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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