Monster of the Month: Lyngbakur - Heather Back - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Monster of the Month: Lyngbakur – Heather Back

Monster of the Month: Lyngbakur – Heather Back

Published March 9, 2017

Photos by
Arngrímur Sigurðsson

Ancient tales tell of a whale monster, known as lyngbakur, that has the appearance of an island covered with a growth of heather. Lyngbakur is the second largest of all sea creatures, its size only exceeded by the hafgúfa. Örvar-Oddr and Vignir encountered a lyngbakur during their search for Ögmundr, killer of Eyþjófr. Their men believed it to be an island covered with heather, and several of them attempted to explore its surface, despite the warnings of Örvar-Oddr and Vignir. The creature then disappeared into the sea, taking all the men with it.

Few tales of the lyngbakur have been told in Iceland in recent times. An exception is the tale of brother and sister Magnús and Brandþrúður, children of “Cleft Palate” Benóný of Glettinganes in the county of Múlasýsla, both of whom were considered upright and honest. One spring as they were out fishing, they let their boat drift south along the peninsula, her holding the fishing line. As they came closer to the tidal race, they saw a large creature protruding from the water surface. It was shaped like a jellyfish and the size of a small islet or island. Its upper half resembled earth covered with heather. They had ventured close to it when they realised that the creature extended further below the surface, so they hurried back and away from it. Some believe that what they encountered was a lyngbakur.

Sigfús Sigfússon, Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og sagnir V, p. 139-140.

Our Monster of the Month comes from the project Duldýrasafnið (“Hidden Beings Museum”) by Arngrimur Sigurðsson. He takes firsthand accounts of creature sightings, like the one above, from Icelandic historical texts, and creates a painting of each one. An Icelandic book is out now, and an English language book is also available in our web store. Read our interview with the artist here.

See more monsters here.

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