The Barbarian Bard

Tales and Musings by Michael A. Espinoza

Archive for the tag “religion”


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!”

Those Who Dare to Be

This is an older poem, one from my “back catalog,” if you will, but I believe it is still very relevant. I hope you enjoy it. And remember, the literal definition of the word heretic is “one who chooses” or “one who makes a choice.” Just a fun fact to consider.

Each epoch is marked by those who dare
and by those who condemn.
The Great Wheel turns, the cycles repeat,
but none are wiser made.
Each looks to his forebears as the past.
Their present is not so.
Their eyes, cast backward or far afield,
see in their deeds no ill.
Divine, they say, is their will to hate,
a gift from lofty heights,
a freedom clung to with fervency,
a right not to be taken.
A right to hate, to them more precious,
than another’s right to be.

Like farmers harvesting a grim crop,
they choose their verses well.
Handpick those that sate their hate’s hunger,
ignore those that taste poor.
A word here and there, fit to condemn.
Disregard all the rest!
Well they forget the condemnations
that inconvenience them.
Quotes carefully picked, sharpened like spears,
they march out for the hunt.
An innocent prey suspects no ill,
for harm it has brought none,
while speakers of peace draw ever near,
eager to sow grave ruin.

Once before it was the heretic,
who chose another way.
Many times the prey was of their own,
who sought a different path.
“Impure races” and the “lesser sex,”
each has had their turn.
Those of “wrong skin” or with the “wrong love,”
have been evil in turn.
Each the next head on the chopping block.
Blood fuel for zealots’ fires.
Those who dare to be as they are made,
who dare to think and feel.
So great this need to reform or end
those who simply dare to be.

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