Northern Magic in Iceland
When it comes to writing about Iceland, a very popular adjective is “magical”. It applies to so many aspects of old and modern-day Iceland, from its enchanting landscapes to its mysterious folklore and the truly magical nightlife of the capital city Reykjavik. Read on for our take on the magical aspects of all things Icelandic.
Icelandic Magical Runes
First up on this list is of course the old Icelandic runes and staves of old and their magical abilities. An ancient alphabet used to conjure up good spirits and stave off bad ones, they hold a special place in the national psyche of Iceland. Bjork’s famous tattoo of the Vegvísir (Runic Compass) made these symbols all the more famous, although it’s technically not an old Viking rune. It originates from 17th century witchcraft and is meant to keep the wearer on track and prevent them from getting lost. A popular and famous old rune is the Ægishjálmur (Helm of Awe), a protective symbol meant to stave off evil forces and oppressive humans. The old runes are often fierce, potent and come with all kinds of brutal symbolism but most of them are simply beautiful and quite magical.
The Hidden People of Iceland
Ah yes, the most mysterious of all Iceland folklore (and that’s saying something). The hidden people are what Icelanders call elves, and they’re not far from Tolkien’s idea of elves. No wonder, since he was deeply inspired by Icelandic folklore. Icelandic hidden people are magical beings that belong to another dimension but live in our landscapes. They have magical abilities, are extremely dignified and everything they touch becomes beautiful and precious. They are for the most part benevolent, but they are not to be crossed and demand respect. Grassy mounds and boulders in the landscape are very often elf-homes (or churches if they’re very big and important-looking) and should be treated with respect. Kids are warned not to be to rowdy at these places and to respect the dwellings of the beings they cannot see. If nothing else, hidden people are a symbol for the natural forces of Iceland that can be incredibly giving and rewarding but demand respect and humility. While few Icelanders would admit to believing in the existence of hidden people, few would also flat out deny them. It’s one of those things that everybody knows but nobody ever talks about. There are, however, instances where official governmental agencies, such as our road authorities, have replanned road constructions around suspected elf-homes after a series of unexplained mishaps surrounding the moving of the boulder in question. Who are we to deny facts?
The Northern Magic of Reykjavik
The colorful rooftops, the weird fashion statements, the friendly cats, the dense greenery, the pop-up stores, futuristic galleries and the happy and happening nightlife, all surrounded with mountain ranges, the Atlantic Ocean and of course, the most magical glacier of them all: Snæfellsjökull. This is Reykjavik and we’re not afraid to call it magical. We highly recommend first-time visitors try to see as much of the country as possible, but if you only manage to squeeze in a weekend in Reykjavik, we’re fairly confident it will be a magical experience on its own.
The Magical Northern Lights
Northern lights are a truly magical phenomenon. These dancing lights of blue, purple, pink and green hues seem like a rip in the cosmos, a message from another world or 80’s sci-fi gone too far but they’re very much real and very much scientifically explained. Visitors often remark on having seen all the hyped-up pictures of northern lights in the sky above some crazy landscape in Iceland that seem so photoshopped (and often are) but are awestruck by their presence and witnessing them with their own eyes. What those pretty pictures can never fully deliver is that incredibly serene experience of standing in the pitch-black darkness in complete silence and watching what appears to be a silent but crazy laser show of neon colors seemingly happening just for you. The awe comes from having been fortunate enough to witness the random display and when they’re really dancing, we’re pretty certain that’s a memory that will stay with you for the rest of your life. For those that like to mix science with magic, just remember that the northern lights are electric particles traveling from our sun and hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. If that’s not a magical fact, we don’t know what is.
The Otherworldly Landscapes
Last but not least is Iceland’s most prominent feature: the extreme natural landscapes. Much like the northern lights they can all (nearly all) be scientifically explained but many of them defy all common sense and logic at first sight. The steam rising lazily from geothermal areas in winter, the fiery columns of a volcanic eruption, the pitch-black beaches lining the incredible rock formations that seem like intricate geometrical puzzle pieces, carefully engineered into the landscape, the incredibly vibrant colors and hues of the mountains, the light of the sun as it sets (or doesn’t actually set) for hours at a time and the indescribable color of the glacier tongues on the south shore that seem to be glowing a magical blue light from deep within.
When you visit, remember to keep an open mind and heart as well as eyes because Iceland really is a magical charmer.