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Sorcery and the vikings of old

Seljalandsfoss is one of the waterfalls on Eyjafjöll. Photo

Iceland´s sixth largest glacier, Eyjafjallajökull, became world famous in 2010 when the volcano underneath it erupted and put a damper on air traffic. After a sequence of about 3,000 small earthquakes in its epicenter, the volcano finally erupted on April 14, 2010 and lasted nine days. This volcano has erupted four times known to man. The first time was in the year 920. The third time it erupted was in 1821 and lasted until 1823.

The glacier is on top  of a mountain range called Eyjafjöll (Island Mountains). It gets its name from the fact that it faces Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands).

Eyjafjöll and Eyjafjallajökull seen from Vestmannaeyjar. Source


An aerial of Eyjafjallajökull. Source

In addition to its world famous glacier, Eyjafjöll is also known for its waterfalls, especially Seljalandsfoss (Cover photo) and Skógafoss.


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Seljalandsfoss is 62 meters tall and runs into Seljalands River. Source

About 600 meters (≈ 0.4 miles) hike up a gravel trail is the less known, yet magical Gljúfurárfoss. It appears hidden inside the mountain, so you have to squeeze through the mountain walls to get to it. It is wet, so wear proper shoes/boots and expect camera to get wet.
Diana K


Before I move on to the caves in Eyjafjöll, there is one more waterfall I need to mention, Skógafoss. This waterfall is probably the most known of the three mentioned. It is 60 meters tall and is under the nature protection laws. This waterfall offers more than just its beautiful view. It is said to have a cave beneath it with a hidden treasure. This story can be found in The Book of the Settlements of Iceland 13th Century (Landnámabók).

When the powerful sorcerer, Loðmundur, settled Iceland he claimed much of the surrounding land and called it Sólheimar.

There was another powerful sorcerer and viking warrior called Þrasi Þórólfsson who lived in Skógar and owned the land next to Loðmundur.

One time when Þrasi was out and about, he noticed the river on his land was flooding. By using his magic skills, he moved the flooded river over to the other side of the border into Sólheimar. 

This did not please Loðmundur. He wasn't going to let Þrasi get away with this and commanded his slave to take his stave and stick it into the river. Loðmundur then grabbed the stick and held it with both hands. There was a ring on the stick and Loðmundur bit into it. In that same moment the river flooded over to Skógar, Loði's property.

The two sorcerers kept moving the flooded river back and forth. Realizing this wasn't going to work, as their dispute had resulted in creating quite the wasteland. On Þrasi's end it had resulted in Skógasandur and on Loðmundur's end it had created Sólheimasandur (location of the wrecked Douglas R4D-8). 

They decided to move the flooded river to the newly discovered canyon near the coast. This flooded river is still there today and is called Jökulsá.

Sólheimasandur. Source


Jökulsá. The river that the two wizards fought so long about and after causing the surrounding land to become desolate, they finally agreed on leaving the river at its current location.  Source

Þrasi was concerned about all his wealth and didn't want anyone else enjoying it. So, before he died in 900 A.D., he gathered all his gold and other wealth into a chest and threw it down a deep hole (cave) beneath Skógafoss. 

Since then, many have searched for his treasure. For a long time a part of the chest could be seen underneath the waterfall and  many came very close to retrieving the treasure, but never fully succeeded.

One time, a few local men decided to grab a rope to pull up the chest. The visible part of the chest had a ring on it and the men managed to get the rope through the ring. Once the rope was secure, they started pulling. 

Sure enough, the chest moved and it seemed like they had it. All of a sudden, the ring came off the chest and with only a ring attached to their rope, they watched the chest disappear into what seemed a bottomless hole. The treasure chest has never been seen since. The ring is still in existence today and can be found at Skógar museum.

Skógar Museum where the ring is on display. Source

Moving on to some of the caves this area has to offer. In the area, about 170 man-made caves have been discovered. The first one is located near Skógafoss and is known to be the largest man-made residential cave in Iceland, called Rútur's Cave (Hrútshellir) and is protected. It derives its name from the man who once lived there, Hrútur. 

This is a two story cave. The living space is on the upper level. A ledge was used as sleeping quarters and right below it is a gap leading to the lower level. The room on the lower level is theorized to have been used as a shelter for the animals. This would allow the heat from the animals to rise up and heat up the upper level. A cross has been carved in the ceiling of the living space.

Rútur's Cave (Hrútshellir)

Hrútur  had slaves he must not have treated well, because one night they plotted to kill him. The plan was to kill Hrútur in his sleep. They would do this by carving a hole under the ledge he slept on and stab him with their spears. During the day while Hrútur was out, they carved a hole under the ledge where he slept. 

When Hrútur came home after dark, he was tired and ready for bed. As he was getting in bed, he saw the hole and realized what the slaves were up to. He was furious and chased his slaves down and killed them. 

The last slave to be killed was Guðni. Hrútur had chased him all the way up the mountain and on to a glacier where he finally caught him and killed him. This location is now called Guðni's stone (Guðnasteinn).

Guðnasteinn is the second tallest peak on Eyjafjallajökull. Source


The front of the Rút's Cave (Hrútshellir). The stone barn was later built in front of the cave. Source


The bakside of Rútur's Cave. Source

The second cave, Steinahellir, was originally a naturally formed cave. It became a protected archaeological site in 1975.  This cave has been used for the sheep on Steinar's farm for many centuries. It is known to have been a place for building ships, although the time frame of this is unknown. 

In 1818 this cave was used for Parliamentary (Þingstaður) assembly until the year 1905. The Parliament table (Þingborðið) they used is now in the Skógar museum along with Þrasi's ring.

Ghosts and elves have been seen frequenting the cave and the area around it. The most famous of the stories is the one of the drowned sailors. A ship wrecked in Fjallasandur where 14 men on board the ship died. The following winter the ship was brought up over the ice to Steinar's Cave. 

Shortly after, Þorgil from Rauðnefsstaðir farm was riding his horse by the cave when a man stopped him. The man asked him to come sit down with them. When Þorgil approached the ship, he saw 13 horrifying men stand next to it. Þorgil recognized the men right away to be the crew that drowned. Þorgil didn't waste any time and took off as fast as he could.

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Steinahellir. Source

Surrounding the cave grows fern that´s considered to be enchanted and should not be picked. It is said that bad luck follows whoever picks it. Not everyone has followed this advice. One such individual was a farmer from Steinar. He decided to pick the fern despite the warnings. Shortly after, when one of his cows was gracing near the roof of the cave, it fell down and died.

Another story is of a traveler who picked the fern, not knowing until later that the fern was enchanted. A few years later, he became sick and never fully recovered. He never wavered in his belief that it was the enchanted fern that caused his failing health.

In the year 1870, farmer Jón Jónsson happened to travel passed Steinar´s cave. It was pitch black outside. All of a sudden a ghost stood in his path. Not knowing what to do, Jón pulled out a knife. Knowing that ghosts always do everything in opposites, he turned the blade backwards. The ghost moved out of the way and Jón was free to move on.

The third and last cave I'm going to mention in this blog is perhaps Iceland´s most known cave, Paradise Cave (paradísarhellir). Most people know it as the cave that housed Hjalti Magnússon (Barna-Hjalti). The short version is that Hjalti was hired as a shepherd by Anna at Stóraborg farm.

Anna was unmarried, wealthy and owned the largest farm along the mountain range. Many men had asked her hand in marriage, but she refused them all.

One day after a spending the day out in the pouring rain, Hjalti arrived back at the farm soaking wet and shivering. The other workers laughed at him and teased him for not being man enough to handle a little weather. They told him they'd pay him well if he showed his manhood by hitting on the woman of the house, Anna. Hjalti accepted the challenge and went over to the farm house. 

On the way to the farm he thought about the reward for being able to get Anna to sleep with him.

When he got to the farm, he walked inside and climbed up the ladder to her bedroom up on the loft. When Anna saw him, she kicked him out. He made another attempt and climbed up the ladder with same results. 

The third time he climbed up, Anna wanted to know why he was so persistent in getting into her bed. Hjalti told her the story. Anna then told him to take his clothes off get into her bed. He didn't waste any time taking his clothes off and jumped in bed with her.

Whatever went on in the bed is not written, but we do know that whatever it was kept them in that bed the entire day. When the time had come, Anna called for the other workers. When they arrived at the house, they saw Hjalti in her bed. 

Anna made sure they paid Hjalti the money they had promised him. This was the beginning of a romantic relationship between the two and soon Anna was pregnant with his baby.

As was the case in 16th Century Iceland, this type of relationship out of wedlock was against the law, which made Hjalti a wanted man. Anna's father, the attorney and governor, Vigfús Erlendsson, was furious and wanted Hjalti dead. With his life in danger, Anna helped Hjalti find a hiding spot. This hiding place was in caves called Ship Caves (Skiphellar) which were used to store ships. 

Soon Vigfús found out about the cave and rushed over with many of his men. Hjalti jumped on his horse and barely escaped. The caves were no longer safe for Hjalti. Anna sought help from her aunt (Vigfús' sister) and uncle. They wanted to help him and together with some other friends they helped Hjalti find a hiding place and provided him with food. They found him a cave nearby and it is said that Anna visited him often in the cave and since then it has been called the Paradise Cave. It's believed he lived in the cave for two years.

Paradise Cave. A chain is fastened at the mouth of  cave making it possible for people to climb up into it.

The last story happened in the year 1624. The weather had been exceptionally rough. In fact, it was so bad in the north-eastern parts that 40 farmers had to pick up and leave their homes. One of the farms beneath Eyjafjöll was scooped up by an avalanche along with eight men, killing six of them.

A lot of  people were forced to find shelter together and a new way to survive. One of the unmarried women from the area became pregnant and gave birth to a child. As was the case, this was punishable offense and if charged, would cost her her life. She claimed the baby was a huldu man's child (huldu people are supernatural beings that live in nature). 

The parliament officials heard about this and she was brought in to stand trial. The woman stuck to her story and to the althing men´s dismay, they were unable to prove her wrong. No man claimed to be the father of the child nor to know anything about who could be the father. They were forced to drop the charges and along with her huldu baby, the woman was free to go.



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