The Lost Gods in Iceland’s Caves

May 30, 2016

I’ve always thought that the Norse Pantheon of Gods had more personality than the ones more prevalent across our world today. Thor, God of Thunder, wrathful and mighty; Odin, the father of them all, the God of War steeped in magic; and of course Loki, the Trickster God, wending his merry way through the lives of the other Gods and causing havoc wherever he went. How much more flawed and human these Gods are, when compared to the beings of purity and faultlessness espoused by other religions.

Iceland, the Land of Fire and Ice, breathes wild power across its windswept mountain valleys and bleeds strength and destruction from its volcanic eruptions. In the midst of ferocious nature, beneath the gaze of looming ice, it’s easy to believe that the Old Gods could still live quite happily here. Deep beneath the ground, where no light can pierce the earth, it begins to seem as though they may never really have left.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel

Our guide through the Leiðarendi lava tunnels tells us that the name of our cave means “End of the Road”, but all around us new passageways stretch out on either side through the gloom. The gleaming shark-tooth stalactites begin to claw the air as we scramble beneath an area of collapsed rock, and deep within the thousand-year old lava field we search for signs of Loki.

The myth of the trickster God runs deep through Icelandic lore, and as we turn off our head lamps one by one, and plunge ourselves into the pitch black usually reserved for outer space, the story of the shaking Earth echoes around the chamber.

The tale goes that the Gods grew tired of Loki’s tricks, so much so that one day they held a party and refused to invite him. As the celebration went on long into the night, Loki drank alone and cursed the Gods for excluding him, and as he grew steadily more drunk and his rage reached a fine pitch, he made designs to crash their little gathering anyway. Uninvited, Loki arrived, and soon began to flit from God to God, informing them of their cheating wives and philandering husbands, and causing a rift among the gathered revellers.

Angered and vengeful as their lies were exposed, the Gods drank Loki into a stupor and dragged him comatose from their hall. When he awoke, they had taken him to the darkest depths of Iceland’s caves, bound him with the intestines of his sons, and placed a snake above his head whose venom dripped agonisingly into his eye for all eternity.

As we gathered cavers are told this tale the darkness inside Leiðarendi is absolute. Although we’ve been sitting for what seems like an age listening to the exploits of the Old Gods, there’s simply no light for our eyes to adjust to, and so we remain invisible to one another in the creeping blackness. The chill from deep underground raises the hairs on the backs of our necks, and the sound of dripping water and muffled scratching deep within the cavern is amplified and eerie.

Shark Teeth Walls

Shark Teeth Walls

Sitting inside the Icelandic underground it’s easy to believe that Loki is still here, bound and tortured somewhere deep within the Earth, shaking the ground and tearing at his bindings in an endless struggle to break free. Here, the uncanny power of folklore and legend is tangible. As long as these stories are passed down from generation to generation, they will remain always the same even as the world changes around them.

Here within the tunnels, the myth and the magic of Iceland are embodied in one fairy tale told in the dark. The old stories reach deep into a person’s subconscious, shaking magic from the mundane and bringing legend to life. When the tale is over and our lights are turned back on, none of us can help glancing around and smiling uneasily into each other’s faces. Despite ourselves, we all search for Loki in the shadows, and brace ourselves for the terror of his lonely rage.

Tour Provider: Reykjavik Excursions

Price: 12,900 ISK

Suitable for Families: Yes

Website: www.re.is/day-tours/lava-tube-caving

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