re no good at the tenuous world of perceptions, mixed with emotions and a sense of place that come to people when the land and themselves meet in a physical place that is really a kind of fire. So… time to bring out the wool again, and see where it leads.

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I started in the flock, in the grass, with the idea of winding between the sheep and around the shepherd in a ring, but the wind kept me from that. Sometimes, my wool (and among the sheep, and worn from three times on and off the spindle of the world, it really was feeling like tiny lines of sheep wool now, wound and bound together as the birds were when they flew upriver and over me some 15 kilometres up the valley just a couple days ago) did go among the sheep, making a trail …

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… and wandered and wove between them in the same way that sheep wander and weave the hills…

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…but more often it seemed to want to hurry along over their backs …

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Looking back after all my careful stepping between the sheep, I was amazed to see this pure straight line, and so I followed it as I unwound it off the spindle of the world, followed the thousands of hairs wound into its strands, reading them off with my fingers, playing them out, in a kind of tension between me and the wool and the grass and the wind, and when I felt the spindle was thinning, and knew the wool was leading me somewhere, I thought, no, this is not a story of giving it the trolls, and giving it to the elves, where would that lead? More immobility. They were, after all, in thrall. I thought, again, of the birch trees, and headed for a couple five year old saplings on the hill. Before I got there, though, I was stopped by a raven …

P1470339… who took my wool and all its weaving into his beak. As you can see, he stands on the shoulders of a family of elves. So, I was amazed … my story that had started in the grass, and I thought would lead to a prayer for light, led to something quite different. It lead to Raven, my old friend, Odin’s memory and thought, carrying the fire away, and flying. Not only that, when I went back with my birch twig and wound my wool back on the spindle of the world, through the grass and the flock …

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… under the eyes of the trolls (I felt like I was walking between worlds and needed to exercise some care, but I had my line of blood) …

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No, Not One of Tolkein’s Trolls

This is the mind in it’s own earthen eye. Or a part of it.

… and under the eye of the horses, who see everything, and never go in, and walk along a different line of blood (or maybe the same one) …

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… and sometimes spook, for what I now feel is good reason …

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… wound my way slowly around the years of my spindle up to the rocks …

P1470474Killing Fields or What

… carefully …
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… and began to feel the line tug at me, as if I were a fish and the raven was reeling me in …

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… and our fate was blowing in the wind, bound together by a living thread of will and fire …

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… and yet free …

P1470488All the years were blowing in the wind. It wasn’t going anywhere. Like the birds in their flock, like the sheep in their meadow, like the elves in their stone, like the men in their church, like their prayers and the touch of their fingers to the natural crosses in the rock that wrote, I think, over time their story and now, it’s plain, writes them still…

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… I enjoyed this moment of energy, and didn’t want to let it go, but all this must be set loose into their life, and so just as I went to pull my wool from the stone raven’s mouth, it broke…

P1470508 … and he flew off with the end of it …P1470502

… or maybe its beginning. For four weeks now here, ravens have been following me and calling whenever they passed overhead, and I have called back in greeting, everytime. Here’s one, dealing a bit with the wind …

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Sure, it’s all poetry. Yeah, it is. Tomorrow morning, I leave the Klaustur, and go to Reykjavik, where there are far more humans than ravens and poems. This afternoon, I’m going out for a word with the horses, but in my heart, well, let’s just say this, if you come here and leave the viewing platform, and walk for a month through the cloister and down through the birches and over the hill, and a horse comes out to share a word with you …

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… it might be me. At any rate, enough sadness at leaving and enough joy at having been found, and think of this. When you go to those horses, and find they’ve come to you before you’ve arrived, remember, in your coming, you spoke, they heard, and in their coming, they answered.

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There, a little poetry for you. I’ll be summing up in the next few days. Next, I want to show you how the sun and time and a  human walking make a story out of stone. No, not one of Tolkein’s stories. Sorry. Those are written by reading books. Beautiful stories, and great for telling around a fire. Here I’ve found ones that I can walk through, and never stop walking. A fancy? There might be some fun in the telling, yes, but a fancy? No.  I’ve stepped right out of the world, and into it. A riddle, that’s what, but a beautiful one. And windy.

A Line of Prayer and Poetry Made with Norwegian Wool

The geologists came and declared all rock forms here at this East Icelandic cloister site to be naturally occurring. I believe them. Still, were the natural shapes enhanced 500 years ago? Was the cloister built here because something was recognized in the stone? I think that’s quite likely. Is there a lost art of stonework that is built on the premise of deepening natural forms until they take on meaning? It would make sense: if one were to rub a natural cross over and over again, that would be an intense, and physical, act of prayer. Still, scientists can’t answer questions like that. Likely, no one can. One can, however, enter the spirit of stone with an open mind. That much every human has, if he or she wishes it. So, what do you think: is the image below a group of eroded basalt crystals (certainly) or is it an image of Mary and the Infant Jesus?

P1420857Skriðuklaustur Monolith

Fljótsdalur, Iceland

Or something else that the monks tried to rub off? Or a painting of light that only showed up when the light was at certain angles (true)? Or St. Barbara (possibly the patron saint here)? Or nothing? Maybe it doesn’t matter. This was, however, the stone that the monks saw directly in front of them when they left the entrance to the cloister church and looked, as the landscape directs one here, uphill. That, I thought, was worth thinking on. What I did to help me think on it, not being a geologist or an archaelogist but being a poet (which is an honourable thing, with deep roots of its own) was to go 40 kilometres into town in a snowstorm to buy a ball of wool and to make a line with my hands, to help me think. As a farmer (long ago, and in my heart, still), I know that the hands are a powerful tool for thinking. So, I anchored the line in a crack at Mary’s (?) feet …

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… kind of following it where I felt it was leading me…

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… which was, downhill, and into the church (it’s a natural flow) …

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… past the baptismal font and into the nave, where I discovered that I didn’t want to walk through the walls …

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… so back again to the font (I was lost on this spiritual journey for a moment and thought about circling the font, and even tried to walk back up to Mary (?) and link her with a ribbon of life blood blowing around in the wind (ah, it was hard to keep this stuff on earth, did I mention that?), but that felt wrong, and suddenly I saw where I needed to go, drew my line of life back past the font …

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… and through the monk’s doorway into the church (instead of the public doorway I had entered before) …

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… and through the adjoining doorway into the cloister garden (I’ve always liked gardens, especially church ones and their Edens) …

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… and as you can see, to the garden well …

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My 70 metres of Norwegian darning wool, purchased for 460 Icelandic Crowns (around $4) was just the right length to drop to the bottom. I thought that was a good sign. I then took these images, so you could walk with me and share the moment of my thinking with my hands. At this point, my Mary was joined to the well in the Garden by passing through the church and the monk’s residence… a beautiful path, I thought. Next, I went to the hillside, picked a birch twig from the grass as a spindle (among the earliest images we have of men and women are made from birch twigs, and in German the word for bone and the word for birch are the same, and my family is German, so, hey) and, starting at the well, rolled the now-charged string back up, and as I wound that 70 metres around a tiny axle, over the wood chips …

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… past the stones that once supported the church walls …

stone2… and through the grass …

grass… I felt that I was winding life on the axle of the universe or the pole of the earth, day by day by day, that with each twist of the birch twig to accept the string, a year passed, and I felt life in that string, not just the life the wind gave it, but energy from the universe; I felt that I was weaving with an ancient craft, in a small physical prayer, from the well up to … well, let’s just say Mary, who after all, was a spiritual fire in a human form, until all that energy was there, wound up on its spindle, at her feet …

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… and that was my prayer. Not an approved Christian prayer, but, then, I am not a Christian, only a man who walks in a world of spirit, with the sense to know that if you stay at a monastery, do the work. Did I learn anything about the material reality of that stone? No. That’s for geologists and archaeologists. But I did learn this: when I carried that bobbin of yarn back up to my roomI felt that I was carrying a living heart, and carried it with the reverence and care that seemed fitting to that, next to my own, and I realized that if I unwound this thread, anywhere, let’s say tomorrow, or the day after that, or a year after that even, the energy that I had wound with the motion of my body onto that birch twig, would be there and join the points of that new story back to that stone (and my questions of it) and the church and the well. The line was a journey, that I could now carry anywhere, and have to unwind and walk. Whatever that stone is at the cloister, it’s power came from a sense of devotion not far from that. Is poetry anything else? Well, I don’t think so anymore. Now the bobbin sits on my kitchen windowsill (I thought Mary might like the warmth of the hearth) …

woolwindow… (and the steam from my potatoes), waiting for me to think some more, in this fashion of thinking that is not done with words but with the body and in the world. Poetry had its roots there. I have learned here that it has not left them. For me, that stone is not the same.