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Open Access Publications from the University of California

An Open Secret of Icelandic Otherworldly Communication

  • Author(s): Robinson, Chip
  • Advisor(s): Tangherlini, Timothy R
  • et al.

This study examines supernatural references in medieval Icelandic literature in light of modern Icelandic practice of otherworldly communication. Literary motifs are not merely fantastical story elements; rather they reflect a type of reality for participants and perform a social and cultural function in a historical and geographical context. While the manifestations of the supernatural in the medieval literature are many and varied and later inspired a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry, what is examined here is how Icelanders communicate with and interact with the other world, that is, the deceased, guardian spirits, and nature beings through prophetic dreams, mediums, and direct experience in nature and in community. I emphasize the social function of these phenomena over their representation as literary motifs and nevertheless reaffirm the role of literature as a medium of expression. At the same time, I explore the role of folklore in medieval and modern society and in popularly and scholarly manifestations. Sources and collection methods for the supernatural introduce researchers and methods that describe and document supernatural phenomena in Iceland. Mediation: mediums and media treats the ways experiences are mediated including by clairvoyants, clergy, rituals, dreams, nature, and the literature. Guardian spirits and dreams are cultural features of the Icelandic supernatural in the medieval literature, in personal accounts, and in national insignia. An ethnography of the other world uses accounts from participants and researchers to form a clearer picture of the world beyond. Research is from the humanities, social sciences, cognitive neuroscience and other disciplines, and calls for openness to phenomena that cannot fully be explained by current methods. Syncretic traditions involve a blend of spiritual experience and practice that extend beyond the parameters of heathenism and Christianity, including S�mi shamanistic influences and wider research approaches. Literature is considered as an art form with a relationship to landscape and nature that preserves and expresses an open secret of Icelandic otherworldly communication. It is among the durable media in which the old ways thrived. Where nature cannot be captured and not everyone has developed intuitive senses, literature is continually representative, repeatedly accessible, and perpetually open to interpretation.

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