Iceland: Fire and Ice
Iceland is located in the Northern Atlantic Ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. For millions of years the lava from this ridge continually piled up and eventually Iceland was formed.
Map of Icelandic Volcanoes
The volcanoes on the island were relatively quiet in the beginning of recorded time, but when the fires of Hekla began to burn in 1104, people around the world were terrified.
"Great is the power of the Prince of Darkness. Now he has flung open that horrible inferno Eclafeld out of Hyslandia, where the souls of the damned in flames of eternal fire, never thence to return, except when from time to time Satan drags them from the glowing embers to cool them in the piercing chill of the polar ice enclosing that dreary island, lest they become too inured to the fires of Hell."
- Hekla on Fire: Sigurdur Thorarinsson
Christians of Europe saw Hekla as a doorway to the underworld and as one of two known entrances to Hell or Purgatory. When people would see lava bombs and other projectiles fly from the volcanoes crater, they believed the fragments were actually spirits. These bombs often hissed as they flew (due to the cooler temperature of the air) and these noises were interpreted as the souls screaming out in pain. Because Hekla was associated with the underworld, people abroad also thought that it was a meeting place for witches and magicians and patrons of dark magic.
Hekla throws "souls" out into the air.
Although many legends center around Hekla being an opening to Hell, there are some more light-hearted myths as well. In one story a magician transformed himself into a whale to swim to Iceland with hopes of putting the entire island under his spell. Luckily for the Icelanders, he was startled and eventually scared away when he found that the land spat fireballs and spirits at him! He decided that these spirits would fiercely protect their beautiful land and he did not stand a chance against them.
Still others saw Iceland's jagged lava flows and rugged mountains as an ancient battlefield. It was on this battlefield where immortal gods had once waged war against one another. As they fought, they had shaped the land with blows of fists and swords. The terrain also contributes to stories of ice trolls. In some places the rocks have been eroded in such a way that they seem to resemble human forms, although decidedly uglier. These "trolls" are said to have strange and often evil powers.
Hekla has not had a very glamorous past. Nearly every myth and legend about the volcano is in some way connected to evil and the demonic. These days, however, Hekla has become a major tourist attraction on the island of Iceland. It is surrounded by beautiful green meadows and is sometimes drapped with snow. This elegance has put to rest many of the horrifying stories of trolls and witches. Hekla is still volcanically active, although today the eruptions are better understood and people come from around the world to witness (from a safe distance) the volcano throw up fantastic fire fountains that light up the night sky as lava flows down the volcanoes flanks.
Helka illuminates the night
Volcano Myths, Legends, and Folklore
May 2, 2006
SpSt 438 Volcanism: A Planetary Process I