The Barbarian Bard

Tales and Musings by Michael A. Espinoza

Archive for the category “Religion”

Skaði, Mistress of Winter

Hail to you who, in your might,
took up weapons of war to set wrongs right,
who alone marched on Asgard’s walls,
unafraid to fight or fall.
You, so bold, facing all odds.
You, unaided, against the gods.
No war-party at your back,
no allies in your brave attack.
Seeking recompense for your father’s doom,
you claimed a prize: a worthy groom.
From the halls of the gods, you claimed your mate,
that the Aesir might avert your hate.
But oh, Fair Lady, you found despair,
for you could not claim that god most fair.
Wed you Njord, God of the Sea;
a marriage that simply could not be.
And now you are alone once more,
up on your mountains, and him by the shore.

Oh Winter Lady, hail your might!
Hail your strength to set wrongs right.
True power it takes, to be as you are:
unafraid, unshaken, as you travel so far
across wintery waists and barren lands.
None may hold you under their command.
It might be easy for you to conquer us all.
We would fall at your feet, as you stand so tall.
But true might is not the strength to reign.
It rests in the power to spare others from pain.

And so, My Mistress, oh Lady Fair,
I rest well knowing that you are there.
You watch me closely, as I take my sleep,
you stand over me; my guard you keep.

I offer you a mighty hail,
for I know, Dear Mistress, you shall never fail.
Of your kindness I avail,
whilst I honor you, and tell your tale.

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We Are Heathen

Hello readers,

Today I’d like to make a personal statement. It has been said by some that authors should avoid getting into politics, as it can shrink their fan-base down to those who share their exact views. But in this case, choosing to remain silent is an act of complicity that I cannot abide.

I am a heathen. No, not a lawless, godless fiend, as the pejorative connotation suggests. No, the word in its truest form, refers to a worshipper of the Norse gods. I have been a heathen since I was 15 years-old, and heathenry is a very important part of my life. I will not get into the details of my faith or my individual practices, because my point here is something far more vast than any one person. There exist, in our world, those who abuse heathen symbology, those who corrupt our runes, emblems, and lore to suit a twisted political ideology of xenophobia and genocide. These people claim they have studied the history of heathenry, and the lore of our faith, yet they abuse it in the most vile of ways: by using it to preach hatred and bigotry in the names of our gods. These “heathens” believe in a world wherein only people of their “folk”–that is to say, only white-skinned people–can worship “their” gods, as though they, as humans, hold ownership of the mighty Aesir.

I am Mexican. While my mother’s ancestors are European, my father’s are Mexican, and I take after his forebears in appearance, as well as feeling very at one with their culture. This fact allows me to prove the inherent flaw in the mindset of the “folkish” heathens; those who would restrict access to our gods based on the tint of a worshipper’s flesh. They claim it is a matter of ancestry, that anyone with European ancestors may be called to the worship of the heathen gods. Yet I, who have European ancestors, but (proudly) have the appearance of my father’s folk, am barred from the halls of these sorts of folk. And gladly so, as I’d rather not keep their company anyway. But the truth becomes clear in how I am responded to by these types: ancestry has nothing to do with it; to them, it’s all about skin color. And ancestry shouldn’t matter at all anyway; it is not our business who is or is not motivated to honor the gods. But when these men make the claim that “it’s all about ancestry,” it should be noted that lived experience proves that they do not speak truthfully, and that their discrimination runs far deeper. They ignore the fact that many of our gods are mixed race, that the Norsemen and Vikings traveled far and interacted peaceably with people from all over the world. To those who coopt our faith, it is all about whiteness.

Why, you may ask, am I telling you all this? Because the voices of these racist “heathens” are loud, and they are magnets to the media. The quiet, peaceful heathen who welcomes all into their hall is not a good news story, but the swastika-emblazoned neo-Nazi with a Mjolnir tattoo will really make headlines. So, it is time for the quiet heathen to get a little less quiet. It is our duty to show these wicked folk that there is no place for bigotry in our hall, that hatred and prejudice are poison in our well, and that we will not have our faith dragged through the mud. Going about our business as good, peaceful people seemed at one point to be a good way of showing the world who we are. But that point has passed. With supposed leaders in heathenry getting media attention and “representing” our faith in the news by using it as a shield to hide behind as they openly espouse ideologies that would set the people of the world at each other’s throats, the quiet heathen can no longer afford to be quiet. I am not speaking here of becoming militant or evangelical in my faith. I am speaking here of lighting a beacon that illuminates the compassion, love, and tolerance that the lore of heathenry truly advocates. I am speaking of thousands of these beacons coming alight, showing the lingering ghouls of bigotry and hate that they are unwelcome in our hall, and that our way of life has nothing to offer their agenda.

Heathenry is open to anyone; we do not evangelize, we do not convert. If you feel compelled to join us in our worship, we are glad to have you. Unless you subscribe to an ideology that would restrict others from enjoying the same freedom you possess. It is time we assured the world, who knows so little of our ways, that we are peaceful people, we are loving people, we are multicultural, multi-racial, economically and socially diverse people. We are people of all genders and walks of life. We will not stand for hatred, oppression, or intolerance. We are human beings who value the worth in each other. We are heathen.

Yggdrasil

Whence come my roots, no man may know. Where reach my branches, know man may tell. But into all of the nine worlds do I reach, and over all do I spread my shade. At my feet there lies a feral beast, a roaring monstrosity who gnaws, endlessly at my living flesh. Far above, there sits a mighty eagle who sees all the worlds spread out before him.

Oh but I have seen lives come and go, whole nations rise by blood and then fall by flame, collapsing into history’s forgetful chronicle. I have seen mighty folk take up arms to fight and defend alike. I saw the brave warrior leap through the ring of fire to claim his Valkyrie bride. I have seen the shining God fall, slain by treachery, into the depths of Niflheim. And upon my branches has hung the One-Eyed God, the Allfather, the Lord of the Gallows, a sacrifice of himself unto himself. Pierced in the side by his own spear. I watched as silently he brooded, for nine days and nights alike, his body hanging still in the whispering air. Then, as revelation struck him, I watched him writhe in the sudden agony of realization and fall from my branches, renewed and gifted with unending knowledge of his sacred runes.

I have been called Yggdrasil, Irminsul, the World Tree. From my roots, nine rivers spring. From my branches, creatures feed. By my trunk, the Gods keep their counsel. And over Midgard, I watch in silence, and shall stand unyielding until fire scorches every leaf from my frame.

Guest Post: Remembering Skadhi in Texas, by Jessica Glasebrook

Hail readers,
Today, we have a real treat, a guest post, courtesy of my sister, Jessica Glasebrook. Jessica is a brilliant woman, and it is a true privilege to have her write a post for the Barbarian Bard. She is a seminary graduate, holding her Master’s degree in theology. Her historical, cultural, and theological knowledge will never cease to amaze me. When I at last came to the religion of heathenry (also known as Asatru), my sibling’s immediate reaction was a boundless curiosity, a desire to learn and understand the faith her brother had found. Her love of (and devotion to) interfaith dialog sparked many a conversation regarding heathenry’s lore, morality, and numerous other facets. Never once was her curiosity tinged with anything other than a profound yearning to broaden her already prodigious knowledge of the world and its cultures, never judging, belittling, or any other negative stereotype of that sort. Jessica has a genuine enthusiasm for interfaith coexistence that I find admirable. And now, I present her post.

———

The other day, I told my brother that whoever first told the tale of Skadhi and Njord must have lived in Texas. We Texans are both intrigued and intimidated by winter, chiefly because we don’t experience it very often. Some would say we don’t experience it at all. My college roommate, a no-nonsense Michigan native, was constantly amused by our swaddled, begloved response to any drop in temperature. In the same way that we’re at a loss for what to do with the encroaching cold, the sea-god Njord was at a loss as to what to do with his winter bride Skadhi. Skadhi, like many of the Norse goddesses, is no wilting flower. In fact, she’s a bit tough even by divine standards. She loves the winter wilds, hunting solitary and fending for herself with a bow and a pair of snowshoes. She’s a survivor, who personifies the wilderness in winter.

When the gods killed her father, a notorious giant, Skadhi readied for the conflict ahead, strode into their hall, and demanded that they pay the weregild (compensatory price) for her father’s life. The price: Make Skadhi laugh. Anyone who’s ever tried to warm up an icy windshield with a rolled-up newspaper knows how impossible this is. I’ll spare you the details of what finally melted Skadhi’s heart and made her chuckle because this is a family-friendly blog, but suffice it to say it involved the trickster god and a goat. Another one of Skadhi’s stipulations was that she have her pick of the gods for a husband, but the gods threw in a caveat: she was only permitted to choose by looking at their legs. She was hoping to win the fair Balder, a warrior who wasn’t bad on the eyes. Instead, she scored the god of sailors and the sea, Njord. This is where the trouble started. After spending a week in Njord’s hall, amid the seagulls the the surf, Skadhi had had enough. It was too warm by the sea, too tame. She convinced Njord to move to her home in the mountains and, after a week, he had had enough. It was too cold, and the wolves howling kept him awake at night. Finally, they agreed to peacefully separate, and each return to the hall of their choice.

As I feel the wind whipping at my clothes and hair, I realize that a Texas winter is Skadhi’s marriage to Njord. We don’t get each other. When the winter strikes, we stare in admiration and the slightest tinge of fear. At first, we’re thrilled with visions of bonfires and pumpkin-spied confectionery. Then, about a month in, we start to realize how unsuited we are. We find ourselves sleeping too long, eating too much, coughing, and turning up the heater. We don’t know how to coexist with weather that isn’t either pleasant or blazing hot. Skadhi has a lot to teach us about ourselves. She leads us out of our comfort zones and into the wild. Her ability to thrive and live comfortably in an environment we don’t understand serves as a model for us to be flexible and strong. Instead of expecting nature to adjust to us, we must learn to adjust to nature. We did not create the world or set its seasons in motion. Our blessing is to live in it. That means appreciating the crisp taste of the air, the whipping of the wind, the warmth of hot cider, and the pattering of rain against the window. We absorb the fragrances of woodsmoke, peppermint, spices and, for some of us, soothing-center cough lozenges. We learn to savor the joy of drawing close to our loved ones for warmth, gathering in community to celebrate the year and all we’ve accomplished. Skadhi teaches us to embrace the flavors, scents, and sounds of the cold that we don’t always comprehend. Like Njord, we are equal parts intrigued and distressed by her strength and adaptability to environments that make us uncomfortable. We may never fully understand the biting air, but we are perfectly happy to let it take our breath away.

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He Hailed the Thunder

In remembrance of David Tito Cotto.

—–

The hearth-fire flickers, now
colder than it was before.
The wind howls mightily,
into the wintry night.
A choir of unmatched beauty,
are the voices of dear friends.
Now that choir sounds
with a softer harmony.

Each came here in friðr,
and knew he was well guarded,
by a humble host with
mighty mirth.
And so guarded was that friðr,
that none feared a foe
would work ill deeds
‘neath night’s dark cloak.

As the sumbel horn came ’round,
our eyes widened at your passion,
when proclaimed you, “Hail Thor,
hail the Midgard’s Shield!”
You raised up your voice,
and toasted the Serpent-Slayer.
With each deed in your life,
you brought the Thunderer joy.

Now you are gone from our midst,
and the hall is made somber.
The fire crackles its
memories of a warmer time.
Each gathered head bows,
each gathered mind prays
for our brother gone
to meet the Gods.

But then ’round comes the sumbel horn,
and none can resist,
the chance to proclaim, “Hail!
Hail Asa-Thor, hail Hammer God,
and welcome to your hall,
our brother who honored you!
We rejoice in his life,
that carries on in the Halls Up High!”

Thor’s Oak: A Poem in Memoriam

Where now are you, Ancient One,
who once stood in Hesse’s snow?
Has scornful time forgotten you,
forbade your memory so?
Where have the oak leaves fallen,
that once were comfort and shade?
Where flew the birds who, in your bows,
a sheltered home had made?

No footprints grace your time-lost grove,
no voices soar and sing.
The wights in silence guard your sleep,
and mourn grave suffering.
Plates of feast and horns of mead
have run rotten, cold, and dry.
The only sound persisting yet:
a raven’s baleful cry.

Ships from afar bore to you strangers,
bearing peace and sharpened steel,
and issued these men a challenge to prove
your master a being not real.
Axes fell as did yourself,
and timber your trunk became,
to build a house of new belief,
for the people rendered tame.

Where was your master, Ancient One,
on the day your body fell?
In Asgard did he venture far,
or roamed he the roads of Hel?
Where e’ere he walked, you need not fear,
for know you what they did not see.
Though he deemed not to fight that day,
still protects he you and me.

—–

This poem is inspired by the true historic landmark known as Thor’s Oak (or Donnar’s Oak), a sacred grove in Hesse, Germany. The tree was a center of worship for the tribe occupying the area, wherein they made offerings to Thor, one of the Norse gods. According to the chronicles of the life of St. Boniface, the tree was felled by Boniface when he and his men arrived and challenged the folk of the land to a test of faith: if their gods were real, then they’d stop the tree from falling, but if Boniface indeed preached a one true faith, then he would be able to fell the tree. He struck it down with an axe and used the lumber from the grove to build a church, thus beginning the conversion of the people of Hesse. I’ve always found this story very interesting, and thought it made worthy material for a poem.

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