Tag Archives: ravens

The Tangled Relationship of Humans and Ravens

Humans, it is commonly said, live on Earth and ravens in the air. Not so in Iceland. Look below.

Humans: Hjarðaból

See that? The humans have a nice farm with lots of light and air, although they walk about on the land like old rocks. The ravens, though, who fly through the air with the greatest of flashiness, have a home deep in a dark, opened crack of the earth, where they hunker down. See it there? If not, I’ve highlighted it below.

Ravens: Stekkalækur

Humans and ravens: the perfect pair. Just ask Oðin.


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.

Thought and Memory on the Black Road

When the god Oðin plucked out an eye to receive all the wisdom in the world, he received two ravens: Thought and Memory.p1310979

Here they are in Kerlingardalur, thinking and remembering. What else is consciousness?



Well, yes, ice, but that comes from beyond the world. That is unconsciousness. That is what you need thought and memory for, lest they have you.


That’s the way of the black road.

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.


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:


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)…


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 …


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 …


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 …


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 …


Pride of the Flock

At any rate, they are beautiful sheep …

trollsheep5… with a faithful shepherd …


… 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.


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 …


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


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


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 …


… 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) …


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) …


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


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

P1470474Killing Fields or What

… carefully …

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


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


… 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…


… 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 …


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 …


… 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.


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.