After a month of intensifying seismic action, a volcano in Iceland is erupting for the first time since the 13th Century. Aside from the obvious impact upon people in proximity to Mt Fagradalsfjall, it will be hell on newsreaders and television journalists covering the event. Yes, it’s a change from Covid and the Icelandic light is famously flattering and dramatic.
It could be a career metamorphosis but they would need to swiftly swot up on Icelandic pronunciation so that they can toss off lines like “While the eruption of Mt Fagradalsfjall, is not expected to have as much fallout as Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, it’s possible that a fissure will erupt from the ‘Sundhnjúkagígaraðarinnar in Svartseng.”
This event has spooky-magical resonance. Iceland is the realm of trolls, elves, Seoir (A branch of Norse shamanism), epic poetry like Voluspa and Odin, the wandering god. They have cool concepts like ginnungagap – which means a primordial, magic-filled void.
Iceland’s Mountain Goddess
The national personification of Iceland is the Lady of the Mountain or Fjallkonen – a goddess figure not unlike the Norse deity Freya.
She is depicted with a crown of fire and ice, a raven at her side, holding a sword and rune stave.
Look deep enough and every culture connects mountains with elemental beings or deities. But in Iceland, nearly all the mountains are deemed goddesses. Above the border between two vast realms of crystallized molten rock* and with a direct channel down to (potentially) the core of the Earth, it’s the most seismically active place on the planet. Tectonic plates theory tries to explain why stone moves but it’s not yet proven. In such a land, supernatural inspo is never far away.
Iceland’s Foundation Is Fire Rock
The volcano Hekla, for example, is linked to Hel, the Norse underworld goddess. She’s not the villainess of Marvel movies or the torturous Christian Hell: the real Hel is more akin to Hekate. Even so the Icelandic Naming Bureau forbids its use as a first name. The Pagan Icelanders ‘became’ Christian in 999 and the old beliefs only really re-emerged out into the open last century.
In a move that would shock anyone with a sacred mountain mindset, the government and privatized power companies have been trying to control and harness the seismic activity to supply the aluminum industry. The process, which involves inducing earthquakes, has the unsurprising side-hazard of causing erratic seismic instability.
Mount Hekla Is Associated With The Norse Underworld Goddess Hel
“Every time the geologists try to change something, the Earth responds with increased seismic activity,” writes anthropologist James Maguire. He refers to the practice as Capitalocene.
If you live in a seismically active area, the Earth energy is particularly palpable. When Pluto was in Scorpio, I spent a year working at a ski resort on the slopes of an active volcano. It was later to become a movie star, playing Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.
In the off-season, the hills above our barracks-style staff quarters featured what looked like rivers of rubble contained within surreal, alien-style sculpture. It was actually pumice stones, obsidian and petrified lava. Note: Volcanic pumice is the ultimate foot smoother.
Nobody minded. Although the volcano didn’t explode until after I’d left, tremors were frequent and the mountain would vent hot steam in a ‘phraetic eruption.’ The hotel corporation owners ran dodgy drills in which we were told that if the eruption alarm went off, to gather on the golf course and on no account to try and push in front of the hotel guests to get into rescue helicopters.
The mountain, named Ruapehu, is a warrior god to the Maori people of the area and practically everyone who lived there personified him as a potent, wise, strong male. Even the most prosaic people would go on walks to ‘tell their problems to the mountain.’ His presence was real. I felt it as plutonic and was weirded out but delighted when I realized that, days before a mini-quake or venting, I would feel an intensified hum through my feet. I’ve been seismically aware ever since and I’m sure many of you are as well.
To stone belongs sweeping romances of scale, time, memorialization, creation, cataclysm, a restless tectonicity (from ‘tekton’ – a carpenter or builder). Stone speaks differently from its sibling elements of air, water and lightning-swift fire. Its injunction is always to step outof the breathless rapidity of antropocentic frames and touch a world possessed of long futurity and deep past, a spatial expanse that stretches from the subterranean to the cosmic verge.