Friday, November 23, 2007

Skuld's Enterprise

Skuld is a warrior ever-pressing her sword forward through the fog, for there are debts that only the frontier can pay. Those debts are the unworthed potential of the past, those deeds not brought fully into fruition, and the only way to pay them is to seek their completion, which only happens on the edge, on the horizon, at the frontier. "Frontier" comes from Old French fronter, the "front line" of the army, the edge of advancement. It represents advancement into the unknown territories. In fact, it would seem that the old word for that which is strange and foreign, "fremede, fremthe" is etymologically related to the old word that means to accomplish or advance, "fremmen", a word association which acknowledges that advancement is that which takes place right on the edge of strange and foreign territory. Freme is "bold", which yields the not-hyperbolic composite meaning of these roots as "boldly advancing into the strange and foreign" to bring "advantage, profit, benefit", also freme.

Skuld advances that which has been forgotten, that which has died unfulfilled. Skuld is followed by álfar ok nornir ok annat ótöluligt illþýði (Hrólfs Saga Kraka 48), "elves, norns, and the ill crowd of the last part of the night". Lest we have any doubts about the composition of this "ill crowd of the last part of the night" who are in drjúgt liðit Skuldar, "Skuld's vast host", Hrólfs Saga Kraka 51 leaves no ambiguity : they are the dauðu and drauga, "ghost and zombies", those who rísi upp from the dead. (That Skuld should have the dead in her host follows from the fact that she takes the slain from battle (Gylfaginning 36).) They rise up because their debts have been left unfulfilled, and they come to fearfully stir up the living to complete the unfulfilled deeds. But those who are einheriar in her midst, who she is escorting from Urd's dómstóllar (witness-stands) to Valhalla, urge not only the unfulfilled deeds, but those deeds of daring which have not yet been dared.

Skuld says that hefir sá eigi jafnan, sem ekki hættir (Hrólfs Saga Kraka 47), "no one gets anything without taking risks", and it is clear that she places value on hættir, danger, peril, risk. She furthermore asks us to have krellr, "pith, fortitude, spirit", but literally, "claw", grasp and grip, to hold that which one has boldly seized.

Her command of the wights of the ótta, the last part of night, places her right on the frontier between the realm of Nótt and Dagr, at the cusp when Dellingr commands Thjodreyrir to open the gates of dawn. That threshold is the liminal space between the old and the new, the dead and the living, the fremede, the strange and foreign (h)edge of advancement. Indeed, therefore, she passes into the fog, the valkyrie holding her shield, ready to ride across the earth (Skuld hélt skildi ... görvar at ríða grund (Voluspa 30)) when the Hel-Gates in the East (Sólarljóð 39 - Heljar grind) open. She is at that very threshold, in those hours and minutes while Sol's horses are being geared up, and the horses of Dagr are eager and biting at the bit to hear Thjodreyrir's song which signals the opening of the gates, that time when Nótt is not yet through with her journey, but passing down into the Varns, through Billing's kingdom. Such is a place of wonder and fear, the "wee hours of the night", strange, but full of potential and profit.

These are the voyages that Skuld urges us onwards towards, and she is ready to ride across the ground, shield before us, in our journeys into the fremmede, the bold and foreign strangeness.


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