research, Writing

Icelandic Waterfalls Part 2

I visited Iceland in September 2019 as part of my writing research for novel-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming. Part of my Icelandic experience was the National Museum of Iceland, riding tour outside Reykjavik on the iconic Icelandic horse, exploring glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lakes which influenced the Viking and Icelandic culture.


Gljúfurárfoss

Gljúfurárfoss is also known as its translation “dweller in the cave” referring to the large boulder that blocks the front of the waterfall, almost enclosing the waterfall itself and making it accessible only by the narrow cleft in the rock and by crossing the rivulet.

A large basalt boulder encloses most of the waterfall, leaving the freezing water of the Gljúfurá river as the only entrance and exit to the cavern and Gljúfurárfoss itself. The stepping stones are difficult to navigate but provide a narrow path along the edge of the slick and uneven cliff walls to where the cavern expands at the base of the waterfall.

Gljúfurárfoss drops from the height of 60m to the cavern floor. Another large basalt rock is positioned directly adjacent to the base of the waterfall. The cavern is freezing where the icy spray cascades from the waterfall and is trapped within the rock confines of the cave.

The view of Gljúfurárfoss where the Gljúfurá river cascades over the edge of the cliff, the rock surface covered in the dense moss and lichen. The Gljúfurá river has its source in the Tröllagil (Troll Gorge) as a spring-fed river before it passes through a marsh and along the northern edge of a lava field formed by Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

The moss and lichen covered rock surfaces of the upper part of the cavern and a view of the boulder (called Franskanef) that is suspended above the waterfall, hiding it from view on the outside and giving it the cave-like appearance.


Foss á Síðu Waterfall

Foss á Síðu is a small waterfall located in southeastern Iceland not far from the Ring Road, located between the larger settlements of Vik and Hof.

The river Fossá drops from a height of 30m over the basalt cliffs before continuing toward the Atlantic Ocean. At the foot of the Foss á Síðu waterfall is a farm inhabited since the 9th century and associated with local folklore legend of a curse, a ghost dog named Móri who cursed the family living on the farm (which is actually called Foss á Síðu), thereby cursing the family for nine generations.

Foss á Síðu is also the location of another Icelandic folklore. Located opposite the waterfall are basalt boulders called Dverghamrar or ‘dwarf rocks’ are believed to be the dwelling place of some of the ‘Hidden People’ of Icelandic folklore.


Seljlandsáfoss

Seljlandsáfoss is located 750m from the Ring Road in southern Iceland and only 29 km east from the popular Skogafoss waterfall. One of the most iconic Icelandic waterfalls, a deep pool of water at the base and sheltered space behind the waterfall itself provides a unique experience.

Seljlandsáfoss cascades over the ancient sea cliffs, falling from a height of 65m into a deep pool of water at the base of the waterfall called Kerið or Fosske.

A large cavernous space behind the waterfall provides some shelter from the drenching spray and allows some magnificent photography.

Seljlandsáfoss has its source in the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and during the warmer months, the glacial melt swells the Seljalandsa river, making Seljlandsáfoss one of the more powerful Icelandic waterfalls.

research, Writing

Icelandic Waterfalls Part 1

I visited Iceland in September 2019 as part of my writing research for novel-in-progress Ragnarok Dreaming. Part of my Icelandic experience was the National Museum of Iceland, riding tour outside Reykjavik on the iconic Icelandic horse, exploring glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lakes which influenced the Viking and Icelandic culture.


Írárfoss (Irish River Waterfalls)

The Írárfoss waterfalls are located in southeastern Iceland, where the river Írár flows from its source in the nearby Eyjafjallajökull glacier. The largest of three waterfalls from the Írár river, the Írárfoss waterfall is not considered among the more famous of southeast Iceland’s waterfalls with the larger and more spectacular Seljlandsáfoss waterfall located 10km west of Írárfoss.

As with many of the waterfalls in Iceland’s southeast, the source of the main rivers lie higher in the glaciers in the surrounding volcanic mountains. The rivers descend into the lowlands below via waterfalls, where rivulets and brooks are numerous throughout the lush meadows.

These glaciers and volcanic landscapes are also responsible for the black basalt rock that lifts above the lowlands meadows which are often suited for grazing horses and sheep.


Skógafoss Waterfall

Skogafoss waterfall is one of the most visited waterfalls in southern Iceland and is easily accessible just 500m from the Ring Road. Located 6km from Selfoss waterfall, the Skogafoss is one of the most powerful and impressive waterfalls in southern Iceland.

The Skogafoss is also associated with a legend of buried treasure by a Viking Age sorcerer, Þrasi Þórólfsson, who was responsible for directing the flow of two rivers during a great flood which is also associated with the volcanic eruption of in the Mýrdalsjökull Caldera. The legend of the artefact known as Þrasi’s ring is believed to be part of the treasure buried behind Skogafoss waterfall.

I was fascinated by these stone formations protruding from the front of Skogafoss. These reminded me of the Icelandic folklore about the trolls who become stone if caught by sunlight. These oddly shaped, moss and lichen covered rocks somehow seemed like figures to me, sitting beside the waterfall in the castoff from the spray.

Skogafoss is only 62m high and 32m wide but the strength of the waterfall is impressive with the view from above as waters plunge dramatically over the mossy edge, the rising spray and circling sea birds adds a drama to the small but powerful waterfall.

The view from the top of Skogafoss waterfall, the hiking track continues toward Þórsmörk, following the river Skogar upstream between the two glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull and past numerous lesser waterfalls.

A view from the top of Skogafoss waterfall of the opposing cliffs overlooking the lowlands and the abundant farmlands that now occupying the fertile meadows where the sea once was. In the distance, the current shore of the sea is just visible, now located about 5 km from Skogafoss waterfall.

The vista from the top of Skogafoss of the lowlands and a distant remnant of the former sea cliffs that is now an isolated promontory in the middle of the lowlands.

The view opposite Skogafoss waterfall shows natural and untamed landscape with the cliffs consumed by passing low cloud as the autumn storms pass out to sea.

The cliffs surrounding Skogafoss are rugged and formed into striking rocky pinnacles and natural stone formations reminiscent of fantastic landscapes.

After the Skogafoss waterfall, the river Skogar continues to flow across the rich black sand beach at the base of the waterfall and out through the lowlands toward the sea.

Skógafoss waterfall is now located less than 5km from the sea but the black sand coastline has receded over time, with these former sea cliffs now isolated promontories rising above the lowlands.

The river Sokogar forms into many rivulets with the lowlands covered in black pebbles and black sand, the remnants from previous volcanic eruptions and the annual glacial melt. These natural changes to Icelandic landscape are visible on such a massive scale throughout southern Iceland and are some of the most memorable landscapes I’ve ever seen.

research

Iceland: National History Museum

In September 2019, I visited the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik. While in Iceland, I visited many of the wonderful major natural landmarks in the National Parks in the southern Iceland. You can read about my experiences riding Icelandic horses, exploring waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers, an iceberg lake and black sand beaches.


The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik is situated on a slight hill, overlooking pleasant gardens, walking pathways and a feature lake against the city centre. On the opposite hill is the imposing white form of Hallgrímskirkja, the iconic Lutheran parish church of Reykjavik.


One of the most iconic figures of Viking Age and Icelandic archaeology is the tiny bronze statue of Thor known as the Eyrarland Statue recovered from farmland near Akureyri, Iceland in the 1850s. It is believed to depict a scene from the Prose Edda where Thor recovers Mjollnir during a wedding ceremony, seated with the customary Icelandic cross-shaped hammer between his knees.


Items recovered from Viking Age settlements show the lifestyle and intricate artisan work of jewellery makers from the Viking Age. The square-shaped box brooches worn by women to pin dresses, various designs for cloak pins, silver earrings and pendants plus beaded necklaces.


The weapons recovered from archaeological excavations in Iceland were from the Viking Age with weapons including long swords made from iron, spear heads, arrow head and shield boss, and a range of battle axe heads also made from iron. The two Viking Age battle swords are placed diagonally across the display and were recovered from graves in South Iceland.

A Viking Age sword blade with sword hilt inlaid with bronze recovered from excavations along with several spear heads.

A 19th century sword and several Viking Age axe heads, the larger two are 10th century battle axe heads recovered from South Iceland.


The items recovered from archaeological excavations from south Iceland in the Pjorsa Valley, where settlements were buried beneath constant pumice and ash fall after volcanic eruptions and depopulation of the entire was expected to have occurred. The archaeological evidence reveals the Pjorsa Valley was continually inhabited despite volcanic activity with the presence of settlements indicating it remained a key trading route connecting North and South Iceland from settlement until the 17th century. Archaeological finds recovered included trade goods, weapons, jewellery and household items.


The horse was incredibly important to Icelandic culture and archaeological excavations have recovered decorated bronze stirrups, elaborate cheek pieces for horse bridles, bits and items of harness.

An example of a bronze stirrup from a Viking Age saddle and an accurate replica showing the detailed engraving and metalwork.

A burial of a Viking Age warrior from Iceland buried on horseback with a battle long sword across his back, the remnants of wooden scabbard still covering the blade. The burial also includes an axe-head, shield boss, arrows, coins and stones. The requirements of any man travelling into the unknown. The burial is continued into next image which includes the remains the warrior’s horse.

The burial of the mounted warrior was impossible to capture in a single image. The horse burial indicates that this was an Icelandic horse, the same breed as the only native horse in Iceland today. Connections between of the burial and the importance of the horse in Viking Age culture are obvious, everyday life relied on horses for battle, transport and labour. There are also reminders between a warrior’s death in battle and the female spirits of Norse myth, the Valkyries, who collected the worthy dead on the battlefield to feast with Odin in Valhalla.


Another of the burials in the Museum is this one possibly of a missionary with numerous grave items including the clam shells common among religious missionaries and monks that travelled throughout Europe and into Iceland.


One of the strongest themes in Viking lifestyle was the connection of each man and woman to the Fate laid out by the gods. Of course, the gods were answerable to their own pre-determined fate and the Norns were the beings responsible for weaving the futures of men and gods alike. The classic description of the Norns weaving is the loom where entrails are used instead of yarn and the scissors that cut the red thread from the weaving are cutting life from the tapestry. The weavers, the three Norns are the mysterious and revered figures that tend for Yggdrasil and seem answerable to none but themselves.


Weaving was an important part of common Viking Age liftsyle with the necessity to keep protected from the harsh climate and landscape encouraging the herding and shearing of the flocks of sheep. These sheep eventually became native to Iceland like the horse and their sturdy forms provided meat, dairy and wool for the Vikings. It allowed products such as mittens and wool-lined boots to be created on the looms.


The traditional farm and household implements from Viking Age settlements were simple equipment not much different from Iron Age settlements with tools for ploughing fields, constructing turf houses, various grinding stones for preparing grain before baking, bronze house keys and cooking implements.


The classic image of Vikings displays them as uncouth and unclean but there are many examples of the importance good personal appearance and cleanliness had for Viking culture. The stories of the uncivilised Vikings was obviously a matter of perspective from the opposing side and probably also a good deal propaganda. Skilled craftsmanship is clear is the elaborately carved bone drinking horns.


Viking Age bone hair combs, beaded bracelets and arm bands.


Viking Age culture includes the adaptation of many technologies recovered from Viking raids. The influences of the Irish Celtic culture on Iceland are several such indicators where papar appears in connection with the Irish monasteries. Dozens of copies remain of The Old Covenant, a legal document detailing how Iceland was subject to Norwegian rule, the Norwegian Logretta would administer justice for disputes giving its rulings on a regular basis.

A sheet of restored parchment from a copy of Jonsbok, the first written legal code for Iceland dated prior to the 14th century. The code includes segments of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth approved in 1241 and the includes Iceland falling beneath the Norwegian Logretta, the rule and judgement of the law courts and king of Norway.


A copy of the Book of Icelanders dated to 1681. The original was first written by Ari the Wise in 1130 AD and provided the first written history of the Iceland from discovery to settlement.


Trade was an essential part of Viking culture and the Icelanders were no different. The early settlements of Iceland were founded on trade between different settlements and when required, warfare between them. The hoarding of silver and gold was common in times of war or uncertainty to protect valuables from being stolen by the opposing force. The silver hoard includes gold coins and in the upper section of the display, an example of the scales used in trade to price valuable objects against pre-defined weights that many Vikings carried with them.


An example of different small carvings from the Viking Age on the upper left and right images which may have also been used as game pieces.

In 1000 AD King Olaf of Norway began pressuring those settlements under the control of Norway to become Christian. In response, Iceland did so without bloodshed through a meeting of the Alþingi, a gathering of Icelandic chieftains which is recognised today as Icelandic Parliament. The Alþingi decided to adopt Christianity and despite the formal declaration to worship as Christians, only a few Icelandic Chieftains were actually baptised. Many ornaments, jewellery and artwork indicate a combination of pagan and Christian beliefs were retained well into the 18th century in Iceland. The silver 10th century cruciform pendants indicate the blending of Christian and pagan motifs.

Viking Age traders used pre-defined weights to determine the value of trading items. Goods were priced according to weight and these stones with bronze inlay indicate a set of specific weights for trading purposes.

An example of 17th to 18th century crupper bosses from horse harness which were engraved with prayers and charms to protect the horse during battle.

Writing

Latest: Ragnarok Dreaming

I am very pleased to announce my current work-in-progress fantasy novel, Ragnarok Dreaming is very nearing the finishing line. I have just finished writing the third Part of the novel, the draft has already expanded beyond my anticipated length with the new word count expected to be around 130,000 words. Of course, there’s a lot editing to do on later drafts yet! I‘m ready to begin writing Part 4 in the coming week and can’t wait to finish this incredible writing journey that has taken me literally from Australia to Iceland. Keep watch for more updates as the final pieces of this story fall into place!

research

Australian Tawny Frogmouth Folklore

The tawny frogmouth is a species of nocturnal bird native to much of Australia. It is well known in Australian landscapes for the staring red-gold eyes, the camouflage resembling a branch or broken tree stump and it’s seemingly unworried response to human presence.

I was walking in the early morning at a pine forest near where I live and was fortunate enough to spot a tawny frogmouth camouflaged against a pine tree trunk.

Although the tawny frogmouth is often considered like an owl, it is more related to a nightjar but many Australian nocturnal birds share similar symbolic roles in indigenous fables and folklore.

Among the indigenous cultures of the Noongar from Western Australia, the nocturnal birds like the tawny frogmouth and owls were associated with the shamanic powers of the ‘clever men’ and the opposing dangerous forces of night:

Traditionally associated with the dark totem, the owl was believed to be a totemic familiar of the ‘boylya-man’ or sorcerer (”clever man”) and the darkness of night was perceived as a dangerous time when ghosts and supernatural spirits were ever-present.

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

The shamanic healers of many different indigenous Australia nations and cultures are sometimes known ‘clever men’ and in the Noongar cultures of Western Australia, the clever men were sometimes associated with the nocturnal birds to protect their tribe:

It is not uncommon to hear stories of how certain bulya or ‘clever’ men were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into a night bird such as the owl or mopoke and under this guise were able to watch over and ‘police’ campsites at night time to ensure that the inhabitants were safe from intruders, and also to act as a deterrent against young men becoming involved in sexual transgressions prior to initiation, or breaking the incest taboo. Culturally, the owl may be viewed as an agent of social control in that it is able to fly silently throughout the night, and aided by its powerful, penetrating night vision, is able to watch over people’s night time activities and then report back to the ‘clever man’ to whom it is considered a type of “familiar spirit’

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

research

Iceland’s Yule Trolls

In Icelandic tradition, the Yule lads are thirteen trolls who arrive one at a time on each of the 13 days before Christmas and depart in the order they arrived, on the days after Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the troll witch Gryla leaves the mountains to seek any children who had been ill-behaved or were without the protection of their parents, taking them back to the mountains where she cooks them into a stew for her lazy husband.


The thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads are described with the acts they are infamously known for tormenting human communities. More can be found at the Smithsonian Magazine here


Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb  Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland


Since 1746, the Yule trolls became less scary and presented as more mischievous, trickster characters who were depicted as jolly Santa Claus-like figures who left gifts for the well-behaved children and potatoes for the ill-behaved ones. The Yule trolls as they had been described in early traditions and folktales described them as emaciated and clothed in rags. There is a current movement in Iceland to return the Yule Lads to their original descriptions and depictions as the vagabond and desperate orphans accompanying Gryla.

research

Iceland’s Monstrous Yule Cat


In Iceland, the Yule Cat, Jólakötturin, is a traditional monstrous figure that purportedly prowls the countryside on Christmas Eve devouring those who did not receive new clothing items for Christmas.

There are many debates over the origins of the Yule Cat in Icelandic tradition which does not appear to be mentioned in written form before the 19th century, however, some Icelandic traditions state new clothes are a reward for children who complete chores on time by Christmas Eve. The truth about the origins of Jólakötturin is probably complex and for whatever reason, does not appear openly in historical texts.


In modern Reykjavik, an illuminated sculpture of Jólakötturin has recently been established in honor of the Yule Cat tradition in Iceland.

research

Spain: Royal Palace of Madrid

In late August 2019, I visited Madrid, the capital city of Spain. Although Spain still has a royal family, the Royal Palace of Madrid is no longer occupied by the Spanish royal family and is open to the public on most days. You can read more here about my visit to the Spanish capital and the interesting history I learned while exploring Madrid.


Part of my visit to Madrid was to see the Real Palacio de la Madrid, built on the foundations of the Alcazar of Madrid, a medieval fortress, expanded into the massive royal palace, the residential palace of the Spanish royal family but now only used for administrative purposes.


Across from the royal palace, a short walk through the impressive golden gates is the beautiful Cathedral of La Almudena which stands opposite the royal residence separated by the wide ceremonial courtyard of the palace and above the plateau and sprawling gardens below. From the arched balconies of the main courtyard, the palace overlooks the royal woodlands and the expanse of gardens below.


During my visit to the palace, I was particularly interested in the museum collections of the Real Armeria de Madrid, an impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance weaponry and armor. The collection contains many original pieces from the Spanish royal family, collected over the generations including detailed displays of armory and weaponry throughout the late Medieval and Renaissance periods and into the late 19th century. In the lower floor of the Royal Armory are the historical parade armor worn by various kings and princes of the royal family, including pieces commissioned by Queen Isabel I of Castille including her own parade armor and that of her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, both historically remembered for her campaign to unite southern Spain under Catholic rule, ending the last Islamic dynasty in Spain with the fall of Granada and the expulsion and persecution of non-Catholics in Spain.

Short Stories, stories

Taurus, the Zodiac & Mesopotamian Myth

Ancient history and mythology have always been favorite topics for me. Recently, I found an interesting article on newly discovered sections of ancient Mesopotamian poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, detailing the legendary feats of a historical king. The Epic of Gilgamesh was inscribed on cuneiform tablets which continue to baffle scholars as to the purpose of why these clay tablets are so small.I was interested in the mythology behind the zodiac, the legends behind creation of constellations rather than modern interpretations of astrology and divination. The constellation we know as Taurus, existed in the ancient Mesopotamian cultures and was also represented and embodied by a bull. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the formation of the constellation the ancient Greeks later called Taurus, is described as a battle between the hero Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven, a destructive bull sent to avenge the goddess Ishtar after the wrongs committed by Gilgamesh. I wrote a speculative fiction story in a contemporary setting incorporating the Bull of Heaven based on Ishtar’s vengeance against Gilgamesh. I have added the destructive environmental effects caused by the Bull of Heaven and alluded to in The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Short Stories, stories

Haunting, Horror & Shadows

I have always been inspired and drawn to the very dark Gothic-style horror of the Victorian era, where classic works like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Turn of the Screw combine with the dark tales by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft influencing generations of horror writers. To those classic works, I often include the eerie descriptions of landscape and physical surroundings from Victorian era poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and William Butler Yeats which evoke supernatural atmospheres based on physical surrounding as much as characters.
From similar thematic foundations, I wanted to write a modern horror story about hauntings, where the surroundings were as much a haunting as the ghost itself. I was interested in a manifested haunting, a demonic shadowy being, feeding on the vulnerable, where an increase in societal despair, drug addiction, homelessness and suicides are the traces of the demon’s presence. I was interested in using a contemporary Australian setting, choosing the wintry city streets of Melbourne and a ghost caught in “limbo” between the veil of life and death.