Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Leifur and the Westlands

Leifur was a rowdy man.
He knew the perils of the sea,
and war that culls the herds of men.
When he heard Bjarni sailed
to Eirik’sfjord from Eyrarbakki
and saw an unknown land with forests
taller than the heights of Hekla,
imagination tugged at his desire.
He sought adventure and
the riches of respect,
the wealth of what the unknown,
far away had hidden in the silence
of its cryptic promise.

He purchased Bjarni’s boat,
sailed toward the western sky
where clouds are made.
They searched the sea. Bjarni
left no trail upon the waves.
His reckoning was sunless days
and how the ocean tasted.

The shore at Helluland was bare and broken.
At Markland, the sea drank rivers
spurting from the ice and snow.
Trees gathered at the water’s edge
like giants making muster when the Giallar horn
calls gods to Ragnarok. Skraelings,
dark and glowering, skulked
among the ferns and in the ivy.

Vinland was a buxom land,
voluptuous and sweeter
than an Icelandic maiden’s lips.
It sagged with nature’s goodness
rich upon the branches of the trees
and ripe upon the drooping vines.

They wintered on the windy plain
of L’Anse aux Meadows. When the sun
had driven frost to where the daylight ends,
they gathered grapes and timber,
took them as their bona fides
for the stories of adventure
that their brothers might believe.

When Leifur and his men
returned to Iceland,
he was called “The Lucky,”
for whim of fortune
had attended to his need.
It crowned him with a greater fame
than even Eirik knew.
And so, to Saints, not ruffian gods,
he offered recompense in prayer
on bended knee as he
fingered sacred beads at Kross.

D. Gary Christian
Santa Clara, Utah
February 22, 2008

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter in Iceland

Easter in Iceland

In Icelandic Easter is páskar. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday (Palmasunnudagur). This is to celebrate the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem and people gathered to greet him with palm leaves. The following Thursday is Sheer Day, also called Maundy Thursday (Skirdagur). This is the day of the Last Supper, the day that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The word sheer originally meant "pure" and refers (in this case) to the purification of the soul. This also became the day that one would bathe after the sackcloth and ashes of Lent. Sheer day is celebrated much like Easter, with a special breakfast and church services. Most businesses run on their Sunday schedule, or are closed. The next day is Good Friday, or Long Friday (Fostudagurinn langi). This day commemorates the day that Christ spent on the cross. The term Long Friday; therefore, refers to the feeling that suffering passes slowly. Children are traditionally forbidden to play, and some families spank there children this day for all the sins the have committed and not been punished for. All businesses are closed.

It is customary in Iceland for families to get together and enjoy a family lunch or dinner during the Easter holidays. There is no tradition of the Easter bunny – it is not known in Iceland (nor is there any understanding of the connection between rabbits and eggs!), and therefore Easter egg hunts are unknown as well. Nonetheless, children are given chocolate Easter eggs on Easter Sunday, from their parents and grandparents. The chocolate eggs are often hallow and come in different sizes, and contain sweets and a note with a saying on it. The big ones are decorated with a bow, and a chick sits on top. The eggs are made of delicious creamy chocolate, and of course everyone would like to get Easter eggs as big as possible.

The Icelandic Easter tradition is young, since the date of Easter was too early in the calendar to be considered a spring festival. The arrival of spring was celebrated on a later date, on sumardagurinn fyrsti, literally the first day of summer. Presents were distributed and people symbolically began with their spring work. There is no school on sumardagurinn fyrsti.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Sagas of Icelanders

The Sagas are exceptional tales of everyday life and historical events that were kept alive in the oral tradition for two to three hundred years before they were recorded in the written format. The Sagas are not typical heroic literature, but rather tales of flesh and blood people burdened with heroic legacy in the Viking tradition of blood vengeance. They are deeply rooted in the real world of their day, concise and straightforward in style; the Sagas explore perennial human problems; love and hate, fate and freedom, crime and punishment, travel and exile. Read one Saga and you have the craze for another and another. The Sagas tell of the Viking age, the Icelandic laws and justice system that made up the Althing and the conversion of Icelanders to Christianity. The Sagas of the Icelanders rank with the world’s greatest literary treasures.
The Complete Sagas of Icelanders including 49 tales, a five volume set, was translated into English and published by the Leifur Eiriksson Publishing in 1997. These five volumes contain the first complete, coordinated English translation of The Sagas of Icelanders, forty in all, together with forty-nine of the shorter Tales of Icelanders.

The Sagas are the most precious possession of the Icelandic people. They have been preserved first on vellum and then on paper. The manuscripts show wear meaning that have been used. The Icelandic Saga manuscripts were collected and moved to Sweden and Denmark in the sixteenth century. Árni Magnússon spent much of his life collecting the manuscripts of the Icelandic Sagas. He lived in Denmark and on his deathbed, in 1730; he left all of his manuscripts to the University of Copenhagen.
Iceland regained its independents from Denmark in four stages. It received a separate constitution in 1874, home rule in 1904, independence under dual monarchy in 1918 and full independence in 1944. As part of these settlements the Icelandic manuscripts that had been taken to Denmark were to be returned. This process started in 1928 and took until 1971 for all of the manuscripts to be returned to Iceland.

The manuscripts are now located at Árnagarður, named after Árni Magnússon, it was built in 1966-70 jointly by the University of Iceland and the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland. By law, the function of the Institute is to increase the knowledge of the language, literature and history of the Icelandic people. It is also to preserve the manuscripts and documents that have been returned to Iceland from Denmark.

Many of Iceland’s national treasures are on display in the Culture House’s featured exhibition Medieval Manuscripts – Eddas and Sagas. It includes the principal medieval manuscripts, such as Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda and the compendium Flateyjarbók, as well as law codices and Christian works, not to forget the Sagas of Icelanders. Important paper manuscripts from later centuries are also displayed.

The ancient vellum manuscripts preserve the Northern classical heritage: unique sagas, poems and narratives which are often our sole written sources of information on the society, religion and world view of the people of Northern Europe from pagan times through the tumult of Viking Expansion, the settlement of the Atlantic Islands and the period of Christianization.

The exhibition focuses on the period preceding the writing of the manuscripts, their origins and role, manuscript collecting, editions, and on their reception in Iceland and abroad. It also portrays the process of book making itself: preparing the vellum and ink, writing, illuminating etc. are explained in a special exhibit area.

Icelanders and the descendants of Icelanders, have no greater duty than to preserve and cultivate this heritage as best we can. The Icelandic Sagas and the Tales of Icelanders constitute a remarkable chapter in world cultural history. Iceland possesses very few visible remains from the glorious ancient period. There are no buildings in the country, and few objects dating back from the Middle Ages. The manuscripts of the Sagas are to Icelanders what castles and palaces are to other European nations.

What is known about the Viking age came from the Sagas written in Iceland in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Although they were written two centuries after the fact they describe a believable account of what took place. Erik the Red’s Saga and the Greenlanders’ Saga gave a vivid account of the discovery of Vinland which latter became America. These tales were, until 1960, considered not to be based on real memories. In 1960 Helga and Anne Stine found at L’Anse aux Meadow in Newfoundland what has been identified as the settlement of Leif Eiriksson in “Vinland” of the Sagas.

Islendingabok or Saga of the Icelanders concerns the affairs of the people who lived between about 930 to 1030, at the height of the Icelandic Commonwealth. They are tales of wealthy and powerful farmers and historical events that actually took place in Iceland and the rest of the Norse world at that time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Born 7 February 1849 at Draumbaer, Vestmannaeyjar, the son of Runolfur Magnusson, born 22 February 1818 in Kross, Rangarvalla, died 20 March 1894; and Ingiridur Bjornsdottir, born in 1817 in Vestmannaeyjar, died 4 July 1870. Bjorn was married to Sigridur Sigvaldadottir in 1878; Sigridur was born 14 August 1851 in Skagafjordur, died 16 January 1939 in Spanish Fork, Utah.

Bjorn joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized 9 May 1874. He was excommunicated for apostasy two years later; however, he and his wife were baptized again 25 March 1883 by Elder Petur Valgardsson. Bjorn remained a faithful member of the Church. Bjorn and his family immigrated to Spanish Fork, Utah in 1887.

Bjorn followed the trade of carpentry and shoemaker; he was often called a jack of all trades, as he could do almost anything that required skill and patience. He died 27 August 1932 and is buried in the Spanish Fork City Cemetery. He was known as Ben Runolfson in Spanish Fork. His death certificate lists him as Bjorn Runolfsen. He is number 317 in Icelanders of Utah.