GullveigWhen she came to Odin’s hall the Aesir stabbed her with spears. They burned her three times, and each time she was reborn; under the name Heid (Heiðr) she went forth, going from house to house, prophesying and practicing seid (seiðr, Norse magic). She was Gullveig, and that’s all there is, there isn’t any more.

Gullveig appears in Völuspá, one of the poems in The Poetic Edda. Was she another form of Freyja, bringing seid to the Aesir as a weapon of war? Was she sent by the Vanir to the Aesir, perhaps as a sexual partner or marriage prospect, only to be rejected and assaulted? “Gullvieg” might be interpreted to mean “gold-drink” – could there be a connection to the red-gold tears that Freyja weeps for Òd, her missing husband, or perhaps the gold in Gullveig’s name might indicate a dispute of some kind involving treasure, that led to the Vanir-Aesir war?

When I was a kid, eating up stories about Norse, Greek, and Roman gods, I assumed that everything was known. This is part of what it is to be a child: you take what you’re given by the adults, and assume its veracity and completeness as an aspect of the adult world – the world of people who “know.” As an adult, digging into mythology – starting with Norse – it’s exciting to see how much is known, but also frustrating to realize how much isn’t, and how much is lost. There are so few sources – archaeology is the most reliable, but like a puzzle with missing pieces, and written work – when it exists – is often tainted by the point of view and purpose of the author (works on pagan gods written by a Christian author are going to come with their own inherent problems, and yet this is in many cases all that remains). I often find myself irrationally frustrated with ancient Celts or Norseman, wanting to go back in time, take them by the shoulders, shake them, and say come on! You need to record all this!

Why am I interested in this stuff, anyway? Why is anyone interested in old stories? I’ve talked about this before, how stories are tellings and retellings of the many variants of the human story. Mythology falls under that umbrella, for me, but as a direct response to the natural world – as an organic, emergent representation of that world – there’s something very archetypal about it: the core elements especially have the ability to speak to root human experiences, and layered over that, cultural and imaginative ones. Does it matter, if Gullveig is lost? In some ways, yes – in the sense that everything matters, every piece of the puzzle; but also, no, in that the puzzle is all around us, in every story we consume or tell, and how we live our lives.

I try to see the big picture: I want to solve problems at the root, rather than slapping on a salve and thinking that in time it will cure the patient. I know that that’s naive in some ways: some problems are complex, and require making questionable choices for long-term gains, but my nature is to want to jump ahead – to live in the world as I think it should be, and by that choice, create it. For a long time, when I heard stories about human encroachment on some tiny animal’s habitat, my answer was immediate: the humans should pull back. It still mostly is, but at the same time, sometimes I wonder… is it that important to dig up another pot shard? Taking into account the world we actually live in, should tens of thousands of people be inconvenienced to preserve a single species of weevil? What is the goal of preservation, and how much is it worth it to pursue every small piece of history? How much does it matter?

How important is it to you, to preserve not just the past, but the small details, that together might form a picture? If you are interested in history or mythology, how important is it to know as much as can be known, versus taking the lessons that we can, and moving on?