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Creativity, Magic, and The Mead of Poetry

Mead of PoetryThe war between the Vanir and the Aesir ended in a truce, symbolized by the two warring factions spitting into into a jar, that was then fashioned into a man – the wisest of men – Kvasir, who could answer any question. Kvasir traveled far and wide, sharing his wisdom, until he came to the home of two dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar. The dwarfs told him that they wanted to speak with him, but when they had lured him to a secluded place they murdered him, instead, and drained his blood into two jars (Son and Bodn) and the kettle Odrarer. They added honey to the blood of Kvasir and mixed it, creating the mead of poetry, a magical drink that when imbibed could turn anyone into a scholar or poet. They told the gods that Kvasir had choked on his wisdom, and considered the matter settled. (more…)

Snorri’s Euhemerism: Truth, Imagination, and Motive

EuhemerismOdin is the god of wisdom, who sacrificed himself for knowledge as he hung, wounded, for nine nights in the tree Yggdrasil. He is a master of runes, who took knowledge from Vafthrúdnir, the wisest of giants, and even from Hel, herself. He stole the mead of poetry, a drink of which can make anyone an artist, and as king of Valhöll presides over half of the dead, who fight and are reborn in an endless cycle, as they wait for the end of the world. He is the father of Thor, as well as Váli and Vídar, who will survive Ragnarok, and the banisher of the Midgard Serpent, Fenrir the wolf, and Hel. But did he come from the human imagination, or was he a real person? What bias might drive believing one thing, or the other? (more…)

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…)