Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Wizard Is Seasoned

A wizard is not all-knowing. A wizard is seasoned. A wizard has had hands in the soil, knows the feel of the dirt, has grubbed and dug roots. All-knowing is a facade for knowing little, or nothing. Even Odin does not know all. True wisdom is hard won, through long struggle, over many years, getting to know one little thing thoroughly, and then moving on to the next, being tested by life, figuring out more intelligent ways to maneuvre, slipping and falling and getting back up again. You never gain it unless you're willing to take the slip, and immerse in the problematic. Plunge into the problematic, find your complexity, stay where the troubles are and see what mettle you can add to the equation. A wizard, like any craftsman, works with his or her hands. You have to feel out the world, and test it, even as it tests you. You have to know how to say "no", and you have to know how to say "yes", and know the difference between. You have to have sinew and twist, know the codger within and the laughter therefrom, and savor the taste of life's tasty fruits and berries. A wizard knows the flavor in his mouth, has tasted dirt, is familiar with tart and bitter, aromatic and salty, never forgets the sweet, but tempers it with all the more subtle flavors. A wizard knows recipe-books, keeps notebooks, tries formulas out ; fails, goes back, tweeks, lovingly assesses, works with what is and discovers the wyrd in all things. No, not "all" things -- that's back to "all-knowing". No. Each thing. The wizard discovers thing by thing by thing, seeking the whole in each pattern. Through knowing a few good things, you come to really know, and with any luck, and a little skill, and a lot of work, you may be able to apply those lessons to new curveballs life throws at you. A wizard seeks wisdom where it may be found. Techniques and menus have been probed, are piled in the messy laboratory, located perhaps in an old greenhouse, where plants grow on the farm, or a basement, or maybe a dusty attic. Or it could just be a plain old room or shack where you do your work. Grimoires, treatises, whereever wisdom is hinted at, the wizard investigates, tries, experiments. And summons.

Conjuring is a wizard's tale, a task, imperative. To conjure perhaps defines wizarding. Summoning up, calling out and up the old spirits. Declaring. Adjuring. Inventing. Yes, a wizard invents, says it's so, and then it is, and follows up the inspired pretense with hard work of investigation and realization. That is to say, a wizard improvises. You work with life as it comes, bricolage, but also ex nihilo and fiat. You invent yourself. You discover your wizardry through your own imagination. And then life, the world, experience, tests to see if you've got the mettle. You fail a lot, and one sees if you keep getting back up and trying a new tack, till you get it right. You have faith in your own bullshit-artistry, and follow it up with facts. Bullshitting is sometimes a hair's breadth away from conjuring, and sometimes you really do summon. Be intrepid in summoning. There's a creative genius necessary for wizarding, so go on the jazz, go out on a limb. Then pull back and get real focused, do the work, work the material. That's how it's done.

A wizard draws power of deep imagination, but for all that, is real, is ordinary, extraordinary in the ordinariness. A true wizard is an advantage and a half or more over a would-be guru*. The wizard does not know everything. The wizard is not all-wise. The wizard knows how to investigate questions --- most of the time. The wizard is willing to do foot-work to find out who knows if he or she doesn't know, and go there and get what answers may be had. Most importantly, when those answers come back partial, as they always do, the wizard knows how to improvise with that mix to allow something real to happen. It may be a humble magic, but if it works real magic, and magic is the art of entering into life's ordinary miraculous with grace and with wonder, then it is an authentic gift and a foundation for new possibilities.

We're relearning how to wizard in the West. We're making it up as we go along, learning, trying, stumbling, laughing. Laughing most especially at ourselves and the world. Laughing and crying, licking our wounds, studying, going to the herbs, going to the tree trunks, placing our hands in the soil, consulting the farmer, the doctor, the merchant, and the shaman, and taking what works. Not out of appropriation, not as an introjection, but as a true awakening of what already lives within us, and just ancestral waits for some awakening. A little of this, a little of that. Something arouses, something perks up its ears. A recipe man, an extemporaneous thinker, a seeker who runs thick to the beings of this world to wake up and learn a little maturity. We know how to listen. We trust the deep processes, and play with the dangerous, learning caution as we go, knowing our fidelity to deep play will lead the way, even through the perilous, if we are mindful and watch our luck carefully.

We're grounded. We've seen the con-games. Our weathered faces subtly sneer at the charlatans, if you look long at the lines on our slowly wrinkling countenance. We once had the trickster as friend, we know his tricks. We've seen his fall. We've come too close ourselves, but something guided us, something grounded us, something kept us, in the heart of chaos, close to the good, and we knew, above all, that was to be trusted. We've talked with beings more cynical than you can imagine, and laughed at their excess. We've seen dangerous forces declare that carnage and domination is the way of the world, and we've taken aback, look askance, and marked carefully in the memory such forces to be reckoned with, and kept in place. We've heard trolls scoff at the good, bitter in their lonesome rejection of hope and ideals, and watched them pathetic burrow into a place more monstrous, though comfortable for them. We've seen all this, and come too close, and some of it rubbed off, and we have the scars to show for it, but somehow, somehow we made it through, and got better when we were made ill, or, awakened to where we are still ill and never knew it, still full of holes and withered hollows filled with white pus and fester, work our cleaning, and ask the worts to help us whole. And we are all the wiser for it. Wise not as in "all knowing". Wise as in, "you better wise up", and that is where we show some particular skill, even where we are still fools. We trust the foolish, but tend it on towards its goal and its completion. There it finds its grace, and we find our seasoned laughter. The world still holds many wonders. Mysteries are like a succulent fruit to us, though buried in a rind or nut, or covered in thorns or thickets.

We've got our licks, have the scars to show it, don't brag, but sometimes do. We still trust in the good. Oh, it's wild and full of weather, a tough old weed in a windy world, but for all the scoff and guffaw, it's real nonetheless. A birth, a sunset, a child drinking wonder daily show its simple prevalence. The broken wolves are not to be believed. There is much good remains in hard world to be midwifed, nurtured, fostered, warded. It's not naive, although it could be in the wrong hands. You don't have to fall into the abyss (at least more than once), and make your home there in the pit, simply because life has its knocks and beats you blue sometimes. Find your foot, and learn to dance the hard dance. It gets fun. You still may take a licking, but get smarter.

Don't trust someone who claims they're wise and wants you to compromise what you know best. Move along, and keep the search. Real wizards and grounded and will work with what you present, if you show yourself sincere to do the hard work of growth. They won't bother, nonetheless, with poseurs and those who pretend they're ready when they're not, won't waste a second of their time with those still dallying far from the plate. Step up. Trust your gut, and don't let the wily sell you as wise. Wise puts you in your place, the place where you belong. A wizard is not all-knowing. A wizard is seasoned.

*Without prejudice towards those Hindu wizards who've earned a good name of guru ; we in the West have seen many charlatans and pompous hypocrites setting themselves up as pedestals, yet quick to abuse and call it "opportunity".


Heathenry can be a world full of jargon, an arcane ghetto full of little catchphrases and special code words straight from the Old Norse or Old English. Is the jargon necessary? Not really. It may be good to cut one's teeth upon, for knowing one's history and etymology is never a bad thing, but it is not essential.

Getting down to essences, one need not say orlog if one can say "original nature" or "original law", and the latter is far more understandable to most people. One need not say wyrd if one can say "destiny", and qualify it by saying that "life is weird", which gets more at the essence of wyrd than a dozen treatises. If one wants to add that destiny flows like water, twisting and turning, excellent. All of this is doable and transferable to the understanding of ordinary folk without jargon. One need not say fylgia if one can say "guardian angel" or "power animal", which whether it ruffles the feathers of purists or not, gets at the essence of the term. It's perfectly fine to call Yggdrasil the "Tree of Life", not to mention the "World-Tree". You may call the runes the "mysteries", which accurately hints at the depths of the term.

This even applies when it comes to the Gods. The divine order is concerned with essences, not human names, which are always subject to change and flow. The Gods themselves were used to enormous numbers of heiti (which you may more commonly call "bynames") and kennings (or "poetic paraphrases" or "allusions"). In other words, not only is it ok, but it is actually preferable and powerful to hint at the Gods. Calling Odin "All-Father", "Heavenly Father", "God", or even more mysteriously, "The Old Man", is fine. He could be called "The Wandering Wizard". Most people, I suspect, will respond to "All-Father". Odin had dozens of names and would certainly not mind more that hint at his nature. Since the word Frigga means "beloved", why not refer to "Beloved Mother Earth"? This is certainly far more resonant for most people. Most of the Gods are the children, natural or adopted, of All Father and Mother Earth, and again, regardless of their dogma, this is something that will sit with the hearts of most people. The fact that the earth is populated by their helpers, the alfar or "elves" (a perfectly fine word, although "fairies" will also do) and dvergar or "dwarves", also makes sense. The world needs its own watchers who guard and report back to God and His Holy Family.

Getting caught up in the words is a way to turn something powerful into idolatry. As Korzybski said, "The map is not the territory", and to paraphrase Robert Anton Wilson's paraphrase of Korzybski, you don't eat the menu when you go into a restaurant. You eat the meal. Nor do you grasp a meal outside of a restaurant context and mystically call upon the names listed there in hopes the meal will come. You don't need the vocabulary to live the essence.

The myths and stories are wonderful. They reveal patterns of wyrd. They lay out a mythic sequence of creation and fall that leads to the historical world, and the patterns laid down in that dream-time repeat in kaleidoscopic forms those with prophetic eyes recognize. They were the sequences with which our present world, for good or for ill, were created, and so in a certain sense, events are always repeating in some form or another these ancient archetypes, and prophecy becomes a matter of discerning which pattern of wyrd is replicating itself in unique form in the present. But beware the temptation to literalize. When properly used, these are poetic means of grasping real archetypal patterns. Don't lose the poetry, for it is the primary means with which we are equipped to deal with reality.

Worship is at heart becoming worthy of the Gods we recognize. Everyone must begin somewhere, and sometimes people must take their time in their beginning primers, but it's important to not bow before the primers and etch in stone abstract symbols that are meant to point at something else. The finger points at the moon. Don't look at the finger.

To become worthy of the Gods, we must look at what we value in life, and whether we are giving worth to what is truly worthy. We must examine whether what we claim to be worthy really has worth in our life. And we must quest and stretch ourselves in order to truly embody the spiritual powers we hold true.

It would indeed be a shame for heathenry to turn into a kind of cargo-cult where people would raise a horn of mead to Njord, and yet not care about the condition of the oceans, nor cry in outrage when the seas are desecrated. It would absolutely be a travesty for people to call upon Frigga and Jord and yet have no real connection at all to the land and the power that emerges forth from it. These examples could be multiplied. It is not that there is anything wrong with the symbols themselves. The difficulty lies in the proper usage of the symbols so that they are experientially embodying the actual spiritual principles behind them. When they do that, we are connected, and we no longer need to use any jargon, because we are connected with real experience, and we can speak from that real experience to people.

To some, saying "I worship the divine in the ocean", or "I experience the earth as a spiritual power", or "I believe God lives on the winds, ever questing for new truths" sounds watered-down, maybe even New Age. They think that if they replace these from-the-heart descriptions with jargon pulled out of an old book, they are more authentic. Well, they are wrong. I don't want to tell you how to speak. You speak however you like. Just be certain that communication is an art that is meant to reach a listener and effect some real kind of change within them. If all they hear is gobblydgook, the message is dead on arrival, and an opportunity has been missed.

A Christian who believed as well in Mother Earth and worked with the fairies, if these concepts were lived experiential realities, might be a better ally than a jargon-blinded fool with no real connection to the earth, because it is the essence that matters.

There are real spiritual powers in this world. They are immense potentials for good. If we know this, and if we live this, and if we will take the risk to step outside of our comfortable ruts and stretch ourselves to learn and reach their spiritual power, we will be immensely enriched, and we will become agents for transforming their potentials for good into realities in our world. And that is where the real "battles" begin, struggles truly worthy of our souls.

Let words follow essences, and speak true.

Forming A Mythic Response to the Deepwater Catastrophe

A catastrophe has been let loose, gore from the depths pouring forth gallon upon thousand-gallon upon hundred-thousand gallon each day to dizzy and spin the mind to frenzy. Can hearts gather up the wreck that Deepwater's horizon hath wreaked? When greed sped beyond the limits of prudence, and the law welcomed giants upon the shores, what vision did the folk think heavy to hap upon the world? This was written in stone the day the law let loose the wolves. The depths shake in clogged spasm.

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.

Poetic Prelude

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?

The Myth

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Of Councils Called

Of councils called in the crystalline halls
of those age-old athelings of Elfhome we've heard:
Say where in the gathering that granddame Gambara,
mothersmith's marvel, more fame than all, sat
when she, the Sidhe's seidhr-shrieker, let loose
ribbons of rapture, and ran down the line
of the aettar of elves, and their awe-engraved past,
running rapid, like the river in rush, past
this moment's hollow in present, the people there gathered,
to sorrow tarry in the trust of prophetesses' sad
revelations, there unfolded the folk's future, in true
yet salt-searing tears, in the silent hush of hall.
Up on the altar, all could see her
speak in the center, and say her wise words ; why
all were assembled in that echoing chamber
none knew not, not even men, in days long gone :
the Winter! that woe of the world, bring famine
and loss, losing crops, long snows, and freeze
past time for the temperance of spring's true charm,
and her sons, those smiths, so celebrated 'fore,
innocence uncertain for spells of dark hue
were cast in the cry of croaking envy, while
none could nullify their well-known fame,
nor loathe their loyalty, love of land, what --
some wondered, whispering words
of doubt, did those druids in darkness chant?
Whisper, rasp, in the regal room,
of shame and shock at the shirk of filial
piety plunged and pulverized there, the sons
make shrift short of the sure and old ways,
advise, a vice, of vicious rede:
the old and young in cold cast out
to freeze in the frost, so the food might meet
the meckle of men whose might was proven.
Would Gods grant luck to guards such as these?
More than men's words, the mother was honored.
Up against her atheling offspring rose she,
rose, and roused the roiling
fire that fumed in the folk's secret coffers.
The old are our elders, she elegant spoke,
yet grave, with the gravity and grandness
of priestesshood she'd proven to the people,
let no loyal lover of our folk
advise the vice of villain exile
to elders and all of our elven children, rather :
let the men of might make way,
and gather their goods, going forth from the land,
leading their lineage from local homes out
whereever in world their welcome awaits,
leaving food, in this famine, to feed the needy.
For there are none amongst us in this narrow, long hall
who ever would open his mouth against elders, tis sin
and strike out the shame of sons sinful, by send,
sending them forth to find their far fate. Find it!
Crowds will come, a ragtag caravan,
torn, tattered, travailed by frost and hunger.
None will know thy noble birth
in the far-off foreign lands you flee to :
for quite some time, the Queen's folk shrouded
under cloak, under cowl, under care and woe, out
blending blood in the blizzard's haze
with strangers, strange tribes, strangled memories,
the horrid hordes, the hunger ; with men
you'll make your mates in days come :
the soft, beaming light of your lineage bled
henceforth in veins where dark thoughts grow.
Washed in the whirlpool of the welcoming tribes
your seed absorbed in the silence of their genes :
it is men who will make thee their mighty forebears,
princely pride in their peerless ancients
who gave their gift of goodly talent,
blood, and bright light, that was borne of the sun
and send it spiralling into the scions of men.
Wyrd speaks this wergild, for Winter's cost.
so go, go off now, and grab what dignity
remains for you men of might and squander,
for long days loathing now lay at hand,
and half-mortal, with men, you'll be made
in the melee and combats that come in the cold,
coming nights. Nobility lies in knowing
how to hold one's head in the fog and in exile.
What frith you can find, be faithful to it.
More in this moment, the mother would not
speak in her spiel, for the spell was now cast.
And all gave assent, so they sent off the men
of might who had made themselves marvels
of elves, once in the wonder-times we've woeful forgot:
but proud princes, they proved, and gathered up muster,
spilled out from these cold springs with spirit and valor,
clashed with kings in dire combat,
left their legends in the loins of women
high-bred and haughty, and holding good grace.
You might see their spirits shimmer
in the eyes of an artist, or the gaze of the graceful.
In the hearts of the noble they now have their homes.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Drink the Heath

In pharmaceutical medicines, we take inert medicines to "fix" problems, and that is the end of our relationship with that substance, at least until there is another problem needing fixing.

In herbal medicine, we take energetically-alive medicines and form a relationship with them, welcoming them into us. There is a relationship of intimate hospitality and exchange. We welcome the spirit of the plant within us, recognizing its intelligence, and understanding that it will add its intelligence to ours such that ours will become enhanced. It is a longer-term, and more affective relationship.

We introduce ourselves to herbs because we are simpletons, literally. We are living on diets and lives bleached of color and flavor, scent and tonality. It is true that we overcompensate for this with massive stimulation, but quantity does not make up for quality. We are quality-less or low in qualities, and lack colorful nutrition. Our diets and experiences are often very narrow, and even our modern biomedicine consists of isolated, simplified substances without texture, complexity, or depth. One thing we are doing when we drink herbal teas is taking in nuances of flavor and feeling that have been a part of our evolutionary experience for millions of years.

Humanity grew up in the forests and meadows. Our mythology expresses this by speaking of human beings as literally descending from trees given soulful qualities by the Gods. We have been gaining consciousness and individuation for millions of years while in interaction with the vital phytochemistry of the habitats that have surrounded us. When we drink teas, we are taking in evolutionary information and awakening dormant instincts just as much as we are taking in actual medicinal brews.

You can really enhance the vitalistic effects of herbs if you take time to sit down with your teas and open yourself to the full experience of welcoming them in. I know this way of speaking may sound a bit strange, but that is only because of the alienation effects of industrial culture under the influence of Christianity for a thousand years or so. Make a ritual of it, as it were. Sit down, brew your tea, and when you take your first sip, savor the sip. Close your eyes. Welcome it in. Allow your imagination to track the energetic sensations in your body, and go with it. If it is the right herb, it will begin reconfiguring your energetic shape immediately. You will feel it moving in and reweaving the cocoon of your ham where it has become misshapen, and restoring it to the shape natural to you. Herbs know the orlog. Bad experiences often misshape us and twist us from our connection to our original nature. Herbs can help restore this.

Breathe, and let yourself journey, in your energetic imagination. You may not go anywhere but within your body, or you may find yourself drawn to various vistas. Allow, and learn. The plant is not just healing you, but teaching you. There is much to learn, young one. The plants were here long before we were, and they took oaths to Baldur when he was still with us.

It doesn't have to be a dramatic thing. You can lie down after having some sips, close your eyes, and just let your imagination gently flow. It may simply feel like resting and daydreaming. If you are attuned to the flows of megin and hael (energy and life-force) in your body (or we could just say, in modern parlance, Qi : the words we use are really not important), you will begin feeling shifts in your meridians.

If you've ever experienced acupuncture, you know that you lie down on the table, the acupuncturist inserts needles, and then you just lay there for a half an hour to an hour and let the energy do its work. A good herbal session should go the same way. This doesn't mean you have to do this every time you take herbs ; you may be on the run and not have time. Nevertheless, if you can do this, it will enhance the experience, and an herbal session like this should have comparable energetic effects to a good acupuncture session. Remember, the herb is not just working physically or even physiologically, but energetically, and has the ability to affect the internal energy flows flowing within the meridians of the body. When you first swallow, there may be a few moments where it feels like the herb is searchign within your body to find the places it needs to go. You may literally feel this all over your body in all kinds of places you did not expect to have sensation.

Feelings may bubble up in the process, along with images. Allow these to happen, experience them, let them flow over and through you, and then release them. You may have things to learn from these experiences. Feelings and images may bring healings from past experiences that have yet to be processed. Herbs are very intelligent and know how to bring up what is in need of healing. If you need to cry, or to release some emotion, allow yourself to safely do so without hurting yourself or others.

It's much better if you let the tea stay in your mouth for a few moments before swallowing. Swish it around and let it mix with your saliva, and let it swirl over all your taste buds. They will instantly send messages to the brain, awakening untapped receptors, and begin the digestion and assimilation process long before swallowed.

We grew up as a species in the heath. As industrialized, depaganized folk, we have been deprived of the heath. Herbal teas are a way to literally drink the heath back into yourself.

This may be a part of every heathen's program of reheathenization.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


"The true ecoterrorists are the planet-despoilers. Those in the Forest Service and the timber industry who are annihilating thousand-year-old forests for paper bags and picnic tables. Ranchers and employees of the Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control unit who have exterminated predators ranging from Grizzly Bears and Gray Wolves to Common Ravens and Bobcats and continue to slaughter them in their remnant ranges. The calculator-rational engineers and pork-barrel politicians who want to plug every free-flowing river with dams. The thrill-seeking dirt bikers who terrify wildlife and scar delicate watersheds with mindless play. Japanese and Icelandic whalers who are hounding the last great whales to the ends of the Earth, despite international agreements against whaling. The heads of Exxon and other giant oil companies who cut back on safety measures to save a few pennies and thereby cause disasters like the Prince William Sound oil-tanker wreck and the blowout of drilling platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel. Corporate executives whose bottom line is profit and who could not care less about Love Canals, Bhopals, cigarette smoke, acid rain, and unsafe automobiles. Otherworldly "religious leaders" who condemn birth control and encourage the poor in Third World countries to have more children. The list of ecoterrorists is endless --- but it does not include the brave and conscientious individuals who are defending threatened wild areas by placing a monkeywrench in the gears of the machine." --- Dave Foreman, Confessions of An Eco-Warrior, Harmony Books, New York, 1991, pp. 124 - 125.

Hey, Dave, let's add in the corporate fuckers of BP who skimped on safety and brought us the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010, which will eclipse the Exxon-Valdez as the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and has the potential, however slight, of killing the Earth's oceans . Crimes against Njord?

I'm sorry, but as a skald, I have a religious duty to praise the deeds of heroes who fight to defend Mother Earth, as beloved Thor himself does. It doesn't matter how your empire or its various media label these people. It doesn't matter if an enslaved and cowed population has been frightened into bogeymanning them. Real people look at actual deeds, not accusations, labels, or slander. They examine the quality of actions and the values behind them. They admire real courage in the service of something transcendant and meaningful. They do not step in line with propaganda machines and simply mimic whatever we are told we are "supposed" to believe, nor do they cower in regiment simply because some kind of smear words created to arouse fear in listeners is applied to someone.

Let's get real. The overwhelming majority of those who are smeared as "ecoterrorists" are not "terrorists" at all in any definition of the term, and are at best ecovandalists. Ask anyone in New York City who had to go through the awful trauma of 9-11 whether they consider "vandalism" and "terrorism" the same thing. There is no comparison, and the authoritarian imperialists peddling such words know this. They're just depending on you to be stupid enough to not notice the difference. Don't be stupid. Your freedom depends on it.

And just in case you were wondering ... the word "vandalism" comes from the name of a Germanic tribe, the Vandals, who wreaked havoc on the Roman Empire as they came through with a spirit of retribution against an Empire which had repeatedly violated their groves, their laws, their children, and treated them as less-than-human. Do the math.

The Only True Prayer

"Gods, give me strength to grow up, and let it be as gentle as it may. With this world, that will be rough enough."

We acorns have the opportunity, not the guarantee, to grow into great oaks. Will we take the challenge? Will we last it?

We need comrades in arms and Gods who will support us.

Rest assured they want us proud, and ripened, and seasoned with deeds and hard-won victories. But we must show our mettle.

For those nervous with the title "the only", this is a dramatic figure of speech, and has no connection to religious exclusivism. There are always many ways to do things right (which never excludes there being many ways to do things wrong, either).

A Battle Worth Fighting, An Army Worth Fighting In

Gods, give me a battle worth fighting, one that can be won if one fights hard enough and intelligently enough.

Gods, give me an army worth fighting in, that fights the right battles, for the right reasons, for the right values.

Gods, give me comrades who support me in my strengths, who challenge me in lingering slavishness, who come to my side in genuine times of woe.

Gods, may I grasp the chance of worth that comes my way and make it mine that I might prove more than a niding in a world of corruption, and be able to take back honor for my own, and like the person I see in the mirror.

This is a true prayer, O Holy Powers.

To A Warrior, There Is No Status Quo

To a warrior, there is no status quo. There are no conditions that cannot be challenged. There are no situations that oppress the human spirit that cannot be overturned, with enough work, with enough dedication, with enough fight.

We do not fight in order to fight. We fight because we have seen comrades, and know of ancestors, who have had their backs broken by conditions which destroy them. We fight because we have seen what certain kinds of conditions will do to a man and his dignity. We fight because a slavish way of life produces slaves who are less than human. And we say that not because we hold some social darwinish superiority, but because our human heart is still alive enough to see what happens to people when they lose their freedom.

There is nothing they can give you that will compensate you for the loss of your freedom. The citizens of the empire live in great luxury, luxury produced at the hands of slaves. That luxury will not compensate you for the loss of your soul. The stable home, bought by you under property arrangements that never make the land truly your own, where it is ever subject to tribute to feed the empire's armies, it will not compensate you for the loss of your freedom and your soul. There is no sexual arrangement of pleasure that will compensate you for the loss of your soul. Gold will never make good on freedom lost. And freedom matters. Because its presence or absence determines the kind of werman or woman you will become.

Look around. Rome struggles with any remaining Teutonic values of tribe and land and freedom. The indigenous and the imperial are locked in terrific struggles, with the dominant powers in the ascendant.

You do not have to accept this.

This is not in tune with the ur-law.

This is not supposed to be and this does not have to be.

If you can find comrades, you can fight.

And even alone, you can raise your fist in the air and resist. Defiance is life! And if you are a real heathen, you have Gods who celebrate you in your defiance.

Do you think the Gods did not have to struggle to make this world? Do you think they did not have to struggle and fight again and again to challenge that which tried to gain a foothold in this world that turned back the clock on the good they had so laboriously brought into it? Do you think it was easy for Frey and Freya locked in that mountain dungeon, under the rule of Beli and Gotvara, stripped of their freedom, the coming springtime stolen from them year after year after year? Not knowing whether the other Gods were even trying anymore to rescue them? Do you think even after they got out, it was easy to regain their composure and their fullness? Do you now understand why Frey vowed that he would always "release the captives" whereever he might find them? That role of liberator was founded upon profound struggle, and understanding of what it is like to lose one's dignity when one is made a slave, whether that is in subjection to addiction, to tyrannical authority, to various forms of captivity, or all of the above. Freedom matters.

John Dominic Crossan has a wonderful passage in one of his books where he talks about what the Roman God Jupiter had become within the context of Empire, what his invocation truly meant, and what the God Yahweh signified at that time, and he resists their identification, on the basis that they had come to mean very, very different things. Crossan, as a Christian, is of course unfair to his pagan opponents, as most are, for truly Jupiter did not always represent the will of the Empire, and more importantly, where he was made to do so, this did not truly represent his history of worship within the Latinate tribes. (And Christians, who turned their Prince of Peace into an Inquisition-loving, Crusades-bearing, Imperialist slaughterer have no foot to stand upon, for they should know better than most how corrupted religious practice can twist how people can experience a God, and that that has everything to do with the corruption, and nothing essential to do with the nature of that God.) Nevertheless, Jupiter was invoked in the law-courts where the empire with a stroke of the gavel took away rights of those they had colonized, and Yahweh was being invoked as a God of the Oppressed, and for whatever value it may factually have (and people will be arguing over this for some time), the rubric itself, of seeing that it makes a difference which God (conception)s you call upon, stands as significant, particularly when we are discussing Teutonic Gods.

I have very little in common with folkish ideology here. I didn't come to these Gods simply because they were the "Gods of my ancestors". Hell no. If I had discovered that the Gods of my ancestors were nidings who wished a slavish existence for people, I would have discarded them easily and immediately into the wastebin of history, ancestors be damned for slaves, and these Gods, these Gods would have approved and patted me on the back! And in fact, if you think about it, I did, because the Gods of our immediate ancestors, many of us, that is, were Christian Gods, and we rejected them as slavish. So if the Gods that preceded these slavish conceptions were just as slavish, they would just as easily have gone into the waste-bin, and I would have gravitated towards these Gods, or conceptions very similar to them, wherever I could find them, regardless of the genetic coincidence of those conceptions.

For I will not follow slavish Gods. I will not follow Gods who would have me be a slave. I will not follow Gods who would wish less than the freedom that makes for dignified, human existence. I will not follow Gods who do not wish us to fight against degraded, corrupting conditions that rot and destroy a man's soul.

And for the record, it is the slavishness in Christianity which I repudiate and hate. I do not hate its call for restoration of Golden Age values, and mercy, and love, because those are -- make no mistake here or we are not comrades -- the values of my tradition, too. But without freedom, all of these good and wonderful things turn to shit. I want to say these things, and make this clear, because there are people who hate Christianity because it talks about love, and to these people, I say, Go back to Jotunheim, troll. There are people who hate Christianity because it envisions restoration of Golden Age values, and to these people, I say, You are not my friends. There are people who hate Christianity because all they can imagine is a limited, grim existence full of cruelty and harshness, where only the most dominant can survive, and to these people, I say, get a life. Seriously. What has such to do with Gods of great celebration, victory, honor, and freedom?

To a warrior, there is no status quo. Whatever degrades the human spirit not only can, but ought to be, fought. And these are Gods who egg you on to do so.

Heathenry is Playing Pretend

That's my conclusion for the evening. Call it cynical. I call it an accurate assessment of the present stage of the movement. It's pretend-acting by city-folk not really willing to give their all to something that will require a tremendous amount of commitment and transformation : turning around of their urban, imperialized mindstates to really reclaim and take back the tribal.

I began this musing walking through an open field whose beauteous weeds had just been cut for fire regulations, because that land calls to me. It is an open space. I then imagined one of the urban zombies who surround me calling the police on me for "trespassing" on "private property", when all I was doing was peacefully walking on the land and attuning to it, a religious need. I imagined being called into court and telling them, "You have no jurisdiction over me." When they asked me for my plea, I imagined saying, "I do not have to answer to you and I make no plea." When they told me I was in contempt of court, I imagined saying, "No, you are in contempt of me and of the land, and I have nothing to say to you." And then I imagined telling them that I follow the law of my tribe, who follows the land.

Then comes the part in this somewhat vain if dramatic musing where the opposition was able to topple the whole house of cards. "You don't have a real tribe, Siegfried," the court said. "That tribe is all in your head."

All of my bluster and show faded. Not my strength, not my resolve, but they had me there. There is not a single person I know of who would come to my defense in this little, imaginary situation. No, people would scold me for having "trespassed" on "private property", and like good little urban citizens, they would side with a law they never wrote because in some book somewhere they came to believe that laws represent the people's representations of their ancient rights, when in fact we live in a settler state founded on imperialism.

People claiming to be fellow heathens would scold me for speaking to the court in that way.

Or like cowards, I would get some modicum of defiance expressed in some slavish way, accompanied by the anti-warrior sentiment, "Well, that's just the way it is," something, when it comes to human arrangements, an ancient warrior would never have said in the face of empire. I would get some lecture on how yes, it sucks, but I just have to find some way to suck it up. And suck it up. And suck it up. And keep sucking it up my entire life until there is no genuine life or dignity or freedom left to me.

There is no real tribe. There are no warriors who would back a fellow tribesman in a matter of religious, tribal law. There are no proud comitati-members who would stand behind me and challenge the Roman Empire. The only people who even faintly through a dark glassly approach such a thing are members of the "patriot" militia movement, and members of Earth First!, and of course, we are all well-educated by the media now to know that those kinds are "terrorists" with whom we must never show any kind of sympathy or solidarity, even if of the critical kind. Ha! Some "freedom" we've got.

No, most heathens, like most of everyone else, are living on the other side of the Rhine, the side that Rome has colonized, and when push comes to shove, they will defend the Empire, with their life. Or, cowards, they'll simply call an imperial soldier in to do it for them.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The True Sources of the Lore

The poets boiled down the accumulated experiences of the shamanic prophetesses into polished, beauteous common symbols that owe their depth to the longevity, diversity, and richness of the visionary experiences the skalds took up into their mythologizing.

The prophetesses in their great imaginal-energetic explorations of the cosmos brought back cosmographical descriptions of how the world of worlds looks. These became the foundation for poetic concretion and embellishments, and formed the backdrop for mythological bragis : metaphorical boasts of deeds and exploits worthy of the character of various spirits and divinities, gleaned from deeply-attuned and imaginally meditative and contemplative prayer. These are the Gods stepping into narrative to bespeak their character through the medium of poetic tale.

Over time these built up into a consistent, traditional archive of deeds that were interwoven with the exploits of other divinities to construct mythology. They are true, inasmuch as they reveal the character of divinities who far transcend any stories which might be told of them. They are not to be taken literally, and yet deep imaginal involvement with these tales is richly revelatory, and compresses great visionary insights that transcend their mythological form and yet are immanent and enfolded within them.

Love Bridges the Gap

Love is strong and bridges the gaps between estranged lovers. Odr pursues Freya again and again, and then in turn, Freya pursues Odr when he wanders off. This is an important message for people to absorb. Love is not a narcissistic subordination of the other to what they can do for you while you have romantic feelings for them. It transcends that. If you ever loved them, assuming there was no abuse, and the mourning period is over with, you should still love them even after the romance has ended.

Is it honoring Freya to dishonor love that was genuine and shared?

Paganism is not a fad, nor is it about constructing super cartoon characters bowed before as shibboleths. It's realizing that there are numinous powers in the world that are holy. Love is one of them.

Whether you personify that numinous power as "Freya" or not is not as relevant as whether you live true to its authentic divinity. It so happens that wise people who studied how love really works quintessentialized that learning into potent stories, stories that if the divine force of love were to awaken in an anthromorphic way, She would enjoy and give her stamp of approval.

On the other hand, if you just turn her into some mythological character you say some words to, then you don't actually really have to do the work of honoring her in your life, but paganism is predominantly an immanent not a transcendant religion. It's about integrating these numinosities into our lives. Anyone can bow before a statue and pray to an external force to give virtues, but recognizing divinity in the world and then honoring it concretely, that's a different matter.

Someone who never knew of the Gods but honored their powers in the world, within the fabric of their everyday life, pleases the Gods more than someone who knows of them but won't live them.

The lore-figure is the common language, the alphabet glyph that remains unvaried so communication is possible. But that is just convention form which to have experiences, and each person's experience will be slightly different and oriented towards their own situation, but it is the experience which is primary. When you begin to plug in these loric reference points, you will begin to have visionary experiences, and it is these that matter. These experiences, examined, tested, trusted, and shared, are what lives the tradition onwards. Don't get stuck in a book ; the book is just a map, rough at best. It is the adventures the map can inspire that matter, and then, furthermore, integrating the lessons of those adventures in your everyday life.

Love is a numinous power. It is real, it is benevolent, it is powerful, and it is magical. She shares out her joys to those who will honor the gifts she gives. And the stories of Freya are one beautiful way to approach her mysteries.

Are you honoring Love in your life? Are you a knight she would choose to stay with her in that beautiful roomy hall called Good Cheer? Think about it. Then act on your best conscience. Renew that connection you've allowed to falter. Leave behind the attitude of disposability, and rebond with those who have brought you happiness and wonder.

Love is Strong

She is strong and resilient, master of warriors [1] , and when her anger is aroused, the very halls of the Gods themselves shake [2]. She is patient and kind, and seeks out Soul whenever it is lost and wandering [3]. She is Love in all its myriad forms [4], and her love stretches across distances [5] and bridges separations when all else have given up hope [6]. She is an enchantress who teaches a kind of magic [7] that allows one to know, in one's very bones and blood, the inner nature of another, as well as all the potential that has yet to be laid down for them [8]. Such deep, rich knowledge allows one to beget health, embrace of ancestral strength, and even life itself for another, or to take them away [9]. It even allows the consciousness and inner virtues of one person to be shared with another, so they partake of them as well [10]. Such power exposes one to tremendous vulnerability, and has the capacity to so soften one's hardness that those concerned with machismo often shy away from it [11]. Odin refers to this level of sharing in Havamal 124 as sifjum blandat, a "merging of affinity", and in Havamal 44 as geði blanda, a "mixing of minds", somewhat akin to the modern science-fiction concept of a mind-meld.

This blending of hearts through love may be extended towards the spirits of nature, who come to the sound of her voice and gladly share their secrets [12], and in turn, some of the nature-spirits may, in turn, share their powers and take love where she needs to go [13]. Through love we may explore the cosmos and come to know the secrets of nature, if our minds and hearts will stretch widely enough. Such is true magic.

Through Love, even the strongest curses may be overcome [14].


[1] Grimnisal 14 :hálfan val hún kýss hverjan dag, "half of the fallen She chooses every day...".

[2] Thrymskvida 14: Reið varð þá Freyja ok fnasaði, allr ása salr undir bifðisk, stökk þat it mikla men Brísinga... "Wroth then was Freyja and snorted with rage, all of the Aesir's halls shook from below, sprang apart that mighty Brising jewel...".

[3] Gylfaginning 35, Óðr fór í braut langar leiðir, en Freyja grætr eftir, ... er hon fór með ókunnum þjóðum at leita Óðs, "Odr fared away on long roads, and Freyja weeped after him ... when she travelled amongst unknown nations searching for Odr." Odr, as we have discussed before, means the poetic mind or soul.

[4] In Skaldskaparmal 20, she is called the ástaguð, "Goddess of Love". This is love in all of its forms, from romantic to familial.

[5] Gylfaginning 35, hon fór með ókunnum þjóðum, "she faired amongst unknown nations". The Wife's Lament, A ic wite wonn minra wræcsiþa. ærest min hlaford gewat heonan of leodum ofer yþa gelac; hæfde ic uhtceare hwær min leodfruma londes wære. ða ic me feran gewat folgað secan, wineleas wrecca, for minre weaþearfe, "Ever I suffer pain in my travel through foreign lands. First my lord departed hence from his people over the tossing waves ; dawn-cares I had on where in all the lands my prince was. Then I set out to depart, seeking a retinue, a friendless pilgrim, for my woeful tribulations."

[6] She has a handmaiden named Lofn, hon er svá mild ok góð til áheita, at hon fær leyfi af Alföðr eða Frigg til manna samgangs, kvenna ok karla, þótt áðr sé bannat eða þvertekit þykki (Gylfaginning 35), "Lofn, she is very mild and good to call upon, for she obtains leave from All-Father or Frigg for people to come together, women as well as men, even though before it seemed banned or outright forbidden." This is most certainly bridging separations when others have given up hope! Additionally, she continues to search for Odr even when he seems hopelessly lost.

[7] This Art was customary amongst the Vanir, and dear to them, and Freya was the first to teach it amongst the Aesir. (Hún kenndi fyrst með Ásum seið sem Vönum var títt, Ynglingasaga 4.)

[8] Ynglingasaga 7, seiður heitir en af því mátti hann vita örlög manna og óorðna hluti, "It is called enchantment, and from this he was able to know the original nature of men and their unordained lot..." It allows you to know who they are in their very nature, as well as what their potential is, what has not yet been set down for them. This is knowledge in bone and blood, sea and ocean and sunlight, a deep, powerful kind of knowing. Snorri in fact calls it a fjölkynngi, "full knowledge".

[9] Ynglingasaga 7, að gera mönnum bana eða óhamingju eða vanheilindi, "he could arrange men's death or falling out of their family luck or waning health." By the very nature of archaic magic, the ability to give death, unluck, and ill health is also the ability to grant life, luck, and health. From such powerful knowledge, one may prepare life or death, ancestral embrace or exile, and good or ill health. In Hyndluljod, Freya travels deep into the underworld to obtain secret knowledge that will re-unite one of her followers with his ancestral heritage. In Hyndluljod 10, she says, skylt er at veita, svá at skati inn ungi föðurleifð hafi eftir frændr sína, "it is necessary to provide assistance, so that the young man may have his paternal inheritance after his kinsmen." In this way, Love finds a way to connect us to all of our loved ones, including those who have come before.

[10] Ynglingasaga 7, svo og að taka frá mönnum vit eða afl og gefa öðrum, "so he could take wit or strength from a man and give it to another". There is here the ability to transfer knowledge and virtues from one person to another.

[11] Ynglingasaga 7, En þessi fjölkynngi, er framið er, fylgir svo mikil ergi að eigi þótti karlmönnum skammlaust við að fara og var gyðjunum kennd sú íþrótt, "But such mighty flames of passion followed from this full-knowing that it was not thought without shame for males to fare with it and the priestesses were taught this Art." (Ergi always implies a kind of nymphomaniac lust.)

[12] Eiríks saga rauða describes a ceremony, Slógu þá konur hring umhverfis en Þorbjörg sat uppi á seiðhjallinum. ... þá kvæðið svo fagurt og vel að engi þóttist fyrr heyrt hafa með fegri raust kveðið sá er þar var, "The women struck a ring around Thorbjorg while she sat up in the Hill of Enchantment ... then chanted so fair and well that no one thought they had heard before a voice singing so beautifully". Hún hafði margar náttúrur hingað ... En mér eru nú margir þeir hlutir auðsýnir, "She had brought many nature-spirits hither, "And now many things are easy for me to see."" The women gather in a circle, perhaps dancing in the round, and begin to chant beautiful songs which draw the nature-spirits forth, and when they are present, many things become clear which before were obscure.

[13] Ynglingasaga 7 describes this process of hamfaring, which allowed one to skipti hömum. Lá þá búkurinn sem sofinn eða dauður en hann var þá fugl eða dýr, fiskur eða ormur og fór á einni svipstund á fjarlæg lönd að sínum erindum eða annarra manna, "shift one's skin, laying there on one's back as if asleep or dead and he was then a bird or beast, fish or serpent and fared in the twinkling of an eye to far-off lands for his own purposes or those of someone else." Örvar-Odds saga, Chapter 2, speaks of a völva ok seiðkona ok vissi fyrir óorðna hluti af fróðleik sínum. Hún fór á veizlur ok sagði mönnum fyrir um vetrarfar ok forlög sín. Hún hafði með sér fimmtán sveina ok fimmtán meyjar ... en völva fór til náttfarsseiðs með sitt lið, "prophetess and witch-woman [who] foresaw unordained lots from her magical wisdom. She fared to feasts and told men about the course of the year and what life had stored up for them. She had with her fifteen young men and fifteen maidens ... and the prophetess fared to the night-faring enchantments with her retinue." Here we learn explicitly about náttfarsseiðs, "night-faring witchcraft", which involved travelling out by night in spirit. Freyja has a valshams (Skaldskaparmal 1), "hawk-coat" or fjaðrhams (Thrymskvida 3), "feather-skin", with which she may fly through the air. Hawks are renowned for their visual acuity, which is many times that of a human.

[14] Hyndluljod 50, "Orðheill þín skal engu ráða, þóttú, brúðr jötuns bölvi heitir;" "Thy threats shall amount to nothing, Jotun's bride, although you threaten misfortune."

All translations copyright 2010 by Siegfried Goodfellow.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ráðbod of Frisia

In the Life of Saint Wulfram, we come upon a saga of heathen resistance to a missionary, in the person of Prince (or Duke) Ráðbod of Frisia, and opposing him, the character of Saint Wulfram. Scholars have long pointed out that the chronology of these two historical figures is incompatible, and thus the saint's biography records in altered form an encounter between a Christian missionary (or compresses into one figure countless missionaries) and a famed and by then legendary heathen leader, Ráðbod.

Whatever the provenance of the source itself, its subject matter rings of authenticity and mirrors heathen values in its descriptions of Duke Ráðbod. Moreover, the parallels to several episodes in Icelandic sagas verifies the essential validity and genuine nature of this saga that comes to us through hostile witnesses. That hostility must have been tempered with some sort of admiration for ancestors as well, for even in its Christianized form, the story has that kind of spice and panache that heathens loved, and which even their Christianized descendants still relished. So authentic is the sagaic flavor in this hagiography that Gerhard Eis, in his Jahrhunderts, aus Legenden erschlossen (Berlin, 1933, pp. 9-26), went so far as to suggest that the Life of Saint Wulfram drew on an old German poem.

The themes we discover in this purloined story are : 1) Strong affection for the ancestors and adherence to their ways, 2) Supernatural insistence to remain within the heathen ways, and 3) a dream-guide who shows one soon doomed to die those golden underworld abodes which have been prepared for them. I have translated these tales here because they are important documents of heathen sensibility that are owed deep study and contemplation.

In the first tale, told in Chapter Nine of the Vita Vulframni, Duke Ráðbod refuses baptism when he is told that his illustrious heathen ancestors will not join him in heaven :

Praefatus autem princeps Rathbodus, cum ad percipiendum baptisma inbueretur, percunctabatur a sancto episcopo Vulframno, iuramentis eum per nomen Domini astringens, ubi maior esset numerus regum et principum seu nobilium gentis Fresionum, in illa videlicet caelesti regione, quam, si crederet et baptizaretur, percepturum se promittebat, an in ea, quam dicebat tartaream dampnationem. Tunc beatus Vulframnus : "Noli errare, inclite princeps, apud Deum certus est suorum numerus electorum. Nam praedecessores tui principes gentis Fresionum, qui sine baptismi sacramento recesserunt, certum est dampnationis suscepisse sententiam ; qui vero adhinc crediderit et baptizatus fuerit, cum Christo gaudebit in aeternum". Haec audiens dux incredulus -- nam ad fontem processerat -- et, ut fertur, pedem a fonte retraxit, dicens, non se carere posse consortio praedecessorum suorum principum Fresionum et cum parvo pauperum numero residere in illo caelesti regno ; quin potius non facile posse novis dictis adsensum praebere, sed potius permansurum se in his, quae multo tempore cum omni Fresionum gente servaverat. ... rege in paganismo perseverante... (Vita Vulframni, ch.9.)

"Prince Ráðbod, once he had gained initial instructions, but before he received baptism, hesitated before the holy bishop Wulfram bound him to take an oath in the name of the Lord, asking where his ancestors, the multitude of kings and leaders and nobles of the Frisian people were, and if he believed and promised himself unto baptism, would he see them in the heavenly district, or if they went to that damnation which is said to be in Tartarus [Christian Hell, but Greek equivalent of Niflhel]. Thereupon, the blessed Wulfram : "Do not allow yourself to go astray, renowned prince ; it is certain that the multitudes of his elect are at the house of God, but on the other hand, your predecessors, the leaders of the Frisian people, who passed away without the sacrament of baptism, have certainly received the sentence of damnation. However, whomever henceforth believes and is baptised, will rejoice with Christ eternally." Hearing this, the Duke was incredulous -- for as he advanced upon the font, as it were, he withdrew his foot, saying that he himself would not be able to be without the fellowship of his earliest Frisian predecessors and with a multitude of unimportant men of little worth residing in that heavenly kingdom ; and in fact, he was by no means easily able to submit his approval to the new doctrines, which were far from being better, for it was preferable to remain himself in that condition preserved for the multitude of all the Frisian people. ... The king persevered in his paganism."

Imagine that modern-day America had never been Christianized, but that our folk heroes remained the same, when Christian missionaries arrived to persuade us into converting. Upon asking them whether George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Daniel Boone, John Brown, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Geronimo, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the other great and noble founding fathers would be discovered in heaven, imagine that they said no, and in fact, that they would all be found in hell. How incredibly insulting and patently false that would seem, for the deeds of these men proved themselves, and their place in the hall of beneficence is self-evident. If nobility of this calibre are not to be found in the Christian afterlife, what kind of place is it? Better to cleave to those of known noble virtues, whatever afterlife condition to which they may be assigned. Indeed, as Saxo demonstrates in Book One of his Gesta Danorum, in the heathen afterlife, praetextatos amictosque ostro proceres conspicantur, "one could see noble youth and the leading men of the country robed in purple garments" in aprica ... delata ...gramina, "sunny regions overflowing with green herbs". Heathens expected to meet the greatest nobles of their folk in the afterlife.

But if one is to exchange the certainty of fellowship with virtuous and inspiring ancestors for the company of multitudes of strangers of quite unproven worth, even heaven is not compensation enough for this impoverishment. Ráðbod had a strong sense of patriotism and a generous affection for his people, and could not agree with any doctrine that would try to transform men of worth and good will into sinners to be cast out of the places of bliss. Such a doctrine seemed inferior to the heathen teachings, where one would have the opportunity to converse with the greatest and bravest minds of all time. Who would give up such a treasure-chest for the uncertainty of a random rabble?

Ráðbod is clear : he states that he is literally incapable of abandoning the convivial and festive communion of his ancestors from earliest of days, and thus will remain with his people. In choosing loved ones and those renowned for their admirable deeds over abstract and narrow doctrines, Ráðbod speaks for the hearts of many of us.

In the second tale, Ráðbod is a bit older and has succumbed to an illness, whereupon in a dream he encounters his fylgia, his guardian-dís, who, like the dream-woman in Gísli saga Súrssonar, shows him the beautiful home that has been prepared for him in the afterlife. The Christian redactor of the tale, unable to bear the native lore of the fylgia, interprets this figure as the Devil in disguise. This is a common Christian translation of the heathen concept that we also find in AElfric's description of witches who go hamfaring with the help of a fetch he identifies with the Devil.

Vita Vulframni, Ch. X :

Nam in aegritudine positus, de qua et vitae praesentis lucem clausit, perpetuasque averni descendit ad umbras, dum sopore deditus foret, deceptor hominum diabolus, qui etiam Dei omnipotentis permissu in angelum se transfigurat lucis, ei apparuit diademate aureo cum fulgentibus gemmis capite opertus, vesteque auro textili toto amictus corpore : diuque attonitus praefatus princeps diligenter in eum intendebat stupens ac tremebundus, admirans cujus speciei ac virtutis esset qui sibit apparebat nuntius.

Isque multimodae artis nocendi saevissimus draco inquit ad eum : Dic, quaeso, vivorum fortissime, quis te ita seduxit, ut a cultura deorum et religione praedecessorum tourum velis recedere? noli ita, obsecro, agere, sed in his quae hactenus tenuisti culturis deorum permane, ibique ad domos aureas aeternaliter mansuras, quas tibi in proximo sum daturus, ut meorum verborum dictis adstruam fidem. Quapropter eras accersiens Vulframnum doctorem christianorum, inquire ab eo ubinam sit illa mansio aeternae claritatis quam te pollicetur, si christianem susceperis dogma, in caelestibus habiturum. Quam quum demonstrare nequiverit, utriusque partis mittantur legati, eroque dux itineris et demonstrabo illis mansionem eximiae pulcritudinis ac fulgoris immensi, quam tibi post modicum sum daturus.

Qui evigilans sancto potifici Vulframno cuncta per ordinem pandit. At ille congemiscens ejus damnationi, ait : Haec illusio diaboli est, qui omnes vult perire, et neminem salvari. Quapropter salva temetipsum, vir nobilis, credendo in Christum, et festina ad fontem baptismi in quo est remissio omnium peccatorum, et nullo modo fidem accomodes verbis diaboli mendacibus. Ipse est enim seductor qui universum seducit orben, qui propter suam superbiam de alto caeli culmine prostratus ruit in terram, et ex angelo benigno daemon teterrimus effectus est. Cujus invidia mors introivit in orbem terrarum, dum primo homini concupiscentiam docuit, atque ad inobedientiae culpam traxit. Nam qui promittit aureas mansiones largiri sibi credentibus, tartareas potius inferi deducit ad sedes, foetidumque lacum Cocyti, unde ut ab his poenis eripi valeas, et bonis frui aeternalibus, festina in Christo baptizari, in quo est remissio omnium peccatorum, et per quem vitae caelestis tribuitur ingressus.

Haec et hujusmodi plura prosequente sancto pontifice, respondit praedictus incredulus princeps omnia se facturum quae jubebat, si illa demonstraretur a suo Deo mansio, quam sibit largiturum spoponderat. Quumque insuperabilem in cunctis sacerdos Christi animum ilius cerneret, ne a gentilibus alia fingerentur pro aliis misit continuo cum quodam Fresione suum diaconum.

Qui quum paululum ab oppido processissent, obvium sibi reperiunt in humana effigie quemdam intineris comitem, qui dixit eis : Properamini cito nam ostensurus sum vobis mansionem eximiae pulcritudinis, quae praeparata est a Deo suo Rathbodo principi. Qui ducem ac comitem intineris prosequentes, loca diu peragrant incognita, donec viam ingredientes latissimam, diversorum generibus marmorum eam cernunt polito opere decoratam videntque a longe domum auream, ac perveniunt usque ad plateam quae ante praefatam domum sita erat, et ipsa auro gemmisque strata. Intrantes quoque in domum aurei splendoris et incredibilis pulcritudinis, adspiciunt thronum mirae magnitudinis. Tum ductor itineris : Haec est, inquit, domus, et ista est pulcherrima sedes, quam post ejus mortem principi Rathbodo Deus suus largiturum se spopondit.

"For in a position of sickness from which the light of his present life was waning, and everlasting hell descending to cast a shadow upon him, he was thrown into a deep sleep, where the Devil, the deceiver of humankind, whom even all-mighty God allows to transform himself into an angel of light, appeared before him wearing a golden crown with glittering gems and amber covering his head, and a robe woven of gold wrapped around his entire body ; and for a long time the astonished before-mentioned prince was completely shaken as he trembled in attentive and utter astonishment, regarding with wonder the beauty and power which had appeared as a messenger.

And with manifold skill in harming, the savage dragon said, "Answer what I ask : living strongly and boldly, who has thus led you astray that you would wish to withdraw from the worship of your Gods and the religion of your ancestors? Refuse this, I implore thee! Drive it away! But remain in the worship of the Gods which you have held up till now, and thereupon in golden houses you shall abide forever, which I have bestowed upon thee in the life that follows. To provide faith in the words which I declare, why, send for Wulfram, the Christian doctor, and inquire from him where in the world is that eternally bright home in the heavens which you have been promised to hold if you accept the Christian dogma. When he cannot show it to you, send messengers from both faiths, and I will be your guide on the journey, and reveal that home of exceptional beauty and immeasurable splendor and radiance which I will bestow upon thee in just a short amount of time."

When he awoke, he found Saint Wulfram, and explained everything that had been arranged. But he sighed deeply at that damnation, saying, "This is an illusion of the devil, who wishes for all men to die and none to be saved. Wherefore, save yourself, noble man, believe in Christ and hurry to the baptismal font, in which there is forgiveness for all sins, and in no way adapt your faith to the lying devil. He himself in fact is the seducer of the entire world, who because of his arrogance, was struck down from the high peaks of heaven, and fell down to earth, and from a kind angel was proven to be an ugly and disgraceful being, who out of hate brought death into the world while teaching the first human beings desire for worldly things and to drag themselves into the error of disobedience. As for the golden abodes which, confiding in you, he promised to lavish upon you, it is rather to the homes of Tartarus below that he drags you, and the foul-smelling lake of Cocyx. Whence, prevail, and rescue thyself from this punishment and enjoy everlasting good, hastening to baptise thyself in Christ, in whom there is remission of all sins, and through whom one may embark on an allotment of heavenly life."

In this way the holy bishop described the situation in more than enough detail. The before-mentioned disbelieving prince answered that he would order all men to do so, if he was first shown that home which his God had promised to lavish upon him. And when the priest of Christ discerned that his mind was inconquerable in this regard, he sent a heathen on behalf of the others as an attendant, a certain number of Frisians, and his own deacon.

When they had advanced a little from the town, they discovered on the path in human form that travelling companion who said to them, "Hurry up, and set yourself in motion, for I will reveal to you that home of extraordinary beauty, which has been prepared by the God of Prince Rathbod," whereupon the guide and travelling companion escorted them, travelling over unknown territories for quite some time, until they came upon a wide and spacious road, which they could see was polished with diverse kinds of marble, adorned with beautiful work ; and they saw, a ways off, all the way up the street which before has been mentioned, a golden house, and they were permitted to arrive at that house which was strewn with gold and gems. And actually entering into the golden house, with its incredible beauty and brilliance, they gazed upon a throne of remarkable size. Then their guide on the journey said, "This is the home, and that is the handsome and noble residence, which after his death, the God of Prince Rathbod has promised to grant him."

The story ends somewhat predictably for a Saint's Tale :

Et diaconus obstupefactus in his quae viderat, dixit : Si a Deo cunctipotente facta sunt ista, perpetuo maneant : si autem a diabolo, cito dispereant. Et vallans se continuo sanctae crucis munimine, dux itineris qui videbatur homo, evanescendo transiit in diabolum, et domus aurea versa est in lutum : remanseruntque hi duo simul, Fresio videlicet et diaconus in medio locorum palustrium, quae plena erant longissimis rhamneis virgultis...

"And the deacon, stunned at what he say, said, "If this is made by Allmighty God, it will abide forever : but if by the devil, it will quickly be destroyed. And immediately fortifying himself with the holy cross as a defense, the guide on the journey who they had considered a man vanished, changed into the devil, and the golden house was changed into mud : and the two Frisians, as well as the deacon, remained behind in the middle of a marshy place which was full of tall thorny trees and brushwood."

The fairy-tale nature of this ending cannot be ignored, with gold being turned into mud, and beautiful palaces disappearing into wilderness, the latter trope being found at the end of Gylfaginning with King Gylfi, the finale of Thor's adventure into the land of Utgard-Loki, and Saxo's description of Hodur's encounter with a number of malevolent valkyries in the woods in Book Three of his Gesta Danorum. Moreover, the shyness of the fairy-folk to the sign of the cross is also a legendary motif of fairy tales. These themes have all been subtly refitted and shaped to fit Christian ends, but their grounding in indigenous folkloric forms is certain.

About loca diu peragrant incognita, the "unknown territories which they travelled over for some time", we are later told triduoque immensi laboris iter conficientes revertuntur ad oppidum, "and they had to undertake the immense labor of a journey of three days to return to the town", so it was a difficult trek that took over three days. Three days is an archetypal time period in many cultures for how long it takes the spirit of the dead to reach the underworld. When they reach there, the polished and embellished marble roads, not to mention the houses strewn with gold and gems bespeak of the Glœsisvellir of Norse myth, the "Glittering Plains" or "Beautifully-Adorned Fields", near which the Odainsaker, the "Acres of the Undying" lie.

As mentioned previously, the tale of the supernatural guide, described in this saga as unto an angel of light crowned with a gleaming diadem and wrapped in a golden robe, who is first met in a dream, and then leads one to underworld abodes of the ancestors, is also featured in Gísli saga Súrssonar, which is worth quoting here in detail for comparison, especially as it features skaldic verse which in all likelihood far predates the prose saga, and thus is an important and unique window onto actual heathen belief, composed in heathen times.

In Gísli saga Súrssonar, Chapter 30, we find the following :

Svo er sagt að nú eru eigi meir eftir en tveir vetur þess er draumkonan sagði hann mundu lifa. ... Einhverja nótt er það enn að Gísla dreymir að konan sú hin betri kom að honum. Hún sýndist honum ríða gráum hesti og býður honum með sér að fara til síns innis og það þekkist hann. Þau koma nú að húsi einu, því er nær var sem höll væri og leiðir hún hann inn í húsið og þóttu honum þar verða hægindi í pöllum og vel um búið. Hún bað þau þar vera og una sér vel, "og skaltu hingað fara og þá er þú andast," sagði hún, "og njóttu hér fjár og farsælu." Og nú vaknar hann og kvað vísur nokkrar eftir því sem hann dreymdi:

"So it is said that his dream-woman told him that now there would be no more than two winters after this that he should live. ... One night Gisli dreamed again that the better woman came to him. She appeared to him riding a grey horse and bid him to fare with him to her home, and he consented to that. They came now to one house which was an abode nearly like a hall, and she led him into the house, and he thought there were comfortable pillows on the raised floors of the hall and that it was well-adorned. She prayed they would be there and enjoy each other well, "and thou shalt fare hence when thou givest out thy last breath," sayeth she, "and enjoy here wealth and the blessings of happiness." And now he awakened and afterwards chanted certain verses according to what he had dreamed :

[Skaldic poetry is notoriously difficult to translate, and some of my rendition here is approximate, but I've managed the gist here, as close to the literal translation as possible]

Heim bauð með sér sínum / saum-Hlökk gráum blakki, / þá var brúðr við beiði / blíð, loftskreyti ríða; / mágrundar, kvazk mundu, / mank orð of þat skorðu, / hneigi-Sól af heilu / hornflæðar mik græða.

"To her home the needle-valkyrie bade me ride on her grey, dun-colored horse ; then was the prayed-for bride blithe, adorned with praise like the sky ; the kinswoman said she would -- I remember the words she stipulated about this -- she-who-kneels-to-the-sun, heal me from the horn-flood of life-force."

Dýr lét drápu stjóra / dís til svefns of vísat / lægis elds, þars lágu, / lítt týnik því, dýnur; / ok með sér en svinna / saums leiddi mik Nauma, / sákat hól í hvílu, / hlaut skáld sæing blauta.

"Deer-like Lady-of-Sleep, let the praise-poem steer me, showing where lay the fire-of-the-sea on a down bed, accounting this a small loss, for the weaving-woman-of-rejuvenating-youth allotted the skald a soft bed, and led me go to bed in hall."

Hingat skalt, hvað hringa / Hildr at óðar gildi, / fleina þollr, með Fullu / fallheyjaðar deyja; / þá munt, Ullr, ok öllu, / ísungs, féi þvísa, / þat hagar okkr til auðar / ormláðs, ok mér ráða.

"Hence shall the spear-tree [warrior] die, falling in battle, his poetic-soul recompensed by the ring-Hildr [valkyrie-of-rings] ; with the goddess then you shall, Ullr, manage Isung's wealth and all the treasure of the worm-lands, and guide me."

His fylgia, called here a dýr, an animal or deer, is consistently portrayed as weaving, as is proper for one who, serving the norns, watches over the fate of her charge.

She guides him to his afterlife home, riding on her horse. The home is well-adorned with cushions and glittering with gold, almost as large as a hall, and although he will fall in battle and die, this is accounted a small loss, for she shall share with him the life-rejuvenating fluids of the the great underworld mead-horn and restore him to health, where, amidst comforts and pleasures, he shall live with his spirit-bride and guide her as she guided him in life.

But this blissful couple shall not be alone. On all sides of their home lie friends and kinsmen, who gather from their respective homes in an immense hall of cheer and merriment. In Chapter 22 of Gísli saga Súrssonar , we find the following :

En það dreymdi mig nú að eg þóttist ganga að húsi einu eða skála og inn þóttist eg ganga í húsið og þar kenndi eg marga inni, frændur mína og vini. Þeir sátu við elda og drukku...

"And now I dreamed that I seemed to walk to a house or hall and then I seemed to walk into the house and there I knew many who were in there, my kinsmen and friends. They sat against the fire and drank..."

There follows a skaldic verse to the same effect : Fold, komk inn þars eldar,/ unnfúrs, í sal brunnu, / eir várum þar aura, / einn ok sex, at meini; / sák blíðliga báðar / bekksagnir mér fagna; / hróðrdeilir bað heilan / hvern mann í því ranni.

Which translates roughly as, "To the Land of the fire-of-the-waves [golden land, Glœsisvellir] I came, where fires burned in the hall, one and six, to my distress ; there the Healing-Goddess-of-Gold brought springtides ; saw I on both sides of the benches people saying to me joyful greetings and blithely giving hospitable entertainment ; the praise-dealer bid hail to every man in that large house."

There, in the after-life, in a grand hall glittering with gold, his friends and kinsmen blithely entertain themselves and give him joyful greetings, drinking and toasting to each other's health. The comparison with what Ráðbod's shining and golden-clad guide shows him is a complete match, and it is worth noting the continuity between a Vita written some time in the 780's (and speaking of events close to one hundred years beforehand) and sagas written in the 1200s (and speaking of events close to two hundred years beforehand).

But we also find evidence of troubled dreams around conversion in the sagas, where there are visitations from heathen gods who are displeased with the faithlessness of abandoning the old ways of the ancestors. One of the prominent examples of this is found in Flóamanna saga, Chapter 20:

Nú kom kristni á land og tók Þorgils í fyrra lagi sið kristinn og hélt vel trú sína. Og er hann hafði við kristni tekið þá dreymdi hann einhverja nótt að Þór kæmi að honum með illilegu yfirbragði og kvað hann sér brugðist hafa "og hefir þú illa úr ráðið, valið mér það úr þínu fé er þú áttir verst til. Þú kastaðir silfri því í fúla tjörn er eg átti og skal eg þar í móti koma."

"Now came Christianity to the land and Thorgils was amongst the first to go into Christianity and hold it well as his faith. And when he had taken with Christianity, then he dreamt one night that Thor came to him with an ill demeanor adn said that he had broken faith with him "and thou hast undertaken ill, choosing for me that out of thine wealth which thou hast the worst. Thou cast the silver into a foul lake which I had and I shall come in against that."

Flóamanna saga, Chapter 21 :

Þorgils ... dreymir hann að maður kemur að honum mikill og rauðskeggjaður og mælti: ..."Alla stund hefir þú mér verið gagnstæðlegur þóttú værir heiðinn maður en oss er mikill missir orðinn að siðaskipti þínu. Áður var allt fólk leitandi til vors trausts og fulltings og ertu sem þeir er oss vilja þyngst og mun illa farast ef þú vilt eigi aftur til mín hverfa um átrúnað. Mun eg þá enn um sjá yðar ráð."

"Thorgils dreamed that a man came to him, mighty and red-bearded and declared : "Always will thou have to defend against me unless you become a heathen man, whose word we have mightily lost in thy change of faith. Before were all folk seeking to stay in our protection and assistance, and thou art like those who will us ill, yet ill will happen if thou wilt not after this turn around to belief in me. I will then look after thee with good counsel.""

We mustn't take such statements too literally ; this is, after all, not Thor, but a dream about Thor, but it does indicate the troubled state of ambivalence that new converts felt, and guarantees that the dream-figure of Ráðbod represents a genuine phenomenon.

Set against this sagaic background, it is evident that the story told in Vita Vulframni of Duke Ráðbod has authentic heathen provenance and bespeaks ancient heathen notions about the afterlife. That many would find these more attractive than that offered by the new faith is no surprise. Amongst heathens, it is the merit of a person's deeds that guarantee them a good place in the afterlife, where they will be found amongst their kinsmen. In Christianity, not only is belief elevated over deeds, but the notion of forgiveness allows those whose deeds have proven them to be of questionable or negative worth to find audience with the divine, while those whose deeds have been laudable yet who have clung to different beliefs may find themselves cut off from their kinsmen and cast into places of punishment.

Ráðbod for one, surveying what was large and magnaminous, and what was petty and narrow, knew which was the nobler path, and stayed true to it.

all translations copyright 2010 by Siegfried Goodfellow