The Four Guardians of Iceland

Icelanders love stories. The following one is about the four Guardians Spirits who protect the people of Iceland. They are represented in the Icelandic coat of arms but Icelanders also carry these lucky charms everyday day with them in… their local coins! 

Here is the story described described by the Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson in his Heimskringla [History of the Kings of Norway]:

“King Harald [Gormsson of Denmark] told a man versed in magic to travel to Iceland in a different shape and find out what he could learn there to tell him. The man set out in the shape of a whale. And when he approached land he headed west along the north coast. He saw that all the mountains and hills were full of land spirits, some large and some small. Off Vopnafjörður he entered the fjord, intending to go ashore. Then a huge dragon came down along the valley with a train of serpents, insects and toads breathing poison over him. 

He fled and went westward off the coast as far as Eyjafjörður and went into the fjord there. Then a bird flew towards that was so great that its wings spread over the mountains on either side of the fjord, and many other birds with it, large and small. 

He left there and continued westwards, then turned south into Breiðafjörður, and headed for the fjord. A large bull came towards him there, waded into the sea and began to bellow menacingly. A band of land spirits followed it. 

He headed south from there around Reykjanes and tried to go ashore at Vikarsskeið. A mountain giant came towards him there with an iron staff in its hands and its head higher than the mountains, and many other giants were with it. From there he went eastwards the length of the land, but “there was nothing but sand and deserts, and surf off the shore, with such a vast sea between the parts of land,” he said, “that a longship could not cross it.”

And so, thanks to the Guardian Spirits of Iceland, the King of the Danes intentions came to nothing. 

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