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Voices from the Viking Age
by Douglas "Dag" Rossman
August 2013

  With the exception of the Norns (see September 2012), I have mentioned very few of the prominent female figures who people the Norse myths. The three Norns are, of course, the most powerful of them all, not only because they heal the World Tree each morning but because they weave the Tapestry of Fate. Each being's life becomes a part of the web, and the nature of its interconnections provide 'both opportunities and limitations (see my story '"The Blood-Red Rune" in Theft of the Sun). Thus was Time introduced into the equation of Life, and all beings—even the gods—are subject to its effects. What a wise insight our ancestors possessed!


      The gods are usually able to stave off the effects of Time by eating a special apple each morning (could this have been the origin of the expression "an apple a day keeps the doctor away?") provided by the goddess Idunn, wife of Bragi, the god of poetry. In the classic myth "The Apples of Idunn" (in The Northern Path), the giant Thiazi kidnaps Idunn and her apples...with almost disastrous results for the gods, who begin to experience the effects of old age like the rest of us. It is the only myth in which Idunn plays a major role, but it certainly is a significant one.

 
    

     Odin's only "legal" wife is Frigg, the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Apparently the only child she bore for Odin was their son Balder, whose tragic death through the connivance of Loki starts in motion the events that eventually will lead to Ragnarok, the "Doom of the Gods." Frigg's motherly qualities are nowhere more evident than in her efforts to fend off Balder's fate before it befell (obtaining promises from nearly all potential weapons not to hurt him) and to recover his life once his spirit had been claimed by Hel (by persuading nearly every being to "weep for Balder"). Alas, her valiant efforts were unsuccessful, for as the old saying goes "A man cannot escape his wyrd [=fate]."
   Most popular of the goddesses was undoubtedly Freyja, sister of the fertility god Frey. Unlike the more domestic Frigg, Freyja was the goddess of passionate love wherever it was to be found... and she may never have formally married. Freyja did have two daughters, Hnoss and Gersimi, by a mysterious figure named Od—whom some mythologists feel may be a nickname for Odin (see my story "Freyja's Tears" in Theft of the Sun). Although Freyja did use her sexual favors to obtain a precious necklace from the four dwarves who crafted it, we have only Loki's word that she was rampantly promiscuous. Often overlooked is Freyja's connection with a form of female shamanism called seid—which she taught to Odin—or her role in helping to select the spirits of dead warriors, half of which ended up in her hall in Asgard rather than going to Odin in Valhalla. Some writers have even suggested that she may have been the leader of the Valkyries. A remarkably complex woman!
And, finally, there is the Queen of the Dead, Loki's daughter Hel. Often spoken ill of because of her parentage and her frightening visage (half seemly, half corpselike), Hel rules over the spirits of those who die of disease, old age, or accident. Those who have led good lives were not facing punishment, and only those who had been murderers or oath-breakers had anything to fear in that regard. A fictional glimpse of Hel and her realm can be found in my latest book, The Walker in Shadows.

    
© 2013  Douglas "Dag" Rossman

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