Warlock

The roses are rage-red, some bright, some wilted, all shaking in the summer wind, thorns long and sharp and slick with rain. Every year more blooms emerge, bursting with their bloody colour, every year.

I tried to stop it once; sick of being told it was pretty, I hacked at the many-headed thing like a righteous knight but it did no good. Every year more blooms emerge. I lost a battle with a fucking plant.

Some idiot online wrote that rose petals were good for sweets, face masks, and love spells. I knew mine better. I hid nine thorns in the centre of a bud. I carved a slip of wood with a name. I reddened both with blood from thorn-pricked veins and buried them, not in my own garden, but under the fence, sneaking under the boundary of that old warlock next door. I won that one. I watched him wilt and fail until he fell and broke his hip.

Not so pretty now is it?


The devil’s den

I stepped out from behind the stone, straight into the party. They were drumming, dancing, chanting, drinking, crawling through the old tomb with their candles and their music and their ribbons and cut flowers, as if the sarsens were a portal, a doorway to the new summer.  The sky was still bright and red and warm. I sat on the dry grass, between thistles and the leavings of sheep, and offered a bottle to the man next to me. He nodded, drank, and winced as he swallowed, his brittle and bleached dreadlocks trembling as he shook his head and handed it back. The lines on his forehead folded and he leaned towards me, questioning.

I stood, and smiled.

A woman in a long, patchwork skirt threw glitter at me as I passed her the bottle. She drank, and laughed, and whirled away.

I stood, and smiled.

When the new summer came, the valley was decorated with glitter and blankets and colourfully dressed corpses. I poured the remains of the bottle into a hollow on a stone, and watched the lichen there wither and die, before I stepped back behind it, back where there is only one summer, and it is always mine.

 

Midsummer heathen thoughts

The tide is coming in, turning the little valleys and hollows in the mud flats into streams and salt- pools that glow when the sun hits them. Tonight is the shortest night. Tomorrow is the longest day. The year has it’s own tides, it’s own rise and fall, warmth and frost, growth and failure, and we’re treating each one as a cause for celebration.

So, we stand on the bank of the estuary, in a spiral of pebbles grown over with seaweed, and toast the ancestors and the rivers and the slow, quiet ocean, and Sunna, sister of the moon, who warms the stones of the earth with bright hands and strange tides, and thank her for the bits of the year we like best, in the hope that there’s enough good food, good stories, and good mead to last the rest of it.

The first story

(This is a story of fire, and ice. I’ve embellished it a bit, but that’s my right. )

Before the world is here, before grass, or sand, or cool waves, there is only fire, and ice, and the gap.

When the fire meets the ice in the middle of the gap, great rivers grow, roofed with frost, and deep in the folds of the frost, the giant Ymir sleeps. He is the first of his kind, and the best. The first cow comes to lick him free, and then he uses the sweat, and the hair, and the dead skin from his armpits, to create his own offspring, and they become the race of giants.

But the first cow keeps on licking. She licks at the frost until she finds somebody else, the god Buri, the first of his kind and the best. Buri makes his own offspring with his wife, and for a while the race of gods and the race of giants live in peace.

One of Buri’s grandsons, the one they call Odin, sees Ymir, and lifts his spear to aim it at the giant’s heart.

“This will be a good game,” he thinks, throwing it, piercing the giant through.

Odin’s brother Villi sees this game.

“This looks fun,” he thinks, and hooks a noose around the giant’s neck, choking out his last breath.

Odin’s brother Ve sees this game.

“This looks fun,” he thinks, as he hacks at the giant’s throat with his knife and lets him bleed.

But the giant does not stop bleeding. He bleeds and bleeds until everything, the fire, the ice, and the gap, are all filled, until the first gods and the first giants and the first cow are all drowning, drowning and sinking in the sticky red tide, save for those few who can hide in the hollow of an old tree. Odin, Villi, and Ve, work quickly, turning Ymir’s cold bones to rock, shaping his dead flesh into new land, trapping the briny flood so it becomes the ocean. They take his skull, and shake it; his brains become the clouds. The blue in his eyes becomes the blue of the sky, and the gods rule over this world and call it their own. The race of giants are pushed out to the edges of this place, out to the dark corners, where they become the wild things- avalanches, floods, forest fires and plagues- ancient and terrible.

Odin goes for a walk, admiring the grass, and the sand, and the cool waves, using some of the giant’s eyebrows to add a few finishing touches to hedges and trees, when he sees two pieces of driftwood on a beach.

‘This will be a good game,’ he thinks. He calls over his brother Lothar. “Lothar,” he says, “do these bits of wood look like people to you?”

Lothar looks down at them. “No. They look like bits of wood. But you always were rather strange.”

“Are you sure? Look again, will you?”

So Lothar, losing patience, picks up the pieces of driftwood and blows on them both. With his breath he gives them skin instead of bark, and the forms of a man and a woman. He tosses them back on the sand. “There,” he says, “now they look like people.”

Odin calls his brother Hoenir over. “Hoenir! Look what Lothar has done. I bet you couldn’t turn wood into people.”

Hoenir shrugs.  “They’re not people, they just look like people. Any idiot with a chisel can make wood look like people.” He picks them up, and blows on them, and with his breath he gives them spirits – joy, laughter, and peace. He shrugs again, satisfied, and places them back on the sand.

Odin smirks. “That’s good,” he says, “but perhaps a little dull.” Before the others can stop him he picks up the pieces of driftwood and coughs, hacking, wheezing into their mouths, filling them with rage, madness, poetry, while the gods look on in horror.

Odin holds up a finger.

“Wait.”

He breathes on them again. With his breath he gives them breath of their own. With his breath he gives them speech. With his breath he gives them stories.

They become Ask and Embla, and they are the first of their kind, and the best.

The gods give Sunna the sun in a chariot to pull across the sky, so that the new race of men might know what time it is. The gods give Mani the moon in a chariot to pull across the sky, so that the new race of men might know what day it is.

But out in the edges of the world, in a dark corner called the Ironwood, where the bark on the trees is rust, and the soil on the ground is soot, a giantess sits brooding.  She takes her two sons, and turns them into wolves, and they are the first of their kind and the best.

She raises up her son Hati, and says “Run. Run after the moon until you catch him, run until you swallow him, so that all the months of men shall be ended.”

She raises up her son Skoll and says “Run. Run after the sun until you catch her, run until you swallow her, so that all the days of men shall be ended.”

But it’s taking  them a little longer to catch up than they expected; they are still there, the chasing wolves, running over the land shaped from Ymirs’ corpse,  through the sky shaped from his skull, until they reach and devour their prey, until the world is gone and nothing is left but fire, and ice, and the gap.

Save, of course, for those that hide, in the hollow of an old tree…

A random heathen thought for the week (written about two months ago)

The rain is stopping now, and a few drops still tip-tap off the roof, leaving wet trails on the windows. The air is full of leftover winter and the smell of damp earth, but there are glimpses of blue sky, and the edges of the clouds are golden. It’s Frey weather.

To me, he’s the personification of peace and good harvests, the watered and fertile ground, the animals rutting in the woods.

Frey’s powers of fecundity seem more animalistic than Thor’s; Most popular images have him stroking his beard with his cock out, or riding into battle with a golden boar and no sword. Sometimes he is shown wielding an antler instead of a weapon- no magical forged hammer for Frey, but an animal part picked from the forest floor.

The loss of the sword gained him a wife, who was hopefully worth it, as it’s a decision that gets him killed in the end. Some suggest that the tale has echoes of a yearly cycle, that the giantess Gerth represents the soil- sterile, until coupled with the sunshine  and the rain.

Here, it feels like he’s paid us a visit; the ground, soaked, is already starting to warm, and the garden looks awake and ready for spring.