In the weeks leading up to my trip to Iceland, I couldn’t stop thinking about Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. It’s been my favorite book ever since an amazing friend loaned it to me in the fall of 2001, and it was heavy on my mind as I prepared for my excursion to the glaciers and the lagoons. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it muses about the effect that America has on the gods of the old world. It tells tales of immigrants who brave the colonies and the young new country, and the gods and spirits they brought with them. In the modern era, the focus is on a war between these Americanized old gods and the new gods created by society: Media, Technology, etc.
The epilogue stood out in my mind these last few weeks: after the war, the protagonist Shadow goes to Iceland. While in America, he knew Wednesday; in the old world, he meets Odhinn. It’s a powerful and poignant scene in which the reader gets to see the disparity between a god who has changed and adapted to a new world and new society and the old god, the original being, the god of the mythos who still draws power from his native soil.
The month before the trip, my mom asked me what I was looking forward to the most: the Blue Lagoon, glacier hiking, ice cave exploration, wandering around Reykjavik? No, I was most eager for the feel of the land itself. I grew up in West Germany, and my childhood was spent traveling around western and northern Europe. The land feels heavy there, weighted with history and ghosts and inhuman spirits, while in the United States, the land feels a bit sterile, if not jumbled and confused. Thankfully, my mom knew exactly what I was talking about; she’d started traveling when she was in high school, and the first time she went to France, she noticed the difference in the air and the land and became obsessed with it, chasing it every time she traveled. I warned her, my formerly Catholic mother, that this trip would really bring out the crazy obsessed heathen in me. This was akin to a journey to Mecca for me. She reassured me that she figured as much when she suggested the trip in the first place. She’s used to crazy heathen talk as she’s been listening to it for longer than I’ve been alive. My grandfather was heathen, as was my father, to a degree. She made sure I grew up knowing the myths and folklore of my paternal family, and she has always embraced my spiritual path, even though she doesn’t practice herself. I think she was a little curious about what she’d experience or witness in Iceland.
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