I’m still here… after a half-year hiatus and silence around my person, I say I’m still here. Loki said something quite similar to me during my one week stay in Iceland last month (June). Iceland, the country He’s been warmly recommending I visit for years; the country that always went along a feeling of belonging from Him, whenever it came up in our encounters — as a thought, an idea, a feeling.
This trip to Iceland has been a long time coming, and has been tangibly in planning (with dates and all that) for somewhat around a year. Little did I know then that the dates in question would fall in the midst of my greatest crisis since we, He and I, met over four years ago. I almost decided not to go.
But then I couldn’t be here to tell the story, to say the least… especially considering how this trip to Iceland became that much of a catalyst for my relationship with my most Beloved God.
Dimmuborgir: the Dark Cities
I travelled with a friend of mine, from my former home town… and it was she who mentioned the word “Dimmuborgir” in passing while we were planning our travels. As a possible day-trip destination. My friend forgot about mentioning it soon after, or at least it didn’t stick with her as anything important. Quite to the contrary, all my own bells startet chiming at once, and although we’d only fix our travel destination much later — semi-coincidentally within a few hours’ driving distance — I simply knew: that’s where I need to go.
Dimmuborgir, that’s a scenery of lava formations as far as you can see, towering, shattered, brittle, jagged black sculptures that give credit to their name. In between, there’s an ocean of low-growing birch trees, the ground is covered with blueberry shrubs and moss of colours between white-ish yellow, green and reddish. Here and there, flowers grow in pillow-like little cushions. And Dimmuborgir, that’s an immediate and immense feeling of familiarity with the quirks, associations, the indomitable, un-quelled energies this place evokes for me. Not a quiet place, but one that is riddled with contradiction, whose very invitation is full of unspoken warning, yet even in its incongruity is still deeply felt as what it is: an invitation.
My friend, a highly spiritual Catholic, reacted very differently to this place: she too sensed the great power it holds, however to her it felt foreign — not “bad”, but unfamiliar.
What I Found, or: You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me, Right?
The Dimmuborgir are rather well-visited by tourists, especially the area near the parking space. In that area, there are two main attractions: a lava gateway through which you pass going towards the huge ash crater Hverfell, and a formation called “Kirkja”, church, due to its shape.
Somewhere between these must-see points, within the oversaturated, well-developed tourist-y area, you can climb an uneven stairway path, up to another, smaller lava formation that gets lively visits, if not much real attention. Once there, you stand in the opening of a cave. It’s not particularly large, nor particularly deep, nor anything particularly spectacular at all.
There were two children around me, who had climbed the stairs without their parents. “What do you see?” one parent shouted up from the bottom in English, and the child answered, “nothing really, just a metal bowl or something.”
I only registered the dialogue remotely, since I was busy standing there, gaping and not quite believing my own eyes. There, in the cave, at the… head, if you will, was a cast-iron bowl that just looked at me. You’re here, then, it seemed to say, to me personally. And: you have a task, remember? Me, a worshipper of Loki for several years, a friend, a sometimes-agent, a carer, a woman of Loki’s, one who has met Loki, there, in that cave, more than once — I run into a random place I know nothing about, in a foreign country, and I find: a cave with a bowl inside.
My friend meanwhile didn’t like the hustle of visitors there, so when I return, she’s already waiting for me at the bottom of the path. She’s talking about the place, Dimmuborgir, and how it feels to her (strong, alien, powerful, agitated). “Have you seen what is in the cave?” I ask her. Her (paraphrased) answer: “No… too many people. The kid said something about a bowl– oh.”
(By the way this friend is one of the few people who know a lot about what connects Loki and me, and who also knows her way around the mythology — it helps when things happen)
Today, I still don’t know why that bowl is inside that cave, who put it there and to what purpose. I only know it was there when I was there. And that suddenly I saw a whole lot more clearly why that place is the way it is. And why it seemed familiar as soon as I set foot in it.
Sacrifice and a Hike Through the Jaggedness
The first thing that happens, as we get going, away from the Japanese tourists with their cameras, fabric parasols and net lace skirts over leggings, is this: the place demands a blood offering of me. My hand catches on some ledge, and I’m bleeding a bit (it’s the same finger on which I wear a certain ring). I’m not worried, I feel a bit unreal, a bit fey.
I know suddenly — Loki tells me — this isn’t that place, but it is one of those places. There are more, but I don’t know where.
And I may know, rationally, that the Dimmuborgir were shaped by water being entrapped in a lava tunnel that later collapsed… but who looks at that landscape, with my background, seeing the landscape, how lava chunks are wedged into each other, how ragged everything looks: you cannot help but see earthquakes shaping the scenery.
My friend and I do the forbidden thing, we go off the official path and into the cliffs. It isn’t hostile, she says while we’re scrambling around, but somehow it isn’t inviting either.
It’s dangerous, I answer her — another one of those inspirations. “It’s dangerous and not quite sane, even if He’s well-disposed towards you” (I didn’t realise I switched the pronouns, my friend told me later). You can feel this energy when you’re hiking off-trail: unpredictability. Some chunks of lava look as if you can put weight on them, but wobble as soon as you try. Climbing those lava cliffs is looking much like an obstacle course, a test of skill and attention.
The place is like it is, because it is what it is.
I feel its familiarity, and also the familiarity of its innate danger. We haven’t seen the official trail for a long time. It’s easy to lose orientation: there is no direct way between any two points. Where you presume passable ground, suddenly abrupt chasms open, forcing you to take a detour… and that, too, is full of bends and turns. It’s quite possible to get lost here — the thought suddenly occurs to me: at least it won’t get dark.
And then I’m suddenly alone, my friend having chosen another direction. My sense of orientation tells me where, approximately, the official hiking trail should be. For a while, I just climb around the lava cliffs.
The birch trees remind me of Laufey. She loves Her son very much.
Then, at some point, I’m at a cliff, its edge between me and the trail. I could loop around it, but now that I’m alone with this place, I feel that I’m not allowed to do that. So, climbing it is… somewhere not too far off, I hear my friend. I can’t keep my knapsack on, so I throw it down — there’s nothing in it that can break. Then, me. Across sharp-edged formations, to a narrow ledge. The cliff plunges quite a bit — not life-threateningly deep, but deep enough to break some bones in an awkward landing. A little dangerous, but underneath that, there’s still the place’s familiarity, in all its aspects. My descent is slow, but I’m not pressed for time. I don’t need to leave, I simply leave when I’m let go.
Having reached the bottom, there’s a climb back up the opposite side… this time with the knapsack, but still with all the attention needed. The place seems to pull at me, seems not to quite want to let me leave, but in the end I reach the other side. The trail is close by, only a couple of metres.
Later, my friend asks me if I think it’s a coincidence that the cave is in the middle of the tourist-y business. I don’t think so. Because even if I know Loki best when He’s lonely, I know one thing: He likes humans. Even then, He still likes humans.