I’d been itching to get out on the moor as soon as I arrived. It reminded me too much of the land I’d grown up on, and there was a sense of familiarity that called to me that I was yet to understand. It was late afternoon when we arrived on our bus from Reykjavik, and I’d spent the evening watching local people of all ages making their way up the path to the top.
My plan that evening was simple. I was going to see if anyone wanted to come with me to the top, bring some offerings, and hopefully see the aurora borealis. But as we were to find out, timing can be everything.
The first strange thing to happen that night was that we passed between two rows of birch trees on our way to the road. That may not sound so strange in of itself, but the sense of shifting as we walked between most certainly was, as was the figure I saw momentarily step out from behind one of the trees.
But ours was a group used to such things, and so we continued in our quest for the path to the moors.
The second strange thing to happen was that the path we’d been watching the entire afternoon had not only disappeared, but the moon was suspiciously full when it was not supposed to be so for another five days. If the birch trees had not warned us that something very other was afoot, then this was a sure sign.
After some discussion we opted to continue, turning around after reaching the village and heading back the way we came. This time though, I prayed as I walked, asking them to show me the path to the moor.
This time, we found the path to the moor down the side of a house we’d walked by less than fifteen minutes earlier. The lights were on inside and a confused-looking Icelander watched us as we made our way towards the iron bridge separating the moor from the cultivated world of man. I remember thinking at the time that the bridge could be apotropaic, and the choice of materials intentional. After all, people who live in active places tend to find subtle ways to build protections in both custom and architecture.
Here too I was met by another darting figure that appeared on the other side of the bridge only to disappear as quickly. But the wind was wild and the moor was dark, and I was ecstatic to be on a moor again for the first time in far too long.
But as would soon become clear, the hidden folk had other plans.
We began our ascent with ease, finding it every bit as easy as the various families we’d seen earlier that evening. But as is so often the case with this kind of wild witchcraft, things can shift on a dime.
The easy ascent became hard and the gradient seemed to shift, becoming steeper by the second. I began to slide downwards with every step I took! Potentially more dangerous though, was the sense of countless hands reaching out from the moor grabbing at our ankles and trying to trip us.
Right then and there, I decided to pull the plug on the adventure. We were on a geothermal moor, the path had become impassable for all but one (who we suspect would never have been seen again had they continued up the hill), and the ground around the path was too dangerous to walk on because of the possibility of fissures. Danger from the other is one thing, but a physically safe exit is a must.
So we made our way back down off the moor, helping each other balance as we went and trying to avoid the various attempts at tripping. We passed over the iron bridge and allowed ourselves to laugh a little at what had just happened, then passed back through the rows of birches back to the hotel.
By the time we got back to the hotel, the moor had become a mass of activity and we watched countless figures of various shapes and sizes move across the dark landscape. To our eyes, it seemed as though we had inadvertently gatecrashed some kind of gathering. The moor became increasingly dark, but the Pleiades hung conspicuously clear and bright in the sky above. The wind grew, and so did the strange noises that had started to emanate. The moor continued to darken, and soon we couldn’t distinguish moor from sky. We went inside.
However, the hidden folk were not yet done with us for the night.
Back in my room, we discussed our experiences, sharing our perspectives on what had happened. Out of all of us, only one of us felt as though they were welcome to proceed, but had they done so, they probably would never have been allowed to leave. Right at that moment, as soon as they had finished speaking, a loud disembodied voice echoed through the room with a single word: “Yup!”
Later that night though, the image of the Pleiades above the dark moor filled with moving figures wouldn’t leave my mind. There was a distinct feeling they were significant in some way, and somehow related to what had happened on the moor.
I was not the only member of our group who had had that impression either, and thanks to their skill, tenacity and research, the modern Fairy Faith now has a new (old) ritual calendar.