Saturday, August 21, 2010

we're setting the fires to light the way, we're burning it all to begin again

I am trapped in this place, and do not know whether I trapped myself, or was led here. Were my own actions to blame, or the actions of the larger world? I listen to Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainright, Black Veil Brides and the Indigo Girls, and reflect on fidelity.

In these moments I think, am very nearly compelled to think, of Sigyn.

There are those who say Sigyn is an insignificant goddess, and to be fair, there are personages in the Norse pantheon that are much more vibrant, much larger than any life, than she. It's also true that she is not known for any great pronouncements, any life-changing philosophies--save for her life. She changed by not changing. She changed by refusing to give up what she knew was right.

There is a lesson here. I'm just not sure what it is.

("Loki und Sigyn" (1863) by Mårten Eskil Winge. Originally oil on canvas.)

At times I feel alone; I am told that I am not. I cling to the words over the feelings, because my feelings have betrayed me in this time, my assurances about myself fall flat and empty, meaningless on such stark ground. But I endure. If nothing else, I endure.

There are tales that speak of Sigyn as if she was an alien to Asgardian culture, even though her lineage is known. There are rumors from later prophets that muse on this apparent contradiction:
"I know that. I see it, in the threads. You could no more harm her than I could." [Njord] sighed heavily and came to sit opposite the slender [Loki]. "But you're curious about her origin." The sea-king offered him a drink and settled back, eyes dark. "My son found her a few years ago, not long after this hall had been built. She couldn't have been more than four or five years old, a bruised, hungry, disheveled thing, crying in the forest. Ingvi found her when He was out walking. She tried to run from him at first but was too scared and too weak to get very far, and he has a way with children. He calmed her and brought her to me." He smiled a little, a smile tinged with pain. "We don't know where she comes from... I suspect She's..." he hesitated searching for a term in the Aesir language that would not be derogatory "forgive me, a half breed." He inclined his head to the man. "I've always suspected the child born of an Aesir and Jotun union," His mouth tightened "and abandoned as a result. She's delicate... and too gentle to thrive amongst the Jotuns and yet if she is indeed part Jotun, would not necessarily be welcomed by some of the more insular Aesir." He snorted. "I don't know. I could be wrong. She could not tell us." He admitted. "What we do know is that she was mistreated and abandoned."
~from the Jotunbok, "Loki and Sigyn's First Meeting"
Whether married in or of the same blood as the Aesir, or the Vanir; what is sure and certain is that she did not look the same as others in Asgard, nor act like them. Her province was flowers and fruit, plants and herbs; theirs was learning and warcraft, song and story. She could blend nearly invisibly into surrounding foliage. She may have possessed pointed ears, as Loki had; accounts vary, and vary wildly.

But what is clear is that she was perceived as Other, as Not of the Blood--though again, by marriage or adoption, fosterage or birth, she was in the same bloodline.

(Built in 1996 in Svendborg; Alpha Diesel on a total of 4000 bhp; 51 ton BP.)

I have felt Other most of my life. There have been very, very few people that I can say, honestly, even to myself if not to them: You understand me. There are fewer that I trust without hiding, without shielding, showing whatever I happen to feel at the time. Even in those moments, with people I would trust with a knife to my throat, I hide; I conceal; I misdirect.

It is my nature, and while I fight it, in times of distress it is more than what I
do, it is who I am. Perhaps this is how it will always be. Perhaps no one has ever been able to see me and see the true face of me, the true feelings; because I am so adept at concealing myself away.

Sigyn--or so the stories tell--married Loki young; even if this is not true, she was reputed to look much younger than her actual age. I get the strong feeling that she was perpetually dismissed for this, sent from councils and conversations on the pretext that she was "too young" to understand.

Even after birthing sons. Even after demonstrating her own powers. Who we look like, we become; who we act like, we are.

Sigyn,barque,wooden ships,tall ships,sailing,ships,Finland,Norse,Nordic,mythology,shipping,museum,Sweden
(The barque Sigyn, built in Göteborg in 1887, now a museum ship in Turku, Finland. Sigyn sailed for several Swedish shipowners before being sold to Åland, from where she was bought to become a museum ship in 1939.)

I am struggling to understand. To make sense of everything. A follows B follows C follows D, but there are gaps, and there are shifting letters, shifting ground underneath my feet. It's my own instability that's being addressed, I know this, but how long do I wait for things to settle? How long should I?

And will they?

She bore him two sons, Narvi, the second-born, and Váli, named after Odin's son of the same name. They were strong and clean-limbed, but there was prejudice sunk deep, blood-deep, bone-deep in the Aesir. Having seen Loki's children with Angrboða, a female Jotun, and having named them monsters, they waited for Váli and Narfi to show traits of Loki's "monstrous blood".

Sigyn, for her part, was mostly pitied, or despised. Is it any wonder she did not socialize more freely with the society in Asgard? A child-bride sold as a pawn, at best; a monster in her own right, for not being 'of the blood'; what did she have in common, at all, with people who saw her in this light?

("Loke og Sigyn", painted in 1810 by Christopher Wilhelm Eckersberg. Originally oil on canvas.)

There are words straining to be said. There are ideas begging to be articulated, if only so I can see the shape of my thoughts by the flavor the words leave in the air. I waver between holding everything back and saying too much. I don't seem to be able to find a steady, middle ground.

The perception is that Loki lied, which he did not do. The perception is that he killed Baldr, which he did not do. The perception is that he was a divisive, unwanted, invasive element in Aesir culture, when in fact he was the blood brother of Odin, who loved him--at least, until Baldr died. Which, by fiat and prophecy, Baldr had to do to become the golden leader of the new gods. People--even the Aesir--forget this, and far too often.

("Loki and Sigyn during Loki's punishment", painted by Karl Franz Eduard von Gebhardt. Originally oil on canvas, this was a reproduction seen in Ebenezer Cobham Brewer's book, 'Character sketches of romance, fiction and the drama'. )

Histories fade, memories fade, everything gets confused, or maybe that's just me. I'm saying things out of order, I'm not saying the things I want to say, I'm saying things I don't want to say, and I have no idea if it's through artifice or genuine unknowing. All I know is, I just want things to work. To work out. And I have no idea how to do that.

Perhaps that's the first step in all of this: admitting that I have no clue about where I'm going, anymore, and what I'm going to do when I get there. Maybe it's also admitting I might need help in figuring it all out.

There are many ways to take a prophecy of oncoming demise. Some parents magnify all good things, reinforcing that it is simply the time that cannot be avoided; ensuring that their child knows love and joy and care until the end.

Frigga did not do this. She was fearful and arrogant; for her son was perfect, and he would stay with her forever. So she made the whole of the world bargain for her son--all save the mistletoe, because it was a parasite, and would never amount to anything. And Baldr grew up, brash and boastful, knowing nothing could kill him, knowing himself to be immortal.

All the time the drumbeat of the prophecy, that Baldr must die, that the natural world itself hung in the balance until he did. And that that very perfection, that bright shining gold of him, was supposed to fade, for death to sink into his bones, and make him humble, and thus he could rise and lead the new gods with a merry heart and an understanding nature.

The whole of the world, Frigga risked, out of misguided pride.

("Sigyn: Lady of the Staying Power" was written by Galina Krasskova and published by Asphodel Press. A passage from the back of the book states "She gathers broken things, and people, to her breast to heal.")

I too, have pride, but it is steadily evaporating. There may be such a thing as an excess of humility; if there is, I'm not there yet. But I'm not sure how much farther I have left to fall, before a total loss of self-integrity.

Is that a good thing? I'm too close to it to tell.

Baldr held a challenge, his ego overwhelming his common sense--and not for the first time. He invited everyone, including Höd, who was blind. Höd was an amazing archer--what he fired at, he hit, with or without his vision. Admittedly, Loki knew this, and watched as he shot arrow after arrow at Baldr, while Baldr laughed.

Then Loki handed him an arrow with a point carved from the lowly, dismissed mistletoe, the single plant o'er all the earth that Frigga never bothered to extract the bargain from. Höd lined it up. Baldr urged him on. The Aesir watched as the arrow flew true--and struck, and killed Baldr on the spot.

The prophecy fulfilled, Loki slipped away, but his closeness to Höd did not go unmarked. Höd was not blamed--and why would he be? Baldr asked him to fire. But Loki was, all because he saw the loophole--and knew the prophecy must be fulfilled.

(From Skaldenmet, a German translation of the 1999 poem "Sigyn Talks To Her Husband" by Laura Gjovaag. Artist unknown; at a guess, pencil and ink on board, but I could be wrong.)

I am also tired. I am still far too fragile, but the air around me swirls with confusion and unease, and it's nearly all of my making. When the talks begin, what will I say? When the talks begin, will I know how to listen? When the talks begin...when will the talks begin?

Loki, sensing the change in the air, and his quick fall from 'tolerated' to 'abhorred' status, spurred on by Frigga, escaped to the mountains with his sons and his wife. He pondered ways in which he could be caught, for every form of escape he had. He was working on a way out of a fishing net, as a sleek-flanked salmon, when the Aesir climbed the mountain. Quickly, he transformed and threw the net in the fire, before seeking the stream and fins again; but alas, in this, he had outsmarted himself; Odin saw the net, pieced the making together, and caught him, held him in strong unyielding arms.

A cave was found, deep and dark. A serpent was found whose venom was so strong, it could affect the gods themselves. The serpent was trapped above three stone slabs, each pierced with a hole, set on edge. Dark magics were employed that changed Váli into a wolf; the abrupt, unwanted change drove him mad. He turned on his brother, Narfi, tearing him to pieces, and ran deep into the cave, never to be seen again.

And these gods, these bright and shining walkers of the Rainbow Bridge, drew out Narfi's entrails, using the entrails of Sigyn and Loki's child to bind him across the three raised edges of the stone, whereupon they tightened and turned into iron.

Imagine. Loki feels betrayal? Yes. Anger? Yes. Rage, and even hurt? Yes.

What does Sigyn feel? These people who have never accepted her as one of them, have just killed one of her sons outright, driven the other mad, bound her husband in magicked chains--and Odin had the audacity to turn to her, after, and say all she had to do was walk away from her husband--just walk away--and she would be accepted among the shining throng.

Tell us he is not your husband, he said. You will be a maid again, and live with us, and we will never refer to him more.

And Sigyn--pale, Other, different Sigyn--said no. You bind my husband, she said, I will stay with him. You reject my husband, you reject me. Go home to your wives, and your husbands; leave me to mine.

And there she stands, month into year into decade into century into millenia, time slowly grinding her to sinew and bone. She stands, holding a rough bowl above her husband's eyes, to catch the venom of the by-now maddened serpent. She only leaves his side when she must empty the bowl into the darkest reaches of the cave. And in those moments, only the howls of her husband can be heard over the howling of her transformed son.

The poison drips, adds to the burden
In my bowl. It fills with revenge.
You feel the drops when I leave
To empty the bowl
Falling into your eyes.
Your body shudders, shakes the ground
That you are held to,
Gripped by the last embrace
Of our son.

Laura Gjovaag speaks as if she were there; in that cave, in that trembling body. Enduring, enduring because it is all she has, enduring because it is all she can do. To protect her love and husband as best she can.

Do the gods see that you will break the binds?
Do they know the pain that will make you fight?
Do they care that I am the one who holds Ragnarok away?

But the gods do not think of such things. They think of the loss of Baldr, of the bright and shining golden son, whose loss has made Frigga bitter and grieving-grey. They think of justice done. They do not think that they, themselves, crafted their demise.

Oh, Loki, my husband,
My arms are tired.

And I can guarantee they do not think of Sigyn.

I think of her. In these moments when stress and weakness diminish me, I cling to that image, that image that has inspired so much art, so many different interpretations, as the world spins on. I think of her.

I am not that embattled lady, growing older in the dark; I am not driven half-mad by the will to stand and not lose my own sense of self to the howls in the black. But my soul is on its knees, and if this means I must stop, now, and not press forward, not keep walking at any cost...then that is what I do. I have the serpent's spite with Sigyn's guiding endurance; occasionally, I am the wanderer in outer shadow. But I will make this work.

And perhaps, the world will move to where I sit, instead of me walking forward in the world. And I will regain that sense of closeness, which is all I truly wanted. Perhaps that is my lesson in all of this reflection; that we have reached another time to pause, and reinforce, and sit, hands on knees, prepared for the universe to speak.

I'm waiting. This, too, is what I do.

(Poem © 1999, 2003, 2007, 2010, Laura Gjovaag, from A Dreamer's Sketch Pad.)

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