Every Season

The leaves and grass were a vibrant, fresh spring green despite it being the Winter Solstice. Outside the grove, the fields were covered in snow and the trees already long retreated into hibernation. The air inside was warm also. Gaelin wore simple clothes as he had little else. No coin in his pocket or food in his stomach. The cold gently left him, but his feet remained numb as he forced his legs forward. Each step an uncertainty. He did not feel the grass against his bare feet.

Before him was the alter. He had wandered for weeks, unsure of what he sought, until he saw the grey stones and the large willow tree. There were rumors of this place. Folktales told in taverns and inns and even then mainly by master storytellers or drunks seeking attention. But sometimes, rarely, a story is told by a frightened child. These stories add to the tales and are also dismissed as such. Gaelin knew otherwise. Whenever such a story was told, there was often something new. He experienced such a rarity the day before he began his search. It was during the description of the creature when Gaelin noticed the truth hidden in the large, fearful eyes of the child. The young boy had seen something inexplicable, and no one paid it any mind.

Gaelin had taken the child aside and calmed him. The child welcomed his interest and comfort despite the fact he was a stranger. More than anything, he was glad to be taken seriously instead of laughed at. The child gave him a detailed description. Legs like that of a horse, bare torso of a man, face also of a man except for wolf’s teeth and antlers like a stag. And the eyes. It had the eyes of a demon. They changed constantly from blue to green to yellow then red. Pulsing, flickering like fire. The creature spoke in a language the child hadn’t understood. Gaelin comforted the child with hot cider and left him by the hearth. That was the last time he remembered being warm.

The numbness was fading gradually. Some feeling returned to his calves as he climbed the stone stair toward the willow tree. If it had been Spring, the grove would have been lost within the forest. Against the dead of Winter, it was a beacon at the end of a maze. He ascended onto the large stone before the willow. The air was charged but nothing stirred. No animal, no noise, nothing but his own quiet breath until he muttered, “God of the green, Lord of the forest, I offer you my sacrifice, and I ask you for your blessing.”

Silence. He breathed quietly and waited. The air began to move and a breeze softly brushed against him. The willow leaves reached out like vines and curled around his limbs and torso. They were warm also. He was lifted from the stone and pulled in slowly. He fought the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. Then he was lost in the darkness of the tree. He could hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing. The grove was silent and still once again.

Three days passed without a sound until the willow opened its veil. Its vines floated down to the grey stone and retreated just as slowly. Gaelin stood. A loud clack echoed through the winter air. He opened his eyes and saw the grove in every season. His eyes flickering from red to blue to green then yellow. His smile revealed wolf’s teeth. He had finally found what he was searching for. He would now live among the forests for the rest of time.

Myths of the Norsemen

NorseThis week’s recommendation is Myths of the Norsemen by H.A. Guerber. It is sometimes titled Tales of Norse Mythology but it is the same book. I also recommend Neil Gaiman‘s recently published Norse Mythology as it is also a well written rendition of the myths. Of course, I also have to include the Poetic and Prose Eddas (Snorri Sturluson is the better known author of the Prose).Norse Myths

Well there you go. Three (technically four) recommendations of essentially the same stories. May seem strange, but hear me out. First, mythology is always awesome (I prefer the Norse myths but I also like many others and want to read Stephen Fry’s Mythos but it is that time of year where I have to, with difficulty, stop myself from buying books so others can have gift ideas for me). Mythology is often a spring of imagination and inspiration for many authors and references can be found in many cultural products like books, movies, video games, etc. In Halo, Master Chief’s armor is called Mjolnir class. Guess where that name came from (yeah, Master Chief is basically a giant human hammer that kills things).

These books tell of Thor as he was before he became a Marvel character. One reason the Norse gods are so compelling is the fact that they know of their own mortality (even though it is well beyond the mortality of humans). There is an end, and that in a way makes them human despite their powers and wisdom.

But why different versions? Because these stories were originally told orally and varied greatly maybe more in their own time than they do today. Reading them and seeing the differences is glimpsing into human history when Gods were worshiped and believed to exist in reality before time turned them into legend and myth.

Happy Reading.

How Odin Lost His Eye

Mythology has always fascinated me. The Norse pantheon especially so. One thing that draws my interest is that the gods are immortal but know that they will eventually die during Ragnarok (a contradiction I know). These mortal immortals behave much like humans and are not immune to emotions, but they of course perform impossible feats and live in a world that contains what we would call magic. The story I am sharing with you this week (it’s Flash Friday) is the story of Odin and how he loses his eye, and what he gains in return.

If you have not yet dipped your toes in the waters of mythology and enjoy this snapshot of a story, I recommend you check out the original. Of course the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda are great sources for Norse mythology, but if you don’t like poetry or a translated book originally written around the year 1200, I recommend you try Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber or Neil Gaiman’s recently released Norse Mythology. Neil’s version is of course modern (but stays true to the myth) and is suitable for all ages. Guerber’s was written in the early 1900’s and is very informative (he did his homework).

The following is a retelling of Odin’s short exchange at Mimisbrunnr.

The Price of Wisdom

Many months had passed since Odin left Asgard. He had shed all ornament before his departure. Instead of his spear, he carried a walking staff. Instead of his armor, he wore simple clothes wrapped in a dark blue cloak. And instead of riding Sleipner, his eight-legged horse, he simply walked. He appeared as nothing but an old wanderer to any who would see him. He appeared as a man to men and a giant to giants. Nothing about his appearance would reveal his name. He had traveled across the vast land of Jotunheim, the land of giants, before he found the end of this particular journey; a well. Beside it stood its warden.

“Greetings, Odin, Borr’s son.”

Odin grinned, “Well met, Mimir, guardian of wisdom. I have come to drink from your well.”

“Many have desired such as you, but none has so desired it that they would offer what is asked of them. You know your price.”

“I will not shy away from it.” Odin walked to the well. It was brimming with water so thin and clear it could have been air. He felt his thirst for it. He raised a hand to his right eye. With his thumb and two forefingers he spread his eyelids wide, dug deep into his skull, and pulled his eye from its resting place. Through all the pain he did not make a sound. Blood dripped like tears from the empty socket. Odin held the eye before him and looked upon it one last time, then he dropped it into the well where it sank deep into its clear water. “The price is paid. I will have what is mine.”

Mimir nodded and produced a large drinking horn. He filled it with the well’s water and handed it to Odin, the first and last to pay the price. Odin took the horn with both his hands and drank deeply. Behind the taste of sunlight, the future became clear. He saw all that would happen in the nine worlds. All the troubles and triumphs of men and gods, and beyond that he learned why the sorrows and trials must be made. Noble acts amidst the troubles and sorrows would create a force that one day, a day long in the future, would grapple and destroy the evil that brought terror and torment into the world. Odin new what he must do to prepare for the end of days, and he took solace in the thought of a world reborn. A world he would never see.

Odin drained the horn in one drink and handed it back to Mimir. He thanked the wise giant, then turned and left. His right eye would remain suspended in the well of wisdom, looking up through the water, as a sign to all who would wander there that the Allfather had paid for his wisdom.