Iceland, the land of ice and fire, is such an intriguing place on the surface and beneath it. A placed blessed with incredibly wild beauty, natural contrasts and dramatic landscapes, Iceland has a magnetic charm that is unconventional, unyielding and simply irresistible. For seeing its astonishing features in the best possible conditions, visit Iceland in the Summer. As intriguing as its scenic topography is, so interesting is its diverse cultural heritage that spans ages of existence. Their culture is imbued with legends that feature the Norse Pantheon Gods who were the protagonists of countless mythical tales that have reared generations, and fierce Viking warriors who roamed the seas and caused havoc in their wake. Resilience, fortitude and tenacity have characterised the Icelanders since the beginning of their civilisation, values which they proudly still uphold until this day, making sure that this is evident and readily available for visitors to get acquainted with.
NORSE MYTHOLOGY & VIKING HERITAGE
Norse Mythology is complex and absolutely intriguing. It goes beyond the Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology that both had their own set of Gods, although they have almost identical correspondence between them; for example Greece’s Aphrodite was the Roman Venus. Norse Mythology had assigned nine kingdoms or worlds in addition to their numerous Gods who represented human qualities as well as magical powers. The first world was Asgard where the Gods resided, and the ninth was the underworld, while all the in between were realms in which creatures of different classes belonged to. Among the kingdoms was Midgard, the fourth world which was the human dimension, as well as one assigned to ice and one to fire. The father of of the Norse Gods was Odin, revered for his omniscience. He is still celebrated today every Wednesday, referred to as Wodin (Odin’s Day). His son, Thor, is perhaps the most popular of the Norse Gods, the God of Thunder, also celebrated every Thursday while it is believed that during thunderstorms, he rides his celestial chariot across the skies. Loki, the intelligent trickster is the beloved anti-hero, adored for his duality between good and evil. Against popular opinion, Loki is not Odin’s son. His role was that of a troublemaker, looking for ways to demote and weaken the Gods, and prove that even they are not absolutely omnipotent, thus placing greater faith into the powers of human beings. For centuries, Icelanders and other Scandinavian peoples used this paganistic system of belief, resisting monotheism until 1000 A.D.
Between 800 and 1066 A.D, the North seas were terrorised by the crude, axe-wielding Vikings, who roamed the relentless swells with their longboats, plundering villages and raiding settlements, spreading their barbaric influence and way of life by force wherever they went. So visiting Iceland by cruise is perhaps the best way to share the same perspective as the notorious Viking warriors. This destructive period of time finally came to an end, as it was not sustainable and Christianity began to take over. The turning point for converting to the Christian faith was marked by the Pagan Lawspeaker, Thorgeir Thorkelsson, who threw his pagan idols into the Godafoss waterfall. Although paganism was officially abandoned, Icelandic folk culture glorified both the Mythological and Viking heritage, even enriching it with urban legends of sea and lake monsters as well as giants and elves. Iceland’s most famous historian, politician, poet, scholar and storyteller, Snorri Sturluson, has gone into great lengths to document as much of the fables as possible.
Icelandic ancient culture museums:
- In Reykjavik: - Saga Museum - The settlement exhibition
- In Reykholt: - Snorri Sturluson Museum
- In Bildudalur village: - Sea Monster Museum
- In Thingeyri village: - Viking Museum
TRADITIONAL FOLK, ARTS, CRAFTS & ICELANDIC LIVELIHOOD
Iceland has the highest literacy rate in the world. Knowing their Christmas Eve custom, this comes to no surprise. They have a long standing tradition to only gift books during Christmas Eve. Icelanders have been bibliophiles for centuries, giving great importance to maintaining the roots of their language. In fact, the Icelandic that is spoken today largely resembles the Old Norse; it is so unchanged that students are able to read ancient texts with little difficulty. Despite having fully adopted Christianity for over 1000 years now, it is not uncommon for Icelanders to believe in elves and fairy deities. They call them Huldufolk, known as the hidden people, and their whereabouts have hindered modern construction so as to not disturb their place of abode. There have also been various claims of sightings and, according to general consensus, such elves are closely linked to Iceland’s nature instead of being helpers of Santa as they are more commonly known throughout the rest of the world. Ghouls and goblins aside, Iceland’s tradition also revolves around the arts as Icelanders are a very creative bunch of people. They are adept in writing literature and poetry, acting, dancing, composing, all sorts of designing, painting, and sculpting as well as playing musical instruments, singing, knitting and weaving, and other ways of releasing their creative inspiration. Weaving and silversmithing have been popular crafts of Iceland. Weaving has developed into textile art and design, and there is Icelandic Textile Center in Blönduós town, dedicated to the research and development of the craft. Silversmithing pertains to the creation of silver objects, often jewelry, and since it has been a craft known since the Viking Age, there are a number of designs that reproduce the style of Viking jewelry. Another popular craft was of course boat building and wood carving that could be particularly intricate or frugal, depending on the purpose of the the design. The livelihood of Iceland has greatly relied on fishing to feed the population, so expect many fishing villages and picturesque harbours along the coast. Fisheries and related industries are extremely important to the local economy as not only do they employ a large amount of people, the yields sustain local people as well as being a main exporting good.
Icelandic contemporary culture points of interest:
- In Reykjavik: - The Culture House - Reykjavik Arts Festival - Reykjavik International Film Festival
- In Siglufjordur village: - Herring Museum - the Folk Music center
- In Isafjordur village: - Maritime & Heritage Museum