I keep in mind sitting on the sting of the playground as a toddler and brushing via clean river stones for the one that might let me see the Neighbors. I knew simply what it will appear to be – rectangular and virtually flat, like a thick coin, with a round gap worn via the middle. It might be mild sufficient that I might hold it from a sequence round my neck, and heavy sufficient that once I put it to my eye there can be a satisfying weight to its cool floor as I appeared via. On the opposite aspect can be a world like mine, however augmented with the ethereal mountain males of Yeats and the markets of Rossetti. That stone can be the factor that opened the gate to magic. And so I sifted by way of rocks that I deemed much less enchanted, looking for the pendant that may mark me as particular.
There’s in all probability a metaphor right here, or on the very least a lesson. The very fact is that by the point I discovered such a stone, a decade later and on one other continent, I not knew what to do with it. I nonetheless thrilled at choosing it up, peering via its egglike form on the seashore on the opposite aspect, however I knew it might be no totally different than Brighton I noticed on this aspect of the stone. By then I had lengthy since come to the belief that I might by no means see my Neighbors.
This, in response to the tales I had learn since childhood, was altogether the popular means of issues. Yeats described the Good Neighbors as amoral beings at greatest, unusual and demanding shapes whose look heralds a troublesome and certain harmful process forward, one thing that would simply change a life for the more severe. I had sufficient of these in my religious life already.
Once I joined the Pagan group, with its tales of home hobs and small spirits, I consoled myself with the thought that I used to be lots busy sufficient. Apart from, listening to somebody speak about inviting the Gentry into their residence put me in thoughts of safety rackets, providing food and drinks in order that the locals didn’t slash any tires. Actually, I figured, I used to be hardly lacking out.
Simply because I had by no means encountered the Good People didn’t imply that I didn’t consider in them. They have been too properly attested, too completely ensconced in my understanding of magic, for that to be a problem. They did puzzle me, although, in a taxonomical method that, fittingly, evaporated each time I attempted to take a look at it instantly. Rising up, I had discovered that these beings have been angels that had fallen from heaven however had not been fairly dangerous sufficient to descend completely into hell. Once I left Christianity, my paradigm had no extra room to make sense of such ethical absolutism, and so the Blessed People not had a narrative that made sense to me. I used to be not even positive if the small spirits that my pals had of their houses could possibly be classed in the identical class because the Truthful People I examine, or in the event that they have been a unique type of religious fauna native to the streets of the Midwest. I didn’t know what to think about them.
What I knew, and what I used to be advised by each elder who I consulted when planning my journey, was that the comparable beings in Iceland would clear me off the map with out considering twice about it, probably via the aspect of a mountain. “Take choices,” I used to be advised by one good friend. “Be well mannered, and thank them for letting you go to.”
“Don’t say a phrase, don’t make eye contact, and depart quietly,” stated one other. “The landwights there have a historical past of defending their land from overseas witches. Greatest to not appeal to consideration.” This appeared like superb recommendation, contemplating my circumstances: every week in another country, driving on roads nicely outdoors of my talent degree, and with cell reception that promised to be spotty at greatest, was already sounding lower than sensible. I had little interest in incomes the ire of the locals, whoever they may be.
As I did my analysis, I discovered there definitely appeared to be loads of native spirits to select from. The most important contingent in Iceland appeared to be the landvaettir, or nature spirits – each the 4 that seem in Iceland’s coat of arms and the myriad others that animate Iceland’s wild and diversified panorama. These have been totally different from the huldufólk, or hidden individuals, with their high quality garments and their houses within the giant stones of the panorama. These people sounded probably the most just like the tales of the Good Neighbors to me. Then there have been additionally the spirits of people who nonetheless resided of their graves, as what I understood to be a kind of localized ancestor – not fairly the identical because the huldufólk, however not fairly totally different.
As I learn, every of the kinds of spirit appeared to be distinct, with its personal algorithm. Or else they have been totally different names for a similar factor. Or else the teams pale into one another across the edges in indefinable and unclear methods. After including within the jötun and the trolls, I felt somewhat like I used to be signing up for every week in a densely populated land whose strict guidelines of politeness had been handed right down to me by way of a blurry handwritten manuscript that I had solely seen as soon as. I used to be positive to piss somebody off, one way or the other. (At the very least most sources appeared to agree trolls have been not a lot of an issue.)
I had solely angered the Good Neighbors as soon as that I knew of. A yr earlier than, I had pushed with my associates for six hours to a small Pagan campground in Missouri. There, on unusual however pleasant land, we had constructed a fireplace and toasted to our gods in good religion. However I had not introduced any presents for the locals aside from the money I had given the person on the gate. Our ritual went superbly. The morning after, we woke in shambles. One pal was so dehydrated that they might hardly transfer, fingers frozen into claws that took hours to develop into arms once more. My glasses have been gone, by no means to be discovered. We spent the morning pulling ourselves collectively, making an attempt to organize for an extended experience residence. Presents, we had determined afterwards, have been non-negotiable.
Once I was packing up my luggage for Reykjavik, I crammed my pockets with stones: a bag of small ones, polished till they shone, as choices for any spirits I might occur to satisfy alongside the best way; 4 giant ones, chosen rigorously and wrapped as presents for the landvaettir, to be left on the cardinal-most factors of my journey; two that, collectively, made the guts of my touring altar; and one, much more plain than the others, with a gap that ran the size of it, large enough to look by means of.
I left the small ones in small locations on my journey. One I left on the coronary heart of a cemetery, for the guardian who had been the primary buried on the land. One other I left on a wall close to the church in Þingvellir. Once I turned my again on it, hidden within the moss, I heard a voice say “thanks” clearly, in barely accented English. I didn’t flip to scan the gang.
I left the massive ones within the east, within the south, and within the west – and one within the north, as far north as I traveled. That was Skagastrond, a city nicely off the primary street that I had chosen to go to as a result of it was the house of Spakonuhof, a spot translated in all the English literature because the “Icelandic Museum of Prophecies.” I had chosen it from an inventory of Iceland’s museums, with no actual concept of what it was or how troublesome it may be to get there. Once I drove into city, nicely previous the top of the vacationer season, I’ve little question that I used to be the one stranger for miles.
Spakonuhof was an extended metallic constructing on the primary street, the one clearly public area apart from the fuel station. It was additionally completely closed, with a telephone quantity taped to the door on brightly coloured paper. Not more than I ought to have anticipated, I supposed, however I dialed the quantity anyway, simply because it appeared like an extended option to come with out a minimum of making an attempt my patchy sign.
Ten minutes later, a lady biked up and nodded to me. She may need been anyplace between forty and seventy – I’ve by no means been good at guessing age – and she or he was businesslike as she seemed me over. “You’ve come to listen to about Thordis?” she requested, the keys for the constructing dangling from one hand.
I didn’t hesitate. “Sure ma’am.”
She nodded once more. “Are available,” she stated, and led me into the constructing. I stood within the present store, analyzing the knucklebones of sheep, as she turned the lights on and began the small electrical hearth within the bigger room past. It burned on the ft of a waxwork lady, sporting the on a regular basis garb that I had come to affiliate with spaekona, the ladies who appeared within the sagas as priestesses or witches, the prophetesses of Iceland’s historic faith.
I had seemed into Thordis’ eyes as soon as already on this journey, within the Saga Museum, however I had not anticipated to seek out her once more right here. She is a well-known determine in sure circles – one of many recurring characters within the Icelandic sagas that’s virtually definitely based mostly in historical past. This model of her was much less skillfully achieved than the model within the Saga Museum, however she appeared extra highly effective, standing on the peak of her story by a turf home that needed to be her house. It was the one factor within the museum, actually, or definitely the spotlight, the centerpiece of the constructing. I waited, taking a look at her, till my hostess returned to me, took my entry charge, and led me over to Thordis.
The tales she informed me are, in some ways, not mine to inform once more. Most of them could be discovered within the sagas, and within the illustrations that circled that room. What I discovered was that this city was Thordis’ house, the place she lived as a pacesetter and one of many final practitioners of a faith that was slowly being overtaken by Christianity. It was additionally the place she died, by the hands of a priest, on the mountain overlooking city that also bears her identify.
My reminiscence won’t inform me whether or not the phrases my host used have been, “Thordis continues to be on the mountain,” or “Thordis is the mountain.” I don’t assume it issues. These phrases got here with me in each types as I left the lengthy, low constructing and obtained into my automotive.
It was late afternoon by that time, too late to drive into the closest metropolis or to aim the hike up the aspect of the mountain itself, however on the fringe of city there was one other path. It led up alongside a hill and into the cliffs overlooking the ocean. This was the place my hostess had advised me an organization had carved too far into the rock, after which the huldufólk had left and brought the fish with them. I climbed that path with stones in my pockets. One for my providing to the land, at this northernmost level on this journey; I left it on a cliff amongst a slew of others. One for Thordis, this witch from the previous who had stood amongst heroes in her sagas. I left it within the grass, as I seemed out towards her mountain.
I appeared towards her by way of that final stone, because the solar started to set on us each. I noticed nothing however the mountain, inexperienced and flat-peaked, no form climbing it within the distance, no flash of sunshine between us. There was nothing to elucidate the sensation of calm and pleasure, the sunshine sense of amusement that broke by way of 4 days of fixed low nervousness. I used to be out of my depth, sure – however that night time, at the least, my neighbors have been as pretty because the land.
There’s in all probability one thing helpful to say, right here, about worry and the ways in which it may possibly blind us, or the eye-opening expertise of falling in love with a stranger. What I’ll say as an alternative is that this – now I stay in a home crammed with magical practitioners and frequented by a cohort of spirits whose historical past I might not presume to guess. I very seldom see my neighbors- however sometimes there’s somebody who stands within the entryway, darkish suited and measuring, guarding the inside door to the home. I solely ever look them out of the nook of my eye, and solely on days when my coronary heart is straightforward, my pockets empty.