The Wall Of Fire
If you're a regular reader, I'm happy to report that my sunburn is finally healing, it's starting to itch a little, and I'm in that joyful phase where I'm tan but have not yet started to peel. Life is good.
There's this Norse myth that's been floating around in my head lately, and I want to retell it here. So sit back, put your feet up (unless you're at work then just crouch over your phone and keep one eye out for your boss), pour a cup of something delicious, and read on...
The Valkyries were mythical women whose job was to gather slain warriors from the fields of battle and carry them to their afterlife, either in Valhalla (which belonged to Odin) or to Folkvangur (which belonged to Freyja). Freyja and Odin split the slain warriors 50/50 and I guess they worked it out between themselves who got to go where.
|"Valkyrien" by Emil Doepler (1905)|
It was always predetermined who would be killed in each battle, each warrior who was to die was marked somehow so the valkyries would know which ones to get. Then they would fly down out of the sky on winged-horseback (probably with some Wagner playing in the background), pick up the right ones, and deliver them to their destination. There, the warriors got to feast and make merry until Ragnarok, when they would be called upon to fight the final battle in an effort to stave off the destruction of everything and the death of the gods. Odin was always building up his army of the slain in preparation for Ragnarok, because even he was never quite sure when it would happen.
The brightest and fieriest of the valkyries was one named Brynhildur. You may have heard the Germanic version of her name, Brunhilde, but I like the Icelandic one better so that's the one we'll use here. The stories say that she was the most beautiful of the valkyries, with the brightest hair. But I like to think of her as the feistiest who shone the brightest. Besides, all the valkyries were beautiful, so what does that even mean that she was the most beautiful of the most beautiful? I mean how do you even decide? Anyway, so we'll say she was the brightest one. The one with the most fire. You'll see why in a minute.
One day Brynhildur felt like a swim, so she turned herself into a swan and flew down to Midgard, the land of humans, to a secluded pond. When she landed in the water, she looked around to check that the coast was clear, then changed back into her true form, a beautiful woman, and began to bathe in the pond. She hadn't checked carefully enough, however, and didn't notice a young warrior named Agnar hiding nearby. He saw her bathing and thought something along the lines of, "Holy shit!"
Agnar was a good guy. In fact, he was the very best man alive at that time. He and his brother, whose name escapes me, had been found by Odin and his wife, the goddess Frigg, when they were just babies, and were part of a pretty intense bet between husband and wife. Frigg raised Agnar and Odin raised the other brother. Odin raised his twin in the ways of war, and Frigg raised Agnar in the ways of women's wisdom. You can guess how that turned out. Odin tested the boy he raised once he had grown into a man (and become a king, no less!). Of course, he had turned into a disgusting psychopath who ruled his kingdom with cruelty and actually repeatedly set fire to Odin-in-disguise, night after night, until Agnar finally set him free. Then Odin revealed his true self, murdered the piece of crap who had been raised in the ways of war, rewarded Agnar with his freedom and the right to be a warrior, then gave Frigg five bucks and let her tell him, "Told you so." (Husbands: 0. Wives: 3,587,263+)
So, Agnar was a good guy, and in those days he was considered the best.
And now he was watching Brynhildur bathe in a pond. What a treat.
Being an honorable warrior-poet type, he looked away, cleared his throat and said, "Um, sorry, hi. I didn't mean to spy, but you landed here in swan form and now you're a lady and you're naked and you might want to cover up or something. I mean I already saw your um... you know, your.. But, erm.. -cough cough- Sorry, I've got something in my throat. -cough cough- Well anyway, here, take my jacket."
Brynhildur was all, "Dude, what the Hel!" (That's not a typo, it's an inside joke for those of you who know your mythology.) Then she saw he was blushing and stammering and looking away and handing her his jacket, so she stood there proudly (She glances at the camera like they did in The Office and goes, "Can't say I blame him," with a wink and a smirk), fully nude and enjoying watching him suffer through his embarrassment. Then she took the jacket and reached out her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Brynhildur," and smiled.
He was like, "Hey," but on the inside he was all:
|Push play on the link below|
Since she was a valkyrie and had magical powers, and since she was a woman and had stellar intuition, she realized he was a good guy and they started going together. She probably gave him the business right there on the banks of the pond, but that's okay because being ashamed of your sexuality wasn't a thing yet, and he had been nice enough to give her his jacket and he was currently The Best Dude In Midgard, so what was the harm?
Things got serious, she introduced him to her sisters (the other valkyries), they fell deeply in love, and they were both extremely happy. He probably wrote her cute notes and she probably wrote him a love poem. They would have started listening to cheesy old love songs and been like, "Oh, see now these make more sense," but back then instead of old songs being like, the Beach Boys and Sam Cooke, they would have been... um... A caveman with a skin drum? Not that there's anything wrong with that! Let's get back to the story.
Odin was worried about Ragnarok again. He felt the need to add more warriors to Valhalla. That meant he would need to stir up a battle and mark some more people to be slain. The trouble was, he had a lot of soldier types, but not enough Great Men. He would need to hunt for quality, not just quantity. He looked around Midgard to see what he had to work with. There was only one man who could do the job.
But, being the All-Father, he did one of the things he did best (please don't get mad at me, Odin, I'm just telling the story), which was many wonderful things, but also included... doing whatever he wanted to meet his own needs with little to no regard as to how it affected others. (Please don't smite me!)
(Okay, I'm still here.)
So he set up a battle. Agnar got the call from the other warriors that they were going to fight. He figured he'd better say goodbye to Brynhildur, she'd be upset if he left for a few days without telling her.
When he found her, she looked at him and her face fell. However it was that the warriors to be slain were marked, he had it, and he didn't know. Only she could see it. But she didn't want to scare him, so she kissed him passionately (read: probably gave him the business), told him she loved him and would see him when he got back, then set off to find Odin.
Valkyries weren't like ordinary women. They were kind of like Odin's favorites. Some of them may have been created specifically as valkyries, but others had been mortal women who were so exceptional that the All-Father hand-selected them to be made immortal and to do this work for him. That was Brynhildur's deal. So, the valkyries were kind of like his daughters, and she being the youngest and the feistiest one meant he had extra affection for her.
Which is why he didn't immediately smite her when she stormed into his throne room and started yelling at him.
"Seriously, All-Father?! Seriously?!?!?!?! ARE. YOU. SERIOUS RIGHT NOW! Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME! Agnar is marked to be slain in battle? You can't be serious! Tell me this is some kind of a sick joke! Who did this? Was it Loki? You know what honestly, everyone is so tired of his crap, I'd like to lodge an official complaint to be added to his file, because this has gone far enough--"
"Brynhildur, it wasn't Loki. I marked him. He has to die in this battle and be brought to Valhalla."
Now she was shocked, so she got really quiet.
"But why? He's the best man in Midgard, and he's my guy. How could you do this to me? He's my... my person. Don't do this."
"But that's why I have to. Because he's the best one. I need him on my side when the final battle comes. And we never know when that could happen, so he has to come now, to be ready."
Now she was angry again. So angry that she started crying at the same time that she was yelling.
"I seriously can't believe that even you would do this! Don't look at me like that, these are RAGE TEARS I'M CRYING! How dare you?! All you care about is war! Did you ever think that maybe we could find a different way to do things around here instead of constant killing and battles and the shedding of blood? Huh? Are you really going to stoop so low that you'll betray even ME and take away my one true love and have me collect him and bring him to Valhalla for you, just so he can sit there and drink mead and wait to be called up to go and die for you all over again at the end of days?! COME ON! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! I CAN'T BELIEVE THE NERVE OF YOU! DOES FRIGG KNOW ABOUT THIS?! DOES FREYJA?! I CAN'T BELIEVE I EVER CALLED YOU ALL-FATHER, YOU'VE REALLY GONE TOO FAR THIS TIME AND I'LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU FOR THIS AS LONG AS I LIVE!"
Now, you've got to understand something. Nobody talks to Odin this way. I mean, nobody. He isn't a cuddly god, okay? He's the gallows god, the war maker, the one-eyed god. Do you know what he did? He hung himself for nine days and nine nights on the World Tree, sacrificing himself to himself, to get to where he was. He also poked out his own eye and sacrificed it to the well called Mimir in order to gain wisdom. He is not one to be trifled with. He doesn't suffer fools or disrespect, not even from valkyries.
|Do NOT. Mess with this one.|
But see, the thing was that he knew she was right. He didn't hang in Yggdrasil and cut out his own eye for nothing. He was wise. And even though he wouldn't say it out loud to anyone else (because no one else had ever called him out before, honestly), he knew that everything she was saying was right. on. the money.
So he just looked down at her sadly, and let her finish. He felt like shit.
When she finished yelling and caught her breath a bit, she looked up at him. In the back of her mind she probably wondered if he was about to smite her, but she didn't waver and glared at him right in the eye, resolute. He spoke.
"You don't have to be the one to collect him. I would never ask you to do that."
His mind was made up.
"No, I'll do it. Unlike you, I am strong. I will go watch the love of my life get slaughtered in battle, and then I'll ride down myself to pick him up and deliver him to your hall. No one else should do it. I will."
And she did.
|"Dream Idyll (A Valkyrie)" by Edward Robert Hughes|
Some time passed. And Odin still felt like shit about what happened.
So, one day he went looking for Brynhildur, and he found her by the pond where she had met her beau. He sat down next to her. She sat with her chin on her knees and didn't look up at him. She was drawing in the dirt with a little stick. So he spoke first.
"Listen, Brynhildur, I've been thinking about what you said, and even though I really do feel that you owe me an apology because you were very disrespectful..."
The little stick in her hand snapped in half.
"...I wanted to come and find you to tell you that, you were right."
She didn't look up at him, "Yeah, I know I was."
"And I feel very badly because I've looked at all the other men in the world, and there really aren't any left that are worthy of you."
"Yeah, I know that too."
"So, I'll cut you a deal."
Now she looked up at him. Because if Odin wants to cut you a deal you'd better pay very close attention to the terms.
"What kind of deal?"
"The deal is this. If you agree, I'll build you a beautiful hall here in Midgard. The most beautiful temple anyone has ever seen. And in the middle of the hall, there will be a bed for you. The most beautiful bed on Earth. And you can lie on that bed and I'll use magic to put you into a deep sleep. You'll sleep for years, even hundreds of years, if need be, and you'll neither age nor die. You'll be safe from harm, because I will surround the temple with a wall of fire. Not just any fire, but a magical one. The only one able to cross through the fire will be the next man born who is worthy of you. And when he does, he'll of course fall instantly in love with you, and then you'll wake back up and then the two of you can be together. How does that sound?"
She pursed her (red) lips and furrowed her (alabaster) brow and darted her (starry) eyes around while she thought about it, trying to discover the hidden trick in the deal but coming up empty. So she tilted her head and looked back up at him, held out her hand, and said, "I'll take it."
So that's what he did.
She slept in there for a hundred years, and many men heard about the beautiful valkyrie lying there "for the taking," and tried their luck, and failed (ouch). Eventually a king named Sigurdur gave it a go, was worthy of her, passed through the fire to reach her, she woke up (and probably gave him the business), and they reigned happily as husband and wife for many years, had kids and a family and everything. I think things might have gotten dodgy later on, but I can't remember and I don't feel like looking it up.
So, anyway, that's the story. And the lesson is...
Be like Brynhildur:
Be fearless in the face of truth.
Rage in the face of injustice.
Be loving, but make sure your love would cross through a fire to get to you so you know they're worthy.
Go skinny dipping every once in a while.
But definitely don't mouth off to the All-Father. He won't put up with that ish from anyone else.