This post will touch upon magical things, darker aspects of the god Odin, and the ways he uses us, (or we him?) to deal with wounds beyond the power of others to deal. If you are disturbed by magic, have triggers related to trauma or sex, then this is as far as you should go. The waters beyond are deep, murky, and navigated more by faith than reason. Sanity must be understood to be the end state goal, not in any way a waypoint or guide upon the path to that state.
Odin found me in basic training in the army, and on some level, I have always reacted to him inside that paradigm; he was our commanding officer, that distant god-like being whose inscrutable purposes we served, whose strategy we trusted to win the goals we had all sworn ourselves to, but who was ruthless enough to expend our individual asses without a seconds thought or backwards glance, should that advance to goals to which we had sworn ourselves, or served the community we had pledged ourselves to protect.
Two important things about the chain of command, it defines your responsibilities to those underneath you, and places you under the guidance of those who may best direct your efforts and development. Your ultimate CO remains a distant figure whose approval and guidance is usually safely filtered through channels, and whose direct presence and orders are both rare and somewhat terrifying.
You learn a lot about others in your broader community, serving the same gods, but not in your direct chain of command. Many of them you come to know and respect deeply, gaining the sense of how much they give to those under them, and how hard they work for the collective community, helping the broader vision of their seniors be brought to practical life. It is one of these that this concerns.
Seiðkona are the seeresses of the community, a task whose risks if you understood would make you seriously wonder why any would take it up for knowledge bought so dearly to give to another, but that is the place, and indeed the calling of seiðkona. I have the honour to call this particular seiðkona a friend, but as what this deals with is rather more intimate than any mere physical nudity, I will not be using any names, for I will not allow what she risked in her courage to be turned by the unworthy into weapons against her or any other.
The seiðkona had come to the community in search of a place in which she could grow and feel welcome. As the worthy do, she sought to pay back with service the community that had given her a place that allowed her to grow both as a heathen and as a person, and this brought her to the tutelage of an elder practitioner of seidr as student. I remember seeing the first time our seiðkona sitting in the high seat, and answering questions for the folk, journeying for those who had the need but not the skill, to gain for them that which was needful. She was impressive, and rather unusual. She had a hard rooted pragmatism and solid grounding at odds with the usual otherworldly (and some might criticize lightly-flaky) personality of one who spends so much time between worlds they seem to be slightly loose in this one at the best of times.
She had gone far, grown much, and was coming apart at the seems. Her own power was threatening her health, her professional success was bringing the cost of destruction of her personal life. The gap between the masks we wear to play each of our roles in society, and the truth of who we are, is where the stress of your life arises. The amount of energy you spend on carrying this stress acts like the debt load on your income; the more you spend servicing the debt, the less you have to spend on accomplishing things. When servicing that debt consumes the bulk of your resources, you become almost helpless to act, even when on paper you should have vast resources.
Odin’s service is brutal in a lot of ways, the costs of it can be harrowing, but the rewards are worth it. As the community grows, and the number of those available to serve grows, the costs to those who serve the community will drop, but even as we can be thankful we pay less than the founders did, those who follow after have no idea how much better off they will be when there are finally enough hands for the work. One of Odin’s greatest gifts is wode, the transformative ecstasy, the madness that tears away all of our masks and lets us embrace our primal core, to fill with the pure energy of his madness and burn clean all the dross of our stresses, fears, depression, and pain. She had progressed far enough to open many far and fell gates, but this one that would serve her, heal her, and restore the strength she was spending on others was closed against her.
She had been wounded in the past by others in crippling ways that she had spent much of her own strength to work around, but at this point the cost of her coping mechanisms was locking away the tool given for healing. She could not open it.
She opened to me and shared much, and what I have been given by the Gallows Burden is the ability to see wounds. In my work with those with PTSD, I have been many times given the sight to see upon what parts of a persons core the wounds have written themselves, for there is no one place that damage falls, nor one way the survivors will work around the damage to win back function. The Feeder of Ravens shows me the cost that others have paid, but leaves to me to work out or not how to aid them; there is no thing free in his service.
This was different, I was given the powerful sense that this was mine to fix, that the Gordion knot that had been tied in this seiðkona’s mind would fall to his spear, in my hands.
Chain of command; we may be more comfortable with limited tasking from our existing chain, but we can be detached “upon the needs of service” for special taskings, and that is exactly what was being done. She was His, as I was His, and if she was nearly broken, he wanted her fixed; now.
From the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods
This is how we frame our offerings to the gods in the gifting cycle, we are completing the circle by paying back the gods for the bounty of their gifts by offering back to the earth from whom the bounty was derived. A corollary of this is from the gods to the community to us, from us to the community to the gods. We have each of us been healed, strengthened and supported by our community in times of need, we turn to the gods for help when our own strength fails, and it is through the many hands of the community that the gods work their will to preserve us. Now it is time to be those hands, to give that aid, and reward one who has served the community so well by doing the gods work to make right what had been done to her over so long by others.
Slight problem; Odin showed me what needed to be done. The Fetter Loosener and Father of All Magical Songs showed me what was required, and it was a fair spear cast beyond my skillset, beyond any work I had ever done. Mine to do, not in my power to do.
Ah, Chain of Command is a glorious thing, is it not? I am tasked by the High One to do a thing beyond me, but are there not others beyond me? Funny thing about chains, is they run in both directions equally binding, and up that chain I scampered like Ratatoskr up the world tree to the greatest living seiðkona, who for reasons that no doubt made sense to her had undertaken my instruction in arts more delicate than fit well in my hands.
I called upon her, and her own former apprentice, now risen into a mastery I don’t claim, and probably won’t to help me fulfill the oath I had been called by the Victory Father to give to our wounded seiðkona; that I would see her sent forth beyond the worlds to the place she might find her healing, that I would keep her safe from all that dwell beyond, and I would bring her back hale and, at last, whole.
Only one of those was in my skill set. I could ward her from all harm, that was given me, but sending her forth when her own, superior skills in this matter, could not, was beyond me. They were not beyond my teacher, as simple for her as for any craft master, it seemed almost without effort, even as for the rest of us it would have been equally beyond possible.
Our wounded seiðkona had done her own work well, the map of her needs, the shape of every foe we need to overcome upon the way had been mapped for us; if she could not accomplish the work herself, every single bit of it that could be done by her strength alone would be complete before we turned our own hands to it, that our blows fall full and unfettered only upon that her own strength could not touch. Nothing is free in the Father of Victory’s service, and she was not shirking her costs.
I cast the wards, but not simply upon our working space, but followed down where they journeyed, that my spear be over her in protection, as our other siedwoman saw for her when her own sight failed, kept open the path where she was driven to stray from its safety.
The wins of her long service were waiting for her upon the ways. The blood she had bled from the wounds she could not touch was fallen upon the snows, and in her anger that even this had been stolen from her, she cast off humanity’s cloak and as a wolf fell upon her blood and bolted it down snarling; taking back what was stolen.
The tears that had not been shed, the tears never permitted to be shed, the range of pain, sorrow and joy that died aborning lay in scattered piles of dark and bright salts, like gems scattered about a mad dwarf’s cave. Throwing off the wolf skin of her anger she pulled on a tattered humanity and took into her hands the salt of all the unshed tears. She could not yet shed them, but these too were hers, and she chose to take them up, for they were purchased at the cost of her own pain, and were not for another to spend.
Her guides had told her she required Muspel’s own fire, but she knew not what for. The road to Muspelheim was not easy, but Loki had been called, as had been suggested, that he who was welcome at even the most fell hall should win her entrance, and it pleased him to do so. As she gained it, I felt a rising within me. I feared I knew what it was for, a gift that for most is not a gift, but one I had from His hands and one that was mine to share. To the fire she offered the salts of her unshed tears, joy, pain, loss, sorrow, and laughter all she fed to the fire, and it danced as it consumed them; bright colours burned where the smith’s glow alone had burned.
To Hvergelmir our seiðkona came, yet the Mother of Waters would not wash her clean, for the filth inside her, the corruption and suppuration from the wounds long locked away would not wash clean; her own last and desperate strength yet bound those wounds closed. I felt the spear grow light in my hand, and felt me steps draw near.
Skollvaldr I name him, father of treachery, Geirvaldr, spear god, and Sviðurr also, the burner. She stood before the wall she built against her self, each brick half a wound from another’s hand, half a scar built to ward what remained. She stood before the wall she could not overthrow and I struck.
Was it his insight that in truth would allow this fell blow to bring healing? Is the the blade that cuts the Gordion knot that binds her, or is it my foolishness not his wisdom that guides a spear I can drive home but not remove?
I drive the fire she has paid so dear for deep into the corruption of her wound and I call. Sviðurr, the burner and Gapþrosnir, the one in gaping frenzy; I called two dark faces of Odin that I might teach her the last and worst of all. I whispered fell as Loki to teach her to feed the filth of her corrupted wounds to Muspell’s flame, and burned she did like spear thrust Gullveig. Screamed she did as she burned, and was born in her Ygg, the destroyer.
All the rage of wounds denied and unborn as the tears she was never permitted were un-shed met the corruption of the malice of those that wounded her, and she burned. My spear though her, she screamed one, twice, and thrice, thrashing as in frenzy as she rose ever burning and struck.
The face of Ygg the destroyer gave way to Wode the terrible and transcendent frenzy as the wall that blocked her wounds from every healing, and walled away and tainted every passion with fear and shame fell to storm and fire, to the brutal hammer blows of her will, and the purifying flame of her rage.
She burned bright, she burned clean, and raged far and deep into those parts of her that she had never been permitted. She was not however alone, and whispers of her seid sisters stilled her rage and called for her Óski, the god of wishes and Sanngetall the truth finder, for what lay behind the wall was hers; the truth of who she was, what she desired, what she may yet become. Stolen from her by ancient wrong, won from the might and pain of her own struggle, now hers to take back, hers to own, and hers to at last become.
Back I had vowed to bring her, hale and whole, but to be whole and hale meant not only to bring back those parts of her that had been long stolen, but to set aside those parts of her that were no longer needed.
The seiðkona left at the well those fetters that had bound her, the bandages tied in weakness that turned into fetters binding her from taking her strength, as she left her hatred. Burning as Gullveig burned, all the corruption of others malice clawing its way in agony from her burning pores she was given the choice to give those who harmed her to Odin’s rage, or Tyr’s justice. Ygg she had embraced, but Bolverk she denied; she would be destroyer, but not evil worker. While the power and choice were hers, she gave them up to Tyr, the most holy, and offered to his justice those who had done her wrong, giving up her vengeance as he gave up his sword arm, for as Tyr taught, honour is worth more to us than power.
Hale and whole I swore, and hale and whole she stood. Her face shone as I had never seen it, womanish curves where hard planes of man-like mask had hung, a power that she wore like a cloak, not a mask. Storms raged in her eyes, but in the center of which stood a peace that would be hers when the storm winds stilled, a peace I do not think I had ever seen in her before.
I knew her, and yet she who stood before me I did not, yet know. This was a woman who contained she whom I knew, but extended deeper, and broader, and whose nature was only now beginning to unfold. I do not know her yet, but I think I may call myself lucky enough to be a part of her life going forward to come to know her as she will soon be.
The next night we came together as a community, and called the many named one to us, for Odin wears so many masks and names, it takes a community to contain him when it pleases him to walk among us.
Odin filled her as ever-flowing mead does a horn, full and overflowing, and as she grew god drunk on him, I saw her look and love, look and lust, laugh long and loud without reservation, saw her eyes flash in bright hot anger, burn with the dread knowledge of the wise, and the soft gentle love of a healer and knew he was teaching her the parts of herself long bound and tainted were hers now, clean and whole and loved by him.
He filled all who had served him in this, his greatest priestess, her seid sister, and the now healed seiðkona as he filled me. I had to pay my price that night as well, for as I had asked for a healing beyond my skills so I was asked to see for others that night, to stand as seer, for this I had not done, this task I had never undertaken in his name, for I had always let that burden fall upon the seiðkona among us. Nothing is free in his service, but nothing in his service is without reward. A gift for a gift is his way.
We call upon the gods for help for ourselves and for each other. The gods in turn give us to each other, to build a community in which we may come together and celebrate, to join our strength together that our joined might be equal to any task set before us. When our own strength is not enough, we call upon our holy gods to aid us, and even here, they let us be their hands, that as they use us to do what is needful, they leave behind their teaching that each generation can do more for each other, and turn to the holy tribe for only that which still lay beyond us.
I do not have faith in my gods existence, I have knowledge which precludes faith. I have faith rather when the gods ask us to step beyond what we can do in service of those of our folk who have needs. Chain of command; I don’t have to understand the orders I am given, I have trust in the one who gives the orders, that he asks what is needful, and those who have received so much from the community accept the cost of doing such work, even in the sure and certain knowledge that the price of it may sometimes be beyond what we can survive. We who have been his hands know he will not relent or shirk from protecting those we would give our all to protect, so we will take on faith (not happily, for we are not fools) that should we fall in the doing, he will see ours protected better by those hands that survive.
That is why we do the work.
That, and the feasting. Even should Ragnarok come, the day of battle will see a pot luck with tables groaning with the weight of fine meat and drink, goodly food of all kinds, the sounds of song, flirtation, and laughter sounding loud as the tramp of feet and rattling of war gear, as his service is not one taken up in anything but joyful celebration, even at the end. Sure, he may be the end of us, but you will never say the ride was anything less than worth it.