Hotel Búðir juts up from Búðahraun lava field on the southern coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Visible for miles around, this imposing hotel is well known as one one of the most plush and comfortable getaways in Iceland, sitting almost in the shadow of the towering, mesmerising Snæfellsjökull glacier.
Lesser known is the mysterious store that occupies one of the nearby sheds. With a large Ægishjálmur stave—the Helm of Awe, a magical stave of protection—mounted on the wall, and a sign that says simply “SHOP,” it picks up plenty of foot traffic from hotel guests and passersby who come to visit the historic black wooden church of Búðakirkja.
A bell tinkles when you step through the door into the dark confines of the store. At first, your eyes might not know where to rest—everywhere you look, there are fascinating objects. The neat tables are packed with small, softly lit carvings, amulets and bowls of intriguing rune tiles; the shelves are loaded with paper parcels and brown bottles with handwritten labels, containing mysterious powders and tinctures, and the windowsills are lined with sculptures made from familiar beach ephemera, wave-worn sticks, shells, strands of wool, fronds of seaweed, knotty string and weathered floats.
Suddenly, I become aware of two pairs of eyes looking at me from a side-door. It’s Sigga and Agnes, the two self-professed witches behind this curious place. They emerge from the office smiling, happy to share stories of their craft.
Everything in the store, says Sigga, is handmade. “We climb the mountains looking for roots and herbs,” she says in a calm, assured voice. “We go through the lava fields to the beaches to get herbs, and collect them at the right time. We bring them back here, work them, dry them, and pack them—everything is done personally and by hand.”
The picking season for Icelandic plants starts when the snow begins thawing in March, and runs through into the autumn. “All the herbs go into oils so I can work with them later in creams and balms,” says Sigga. She speaks circuitously, weaving together different points and returning to others, slowly painting the picture of the shop’s story. “These things have been done throughout the ages. We’re continuing with the old habits of using the herbs. That’s where I learned this way of doing things.”
At first, Sigga and Agnes had to seek out obscure bits of information from various conversations and sources. But over time, collating traditional knowledge has become easier. “In the beginning I really had to dig,” says Sigga. “It has become more open—more information is available now, and shared online. What we have here is the heathen way. It’s getting quite popular, now. People are becoming more open to using things from mother nature.”
Heathen beliefs run through many aspects of the store. Sigga points to a calendar on the wall, divided up into eight sections in a circular design. “We work a lot with this Chan Tok—a calendar of the old heathen seasons, with eight holidays in the wheel of the year,” she says.
“The modern calendar has the familiar months we know now, but here we see the old Icelandic months, and in the inner circle are the old heathen holidays. Celebration, of course, starts on the 21st of December on the Winter Solstice. Then there’s the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It’s all about harvesting, and loving mother nature. Everything we make has a meaning—to celebrate mother nature, and give grace and thanks.” She smiles. “Not very complicated.”
The shop’s intriguing displays are no coincidence. “We are both in the arts,” says Agnes. “I work in the hotel, taking care of the flower arrangements and things like that. Sometimes I go there with lavender and bless the hotel. People will say ‘What was that?’ when I come. And when I put out the flowers, I also go with a little bit of magic. I work on many weddings here with the flowers, and I always put a little bit of magic inside. They don’t know about it, but I bless the marriage.”
Guests of the hotel might also sometimes see a ritual taking place from their room windows. “We work with the magic of nature,” smiles Agnes, her eyes shining brightly. “We sometimes have ceremonies outside when it’s good weather, and people are welcome to join us. We burn sage, and let people come and write wishes. It’s all about where the moon is—if it’s waning, waxing or full. There are rituals for if you want to take something in from the flow of the cosmos, or if you have something to let go.”
Witch and proud
Some hotel guests love the store, say the pair, but they get all kinds of reactions. “People felt we were really quite weird at first,” laughs Sigga. “But not any more. Still some do—they think this is a serious witch shop. Which is okay—we are witches. That’s fine. It doesn’t bother us.” Agnes adds: “There are still people who walk in then walk out. But others come inside, and their eyes open wide. They look at it like a museum, talking very softly.”
“People think we have all the solutions in the world,” finishes Sigga, smiling softly. “We had a woman who was 150 kilos come into the shop looking for chocolate—there was none here, and she was going to buy ten soaps because she thought they were chocolate bars. I told her they were soaps, and her mind changed immediately. She bought rune books and charms, and she left happier than ever.”
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