Believers come in all shapes and forms and, mostly, they lead quite unsurprising, even mundane lives. For some, talking with the dead, a hidden being, or sharing life-light with the Cosmos, is as ordinary as driving a car to work or taking a stroll down Laugavegur. And it isn’t the ones who wear mad flowing costumes and flowers in their hair that you have to watch out for, it’s the ones you least suspect: the lawyers, doctors, politicians, and housewives, plenty and plenty of housewives—some desperate, others less so—but all with a special connection to the world beyond.
I’m sitting in what doubles as a séance parlour in the Icelandic Elf School on the third floor of an office building in downtown Reykjavik. The room, hardly large enough to swing a black cat in, is crammed to the gills—there must be close to seventy people. There is someone from virtually every walk of life here: from the Goth teenager with the Ankh tattoo to the Don Juan retiree in the tweed jacket. The majority are women over sixty, mostly widows. One of the looks over at me and says:
‘So, have you seen Them before?’
There’s a long moment of hush. I do of course know what she’s talking about, but I hesitate. I don’t like to lie; yet in the scheme of the supernatural what counts as a lie and what doesn’t? It’s all about perception, isn’t it?
‘I mean a spirit,’ she says after my long silence.
I nod, smile feebly and make to write notes. Actually, I’m doodling in the margins; spirally things that look like little black holes. I daren’t look up until Magnús Skarphéðinsson, leader of this motley crew at the Reykjavik Paranormal Investigation Society, arrives. A shiver runs down my spine. Perhaps they see ghostly apparitions in here all the time. Magnús has to give everyone a run for their money. You can’t have a séance without the promise of something interesting happening. That’s why, I guess, there are cameras all over the room; why calming music is being piped in, and why Magnús has donned a jacket and tie.
First, to get everyone in the right mood, Magnús cracks all sorts of jokes, then proudly recounts a story he told recently on his radio show; all the while Hildur Clausen, the medium, sits there slumped as if she is going into trance. He strikes me almost like a vicar addressing his flock. After a couple of prayers—or rather respectful incantations for the dearly departed—candles are lit. Magnús has his congregation right in the palm of his hand.
Ten minutes of silence seem like half an hour and then, as if by magic, precisely at the appointed minute (I notice Magnús check his watch), Hildur is channelling Ólafur Tryggvason. Most of the questions are posed by Magnús himself. Meanwhile, the fingers of his right hand, deftly poised on a remote control, switch from Verdi to the Celtic pipes of Enya. Unlike Guðbjörg, another medium/channeller whom I have spent time with, Hildur doesn’t really appear to be any different from when I saw her in the reception around an hour ago. When I witnessed Guðbjörg enter a trance, she visibly looked and talked like an entirely different person—even the tone of her voice went down to a low baritone.
The room itself is crammed to the rafters with books, all sorts of tomes of the unexplained, myths and legends, demons, UFOs and other unlikely phenomenon. It seems to me that Magnús possibly has the largest library on the paranormal in all of Iceland. I am wondering if he has read them all when suddenly the question and answer session with Hildur/Ólafur starts to take an unexpected turn. Apparently, from what I can gather, Ólafur is quite familiar with Adolf Hitler; it’s not quite clear if they’ve taken spiritual tea together, but he has often conversed with him. Perhaps since Ólafur was a doctor—rather than say, a garbage man—before he joined the spirits, people take him at his word. They are, after all, the words of a man of science.
Until now, Magnús and Ólafur have been rambling on about the so-called soul thread which, as I have mentioned before (see Transcendental Iceland Part 3), appears to be exceedingly prevalent in New Age explanations of the soul and its interconnectedness with the Universe.
‘Ólafur says Adolf was not really such a bad guy,’ my neighbour and appointed translator whispers in my ear. ‘He was a young soul; he had a lot to learn. He was seduced over to the dark side by the aliens that live on the Grey Planets.’ He’s taking notes too. He’s completely and utterly serious. ‘You know Adolf wanted to be an architect, but could not live out his dream,’ he says.
‘And for that, he became the Beast of Berlin?’ I want to ask. Once or twice, I can swear I catch a glimmer of a smirk on Hildur, then Magnús’s, face. Not wanting to disturb Magnús’s train of questioning—he becomes visibly quite upset if he is interrupted—I pass two hand-written questions through my neighbour. They are questions about Hitler that most people would not know the answer to. They are never raised.
Apparently, according to the spirit of Ólafur, everyone is connected through this silver umbilical cord, which starts at the seat of the soul and spreads like a spider web into the universe and into all 10 billion dimensions on 15 billion worlds (he’s quite specific about the numbers), but also to multiple alter egos. This means there’s something like at least a few billion Hitlers out there and, according to statistical plausibility, at least one of them became a successful architect. I guess in that universe, there was no Albert Speer.
All of us, you and I included, have multiple-selves living alternative lives in parallel worlds. Sometimes, Ólafur says, it can happen that you meet yourself—one of your alter egos; in that case, stay well clear. If you touch yourself, you may well disappear in a blinding flash of light. I make a note to check some of the more recent Big Bang theories—cutting edge physics talks about ‘super strings’ being the undercurrent of the universe. Strings and threads and webs…hmm.
After the séance, Magnús invites me to join them all in homemade pancakes. I decline the invitation, but can’t resist asking one more question:
‘So how far away is the next planet with life?’
‘Ah,’ says Magnús, popping a hefty piece of pancake smothered in strawberry jam into his mouth, ‘Ólafur told us a couple of weeks ago. It’s not far, only 15 light years away, and it looks precisely like Earth.’
Outside the stars are blinking, I light a cigarette and notice just to the right of the Big Dipper, there is a small group of stars; if you were to connect them like dots, they might almost look like a swastika.