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Ran’s Toll – By Cheryl Price
Ran, she who is a robber of lives
Beautiful are her nine daughters whom beckon bold sailors with froth covered arms
Bylgja, lush and full she billows beckoning
Blodughudda, her crimson hair a blood red banner
Drofn, foam flecked maid of shimmering white
Dufa, the scent of the sea upon her dripping arms
Hefring, she who rises to draw men to their dark demise
Himinglaeva, of the shining eyes through which heaven gleams clear
Hronn, welling tide, rushing maid
Kolga, cold one who numbs all fears
Udr, frothing wave seeker of storms delight
Mindless the sailor is stricken who looks upon these fair temptresses
Strong ships easily drawn upon jagged rock and unfriendly shore, all to sate their mothers’ lust
As timber crack, maidens laugh
Wind swept, storm winds rage, those silken tendrils which coil about the hearts and minds of men
Into the dark and churning sea once brave and bold men are cast, to feel the icy tug of Ran’s net twine about their limbs
Down they are drawn, breathe stolen, bodies swollen
As ink black the waters snuff out the light of sailor’s life
No gold was given, no prayer was heard, when first man stepped upon that broken steed
Small price is it that would have carry man over Ran’s briny realm
But gold is that which shines in her hall, for lifeless eyes to look upon.
An Essay on the Goddess Hel. – By Ken Lovering.
*Reprinted with the permission of the author*
I chose to write about Hel. She is not written about to any great extent in any one story in either the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson or in the Poetic Edda but is mentioned in several sources including the above. She is mentioned in the Seeress’s Prophecy from the Poetic Edda. There are more mentions of Hel in the Prose Edda. She is also written about as a place, or related to goddesses of other religions such as the Hindu goddess of death, Kali. The Christian term of the place Hell is most likely based on the Norse concept of Hel where evil dead are kept. The Norse concept of Hel is that she is a daughter of Loki the trickster god/Jotun and Angrboda the giantess from the Ironwood forest in the East. Loki’s other children are Fenrir the giant wolf which was bound with the help of Tyr, and the Midgard serpent.
Odin sent Hel to Niflheim the world of ice, to be in charge of those who have died in other than battle, such as death from old age, or sickness. She is said to preside over 9 world’s or mansions. Hel, is also the place where the goddess Hel resides. It differs greatly from the fiery hell of the Christians in that it is generally thought of as dark, misty, gloomy and cold. Not all of her kingdom is what could be thought of as ugly as her hall has high walls with golden curtains. It also houses Baldr, son of Odin and Frigga. Hel is the caretaker of this place where such as Baldr reside. Asgard tried to get Baldr back and Hermodr, pronounced Hermothr took Odin’s horse Sleipnir and rode to Hel. He tried to have Baldr released and Hel said she would let him go if all of creation would weep. All things did weep except one, a giantess who was actually Loki in disguise. So Baldr has to stay until Ragnarok. Physically she has various descriptions as being half whole and half rotting, or half normal coloured and half either blue or black. She is described also as half ugly and half beautiful.
To me she represents part of the cycle of life and death depicted as she is physically. She also shows that we all have a purpose. She also says to me that we have to live with what is given us and that possibly our inheritance is passed onto us from our ancestors/family. I think because Loki, who was instrumental in Baldr’s death, took on the wrath of the gods, and passed this onto his children. So, Hel inherited the sins of her father and was made to suffer for it. Still, she is necessary and performs a vital job in taking care of the dead not taken into Valhalla.
I incubated dreams of Hel. I can only remember a few of them. In my dreams I saw a dark, cold and misty hall with windows high up covered by bright shimmering wall hangings. The light from these tapestries or hangings could not penetrate the lower depths. I saw what must have been Hel on a very high throne. In my dream she did not have a half and half face but appeared to be quite striking and melancholy. I saw others standing around her on a lower level. They appeared to be attendants or slaves. I know Baldr was somewhere nearby, but I did not see him.
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
The Poetic Edda
A History of Pagan Europe by P. Jones, N. Pennick
The Northern Tradition by P. Jennings
Plus a host of other books and articles.
The Wedding of Thor – By John Mainer
In the days before the forging of Mjollner, Thor was renowned as a slayer of Jottuns,
unmatched by Vanir, Ettin or troll in battle or in duel. He was ever alone.
While Odin had sweet Frigga for his own, and Loki the seducer had two wives and many mistresses,
Thor himself had found no goddess, elf, or mortal to win his heart.
In those days none was more travelled than Loki, for he alone ranged at will in places held by god or Jottuns both.
When Thor sat in his hall brooding over his troubles, Loki teased him, seeking to learn his troubles.
“What gives you the black look, Red-beard?” Loki asked. “Your brow gets any lower, it will be lost in your beard!”
When Loki’s jibes got no answer, he sat upon the bench with his kinsmen and asked in seriousness,
“Come Thunderer, what trouble has left you so quiet?”
In a rush, Thor spoke of his failure to find a wife who would fill his heart with joy, his hall with strong sons
and proud daughters. When he was finished, Thor looked hard at Loki, as if daring him to laugh.
After a few moments, Loki seemed to have a thought. He began to speak of a maiden in far of Jottunheim, named Sif.
Daughter of a mighty father, and a wise-woman mother, she was of the ancient Jottun blood but fair beyond all words.
Loki spoke of her hair soft as corn silk, golden as summer wheat that fell in braids like streams of honey.
Loki spoke of her snowlike skin, her ice blue eyes, and her proud yet gentle bearing, and as he wove his word-spell
the fire lit within the eyes of the Thunderer, until his eyes blazed like his beard.
With a shout he was off around his hall Bilskirnir, shouting for his servants to ready his cart and his mighty goats.
In his finest raiment, filling a chest with the finest of his treasures as guest gifts and promise of richer bride tokens,
Thor set out at once for Jottunheim.
At the hall of Sif, Thor found that he was not alone in wooing her, for Utgard-Loki also sought her fair hand.
When Thor offered to fight for her, Sif said that her kinsmen had been driven from the fertile fields
and into the rocky mountain fastness by endless battle, that she could not be won by more of the same.
Sif demanded that each suitor prove his worth and commitment by a contest.
In a voice soft and calm as the wind in the tall grain, she spoke thus to her suitors:
“I am a maiden alone, without household. As my mother taught me to cook for my mighty father,
I have prepared a feast. To no lesser god or ettin could I wed myself, so to he who can eat my father´s portion,
and drain my father´s horn, shall have me to wife.”
Utgard-Loki towerd above Thor, his massive thews coiled with golden arm rings, his cloak of seamless soft fur
thrown back to reveal a chest the size of a bear. He laughed at the test and boasted:
“I am best of Jottuns, rich chieftain of famed table. All the nine worlds know that my feasts know no equal.
You will find me a mightier man at the table than this red-bearded stripling.”
Thor scowled, ill pleased he could not settle this with hard strokes, but in no way willing to be bested by any ettin.
“Second to no ettin, god or wight at table or battle both, I will win thee for my own, fair Sif!” he vowed.
In the central firepit hung two roasting giant auroch, easily seven feet at the shoulder.
The sweet smell of their sizzling fat hung heavy in the hall, and with a right good will
did Utgard-Loki step up and seize the first. Biting with his bearsized jaws, he swore as his strong teeth failed.
“Too long we waited for this boasting Aesir to come, this meat has gone tough as old bone!”
He threw the auroch aside and laughed:
“In my hall you will never cook, for I have full hundred thralls.”
Sifs eyes looked coldly upon the discarded aurochs, and upon the smirking Jottun.
She turned to Thor to see how he would respond.
“In Bilskirnir hall right gladly will I eat any fare from your hand, and at your call will be servants
of better mettle than his whipped thralls”, answered Thor as he stepped to his aurochs.
With his matchless arms he raised his aurochs, although it weighed more than a ship.
With iron jaws he chewed the auroch, although for so fair a maiden and so famed a cook,
the meat was hard as stone! Bite after bite did Thor chew, gnawing here and there upon the beast
until he could eat no more. For all that Thor staggered backwards with the beast only showing
a few meagre holes, Sif smiled full fair upon him.
Sif held forth a great horn, almost an amphora.
“This is my father’s mead horn, and he who drains it dry shall find my favour.”
Utgard-Loki again seized first chance, and raised the cup in his two great hands and began to guzzle.
With a startled oath he spat on the floor crying,
“Too salty! In my hall have I have sisters thrice who brew fine mead, that never will you have to drink such a bitter cup!”
Utgard-Loki’s boasts again left Sif unmoved. Sif turned to Thor as if daring him to do better.
With a right good will the Stormbringer raised the cup to his beard and manfully drew deep.
In truth it was bitter with salt, but with her soft eyes upon him the Aesirman would not yield
and swallowed full until his blood hammered in his ears like the breaking surf, and he could
no more wait for breath. With a gasp he handed back the horn, and lay panting upon the floor of the great hall.
Utgard-Loki laughed to see the Jottun-bane laid low, and demanded, since each suitor had failed the tests,
that she find another way to choose between them.
Sif’s blue eyes blazed like lightning in a summer storm, and her voice rang hard and bold as a sword upon a shield boss:
“Not so,” she proclaimed. “For the aurochs each were given were the mountains my Jottun kinsmen have been driven into.
Thor alone had the will to chew great fjords to bring my people safe harbours, swift travel, and bountiful catches.
For this gift he has found my favour.”
Utgard-Loki scowled as he saw the son of Jord swell with rising hope.
The Jottun sought to win back the favour he had lost by a matching offer:
“My halls overflow with gold, and were you mine, I would send great ships of wealth to your kinsmen’s harbours.”
Sif was unmoved by this offer, and she replied. “My kinsmen are no beggars, and no one can feast on gold.
While you found the horn I brought too bitter, Thor alone had the will to drink deep until he could hold no more.
This horn holds not beer or mead but Ran’s own ocean. Where Thor has drained the seas do my kinsmen find
rich lands now fertile that in the summer will hang heavy with golden grain. For this he will find my favour, and my hand.”
With right good will did Thor and Sif make their pledges, and no Aesir, Vanir or Jottun could claim aught
but that his bride gifts were rich and fair, and that his oaths to Sif were so fairly pledged and firmly held
that ages later would bride-grooms place a hammer in their bride’s lap as a token that they would be as true as Thor.
For all that Loki was not always welcome in the halls of his kinsmen, ever would Sif treat him fair as the one who sent her bridegroom to her.
Utgard-Loki neither forgot nor forgave Thor’s winning of the fair Sif, and indeed there would come a time
when he would seek to challenge the matchless Aesir to another battle of wits, but that is a story for another day.
Additional tales by John Mainer can be found online at Lulu Books:
Kindertales: Stories Old and New for the Children of the Folk
Kindertales Book 2.