Friday, 11 August 2017

Conversations with a Raven God

So it's been a while since I wrote on this blog - over a year in fact! During that year, I have had a beautiful baby boy and, to be honest, all has gone a bit quiet on the storytelling front as I search for a new direction in which to explore the invisible world of story, society and spirit.

Over the last 5 years, I have plunged myself into the world of Norse mythology. I have researched, read and (thanks to my amazing in-laws) got to stand with my two feet firmly planted on Norwegian soil. This fixation on one mythology enabled me to really get under the skin of the stories - often telling them from multiple perspectives - but gradually I realised that I had lost touch with oral storytelling and had become more reliant on written words and structures to enable me to handle the size and power of these stories. Put simply, it was all getting a bit much!

So now it is time for new adventures. Below is my version of  the end of the Norse world - the fall of Odin and the coming of Ragnarok. Far be it from being a complete and total ending, it is rather (in my imagining) the end of an era - the era of Odin - and a making way for something new.

For those Norse scholars among you, I have used the Prose and Poetic Edda for my version and included the Rape of Rind from the Saxo Grammaticus - a very different imagining of the mythology written by a Christian who had no sympathy or love for the pagan deities. I have included it because it offers a darker side of Odin the King, that Snorri seemed to want to avoid as snippets of this rape appear in the poetic but not in his rendering of the myths. Maybe it was that Odin the Trickster played his last trick and painted himself King through Snorri's hand...

Conversations with a Raven God
Performed at Treadwells (London) and East Anglia Storytelling Festival (2016)

Silence I ask of the sacred folk,
Silence of the kith and kin of Heimdal:
At your will Valfather, I shall well relate
The old songs of men I remember best.

I tell of giants from times forgotten.
Those who fed me in former days:
Nine worlds I can reckon, nine roots of the tree.
The wonderful ash, way under the ground

When Ymir lived long ago
Was no sand or sea, no surging waves.
Nowhere was there earth nor heaven above.
Bur a grinning gap and grass nowhere.

The sons of Bur then built up the lands.
Moulded in magnificence middle-Earth:
Sun stared from the south on the stones of their hall,
From the ground there sprouted green leeks.

His brothers settled on the land and began to craft and create creatures, plants, the bounty of the sea and the fertile soil. But Odin was restless. He left his brothers behind and set to walking the land he had created.

Odin walked through forest, valley and up high mountains. At the crest of a great rocky mountain, he stopped and sat and looked over the beauty of his creation. The sun shone bright and the silver of mountain’s rock made it brighter still. He squinted and blinked and through half closed eyes, he saw it - there, at the edge of reality, the branches of a great tree. It reached beyond his understanding of high. It reached below his understanding of low. It reached into and past his understanding of the centre.

The World Tree - the great Ash - Yggdrasil and in the branches of the tree, Odin saw that there was not one world, but nine. Nine worlds. He saw his brothers, far off to the west in a green and pleasant land, he saw the mists gathering around a miserable little realm, he heard the giants rumble and roar from an eastern shore, from somewhere deep below came a cold wind and from somewhere deep beneath came a burning breath.

In the branches of Yggdrasil, the nine realms hung. He named each of the worlds.
Asgard. Vanaheim. Muspelheim. Nifelheim. Svartlvelheim. Alfheim. Jotunheim. Midgard. Hel.

As he stood and stared, he did not notice two shadows, two black clouds, flying towards him. The Ravens Hugin and Munin - thought and memory - settled themselves on his shoulders.

Raven God, Carrion King
Let us tell you what we see

Raven God, Carrion King
Let us tell you what we see

Raven God, Carrion King
Fly with us, journey with us

Raven God, Carrion King
Fly with us, journey with us

Raven God Carrion King,
The Raven road is long and the worlds are many.

As his brothers settled in Vanaheim and sent waves of life, fertility and plenty out across the cosmos, Odin journeyed. One flight took him into the tangled branches of the tree and there he saw the four great stags who chewed at the leaves of the tree each day. He felt the drip and drop of sweet dewfall from Yggdrasil and heard the happy hum of honey bees collecting it in early mornings to turn to sweet golden light. Another time, Odin travelled to the very top of the great tree and he sat upon the brow of the eagle alongside the far-seeing hawk and stared out to the edges of existence where it faded into white mystery and silence. Soon after, he found himself down at the base of the deepest roots where he breathed the poison air of the thousand serpents who bit and snapped and chewed he roots of Yggdrasil.

As he travelled he learned and with knowledge came power.

I hung from the windy tree nine days nine nights.
I hung from the windy tree nine days nine nights
Stabbed with a spear, myself to mine own self given. 
Myself to mine own self given. 

None refreshed me with food or drink
I peered down deep
Crying aloud I brought up the runes
Myself to mine own self given 

Nine Mighty songs I learned from the great sire of Bale-thorn
The wondrous mead I drank
In Soulstirrer’s drops I was showered. 
In soulstirrer’s drop I was showered. 

Ere long I grew and throve full well
I grew and waxed in wisdom 
Word following word - I wrought words
Deed following deed - I wrought deeds.

Odin had won the mead and magic of poetry. His tongue turned pure gold and every word he spoke was gilded with honey-mead magic.

Odin went to the tree. He hung, without food or water, from the branches of the great tree until, screaming, the magical runes were granted to him.

Odin sat with the ancient ones and was taught 9 songs of great magic.

Odin gave his eye to the well of Mimir and was granted great knowledge.

Odin went to the world of men - his Valkyries screaming through the sky to help or hinder the wars of men.

Odin was older now. He was broad and magnetic. His one piercing blue eye looked out over all the nine worlds. He had the power of poetry and the knowledge of the well, he knew songs to raise the dead and win the heart of any woman, he knew the rules of men and the laws of giants, he could charm swords to fight and gods to defend, he was the Father of Song, King of Asgard, Lord of Battle.
There was still one place, however, Odin could not see into - one place still murky, mysterious.

The future.

Odin found himself stood beside a well in a shady clearing, by the well of Fate facing three women.
“Odin Allfather - you were the creator of the universe and the builder of Asgard. You won the runes and gifted men magic,” said one.
“Odin Allfather - you are the Allfather, the great ruler, the cleverest of the Aesir. You control the realms of men and gods. You hold the cosmos in the palm of your hand.”
“Odin Allfather,” said the youngest and palest of the three “You will not be able to stop his dying. You will not be able to stop the fires of Ragnorok. You will be ready for battle but it will not be enough. You will be swallowed by the wolf. You will be consumed by that you cannot control. It is coming Odin.”

In that moment Odin knew - all journeys, all stories, all lives must, one day, come to an end.
He saw the world’s ending. With this knowledge weighing down upon him, he went travelling.
Where he went and what he did, I do not know. But when he returned to Asgard, long  streaks of silver were in his beard and deep lines had folded themselves into his skin. Strangest of all, when he returned to Asgard, Odin did not return alone. He had another with him, bonded by blood oath. Loki, the wild one, followed Odin over the Bifrost bridge.

I could tell you of his friendship with Loki. Of the trouble his friend brought and dispelled with his wit and energy. Of the gifts Loki brought - Odin’s magical spear, his 8 legged horse, Thor’s hammer.
Of Loki’s children - of tying the great wolf Fenrir into the earth, of stopping his fierce jaws with a sharp sword. He speaks of building Valhalla - a great hall with 500 doors, a wolf hanging over each, shields and spears adorning the walls, and filled with the glorious dead - the warriors who died in battle and have sworn to fight for Odin at the great at the end of the world.

But I’m not going to tell you about any of that. I’m going to tell you about how his story ends.

Odin had many children, but the most beloved of all was Balder the beautiful. Woman, man, giant, goddess dwarf and god all loved this beautiful man. He was the God of Peace and Joy and light. He was one of Odin and his wife Frigg’s two children - Baldr and his brother Blind Hodr.
Balder was having bad dreams.
“I see columns of blood and bone. I feel a cold blackness in my flesh, but I wake sweating and sobbing.”

As he spoke the dreams to his father, the words settled like lead in Odin’s heart. He knew enough of magic and the great mystery to read what this meant, but he could not and would not believe it. He left Asgard immediately and rode his 8 legged horse across the Bifrost Bridge and down, down, down the branches of Soulstirrer the foggy realm of Hel, the world of the dead. He searched and searched until he came across an unassuming bit of dirt, but he knew the bones of Angroboda Sorrowbringer, the great prophetess that he had killed many years ago, lay beneath. Odin whispered the words of the song to bring the dead to speech and the shade of the prophetess rose from the grave.

“Speak Sorrow Bringer. Tell me what I would know.”

She turned to him with eyes of earth and fire.
“You wish to know the meaning of Baldr’s dreams and yet you know the meaning do you not? Baldr the beautiful is going to die. It is woven into the web of the world. I speak unwillingly - let me rest.”

“Speak Sorrow Bringer. Tell me what I can do to stop this happening.”

She looked at the magician.
“There is nothing to be done. No-one, however powerful, can break the weave that is woven. No-one, however strong, can break the weft.”

Over and over and over he questioned, but her answer was always the same. Over and Over - he will die. Nothing you can do. He will die.

Odin began to roar and curse “I AM ALLFATHER. I AM GALLOW’S BURDEN. I AM THUNDERER AND RULER OF EARTH. TELL ME WHAT I MUST DO TO STOP THIS. I HUNG FROM THE TREE TO WIN THE RUNES. I GAVE MY EYE TO THE WELL. I AM THE RULER OF HEAVEN. TELL ME WHAT I MUST DO TO STOP THIS HAPPENING.”

The shade smiled a wicked smile.

“Baldr will die by a brother’s hand. You cannot stop this. But you can avenge it Odin. There is a woman in Midgard called Rind - the daughter of a King. Your son by her will be named Vali and though he will not be one day old, he will kill the one who killed Baldr the beloved. Now, I have spoken unwillingly and I will speak no more.”

And Odin was alone in the cold darkness of Hel.

Rind.
Rind.
Rind.
Rind.

The name clawed at his throat, clamoured inside his skull, raced through his veins until it consumed his being. Rind. Rind. Rind. He would go to her and he would have her and he would avenge his son who was doomed to die.  He would do What he must. .

Up in the great hall of Valhalla, Frigga assembled the gods. Odin sat in the shadows as his wife spoke.

“Joyful news. My son is saved. I have been travelling the 9 worlds and I secured sacred promises from everything in the world that it will not do Baldr harm. Metal, fire, flesh, bone - nothing will harm our beloved boy. He is saved.”

And indeed he was - from that day on, not spear or sword would pierce Baldr’s flesh. Even Thor’s hammer, when launched right at Baldr’s head did not dent or damage his shining brow.

It seemed the tide had turned. It seemed the tide had turned.

Rind. Rind. Rind. The name hammered at Odin’s heart. He knew it was not done. He knew this was not over. He left Asgard in secret.

In the realm of the humans - Midgard - Rind was sat in her father’s halls in the warm glow of the fire when Ran came to court her. She was fair and intelligent and had no interest in men. Ran was young, strong and handsome with a shock of blonde hair and a single piercing blue eye. He spoke sweet words to her, but the young woman simply smiled and shook her head. Day after day he returned and words that began sweet turned seductive then sensual then strict then sour. Nothing would sway her. So Odin tried another approach and transformed into his own weathered, broad and magnetic form, “I am Odin and of all the women, goddesses and giants in this world I want you. I need you. Let me take you in my arms and show you the nine worlds.” She smiled and shook her head.

Odin left Rind’s hall in a wild fury. He had been turned down before, but he could not let this stand. This cut him deeper than any blade. He had a mission that must be fulfilled. He had to do what he had to do. Odin whispered magical words.

Back in Asgard, Loki the wild, Loki the shapeshifter sat in the mead halls of Gladsheim and inside he burned with an untamed fury as he watched Baldr the beloved, Baldr the beautiful laughing as the other gods pelted him with swords and spears and rocks that fell to the floor leaving him unscathed and unharmed. Why did everyone love Baldr? Why didn’t they love Loki? Why was he never part of this joy and celebration? He licked his lips and felt the scars where a dwarf had sown up his lips as Asgard laughed. He scratched his shoulders and felt the scars where an eagle had ripped into his flesh as Odin watched. He had brought them so much - Odin’s spear, the 8 legged horse - and how did they repay him? What had Baldr ever done? Enough. Loki would not let this stand.

That night, Rind felt a little hot and a little faint. She went to bed early.

Loki transformed himself into an old woman - wild silver hanging down his back, his teeth back and yellow, his eyes piercing - and went to Frigga’s halls. Odin’s wife, sat sowing in when the ragged creature entered.
“There is a man being pelted with weapons in the mead halls. Is this how gods treat one another?” Frigga smiled and told her of the magical oaths she had got from everything in the world.
The old woman grimaced, “There must have been something you didn’t ask, something that didn’t swear.” Frigga’s face got a far-away look. There was silence. Then she spoke. “It was so young and I was tired. The mistletoe.”
When she turned her hall was empty.

Rind was getting sicker and sicker with every minute that passed. Her face was deathly pale and her breathing hoarse and shallow. Her father sent out his messengers to bring the herb women to the halls, but none came.

The night was dark and the sky full of thunder. Rain hammered the earth into mud. there were three great knocks at Rind’s palace door. In the deluge stood an ancient old woman wearing a dark blue cloak, an old grey hat, with a single sword edge blue eye. Her hair hung wild silver down her back.
“I know what ails your child. She will die if left. I know the cure, but it is very painful and she will cry out. It may be hard for you to listen. She will need to be restrained. But it will save her life. I must be left alone and undisturbed with her.”

Blind Hod, Baldr’s brother, sat in the Mead Halls of Gladsheim, listening to the games and laughter around him, breathing in the honey sweet, sweat sour air. He had long accepted his lot in life - he could not join in the games but he could bathe in the warmth of his fellows. He wanted to feel content.
“Why not join in, come let me guide your hand. It would be a great honour to your brother.” The voice of the untamed god slipped smooth as silk into his heart and he was seized by a sudden desire to be part of the games. “I have a small wooden dart - it will harm none. Your brother will be thrilled that you are a part of things.”

Blind Hod took the mistletoe dart between his fingers and let Loki hold his hand and arm and guide him close to where Baldr stood. Baldr laughed and smiled at his blind, little brother.

Rind lay passively as her hands and feet were bound with leather straps to the wooden posts of her bed. It was not until she was secured and bound that the old woman entered her chamber. It was not until Rind caught sight of the shining blue eye that she began to fight and scream and scream and scream and her father locked the door.

The mistletoe dart flew through the air. It pierced Baldr’s flesh and entered the red warmth of his heart.

Outside the locked door, Rind’s Father sank to the floor, tears pouring down his face.

Then Baldr the beautiful cried out and crumpled to the floor and the screaming stopped.

Odin felt Baldr’s body fall and the veil was lifted. What had he done? He cried aloud and ran from Rind’s halls into the storm of night. All he could see was the woman’s face, his son’s blood. All he could feel was her terrified flesh and empty eyes. He ripped the old woman’s garments from his body, his cloak, his hat and ran through the rain naked and sobbing from the depths of his being. He felt sick. He screamed to the heavens and the sky roared thunder back at him.

What had he done?


Word following word. I wrought words.
Deed following deed. I wrought deeds.


Baldr’s death rang out across all 9 worlds, but there was no spell, nor rune, nor song to bring the boy to life again. Loki was taken to a high cave and bound to a rock until the end of days. Rind gave birth to a baby boy and before he was even a day old, he took a spear and threw it high into the sky and that spear hit Blind Hod who died in his mother’s arms.

Asgard fell into a dark twilight. Ragnarok- the end of the world- was on its way.

Asgard. Vanaheim. Muspelheim. Nifelheim. Svartlvelheim. Alfheim. Jotunheim. Midgard. Hel.

From his high seat in Valaskjalf, Odin sat and felt a bitter cold settle in his heart. Fimbulwinter - a deep winter froze the nine worlds.

Odin felt the sharp cut of regret pierce his heart and cut into his stomach. Axe age, sword age cut into the flesh of men.

From somewhere in the nine worlds, He heard a woman screaming the lightening of memory sparked up his spine.

Odin felt a heavy, thick sickness in his bowels. Age of Darkness. Brothers raped sisters, mothers ran screaming.

Some deeds can be forgiven. Others forgot. But not all. He could not go on. His time as Allfather was over. This was the end. Flame, fire and wolf - the world’s ending.

From the land of fire, Surt led his hoard of firedemons to the great plains.
From the land of frost and fog, a ship of the dead lead by Loki landed on the shores of Asgard.
The Giants of Jotunheim roared and took their axes and clubs and headed to the God’s palace.
The wolf ripped himself from his binding and howled to the moon.
The Gods rode into battle with shining armour and sharp spears.
Frey was first to fall, cut down by surt.
Heimdall and Loki next, ripping one another to bloody pieces.
Thor battled the great snake and in killing it died of his wounds.
Odin faced the wild wolf.
He ran towards it, battle cry shaking the earth itself.

And then he stopped.

                         Odin dropped his spear.
             He loosed his armour.
He dropped his head.

The great wolf picked up the tiny god in his teeth and threw him in the air and swallowed him whole.

It was over.












I see Earth rising a second time
Out of the foam, fair and green;
Down from the fells fish to capture,
Wings the eagle; waters flow. 


Copyright Abigail Palache 2017

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