Pre-historic Thought (Weather Is Here Wish You Were Nice)

According to pre-Christian mythology, the oceans and the lakes were created out of the blood of a giant, and governed by the god  Njodur, who was in charge of fishing and sailing. In this cosmic order humans were merely tiny pawns, subject to supernatural forces and manipulated by aquatic animals. This is apparent in notions of ‘fishiness’ (fiskni, fskiheill), the ability to get fish. Fishiness was a transient quality people considered to be differentially distributed among fishermen. According to an old proverb ‘no one catches another man’s fish’. Most of the catch was divided by a share system, but some species were not distributed. These belonged to the individuals who had caught them and were spoken of  as fortunate draws. Some people were thought to scare fish away and were called ‘fish- deterrents’. The foreman of the boat arranged his men according to their fishiness.

Post Card From The Edge

I how do I date this collection of things?

At this stage I have moved from pre-thought, spotting a pattern to pre-history and taking the subject out of its cultural context.

Icelandic history is a fuzzy mess in my mind, I need to sit with the books and have not done so yet.

It clearly states on the tin pre-christian mythology. So it’s giving me a sense of time but what time?

Does this myth offer me a window on the Iron age for example?

When was it written? I don’t know but can hazard a  rough guess, 13th century.

Literacy is a late arrival in the part of the North. This may be an exception, the scholarship may have altered since I last dipped my toe in the water, but it’s not going to escape the observation that this is a pagan past written in a christian present.

Tradition is a thing of the present rather than the past. Yet I do not have to drink with my glass half empty. I can stray across material from the 18th century or even the 20th century that I can trace back for a considerable period.

In terms of getting even a rough timeline of usage, these forms of myth are difficult and time-consuming to deal with.

The rest of the paragraph can I come up with a rough guess in regard to the availability of the sources. Early medieval sources will be zero. If you are lucky a small handful from the middle ages. If you are very lucky one or two from the 15th and 16th century with an increasing spike from the late 17th century to the present day.

The great mass of information must have been less organized, travellers tales and the like. Of the vast quantity brought in each generation, most was lost. But while it was in circulation it might be harvested. A Polybius or a Strabo might, if he wished, join the circulation of warm bodies for a while, and get a sense of the flow. But it was sufficient to stand at the right points of the system and gather ethnographic knowledge as it passed by, like a coral polyp fixed on some reef, selecting titbits and rejecting others from the rich currents, according to some prior design.

I also have to factor in that I am chasing the tip of an iceberg. Despite the introduction of writing most learning and discussion is not conducted in books.

I am not optimistic about getting a firm historical date range. I am mildly optimistic I may get a potential ball park figure using comparative anthropology and some generalization.

What I am missing at the moment is the early settlement pattern and archology for Iceland, which will give me an initial further hit or see it fall to the ground. So far I am utterly out of context I have a simple pattern.

A universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart…. The act is itself already remembered, even if unconsciously, as our first attempt to distinguish different things in a world where, in the first place, the boundaries can be drawn anywhere we please. At this stage, the universe cannot be distinguished from how we act upon it, and the world may seem like shifting sand beneath our feet.

A very simple pattern. Some have more fish some have less fish.

Relations by contrast, are conceptual inventions designed to reconcile the violence that the drawing of distinctions inflicts on the environment as a whole

I know something about this.

I should now go to the rest of your excellent remarks upon the Beef, the Geese, the Loch, the Peat-man & the Kyle nor shall an iota of them drop. But they have all (of them) their peculiar Weight

Take it out of context.

Place it in a frontier society. Add the general rule that these societies will have a tendency towards a relatively flat social hierarchy.

Differences in status are not the result of competition between households but determined at the household level.

The differences we see, gender, age, master, servant.

I can apply science and look at this in fine detail in early Anglo-Saxon society. Grave goods and the alteration in the objects that they contain overtime provide the evidence base.

‘Relatively’ flat social hierarchy, points to these household differences. Yet we have one further measure.

I cannot express my difference from you by having a cellar full of fine wine, a gold hilted sword or a large chest filled with silver. All I may be sitting on is a hill of beans but that hill of beans may be bigger than you’re hill of beans. You have more cows, I have less, three pots to my meagre one.

Possessing an identical and limited range of material objects, having more or less is the marker of difference. What would the objects of reconcilation look like here as relationships and ties are made within the community?

More than/ less than is a form of arrangement  you would expect (or hope) to find in the early stages of a settlement. I cannot say this is a feature of early Icelandic settlement. But as yet I can’t rule it out.

It does however hint at the form of social organization in which these things took shape. Its also giving me a general sense of direction and the potential location of where further evidence may be found.


Gisli Palsson, The Idea of Fish in the Icelandic world-view.

Greg Woolf, Tales of the Barbarians: Ethnography and Empire in the Roman West

G. Spencer Brown, The Law of Form

K. Krippendorff. On Communicating: Otherness, Meaning, Information

A correspondance between Lord Reay and Samuel Pepys, 9th of January, 1700



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