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Thor on One Knee: The Limits of Power

LimitsWhen Thor and Loki reached Utgard, they found it to be so massive in size that they could enter by squeezing through the bars of the front gate. They found the king – Utgard-Loki – so huge that he barely noticed his diminutive guests. When he did, he asked them if they had any special skills, that could be pitted against the members of his court. What followed was a defeat that not only humiliated Thor and Loki, but spoke to the nature of the Norse gods, and of the limits that we all live with. (more…)

From Mjolnir to Brsingamen: Identity, Possessions, and Godhood

IdentityWhen Thor woke up, his hammer was missing. He “shook his head,” “tossed his hair to and fro” (The Poetic Edda), groped around, and finally called to Loki, saying “the God has been robbed of his hammer.” The two of them went to see Freyja (Freyia), and borrowed her feather-shirt, which Loki used to fly from the land of the Aesir to Giant-land, only to find that Thrym – “lord of the ogres” – had stolen the thunder god’s hammer and hidden it deep in the earth. It would never be taken, the giant swore, unless Freyja was brought to him, to be his bride. (more…)

From Bifrost to Gjallarbru: The Bridge, in Dreams and Myths

BridgeSometimes I dream that I have to travel over a bridge that spans a great river, to get from one part of town to another. The bridge rises up so steeply that it’s closer to an arch, and there are no railings, just two narrow lanes of traffic, one going in each direction. The bridge terrifies me, but the other drivers seem unaware of the danger. The thing I remember the most strongly when I wake – details vary, dream to dream, but this never changes – is the sensation of tipping upwards at a steep angle, trying to keep the wheel straight, edge gravity pulling me towards oblivion as I tell myself that if I just keep going I’ll make it across. If I do, it’s a sure bet that before the dream is over, I’ll find myself on that bridge again, because getting to the other side hasn’t resolved the central issue – the anxiety I feel at crossing it.  (more…)

The Mother of Monsters: The Sisterhood of Lilith and Angrboda

AngrbodaIn the Hebrew myths, God formed Lilith from filth and sediment, rather than the pure dust from which Adam was created (Graves). When she refused to let him take the superior position during sex, saying “why must I lie beneath you? I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal,” Adam tried to force her, whereupon Lilith fled to the Red Sea, a region full of demons whom she mated with, bearing lilim at a rate of hundreds per day. When Adam complained, God sent a trio of angels to compel Lilith to return under threat of drowning. Ultimately, she stayed at the banks of the Red Sea, but God punished her by making one hundred of her children die each day, and compelling her to destroy them, herself, when she couldn’t find a human child to murder. (more…)

What is Mythic Time?

Mythic TimeWhen did Höd kill Baldr? When is Ragnarök? Even more importantly, when was the world created? As a kid, I recognized intuitively that a lot of the myths that I was reading took place in an ill-defined present, but at the same time, there were origin stories – and endings – as well. My brain wanted to sort out the stories I was reading and put them in chronological order, but I knew that that wasn’t the way that they were originally conceived. Mythic time is an idea that makes perfect sense, once you understand it, and it applies not just to the stories we tell, but to our lives, as well.

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Fear and Surprise: The Dangers of Petrification

PetrificationOne day, a dwarf named Alvíss showed up at Bilskírnir, Thor’s hall, to collect his bride (one of Thor’s daughters). Since Thor was away at the time of the betrothal, he took issue with this, saying that he would only allow Alvíss to leave with his daughter (Thrud) if the dwarf could tell him everything he wanted to know. Thor proceeded to ask Alvíss a series of questions, mostly having to do with the names of things and their classifications, running from the cosmic to the mundane. A takeaway from this story might be “don’t engage in contests with the gods,” because after keeping Alvíss busy through the night, daylight shone through the hall, and Thor’s trap was sprung: he declared Alvíss “dayed out” as the sunlight petrified (or possibly shattered) the poor dwarf, whose only mistake was looking in the wrong place for a life partner. So it goes, but why is there so much petrification in mythology, anyway, and what does it mean, to be turned to stone?

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