by Jenny Blaine
You stand at the edge of a large field, outside a village, as the first light of dawn streaks the sky. Forests surround fields and the village. In the fields, crops are rising, grain crops, grasses almost knee high, the late spring growth. A circle of great stones stand, light against the pre-dawn shadows, surrounding a stone that lies flat, recumbent, an altar, ages old, reminding you that long since, people used to gathered in this place. An owl hoots, the last of night.
You wait, as the light grows. Then a new sound, a crow calling, first to greet the dawn. The air is scented, sweet, and warm even at this dawn hour. From the village a path winds through the field, close by where you stand, and into the forest's depth.
From the village you hear sounds, talking, a tentative note on a horn, the bustle of people who assemble with purpose, even in the dawn, merry yet intent. As the sky lightens you can see folk move here and there, from houses to village green, forming into line. A procession. And you realize that this is Midsummer's Day.
Now you see the folk begin to move from the village green, still grey in the dawn light. First a woman, in plain homespun gown, and behind her a wain, a covered cart pulled by two villagers. Then a boy and girl, young man and young woman, their bright heads garlanded with flowers, dressed in white with behind them other young folk, and all the rest of the village: children, women and men carrying infants, adults laughing, joking and making their festival sounds with horn and drum, an old crone who walks bent, with a staff, and smiles on the young couple. Some help others on their way. The whole village is assembled. It is a festival.
They move into the clearing, towards where you stand; laughing, singing, but walking purposefully along the path. Much of the focus is on on the young couple. Girls and women walking behind sing teasing phrases, and the young woman raises her hands to her mouth, giggling, then tosses her head and laughs aloud. An ornament at her neck glints in the dawn light. Men call out to the young man who walks with her, teasing and joking, and he calls something back. They draw near to you, abreast of the great circle of stones, and as they pass it the woman who leads the procession halts the wain and draws forth an object, a piece of wood, a branch you think, and you see that at one end a head has been carved, and below the branch forks, into legs, and a third branching at the fork twists upwards to represent the fertile strength of forest, field and village; the phallus of the god. And you step forward, into the procession, one of its number, and follow along the path that leads into the forest.
As you follow your vision blurs, the world begins to whirl about you, and suddenly you are elsewhere, in a high place, looking down on Midgardh as if from a great height, among clouds. You glance to your side, and behind. You stand on a high cliff, and a little way from you is a great chair, empty now, carved in stone, set so that the One who sits there may see all that passes. And you hesitate a moment. Should you be here? As you doubt, a young man appears on your other side, and passes you, gesturing you to silence, with a conspiratorial, friendly, grin that yet emanates power. He is of medium height, strong yet slenderly built, with curling light-brown hair and a face that, were he a woman, you would call very beautiful: but he is all male; and he steps lightly up to the High Seat and sits there.
You watch his face, the eyes that seek to know, that traverse the great plain of Midgardh, and you see his face change and hear the indrawn gasp of breath and see, suddenly, with double-vision, as he glimpses the Etin Maiden, far off amid the glacial fields, before she, unknowing, turns away...
You wait as the God steps down, and you watch, as out of the air figures, shapes, come to him: a horse, pawing the ground, eager to be on its way; a great sword, flashing in the light, seeming to twist in the air of its own volition before it settles in the hand of Frey. And last, the figure of a man, like to the God himself, but insubstantial, a twin, a shadow-figure that yet shines with brightness. And the God gives the reins of the horse to this shadow-twin, and as the man mounts and the horse cavorts, he hands over the sword, and a moment's doubt grasps you: can he give his sword? Will he not need it? But the shadow-twin rides East towards the land of etins.
And you are once again in the procession, hearing horns and drumbeat, within the forest as the people approach their forest shrine: a flat table, set with blessing-bowl and twig, and behind, carved wooden images: the Hammer-God, the One-Eyed God, the Goddess who wears the necklace. And the young couple stand, solemn now, intent, as the gydhja places the phallic statue she carries in the central place of the shrine. You gaze into the forest beyond, and there, faintly and then ever more clear, you see the shape of a great stag, proud, majestic, his seven-tined horns gilt-tipped in the first rays of sunlight, standing behind the statue. He dips his head forward, as if in greeting, then tosses it back, showing the white flash at his throat.
The gydhja takes the bowl, and you see that it is filled with clear, sparkling water, as she dips the twig in the bowl, and sprinkles the couple before her, and then the people, and as the drops fall on you, your sight is again elsewhere, as people, shrine and forest turn around you and you look down once again from a higher place...
...a wall that surrounds a mound and a great house. You stand on the walls of the Hill of Healing, as an attendant on the great one who dwells here: Menglod, the necklace wearer. Looking inwards, you can see the green grassy mound in the center of the enclosure, and the Lady who sits there. Yet you can see over the walls, and you lean over, hearing the hounds that guard the gate, to see the traveler that stands before the door, beyond the ring of flame that girds the walls: a young man, strong, fair-haired, confident in his abilities and his determination, and you wonder if this is the one that your mistress waits for. Then you see the stern guardian Fjolsvid, outside the walls, approach the stranger, and you know that the questioning has begun, question and answer, question and answer, in set pattern. But you cannot hear if this is the one your mistress awaits, the Swift Day. You lean a little further and suddenly you can hear the stranger's questions, and strangely you see what it is that the answers refer to:
"What are the hounds who prowl and snarl to guard this dwelling?"
"They are Gif and Geri," says the guardian. "No one can pass within, for they will see all who try."
"Is there meat that a man can throw to them, and pass by while they wolf it down."
"The wings of the rooster Vidofnir that sits atop the world tree. That meat only can a man throw to them, and pass by while they wolf it down."
"With what weapon can Vidofnir be slain?" asks the stranger.
"With the sword Laevateinn, the wounding wand," says the guardian. "It lies deep in a chest, guarded by nine locks, and Sinmora the giantess watches
"Can any steal that sword?"
"Only if they have the right gift for Sinmora."
“What is the gift to give?"
"In your pouch take the tail feather of Vidofnir. That is the gift for Sinmora."
Not this one, then. There is no way he can win through the flames and past the hounds to reach the Hill of Healing and meet your mistress. But wait! He questions further.
"The great lady Menglod and her maidens - do they truly help all those in
need who make offerings."
"They help all who make offerings on the high altars," says the guardian. And they guard those who are in danger."
"And tell me truly, Fjolsvid - what man can hope to sleep in the arms of the fair Menglod?"
"No man but one," says the guardian. "That one is Svipdag!"
"And I am Svipdag," says the stranger. "Throw open the gates!"
And now you are with the Lady Menglod, as she rises from her seat and comes forward over the grassy slope towards the walls, steadily onwards, towards the gateway, and you walk with her, and the guardian, as she reaches the gates and throws them open to the Swift Day, the stranger who comes in and takes her hands, and you see the joy that surrounds them as they embrace...
And you are back before the forest shrine. The light from the first sunbeams sparkles from the drops of water in the hair of the young woman and man, as they stand, hands clasped, before the altar, then turning, lead the procession as it returns along the path towards the village. In their faces and their movements as they turn you see the depth of love and caring that they have for each other, and in the set of their shoulders a fierce pride and determination, and looking at the woman as she glances behind to the followers you know that this was no mere village maiden. For the ornaments around her neck are of gold, and as you look at her young husband you know that he saw what you did, the royal stag in the woods, and these two are the life of the village and of the area around. From their union will come a line of kings. Long have they waited for this day, and the desire of their bodies is for each other. Yet they can still remember the needs of the people, and school themselves to lead the people back to the lighting of the midsummer fires and the feasting that will follow.
Softly you hear the voice of the God whom you saw on the high seat: "One night is long, two are longer... yet nine must I bear. Often has a month seemed shorter that one half of such a night." The whole morning seems charged, now, with the desire of the young athelings, the desire of Freyr for his etin-bride whom he will meet in Barri's field.
You pass into the meadow, now alive with birdsong. Now you see that the sun is fully over the horizon, and its rays slant through the old stone circle, falling full across the old altar-stone, brown now, mossy, with here and there darker stains, ancient, upon its surface. For an instant the morning is clouded, as you remember the king stag in the forest: you know it is not always water that the bowl of blessing contains. Then the birdsong, and the drumming and singing, the music of flutes and pipes, recalls you to the moment, the joy of this midsummer marriage.
So surrounded by their joy, you wait and watch as the procession passes, and the voices fade in the distance, and you are left standing amid the morning and its sounds and scents, and you gaze on the young grain as it grows knee-high, at the fresh green of the fields, breathing in the strength of this morning, and the power and beauty of the god of the world, the god of field and forest who also rules the kingship of the people. Now, slowly, you return to your own body, feet firmly planted on the earth, and you know that with the rune Ingwaz, the seed of all potential, you can recall this morning-vision, and use the power that you have gained, the strength and knowledge of the great stag of the woods, the magic of the one who fights without sword, whose gift is frith, and good seasons.
You breathe in and out, in and out, and know that you have returned.
By Jenny Blain
© Marklander 1997