Forming A Mythic Response to the Deepwater Catastrophe
When events are too terrible for human emotions to hold onto, it is sometimes necessary for myth to provide a container to hold the tremendous and overwhelming feelings so they may be processed poetically, and with mythopoetic insight.
In the Dreamtime sagas of the Teutons, we find an epic battle between Njord, ruler of the seas, and Volund, the famous smith of technology and industry, that poignantly speaks to our present situation.
Bluster, Bragi, send Musing dises to tell
the tale of terrible woe that bereft
the waves from their water, and spilt with blood :
Dark billows, veins of the deep earth tapp'd,
unleashed, geysers spoiling the froth-topped tides,
and etins of awful Aegir's kin rush
poison-flood swallow Njord's silken beasts
fin-and-gill gallop the whale's bloodied roads.
Speak forth, O star-cladden fair-folk, daughters
of Bragi and Idunn whose apples bring youth,
those words no man dare tell for trembling,
how smithy's lord, the chieftain of chariots
cast oil the earth's gore ghoulish, in wrath,
with filth and drowning to fester the fishways.
Cry awful and gnashing, with weep and bewilder,
the swan-maidens' feathers besotted with mire,
the soft down skins abandoned, flight of flocks
on spirit-roads nether, the juice of the sweet
wave's salty wash curdled and bogged down
in venom, dung-scarlet and ink-spread to drown.
Only the aether's eloquent winged folk
have fingers to count the fishland's fallen,
or number the knells that ring for Njord's
flipper and fond sealskin friend-folk.
More blood bore this gory gloom
than any ever oil doomed, and flock
on school on troops and hosts
unnumbered eke out breath
on ash and spew, O folly mourn
the smithy's loom. O folly mourn
the smithy's loom! For fight is fierce,
while fishes flee, the wrath of Weland's
crafts demanding fire, fuel, and forward-drills
the sword of vengeance, seeking victim,
all to fuel the forge's yield. When the sea's axe cleave
the foundries' forces, let the waves' blade falter
away from my folk : for sailors and fishermen
ever sea seek, and weep as the pelicans swoon,
their wet plough-lands black bile manured
in sinking sensations of melancholy.
So the nixies accuse, flash wrath the lightning
of valkyries' rage, Njord's seven daughters
groan mermaid upon the inkblot shores,
indict with high curse to Gods who will ear
lend listen to plaintiff whose counsels are cold.
Thorn-winged maidens of fire demand :
which fleets flock to fight the foeman?
in the hour of reckon, where lurks the hero?
For the Gods summon up the strong protecting arm,
and ask where the nations stand, or fall. Are you
holy Halfdan's folk, or follow Volund's fall to ash?
Let shield shake against shield in answer,
gather up fleet, set sail : for the ocean's ire
is awful to behold. Whole rosters of sin
the brine-elves recite ; think not that galdur
reaches not the high Gods' ears, and decide.
When the sea-serpent's venom sprayed fire and tar,
where then was the heroes' proud roar?
And what would you brag in the hall of your kin
when that deep court doth summon you answer therein?
Will your worship prove worthy to the waves' wealthy Father
who even now weeps o'er the blood-spattered waters?
Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Book Six :
Quippe ubi illum confluus undarum aestus implicuit, sanguis medio enatus gurgite ita totam ponti faciem peregrino quodam rubore perfudit, ut spumeum paulo ante pelagus procellisque albidum mox puniceis fluctibus intumescens alienum a natura sua colorem induere videretur. ... Cuius iniuriae Fridlevus famam expertus, Haldano ac Biornone accitis, Norvagiam navigatione complectitur. Contra Amundus patrio instructus praesidio obviam exserit classem. ... Die postera Fridlevo adversus Amundum magno copiarum concursu cruentum incidit bellum, quod partim terrestri, partim maritimo certamine gerebatur. Nam et in campis acies explicabantur et classi nihilo minus bellator incesserat. Cumque res plurimo sanguinis impendio gereretur ... Occidit hoc bello Amundus.... Interfecto Amundo Fridlevus, acerrimo hoste liberatus summumque et securum otium nactus, ferocissimum ingenium suum voluptati cedere coegit, traiectoque in Venerem studio classem instaurat...
"Where the waves flowed together and the sea-tides united, blood spouted forth in the middle of the gulf, and thus, as one might expect, the whole appearance of the sea was coated with a strange and shameful redness, so that the open sea, before covered with the slightest white foam in the gale, soon swelled with scarlet waves, and could be seen covered in a dark pigment foreign to its own nature. ... When Njord learned the news of these injustices, he sent for Halfdan and Hodur, and sailing to Norway, lay hold of it. Volund, drawing up his father's ancestral garrison, put his fleet out to sea against him ... On the following day, Njord met Volund in bloody battle, with great forces assembled in the fight, the contest carried on partly by land, but for the most part by sea. For the lines extended forth no less on the plains than the fleet advancing in battle. This event bore the cost of more blood than any before. ... In this war, Volund was killed ... When Volund had fallen, Njord was freed from his greatest and most bitter enemy, and secure, he put down his axe to obtain peace and tranquility, forcing his ferocious temper to yield to pleasure, and restoring his fleet, he transferred them back to the pursuit of love."
[In this translation, I have substituted the better-known names of Njord for Fridlevus, Hodur for Biorn, and Volund for Amund so that the story's implications are more apparent for the reader. These were heiti or by-names of these well-known mythological figures.]
Here we have, in mythic terms, a great battle of forces : Volund, leading the armies of industry gone awry, clashing at sea with Njord, the frithful father of the oceans. Halfdan, the folk's first king, heroic leads where the Gods direct, and Hodur, that hero who ever protects, with strong arm goes forth to ward.
Njord is formidable, a force with which to be reckoned. Njord's axe, here referred to as his securum, which finds peace after the fall of his enemy Volund, has a famous place in the mythology. The battle-axe receives the skaldic paraphrase of Gauts megin-hurðar galli, "the weakness of Odin [Gaut]'s powerful gate", and another skald tells us that Njörðr klauf Herjans hurðir, "Njord broke Herjan (Odin)'s gates". þat var enn fólkvíg fyrst í heimi; brotinn var borðveggr borgar ása, knáttu vanir vígspá völlu sporna (Voluspa 24), "That was the first folk war in the world ; broken was the rampart of the Aesir's fortress, [and] the Vanir, vigorous in their battle-wisdom [literally, their "battle-prophecy", or more prosaically, their intelligence gathered through reconnoitering], stormed the field." That Njord was the one who broke down Odin's gate in this famous war between the Vanir and Aesir accentuates his prowess, for Odin's gate is strong and binds any who try to open it. ...[G]rind heitir, er með goðum sjá-at menn ið meira forað... Þrymgjöll hún heitir, ... fjötur fastur verður við faranda hvern, er hana hefur frá hliði (Fjolsvinnsmal 9 - 10), "The name of the gate, which amongst the Gods men have not seen a greater peril ... Strong-shrieking it is named ... a fetter will fasten against every traveller who tries to open it." To Njord's axe might be compared the trident of the Orphic Hymn to Poseidon, "Thy awful hand the brazen trident bears, and sea’s utmost bound thy will reveres."
Of Volund, Volundarkvida says, Hann var hagastr maðr, "He was the most skillful man", and was synir Finnakonungs, "the son of an Elvish king" and a vísi alfa, "Elvish prince". He smíðaði ... alls kyns görsimar, "smithed all kinds of treasure." Indeed, he is renowned as the maker of famous chariots and flying-devices, as well as weapons and all sorts of other crafts. Before his rebellion against the Gods, he represents technology (or craft) in service to the Gods ; after his rebellion, he represents technology out of control and against the world. As a Son of Ivaldi, in yoredays he created beautiful gifts for the Gods ; afterwards, due to the unhappy results of the contest Loki set in motion, he turns his skills to ill, the weather turns for the worse, and he breaks his vow to the Gods (and Njord in particular) by betraying Frey, who was in his care, to the Giants. This is, amongst other things, what makes Volund Njord's "greatest and most bitter enemy".
But it was by his hand that blood overflowed the seas. When technology turns against the divine order, nothing on land nor sea is safe. The ocean was overspread with a dark and crimson color foreign to its own nature.
This is not an offense Njord took lightly, nor sitting down. As Poseidon was seen mounting a chariot pulled by sea-horses, who represent the great tides and waves, so Njord is represented as commanding a fleet. This fleet is usually equipped in the service of love, but may, upon great offense, become a force of great ferocity and tempest.
When the forces of technology and industry (Volund) are lined up in struggle and battle against the oceans (Njord), you can bet that the oceans will eventually overwhelm industry. As Richard Pasichnyk says in "Tsunamis and Life : The Untold Story" , "In most cases the tsunami wiped away plantations, aquaculture, agriculture, roads, bridges and buildings, even entire villages. Nature, on the other hand, suffered little, and will likely recover quickly, as has taken place in other disasters." In "Hurricanes and Life : The Untold Story", Pasichnyk says, "Few take notice of the facts that wild animals sense the coming storm and escape the destruction. While buildings, roads and other man-made (non-living) structures are destroyed, there are still trees, bushes and other vegetation that are still thriving after the storm hits. In fact, the trees that are destroyed by the storm are weak, diseased, not native to the region or old, with few exceptions. Some trees have their root systems so constrained by asphalt and concrete that they cannot hold themselves up when the winds strike, and these trees are usually very large. Moreover, the levees that failed were those that did not have trees growing near the levees, as indicated by photos and videos. The trees roots and bodies would have helped to prevent the levees failure. Take a look at the photos and you will see destroyed houses, while in the background there are trees and bushes standing. This is a fact of "natural" disasters throughout history ... "natural" disasters... destroy non-living things (and some of the people that create them), and bring back life." He continues, "The development of the Gulf Coast is one of the most prominent factors for causing the tremendous devastation in New Orleans, and elsewhere around the Gulf Coast, caused by hurricane Katrina. ... The wetlands, a natural buffer, would have taken out some of the powerfulness from hurricane Katerina (and others), as they help to lessen the impact of heat and moisture transfer in intensitfying the hurricane's strength, and taking some of the punch out of the hurricane. There is also a "mysterious" dead zone in the Gulf, where corals and other aquatic life cannot survive ... It has recently been learned that these "dead zones" are caused by humans -- the runoff of pesticides, silt, chemical fertilizers, sewage, animal wastes and pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels. ... Though many will probably ignore the fact that this is the most industralized state in the U.S., and also has more chemical plants, oil refineries, and toxic waste sites, and that this is one of the reasons for the hurricane targetting the area. That is, the net charge of the atmosphere and the ground have been offset by this industrialization and urbanism, which attracts storm fronts. ... Look at the photos of hurricane Katerina's devastation and you will see trees and bushes still stating and growing though surrounded by the debris of the destroyed structures."
The first parley has occurred, technology spewing blood in great torrents upon the waves, a dark crimson foreign to the ocean's natural hue spilling into the waters. It is certain that the ocean will respond to this grave injustice and offense.
The Teutons had a legend of a mythic tsunami that overwhelmed them in days of yore. Strabo, in Book Seven, Chapter 2 of his Geography, relates a legend of the Cimbri, ὅτι χερρόνησον οἰκοῦντες μεγάλῃ πλημμυρίδι ἐξελαθεῖεν ἐκ τῶν τόπων, "that dwelling on the peninsula, a tremendous flood-tide drove them out of that place." πλάσματι τὸ συμβῆναί ποτε ὑπερβάλλουσαν πλημμυρίδα, "They assert the image of the flood-tides once casting beyond themselves," and that some φησὶ γὰρ τοὺς ἱππέας ἰδόντας τὴν ἔφοδον τοῦ πελάγους ἀφιππάσασθαι καὶ φεύγοντας ἐγγὺς γενέσθαι τοῦ περικαταληφθῆναι, "declare, namely, that the chariotman, on seeing that approach of the sea, rode off, and even while fleeing, near became overtaken and engulfed." Furthermore, ὁ φήσας ὅπλα αἴρεσθαι πρὸς τὰς πλημμυρίδας τοὺς Κίμβρους, "It is said that the Cimbri took up arms against the flood-tide." This taking up arms against the ocean in its flood is dramatically depicted in Beowulf's fight against the sea-creatures in his heroic swimming contest. Mythically, this tsunami arises in the midst of Njord's tremendous and bloody naval battles against Volund, and represents either the provocation to those battles, or the sea's response to them. One of the outstanding outrages was the pool of dark blood covering the ocean's waves.
Helgakviða Hundingsbana in Önnur describes this storm at sea in mythic terms : Helgi samnaði þá miklum skipaher ok fór til Frekasteins, ok fengu í hafi ofviðri mannhætt. Þá kómu leiftr yfir þá ok stóðu geislar í skipin. Þeir sá í loftinu at valkyrjur níu riðu ok kenndu þeir Sigrúnu. Þá lægði storminn ok kómu þeir heilir til lands, "Helgi [Halfdan, who as we saw, was summoned up by Njord] gathered there a mighty naval force and travelled to Frekastein [the same location where Saxo mentions the fleets meeting : Frøcasund appellant sinum, in quem classis utraque coierat, "Freka-sound is the name of the bay where both navies assembled"], and were seized in the sea by a violent gale [literally, "over-weather", overwhelming winds] that was a great danger to men. There came lightning over them and the beams stood in the ship. They saw in the air nine valkyries riding and they recognized Sigrun [Helgi's fairy-bride or fylgia]. Then the storm abated and they came hale to the land."
Helgakviða Hundingsbana in Fyrra describes Halfdan's fleet gearing up and facing the tremendous storm : Varð ára ymr ok járna glymr, brast rönd við rönd, reru víkingar; eisandi gekk und öðlingum lofðungs floti löndum fjarri ; Svá var at heyra, er saman kvámu kolgu systir ok kilir langir, sem björg eða brim brotna myndi, Draga bað Helgi há segl ofar, varð-at hrönnum höfn þingloga, þá er ógurlig Ægis dóttir stagstjórnmörum steypa vildi, (28 - 30), "[There] was splash of ores and ringing of iron, shield blustering against shield, the vikings rode out to sea ; the king's fleet rushed under the princes, far from the land ; Such was heard, when together came Kolga's sister and the long keels, as the ocean tide breaks upon the cliffs ; Helgi bade them drag the sails higher, so that the waves' haven would not break their agreement when the awful daughters of Aegir wished to throw the ships down." Kolga is one of the daughters of Aegir, the terrifying giant of the ocean ; she and her sisters are the waves, visualized here as slamming themselves threateningly into the ships' keels, attempting to throw the ships under the ocean. This was a tremendous storm.
But Halfdan is saved by Sigrun, as in the description above. En þeim sjálfum Sigrún ofan fólkdjörf of barg ok fari þeira, snerisk ramliga Rán ór hendi gjálfrdýr konungs at Gnípalundi (31), "But Sigrun saved them herself from above, and their fleet, whisking the king's sea-roar-beast out of the strong hand of Ran, to Gnipaland."
When one of the Niflungs (Children of the Fog), their opponents, asks how many men Halfdan/Helgi brings with him, he is answered, Ganga fimtán fólk upp á land, þá er í sogn út sjau þúsundir, liggja hér í grindum fyr Gnípalundi brimdýr blásvört ok búin gulli; þar er miklu mest mengi þeira (52), "Fifteen hosts walk upon the land, but there are out at sea, lying here in the gates before Gnipaland, seven thousand blue-black sea-beasts adorned with gold ; there is their mightiest multitude of all." (That this is a mythic battle, taking place between the Niflung forces of Niflhel, and the forces of good, is accentuated by this location of "Gnipaland", for Gylfaginning 51 tells us that the hundrinn Garmr, er bundinn er fyrir Gnipahelli ... er it mesta forað, "hound Garm, who is bound before the Gnipa-cave, is the greatest ogre." This is the hell-hound who will eventually fight Tyr. Halfdan has led his forces against dark-elves in the underworld under the command of Volund.)
Fifteen hosts upon land and seven thousand ships out at sea! Truly, as Saxo said, this was a battle fought both on land and on sea. Volund, allied with the frost-giants, enlists the aid of Aegir, Ran, and their daughters, the waves, to throw themselves into great storm and turmoil, and against these spiritual forces of ill, only Njord can do battle, for Hann ræðr fyrir göngu vinds ok stillir sjá (Gylfaginning 23), "He rules over the passage of the winds and stills the sea". Á hann skal heita til sæfara ok til veiða, "Sailors and fishermen shall call upon him." (Ibid.) The waves raised in this contest of Ocean God versus Ocean Giant are so huge that only the intervention of Halfdan's valkyrie saves him and his fleet.
The end result of this warfare is that Volund is killed, although that takes a long time and there is much bloodshed in between, with many innocent lives lost, and famine, and tears.
These sins are heavy. We dare not speak of it leaving behind the word "sin", a word of pagan provenance, speaking to the guilt pronounced in a court of judgement. The scale of this baffles both heart and mind. These sins fall heaviest on those giants allied with industry, those modern forms of leviathan given corporate "personhood" by a faulty scribe's gloss on an old Supreme Court case.
It is sin, and there will be consequence. A gift calls for a gift, and poison brings poison. But we are never the sour saliva of wolves, dripping gloat down the teeth, on a baleful affair. We pray for fish, we kneel shorebound with sailors and beg mercy for fishermen, whose humble nets do not call down the gales. Leave the jeremiads of angst to evangelicals, unless it be upon the jotnar. May those who gave their blood to ghouls stand trial, find recompense, and let their coffers be opened to feed the hungry now bereft of livelihood.
Turn tears to sweat. We are growers, fixers, protectors, abaters. The deed bleeds bile black in the depths ; cast deeds as prayers, in gold and toil, to wash out the filth that mires the sea. More : grievance-flock, with force, your thing-men, those near-deaf lawyers who cast their votes. Bid them pull down the titans with chains of law, the wolf must be bound, bound for good. Now is time to topple the towers of personhood corporate, give standing to trees, and shores, and wetlands. The hurricanes will come, more fierce than ever. Let our hearts form a shield-wall, solid with law, ready round the groves we hold sacred, and pledge, from this day forth, nothing real is real unless it speaks of Beloved Mother Earth. Clay, and wind, and water are real ; forests and fowl and fauna are real. Pray craft's lord leaves ill and blind rage to gift the Gods once more, bring back the forge within the circle. I say the smiths shall be judged at the end of times, but for now, I shall serve the ocean's green kin, who call out bliss from Western isle of wish. Whom serve thou? Your deeds speak your worship.
all translations copyright 2010 by Siegfried Goodfellow